A day to remember
November 11th dawns cool and clear, sun dappling the garden, trees and orange leaves. Gunfire echoes on the still air: a 21-gun salute down in the harbour, across from the cenotaph. Even in Ottawa, clear skies have graced Remembrance Day ceremonies. I watch them on TV.
But sunshine beckons. A drive up the west coast of Vancouver Island, north from Victoria, sounds like just the thing — how long before the dreary cloud and rain returns?
I load the car with camera gear: tripod, digital camera — a Nikon D-800, with AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, Tamron SP AF Aspherical Di 17-35mm 1:2.8-4, Nikon TC-20E III 2x Teleconverter, and various other accoutrements: filters, cable release, etc. I also pack my Nikon F90-X film body, with Nikkor 24mm 1:2.8D and 50mm f/1.4D (both which feature aperture rings, essential for f-stop adjustment on the F90-X). Last, I throw in a vintage medium-format camera: a Kenilworth Model II, manufactured by Standard Camera Ltd. of Birmingham, UK, near my birthplace of Wolverhampton.
This little box camera came to me by way of my grandfather. My mother, who gave it to me some time ago, mused that “He probably traded for it down at the local.” Indeed, Granddad had been known to barter all sorts of “merchandise” at the pub, from wristwatches to roadkill (he was a lorry driver). Anyway, the Kenilworth has been sitting on my vintage camera shelf for a few years, until I recently decided to resurrect my analog photography skills, inspired by Instagram retro buffs and the scanning and printing of my Eighties Vancouver portfolio.
So, I’m heading for the West Coast Highway, by way of my old circuitous cycling route, along Ocean Boulevard, past Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site. Hey, wait a minute! The historical site and adjacent Fisgard Lighthouse (first permanent lighthouse on Canada’s west coast, built in 1860) would be a perfect location to practice my planned multi-camera shoot. I turn the car around and drive down into the site.
The original coast artillery defences were built in the late 1890s to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base. The fort includes gun batteries, underground magazines, command posts, guardhouses, and barracks. All very photogenic.
Renewing my annual pass, I haul my photographic burden to the Lower Battery pulling out each camera in turn to document the buildings and bordering seashore. Of course the D-800 records all my settings, EXIF data. But the film cameras require … a notebook! I remember this stuff. Want to learn from your mistakes? Keep records.
This is particularly important for the Kenilworth. It has two apertures, controlled by a metal tab. The “default” aperture has the tab flush with the side of the camera (who knows what f-number it represents). Pull the tab out and a smaller aperture slides into place. Above the aperture control, another tab, marked “time” controls a fixed shutter, or a sort of bulb setting (there is no tripod mount — perhaps something I’ll have to DIY). Below those, a knurled tab trips the shutter.
I’ve loaded a roll of 120 Ilford Delta 400, one of my favourite films, which I adopted the day of its release, back in the 90s. I take a light reading with my Sekonik Flashmate meter. Guessing the shutter speed at 1/125 gives me an aperture of f-22+. Hmmm. Maybe I should have brought the Delta 100. The light over the ocean shimmers at midday. Luckily, the November sun stays low: isn’t it some of the most beautiful light in the northern hemisphere? I’m guessing these are going to be some dense negatives.
Pulling the Kenilworth from its faux leather case, folding back the age-hardened flap, reveals an inscription on the inside, which I’d quite forgotten: “2387036 AC Mundon RAF Luneburg BAOR 8.” From my initial research, it appears that the acronym BAOR refers to British Army of the Rhine: occupation forces in Germany, after the First World War, and the Second World War. BAOR 8, located in Luneburg, would have been established post WWII. The Kenilworth camera was first launched in 1930 (this Model II presumably not long after), so this makes sense. But who was AC Mundon? Did my grandfather swap him the camera for a pint, down at the Pheasant Inn?
For each scene (12 on the roll), I shoot one with the little aperture tab in, one out, making notes as I go … or rather my patient assistant Amanda does.
Certainly, the resulting negatives do not make full use of the curve Ilford Delta film is capable of producing. Ansel Adams would not approve! Yet a couple of frames are compelling and not too badly exposed. As the example below shows (wet scanned with Epson Perfection V750 Pro), the lens is not exactly Schneider sharp. The large, 6X6, medium format film area can’t make up for the softness, especially on the left side. But, hey, Instagramers apply all kinds of filters to approximate this kind of “vintage” look (as I have to the iPhone snapshot illustrating this camera, top left). The results are interesting enough to inspire me to take this vintage camera out again. Today, its lens and serendipity led me to a museum of memories.