Monday, August 4, 2014

Analog Interlude - Not my father's camera, anymore

The General Mercantile/Old Time String Shop in downtown Nacogdoches.

"It is alive!"

Okay, maybe that's a bit over the top. But that's sort of the way I felt last week when I received my beloved Yashica Mat 124G medium-format twin-lens reflex camera back from the shop.

Getting this camera refurbished has been something I've been threatening to do toying with for several months. Every time I though I had the money saved up or set aside to get it done, something came up (food, rent, gasoline, all that boring stuff).

Finally, though, I decided it was just time to bite the bullet and get it done. I'd made contact with Mr. Mark Hama in Georgia, who specializes in camera repair, particularly the Yashica Mat 124G. For those of you who don't know Mr. Hama, he used to work at the Yashica company in Japan, in the department which built and assembled, wait for it, the Yashica Mat 124G camera.

So you can probably see why I was excited at the prospect of having him work on the camera which had originally belonged to my late father. When I started The Analog East Texas project — even before it was The Analog East Texas project — I started shooting with one of my father's cameras, a Nikkormat EL 35mm camera which had been his pride and joy.

Vintage Stearman biplane on display July 26, 2014 during the annual Nacogdoches Aero Modelers Fly-In at A.L. Mangham Regional Airport in Nacogdoches, Texas.

As I've probably explained before, and will probably explain again, I believed my photography was getting stale, formulaic, in a word, boring. I was tired of the instant nature of digital photography. I longed for the uncertainty, the discovery, I'd found years ago in analog film photography.

After a couple of rolls with the Nikkormat, I dug out the Yashica. I hadn't touched it in probably 10 years, never mind putting film through it. It was just sitting on a shelf, which really isn't good for a camera, or any mechanical device.

This particular camera has a great deal of emotional meaning for me. I can remember when my father bought it. It was his first venture back into medium format photography in several years, perhaps decades.

I can also remember going out with him on shooting expeditions when he would use the Yashica Mat, or hanging out with him in the darkroom as he developed and printed images from the camera. I was amazed at the quality of the images coming out in the developer. With a negative several times larger than the 35mm film I was pretty much working with exclusively at the time, the sharpness and clarity of the photos really caught my eye.

Abandoned shoes along the Angelina River Bottom under the Highway 59 bridge June 29, 2014, south of Nacogdoches, Texas.  One of the last pre-refurb images made with the Yashica Mat 124G.
To say the Yashica Mat was in poor condition when I returned to it would be an understatement. A decade on a shelf had pretty much gummed up the works. Dust had settled on it (and in it) and it just wasn't up to what I wanted to do with it for the project.

Then, one day, I was cruising the Rangefinder Forum website. Someone in one of the forums was talking about buying a Yashica Mat that listed as one of its selling points a recent service by Mr. Hama. I figured out what I needed to do.

To make a long story short (I know, too late!), I sent the camera off and, about two weeks of anxious waiting later, I received a package postmarked Georgia. I quickly, but carefully, ripped the package open and feasted my eyes on my shiny renewed camera.

I think my dad would be happy with the way his old camera came out. I know I am. Before, the lenses were dirty, the images that came out of the camera had a kind of glow to them (cool, but not what I was looking for) and shutter firing was intermittent.

Now, the camera is really as good as new. Heck, the light meter even works again! And the images coming out of the camera in the handful of rolls I've shot in the past couple of weeks are just a sharp, just as crisp, just as beautiful as I remember them

Not to get too maudlin, but I could almost fancy my dad was watching me as I printed a couple of the images from those first, post-refurb rolls over the weekend. And I think he liked what he saw.

I know I do.

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