Since I've sent my digital camera back to Canon for them to fix the video problem, I pulled out my Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic, for which a photography fanatic has uploaded the same user's manual I have zippered into the back of my camera bag. The camera is a 1970s model that was originally my Grandma's, and I used it on a regular basis when I was a reporter for a small newspaper in the late '90s.
It's been sitting in my closet since October 2003, when I started using my digital camera, a Canon Powershot S400. When I discovered there was film in the camera, I finished out the roll just to see what I would find.
I forgot that I had taken about half a roll of film at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in August 2003, taking photos primarily of Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, as well as Loudon Wainwright III. But the prints themselves were very strange for reasons beyond just sitting in a camera for four and a half years.
A number of them came on larger than average paper, as if they'd been taken in panoramic view. My Pentax is only capable of the basics, and I know of no setting that would produce such a result. Of course, it's hard to tell when you see the photos here, but these were a wider than average size.
Loudon Wainwright III
Now, I was using my telephoto lens for these shots: in fact, it was still on the camera. But that has never been known to produce odd-shaped images before.
The more puzzling prints were the ones that seemed askew, like they weren't lined up. I thought for sure that the photo technician must have made a mistake while feeding the film through the machine, so I asked them to make a second set of prints. They were the same way.
Loudon Wainwright, askew
Loudon Wainwright smiles into the light
This image of Ralph Stanley is small and off-center
In one case, the print was lined up properly, but the first version of it was long and narrow and cut off. Maybe the machine was incapable of dealing with the fact that some images were larger than others. In this case, it was diagonal because I deliberately took it that way.
Loudon Wainwright gets diagonal
Adding to the strangeness, all of the pictures I'd take recently to finish off the roll, though dark (I hadn't bothered to use a flash) and clearly suffering from the problems of aged film, were lined up properly.
Luke wonders what that big bulky thing in my hand is.
Una is soooo bored with old cameras.
Tempting as it was to blame the technicians, after I saw the second set of prints, I just paid for them, resolving to take the negatives to Ritz Camera, where they might get a better job.
In the car, I pulled out the negatives and, for the first time, took a good look. The first half of the film was exposed very strangely, with the images aslant and askew on the negative strip, rather than exposing a rectangular frame.
Somewhere after the folk festival pictures, one of the notches had torn. From that point on, the photos are aligned properly. So my working theory is now that I had misloaded the film, which consequently advanced the film through the camera at a strange angle, so that the area to be exposed was not consistent.
Then, when I picked up the camera again, four and a half years later, the film had turned a little brittle and therefore, instead of continuing to wind through the camera at its strange angle, a notch tore and the film corrected its trajectory.
To test my theory, I've taken another roll of pictures around the house, which are currently being developed. This time I used brand new film and made certain to use proper camera settings, so it will be interesting to see the results and figure out if my diagnosis was correct.
Surprisingly, though, there were still a couple good pictures on the roll. I think if I take it to a professional at Ritz Camera and explain the problem, they may be able to produce some better prints which, along with a little PhotoShop manipulation, will be worth having. I'm particularly fond of the photo of Loudon Wainwright smiling with a light right over his face, giving the photo a beneficent glow. Sometimes, they say, you only really get one photo worth keeping from a roll.
Next time, though, I'm shooting for more.
Check your cameras before you put them away in the closet.