Friday, February 10, 2012

Empty Photography

I was requested to help out in the role of a photographer for my sister-in-law's wedding.  Chickmagalur was the venue.  I reluctantly agreed [for my first stint], since 'I had a camera'. 1993 was still the 'film camera era'.  

'My' camera was actually my friend Girish Nikam's, of Russian make.  He had bought that camera a many years earlier for four hundred rupees [cheap] from a studio owner whom he knew, on Dhanvantri Road.  He had left it behind in his parents' house as he was not using it any longer and also had left the city for greener pastures.  It was a second hand camera which I think was 'repaired and sold' off to him because he was looking for a camera that used 35 mm films.

Here is the "Cosmic Symbol" Russian Camera, fully manual.

I had given my obsolete [it used paper film rolls - 12/roll] box camera to Girish some time ago before he left Mysore.  I wanted it back for its square lenses and also for its bit of sentimental value - this was the first camera that was bought in the family to coincide with my sacred thread ceremony.  Its cost was a hefty one hundred rupees 40 years ago.  There were others more expensive also at that time.  So when I went to his parents' house to ask for that camera.  Girish's mother felt bad to know that it was mine because she had disposed off as 'junk' with other items.  That was bad news to me.  Seeing my dejection,  she remembered Girish's Russian camera lying idle and brought it out to me saying 'you can have this', instead.  That is how it came to me!  I had written to Girish later about this!

It became a new toy for me to open up and experiment, as was my wont. After exposing a couple of black and white rolls [35mm] taking my kid's pictures, I had noticed that there was a slight glitch in the winding mechanism.  Black and white, because it was much cheaper to experiment than colour film.  It was taking reasonably good pictures, but the winding was not happening properly.  I set it right myself after diagnosing the exact problem.  My watch-repair tools and some common sense came in handy.   I shifted to colour rolls, once I was fully convinced.  It took reasonably good shots.  

I was looking for a flash.  I came to know that my cricket team mate from Hyderabad had one that he was not using and he was kindly willing to part with me.  He later sent it through his local team mate when we met in another city for another tournament!  That is how this got to me, a few weeks before the Chickmagalur wedding I was to use.


The camera and the flash [in good working condition] were both 'mine' now. A few dry runs were made to be assured about the flash’s performance.  It worked well most times.  'Most times' is not good!  It has to be every time!   Erratic.  I discovered that it was due to some glitch only in electrical contact.  It was getting 'shorted' somewhere.  The camera was now working well outdoors though. 

For the wedding at Chickmagalur, in order to be safe, I had borrowed from another friend, a simple automatic 'aim and shoot' camera with built-in flash.  This was supposed to be a stand-by arrangement.  Flash was of utmost necessity.   Taking shots indoors without flash was not feasible though not impossible.  

I loaded a new roll of colour film into my camera and another to the borrowed one as well. My friend had orally explained how to load the film into it.  This was the first time I was loading a film into an automatic camera, myself.

On the way to Chickmagalur, we stopped over for a brief visit to the beautiful temple at Belur late evening. For my third shot here with my camera inside the temple the flash worked normally.  For the next shot, it would not work!  What I had expected, happened even before we even reached the destination!  Time after dinner at Chickmagalur was spent in trying to shoot the trouble.   I had taken my tools, expecting such a situation.  But the exact glitch was undetectable.   Without flash, the purpose of this camera became invalid as all the shots were to be indoors.  I decided not to carry it for the event the next day, but to go armed only with the borrowed second option camera. 

At the wedding ceremony, I was on a roll, with a film roll, in a new role.  The 'photographer' in me was on song, clicking away, waiting for 'right moments' to capture.  I even made people stand for snaps where and how I fancied, like a veteran photographer with an experience of covering one hundred events!   They obeyed me like school kids!!  *Smile, smile*!   I was to 'take pictures' only in one roll of 35-36 exposures.  

This is a rough cartoon I had drawn in 1977, imitating one of R.K.Laxman's.

When we returned to Mysore there were still 3 or 4 exposures left  – according to the camera counter.  To use up the full roll, some random shots were taken and it was taking the 37th frame, then the 38th!  It would not stop as it should and I was told that rewinding happens auto at the end of the roll.  Even 36 frames/roll is a rarity. So I used the option of rewind button, operated by motor.  Whirrrl.... whirrrl... it kept doing that for a long while!  Common sense told me - since I have not rewound by auto before - that it was strangely taking too long.  I dared opening the back to verify.  

Flash and Camera that got me tricked instead of being clicked!

I took the camera to the studio for 'developing and printing'.  While the man at the counter was opening the back to take out the cartridge, I told him my doubt.  My doubt was a fact and I was looking at it!  'Oh no!'  The film stayed put exactly the way I had put. The slots at the edge must have slipped as the cover was closed while loading.  Winding was also automatic in that camera.  I was shown where I had gone wrong in loading the film, though the camera counter kept running!  That was the misleading point. 

That I used that 'unused' roll for myself later on is another matter. Now I had two rolls.  You know where the other was! 

My one-and-only-time role of a photographer turned out to be an unwitting drama.   Years later, I can recall and laugh.  Laugh because, there was a professional photographer on duty there.  There was also a lesson or two learnt from this episode.


girish nikam said...

Interesting, Dinu. I had forgotten this tale! And btw from which shop did I buy that russian camera? I remember taking some pics in that which I still have some, i think.

Austinbhats said...

Very good.Adventure with film roll cameras is really adventurous.All 35/36 Shots to be perfect.I always thought captured Kodak moment is always very very special from that cameras of 70/80's...
Very lucky to be the era...where photography has become a very easy hobby as well.

sumita said...

You are a genius Dinakar..Enjoyed reading this stuff..quite witty too...Sumita

Ken Harris said...

Thanks Dinu, that is a fascinating record of your early experiences with photography.

I never had that problem of incorrectly loading film on a birding trip, but I did on my honeymoon. When I was married, in England back in 1967, I lived in Lowestoft on the East coast and our wedding was in Cambridge (where I went to University). I had my bachelor party (stag night) in Lowestoft and finished a film in my camera during that evening. I was therefore perhaps not entirely sober when I changed the film. It was a 35mm film, probably 36 exposures.

After our wedding Fay and I spent our honeymoon at Greis im Sellrain in Austria. On the way there we had some time to kill in Salzburg and I took a lot of photographs there and when I wound on past 36 I realised something was wrong. I had never engaged the film properly and all 36 pictures I had taken were wasted and I have no photographic record of us in Salzburg at all.

Something similar happened to my father in 1960. When I spent 3 months in Ghana in 1960, my father lent me his camera for the trip. He then had the opportunity to travel to Kenya while I was away, and he borrowed a camera from a friend for his trip. While he was in Kenya he was taken through one of the major parks there and had many opportunities to photograph African wildlife from close up.

The camera he was using had a retractable lens and each time you opened the camera, you had to extend the lens before taking a photo. He did that correctly for one photo and then forgot and took pictures as on his own camera without extending the lens. The result was one lovely picture and all the rest were a round blob of mixed colour completely out of focus. It must have been a huge disappointment to him.

I had the modern-day equivalent of these experiences when I visited Madagascar in August 2010. I had taken some 200 pictures (all on one memory card). I took one more picture and went to look at it on the camera and it wasn't there. Most pictures were, but a whole lot had disappeared. There was a fault in the memory card. Fortunately I had another memory card, but I had to get our guides to locate my suitcase from among 30 or 40 others on the top of the bus, to enable me to continue taking photographs. If I had waited until the end of the day, I should have missed a glorious opportunity to photograph Ring-tailed Lemurs on that day. As it was I lost some 50 photographs as a result os the bad card. Fortunately a great many of the pictures on that card were still accessible and transferred to my computer alright when I got home. Also fortunately, the second memory card kept working properly for the rest of the time in Madagascar and 2 weeks in South Africa that followed it. I did not get a replacement back-up card until I returned home! I am never without a back-up memory card now!