My Soviet reunion

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016
  • Cameras

    I’ve been looking for my old camera. By that, I don’t mean the camera I was using before the one I have now, I mean my first ‘proper’ camera, the one I bought as a kid for little more than a handful of change.

    I remember it was a significant amount of money to me back then, enough that I held it for quite some time while I carefully considered my decision to buy it at the local scout group jumble sale. It came with no guarantee, no assurance it would even work, but it looked just like the cameras ‘real photographers’ used to take meticulously framed and carefully lit photographs that found their way onto the pages of newspapers and magazines.

    It was a clunky old soviet made Zenith B SLR camera that my Dad laughingly called “a brick” when I showed it to him, asking him if I should buy it. It was already an old camera when I bought it, certainly old enough (and cheap enough) that someone had donated it to the local scout group jumble sale, complete with an old red felt-lined camera bag.

    It was a good investment by all accounts. Not only was it fully working, but it helped to ignite an interest in the craft of photography that I obviously still have to this day. I used the camera a great deal, focusing on the world around me through the viewfinder and capturing moments with a familiar click of the shutter.

    This was a 35mm film camera, of course, limited to just 24 or 36 pictures per roll of film. Each photographed was carefully considered not just in terms of the photograph, but also in terms of the expense of that picture. Mistakes were costly and disappointing, and you would never know how your photographs would turn out until you had finished the roll of film and gotten the pictures back from the developer.

    My Dad worked for a magazine, so he would sometimes bring me black and white films that he would then get developed onto contact sheets by the picture desk. I’d eagerly await his return from work with the black and white contact sheet that I would look at through a special lens he gave me. He taught me to select a picture and indicate the amount of cropping needed with a red chinagraph pencil. I liked doing that, it felt very professional to me, far more involved and creative than simply getting a bunch of prints through the mail like everyone else.

    I entered one picture into a photography competition at school. My photograph was a black and white close-up of the moment a pebble splashed into the ornamental pond in our garden. Using a tripod and a remote shutter release, the picture was sharply focused and captured droplets of waters ricocheting through the air. I felt confident that my photograph would win when the pictures went on display at my school’s art show.

    It took second prize, beaten by a color picture of an aeroplane wing in mid-flight over a blanket of clouds. I don’t mind admitting that I was disappointed. I felt indignant that my careful setup photograph had been beaten by a holiday snap! Mom said I was robbed.

    I don’t know what happened to that old camera. I suspect it might have ended up back at the local scout group jumble sale. So these days, whenever I walk by a vintage shop or a market stall selling old cameras, like this one in Paris, I nostalgically look for an old Zenith B like the one I used to own. I haven’t found one yet, but I’m still looking.