“The camera doesn’t matter – the eye does,” says the anonymous, blurred person who speaks only in my hazy memory. This is a quote heard by millions of photographers, possibly in a million, different, often misquoted ways. They all seem to drive a point, however: that the camera is only a tool that is as good as you are able to project your visual ideas and images with.
To test that ubiquitous theory, I recently purchased a 40-year-old lens, after a convincing demonstration from a friend and coworker. This one cost a fraction of what newer lenses charge, thanks to age and time working in my favor. I immediately bought the lens from a second-hand online store, along with a cheap adapter for my Canon 60D (which in itself, is an aging camera, according to every photographer ever).
I had to admire the lens for a while as it came out the box a few days after. Here was a creation that stood the wear and tear of 40 years, through time and space, that landed on my pale, white desk of mine. I will never know the story it went through, or how many hands have grasped and pulled its aging handles, or how beautiful the pictures that were taken by many eyes and clicks of the shutter. These things, it seems, I can only wonder.
So to stop wondering, I decided to test this gizmo of mine on a trip to Bandung, in West Java.
A visit to a limestone processing factory in Bandung
Before lifting heavy rocks
On standby, without workers
A local-favorite. Kue ape
I immediately noticed a few things: how sharp the images were, how different the colors appeared, and how hard the lens was to operate! Here was a photographer, so used to modern marvels such as auto-focus and exposure compensation, receiving a vintage welcome from his own camera. It was a bare-bones experience, having to manually set the aperture and the focus ring every time I had a subject in frame. But it was eye-opening, as it was unfamiliar
Visiting the night street market
Look at all those chickens (y’know, that one vine)
Famous Martabak Andir
Coincidentally, the man behind the stall has been making Martabak for 40 years
The lens worked wonders in night time, thanks to its wide 1.4 aperture. The images managed to stay crisp as well. It was hard to focus, though, without the automatic function I was so used to having.
And then there was this certain dreamy character to the bokeh, as the blurred edges of the images never seem to stay symmetrical and perfectly round. Yet the depth of the areas that were in focus almost seemed that they can pop out, like a cutout character from a story book. This lens, and its images, are a trippy piece of work.
A self-portrait that ‘pops’ out (taken by a good friend of mine, Moses – @moosesronaldo)
I felt responsible to show what an old, jaded lens can do, since this is my first lens I bought with my own savings. And it to see how much it has gone through, it’s an honor, in a strange kind of way, to own something that has its own mysterious story.
So, I do think to dismiss a cheap and aging piece of technology would be a tragic story to tell. I think something like this offers a portal to see the peculiarities of imperfect items of yesteryear; a sort of back-to-your-roots experience. With all the new technology coming to our screens and doors in 2018, it would be nice to step back and recall on older things that we haven’t explored. Here’s me just starting out into that journey, and with good intentions, I ask that you come along too.