Seeing the World Through Analog Photography

Although I had a half-decent digital SLR camera which I'd used occasionally over the years, it had never occurred to me to get an analog camera. That was until, on a cold autumn's day on the steep cobbled road of Andriivs'kyi descent in the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, an old man told me to buy one from a drunk . "This good. You buy!" he said. He was right.

My 1961 START 35mm SLR Camera
My 1961 Start 35mm SLR Camera

What I'd been convinced into buying was a 1961 Start SLR 35mm camera which was produced by the KMZ factory near Russia. Holding the shamelessly heavy camera, with its ice-cold, precision milled steel frame in my hands, I instantly began to feel good about my 1000uah purchase. As I knew very little about 60 year old analog Soviet cameras, I placed its worn leather strap over my shoulder, googled a photo developer (the best photography shop, with the nicest, most patient people in the world BTW - Fotovramke) and headed towards the metro station. After a quick examination at the shop, it was determined that this was a great, and functioning, find (thank you for all your help Anton!). Feeling very clever for my purchase, I bought 3 rolls of film and spent the next few days photographing the beautiful, chilly streets of my neighbourhood in Kyiv.


'Start' Camera logo (in Cyrillic - see link below)

Having completed my first roll of film, I excitedly returned to Fotovramke to deliver my work for processing. The next day, into my inbox I received digital scans of my first 35mm roll. I was floored. Despite a light leak from a missing screw (that I managed to eventually replace at a flea market in Tbilisi, Georgia), which mercifully threw streaks of rich amber shades across my autumn street scenes, the photos were gorgeous. Each one had a warmth and indescribable connection with reality that reflected my memory of the experience of that moment, better than digital photography ever had. The fact that the focus wasn't 100% didn't detract from it at all.



As I continued to take photographs with the camera and gradually learn the relationship between the aperture, shutter speed and ISO of the film. With the digital camera, I'd never actually learned these intricacies before.


I also began to realise I was coming under a very intoxicating spell. Something that had never occurred with digital photography. The physical setting of the camera; taking the time to make sure it was focused; learning to manage the idiosyncrasies from 60 years of use; developing an eye for framing and lighting to ensure I didn't waste film that had to be processed - this experience and the processes that necessity, and my enjoyment were pushing me through, had created a whole new way for me to look at the world around me. Now when I go out side, I can switch into photographer mode and suddenly begin to see light, the framing of people, places and objects and how colours, materials, textures give context and meaning. In a way, this experience embodies the fractal nature of awe: the closer we get to awe, the more multitudinous and awesome it becomes.



I have included some photos, but I won't go into the camera's mechanics (I have included lots of fascinating resources below). That is a whole different 'awe'. Perhaps I will make a Part Two on the ingenious mechanics and the engineering, human skills, machining and material science that had to come together to create such a reliable, functional and beautiful piece of equipment.


Start 35mm SLR Soviet Camera Etching
Start 35mm SLR Soviet Camera Etching

I will say though, if you ever get the chance to use one, it's worth it for the enormous front mounted shutter release which, combined with the film winding mechanism, produces one of the most satisfying melodies in existence.


Go get an old analog camera and send me your rolls.


Links:

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrillic_script

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Start_(Soviet_camera)

- https://camerapedia.fandom.com/wiki/Start_(SLR)

- https://www.wrotniak.net/photo/vintage/start.html

- http://cameras.alfredklomp.com/start/

- https://www.mikeeckman.com/2016/06/kmz-start-1959/

- https://www.fotovramke.com/

- My Instagram with more Analog Photos

- Mike Eckman Website: RSS feed of Camera Bloggers Alliance Blogs