In this new series photographer and analogue enthusiast Simeon Smith talks about the use of minimalism in photography and how he applied this method to his own work. In this article he uses the Belair camera and a roll of Black and White film.
A couple of days ago I saw a newly released 1TB SD card. Now, there’s a load of reasons why one might want this. Obviously, if you’re a wedding photographer, this could be useful, but for my process, the way I make photos, I’m just not sure it’d be helpful. Everyone has a different way of working, but I really struggle to use 36 frames on roll of 35mm well.
When I look through negatives for the first time I always find shots that if given the chance, I probably wouldn’t take again. Throwaway shots. “I’m bored and I have a camera in my hands” shots. “I know I’ve already missed the decisive moment, but I’m going to push that shutter button anyway out of sheer frustration” shots. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and taking a dozen bad photos can be the catharsis that gives me the push to take one good photo. Sometimes, like a junkie frustrated that the last couple of pills appear to have been duds, I go for another shot and receive the full power of all three frames in one photograph. Henri Cartier-Bresson said “Your first 10,000 photos are your worst”, and there’s a lot of truth in that, but what if we had less chances to get it right? Would each frame mean more if there were less frames in which to find meaning?
With this in mind I loaded one roll of pretty expired Agfa 120 into my Lomography Belair Jetsetter, locked on the 90mm lens, and clipped in the 6×12 frame. This would give me 6 photographs on a roll of 120 film. This was on a Friday, and I decided that I’d only shoot this one roll over the weekend. Could I fill 6 frames with 6 meaningful moments? To add a little pressure to the weekend, I also decided that whatever came out, even if it were dreadful, I’d show you in this article.
The Belair is a strange and beautiful beast that can take medium format photos in 3 different sizes (6×6, 6×9, and 6×12). It comes with plastic lenses (glass Belairgon lenses are available, but I haven’t used them). At 6×6 the plastic lenses are surprisingly sharp, but by the time you stretch the film plane to 6×12, they get quite soft around the edges. This really influences my composition when I use the camera, and my subjects tend to be close to the centre of the frame. It’s also an aperture priority, automatic camera. Reading this your first thought might be “Great! I’ll choose aperture to achieve my preferred depth of field, and the camera will do the rest!”, but the highest shutter speed is 1/125. This means that you do have to give exposure a little more thought.
Part of my interest in minimalism is in embracing creative boundaries, so with personality of the lens and the limitation of the shutter in mind, I set out to shoot. It’s undeniable that this way of making photographs made me think more about how and what I was shooting. The camera is really easy to use, so the actual process of focusing and making the image was pretty quick, but I did think more than twice before releasing the shutter. More often than not, I’d line up a shot in the viewfinder, consider the project, and then not make the photo.
I’m not sure if this lead to better photos, in fact I’m sure I missed some opportunities to capture amazing images, but this process was like therapy to me. I sometimes look at my images and think “well that shot was just lucky, there’s no meaning in the image, it’s just fortunately, coincidentally pleasing to the eye”. Sometimes I wonder if I’m making art at all.
The therapy of forcing myself to slow down and consider each shot very carefully has meant that I’ve found meaning in every shot. They may lack some spontaneity and guile, but these images all mean something to me, and have given me new momentum and self-belief which will allow me to go out and find my next lucky fluke-shot.