American Adventures in Kodak 120

Well, I say adventures. It's more me wandering empty streets wired with too much coffee in the land of free refills, and with a pocket full of film rolls. Anyway...

It all stems from America on film. I'm talking thirty-five millimetre. Medium format. Large format plates. Tight and in someone's face. From across the street. Taking in an entire endless dirt plain with a two-lane blacktop like a giant zipper, stretching across to some distant mountain under a big blue sky Er, daddio. As much joy as I have with the Fuji cameras, as great as the image quality is, there's just something more magical when it comes to film. 

And so I had to try it for myself. I had a choice, did I go for the Robert Frank school and shoot a small film camera, taking rough and ready photographs of folks unaware on a street photography kick? Tempting, but that's what the X100 series is all about.  

How about the large format school of Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld? Although the image quality of the large format cameras they used still remains unsurpassed in my eyes, they're so bulky that the only place it'd qualify as carry on luggage would be on a container ship.

That left medium format and to tell the truth I had a real fondness for 120 film. There's a great Baltimore photographer called Patrick Joust who's long been something of an inspiration to me, and he works some minor miracles with his night photography of Maryland streets. And you have to love the colour of Kodak Portra and Ektar films. When my good friend Joni announced that he was going to let me borrow his Mamiya 6 medium format film camera for the America trip, quite frankly I became ridiculously excited. 

I hit Pennsylvania with 15 rolls of 120 film, 12 shots a roll. The bulk of them were Portra 400 but I had a handful of Ektar 100 mixed among them.  The Mamiya 6 was a curious beast, a bulky rangefinder medium format camera with a huge viewfinder. My technique was appalling. I wasted half my shots. Clearly I was hopelessly unused to shooting film and had little clue as to what I was doing. 

Yet I knew what I was looking for. 

Throughout the four weeks in America I shot mainly with my X-Pro1 and X100 Fuji digital cameras, true. But for a happy week or so I also wandered the streets with the Mamiya 6 in tow. I shot in good weather and bad. I took photographs of sights that would have been appallingly banal to local eyes, yet sights that filled me with strange fascination, and still do.

They say that everywhere looks the same in small town America. From the places I've been, I think that's bullshit. There's something mesmeric about these towns tucked away snugly in the hills. Would Americans feel the same way about the small rain soaked ex-mining towns twelve miles north of me, here in South Wales?  Almost certainly. W. Eugene Smith thought so at least. 

So has film replaced that Fuji X-Trans digital in my heart? Well, it came close. But film costs man. It costs in time and money. Maybe one day, in the future, if Kodak are still doing right by us and making that beautiful Portra and Ektar goodness, I'll go full film. But there's so much I've learnt experimenting with my Fuji X-Pro1 and X100 cameras. They feel so right. And though they don't quite have the same detail and definition, or the same grace in their tones, I feel I've found my look with them. 

For now though I hope you enjoyed this look at Bradford, Pennsylvania through the eyes of Kodak film. Some of these sights you might have seen before on my blog. But here, on film, empty of people and movement, cast in those beautiful colour tones... there's something different to the rest of my stuff. Something I felt worth sharing. 

Thanks for stopping by. We'll be returning to our regular Fuji based small town America programming shortly. Catch you later, fellow square eyes.