Roll #57: The Big Picture

Contrary to most posts, this story is less of a story about the menagerie of images from the roll, but rather, the experience shooting with what photophiles lovingly call, the Texas Leica. I won't go into camera details, as there are other sites that can do a better job, but I will say this---the Fujica GW690 Pro is a massive (yet portable) camera that produces massive negatives.

Up to this point in my journey back into film photography, 35mm film has met my needs. It's easy to acquire, relatively affordable, and gives you 24 to 36 chances to create magic. Being that I develop and scan at home, image quality suffers a bit but I'm consistently able to print 8x10s without too much grain. What do I mean by "too much grain" you might ask? Well---I don't know because it's something that is very personal. Some love grain, some loathe it. I'm one who falls in the "there's a time and place" where it can either make or break and image. I'm also one of those people who likes to get very close to pictures. I like to get close enough to feel immersed in the image---setting off the security sensors at an art gallery close. Even in my own home, I am victim to this vice. At odd hours of the afternoon---in the dead of night---you may find me, nosed pressed against the glass, peering at at image I recently printed.

As such, sometimes, given my hardware constraints, 35mm film just doesn't give an image the clarity---the pop I had hoped for. But still, this isn't enough to merit a big-negative camera. There is, however, a point when the need to produce important, irreplicable images in high definition obtains this merit. Hence the GW690.

This camera was acquired on eBay which inherently presents some challenges. While most sellers are reputable, there is always some concern about how sellers interpret condition and the irrelevant ways in which they convey said condition. For example, whats the difference between an Excellent + or Excellent ++ or even an Excellent +++++? Those are real scores used by most Japanese sellers and in many instances the use of "Excellent" is a poorly chosen word and an inaccurate representation of the camera's appearance and function. But where else are you going to buy a 40-year-old camera? Despite my grading critique, the Japanese have done an outstanding job keeping the analog camera industry alive and appear to have a bottomless well of seemly mint-condition cameras. After weeks of hunting, I snagged a "Near Mint" edition of the GW690 with a free return guarantee.

It arrived five days later.

Before getting too excited about a camera, I always pop in a roll of film to confirm the veracity of the sellers statements. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about this one especially since I had never used a rangefinder before, was using a free light meter app on my phone for exposure, and only had eight chances to get an image that could answer a very important question: Does the camera work as intended?

I'm happy to report---yes.

The first two images below were taken during a walk around the Patuxent Research Refuge.

The first was taken in the middle of a forest while perched atop a wooden boardwalk. Most of the forest floor was in the shade---dark, unappealing, and near impossible for me to successfully capture while shooting the camera handheld. There was however a tiny, swampy segment drenched in light. An opening in the canopy created a interesting light gradient which decreased in intensity moving right to left. Perfectly vertical growth produced an explosion of leaves as they reached upward.

The second was a very much out of place army trailer. The lighting was a bit more intense and variable here given the reflective grass and shadows cast on the near side of the rust bucket. Old paint crackled and fell in the unforgiving sun like leaves on a cold autumn day. I continued my walk along the forest trail uninspired and returned home.

With each minute of the day burning into my 30-day no-questions-asked return widow, I needed to finish off the roll and see what it produced, so I headed to my most overshot location. Old Ellicott City.

Because of Ellicott City's quaint, old timey vibes, it has a thriving funeral home business. It's a unique brew of potent feelings. The locals just can't help but to hand the bodies of their loved ones over to the tuxedo-wearing undertakers lining Old Columbia Pike.

Further down the road a hearse is ominously parked in plain sight. A skeleton playfully hangs in the window. As cars speed past it gently rocks back and forth.

Eventually my journey, the focus transitions from dead bodies to dead homes. Residences, which with time, are forgotten or deemed unlivable. On the property, trash accumulates. Broken windows smile at passerby. Vines creep. Signs warn.

Like a house of cards, each is one misplaced step away from collapse.

With one exposure left and a bridge overhead, I snapped. The roll was complete and the mystery would soon be solved.

It worked.

Portra 400 BW conversion. Crispy.

Camera: Fujica GW690 Pro

Film: Kodak Portra 400 (120)

When: May 2020

Where: Anne Arundel & Howard County, MD

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