Like a familiar smell, a familiar sight can elicit strong memories. How many times have you smelled dressing cooking and it reminded you of Thanksgiving with the family? How many times have you seen a building, car or other object that reminded you of an experience that you had in the past? Just about every time I drag out the 50's vintage Rolleiflex that I sometimes like to shoot with, I get people who stop me and ask about it. I can't say that I blame them. Its a damned sexy piece of art, masquerading as a damned sexy piece of photographic machinery. Either that or people want to make sure that I haven't time traveled from the past. Anyhow, on this day (I forget which day it was since film has no EXIF data and I generally suck at keeping notes) I was wandering aimlessly downtown in pursuit of an interesting scene from which to make a photo. This gentleman, let's call him Earl, was a city worker and he was deconstructing the ice rink that gets installed in Cincinnati's Fountain Square every winter. He saw the camera and we began a discussion.
It's amazing how many personal details a complete stranger is willing to share with you once they latch onto some element of commonality. Our element was this camera. Earl told me all about how his grandfather had a very similar camera and how he would take pictures with the camera during the war. I don't know which war - that's not the point. Earl's grandmother apparently kept a lot of the pictures that his grandfather made in the war. As he told me about how his grandmother would show off the pictures, I could see Earl's brain transporting him back to granny's house and looking through those old photos. The smile on his face is evidence that the trip back in time to the source of his nostalgia was an enjoyable one. It was good to be a part of his brief respite from working that afternoon. From our conversation, I was rewarded with a portrait of "Earl" to help me create a memory of my own.
I love when I'm out making photos and I get to interact with the people who share the space with me. I'm sure that I'll revisit this memory when I come across this photo in my collection in the future and I'll smile, having remembered our brief interaction on this mildly chilly day. Even though I'm a generally outgoing person, I sometimes have trouble asking people if I can take their photo, not wanting to inconvenience them or make them feel uncomfortable. However, this experience with Earl taught me that the reward is so very often worth the risk.
I made this photo with a Rolleiflex, medium format camera and 120, 400 speed Ilford film. The back lit sky was tricky to compose against for this one. I knew that I wanted to get the fountain (to the left of Earl) in the photo and shooting into the sun, or where the sun would have been if it hadn't been so overcast, is always a challenge. I developed the film in my basement, as usual, and scanned the negatives into the computer. I was able to make some adjustments to lighten up the shadows in Earl's face and get a usable photo. You can view other photos similar to this in the Street Photography gallery.
Keywords: black & white, black and white, film, film photography, people, street, street photography
Wow a really great shot. I do love your black and whites, you're right there is certain peak into the past when gazing at them. Your story adds to opening the doorway of a moment in time. Enjoyed the photo and story.
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