You possibly cannot imagine how happy I was, when (being a high school student) I acquired my first camera. Back then, obviously, I had no faintest idea of photography; I was not even aware of existence of such terms as “aperture” or “shutter”, let alone making use of them! Surely: if you ask me, who’s to blame, I would, without hesitation, point a finger at myself: my initial understanding of picture taking didn’t differ much from how people think of it nowadays, when they take out their iPhone from a pocket. It’s obvious — just point and shoot! 🙂
So I did. I had a plenty of spare time, I had the equipment and some incomprehensible need of visualizing everything which seemed worth being photographed. Even if it really wasn’t. Spray and pray quickly (unwittingly, however) became my favorite technique, and all thanks to my little friend. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce it: Fonics BF-10!
This camera is so rare and obscure, I don’t even know where to begin with… I had a hard time to google any information on it, so here’s some of mine. I bought it at (no longer existing) the outdoor Market Europa (situated on 10th-Anniversary Stadium in Warsaw) for the today’s rough equivalent of 50 EUR (my calculations may be wrong, but the important thing is it was a lot of money — from my perspective, of course; please don’t forget I was a teenager back then). It is a cheap, plastic, probably Chinese, automatic film camera, with a wide (29mm) fixed lens, built-in flash and some kind of light metering capabilities (takes two AA batteries). In terms of optical performance — it’s an utter crap; lens aperture is like f/zillion, but even this big value doesn’t help to produce clear image — pictures taken are blurry no matter what. You can admire this exceptional “excellence” here:
(You also might have noticed a huge chromatic aberration throughout the pictures, but let’s be honest here — it’s not the lens’ fault, but scanner’s — its optical quality was, uhm, comparable to this of the lens… 😉 )
If I recall correctly, the built-in flash eventually failed, but until this happened, I had taken literally hundreds of pictures using this camera. At this time there was no World Wide Web1, no Facebook, no Twitter, no smartphones, nothing of that crap, and yet — surprise, surprise! — I didn’t have any problems sharing pictures with my friends, no privacy concerns either (with exception of photo lab employees) and — on top of that — the only person, who’s decision was crucial regarding making my pictures public or not, was me. If you ask me — these were good old days.
The Good Old Days became even better a couple years later, when my brother-in-law presented me with a unique gift — his own Zenit XP camera. Holy cow! It was a bang on.
Unfortunately, the camera pictured above is not the one I was given, nevertheless it was a huge leap forward (albeit the aperture was still somewhat a bit scary term). Nothing was automatic anymore — but at least I started to realize apparently it is possible to take a picture which is not blurry (at least when I had put some effort into it). Spray and pray was definitely superseded by its younger brother: I have no idea what I’m doing, but that’s where it all began — I started to distinguish between “a photograph” and just “a picture”.
Sure, we can argue — a line between these two sometimes is very thin, but I believe you get the general idea. It was magical: I realized that photography is not only about freezing a random scene at a given time on a film, but a way more important thing is to realize how to do it properly, and — the most important one — what is on the scene and why. I felt a bit like Columbus. And suddenly I made one of the saddest mistakes in my life: I lent my Zenit to someone and… I forgot to whom. The hell, if by any chance you are reading this — could I get it back, pretty please?…
It took me more than 10 years to finally put my hands on a film camera again. In the meantime, my friends allowed me to use their equipment (Janek, Adrian — thank you!) and finally I managed to buy my own DSLR, of which I have been dreaming of since the moment when I learned digital SLRs had existed. A lot has changed since then; sharing pictures with friends became almost a strictly digital domain, virtually anyone can become a photographer nowadays (iPad seems like the right tool, eh?). And so on, and so forth.
The digital photography overcame a lot of limitations of the traditional one (and introduced some new…) and — let me put this one straight — photography as a process became a lot less challenging task than it used to be. It was a moment when I realized the number of megapixels doesn’t matter that much and a 3D Color Matrix Metering II in capable hands (mine still are not) is just a buzzword. I understood what it is all about.
Sometimes overwhelming. The other time — subtle ones… Doesn’t matter.
Emotions. It’s all about them.
1 OK, OK. Technically the WWW have existed since 1993, but even in the 1998 I barely knew anyone in my town who had an Internet connection of any kind.
(All photographs were taken by me; you can find them here.)