Here I am, a complete newbie. I’ve scoured YouTube and know what the various levers do; I’ve even summoned up the courage to take the front off the camera and inspect the physical mechanism. But I still know practically nothing. My digital camera hovers at the back of my mind and asks me painful questions to which I don’t know the answer: how do you know how much light is not enough, and how much is too much? And how are you even going to begin to link the shutter speed to the f-stop? In fact, how on earth are you going to measure shutter speed?
I resorted to Mississippis and decided that I was going to experiment and record everything. Unfortunately, I had not yet realised that I only had eight exposures per film.
Portrait No. 1
It seemed fitting that the first photograph should be of the generation my Brownie Number 2 skipped. There’s a strange line across which the tone changes towards the bottom of the picture, and smudges at the top I can’t explain. Perhaps it was the ghosts that, disturbed, were fleeing through the shutter.
Portrait No. 1 (repeated)
A higher f-stop than Portrait No. 1, I knew that more Mississippis had to be counted. The image is certainly sharper throughout, and it seems that the ghosts have all left. In both cases, it seems that I’ve got the shutter speed right though; a happy happenstance that I attribute to the guiding hand of my nonno.
The headless man
I tend to like night (or at least dark) settings, so a dimly lit pub seemed a perfect place to see how my Number 2 Brownie dealt with long exposures. Conclusion: one can’t rely on strangers to stay still.
Waiting for tomorrow
The scientist within me had realised that exposures 1 and 2 were not a very good experiment. So in 3 and 4 I kept the f-stop fixed and reduced the exposure a bit. Serendipitously, people stayed still.
I went to the pub with a friend and took the opportunity, while he was concerned with the issues of the day, to take a photo of him. I was attracted initially by the fact that his face was illuminated by the light of his telephone and envisaged reaching the pinnacle of artistic photos: in the end, I was left wondering why the text on the board was so much more in focus than my friend.
A later repeat of exposures 3 and 4—as I said, I hadn’t yet been confronted with the fact that I was reaching the end of the film. But never mind: the ghosts have made it into the picture.
This is a photo that now, sadly, I probably wouldn’t take. I didn’t have a tripod with me but decided at the time that it didn’t matter, as I intended to just open and close the shutter for a short exposure that was still longer than the default 1/50s. For a nice, still image it does matter. But this image has grown on me: the blurriness represents the scene (on a Friday, outside a pub) being viewed through the eyes of a drunk. I can’t claim that this was the intention at the time.
A 22 second exposure, with a hand pushing the camera against a rail in an attempt to stop it vibrating beside a windy Thames, in the absence of a tripod, doesn’t work. To compound my mistake, I wound the film along and realised that this was the last exposure. But the importance of a tripod is a lesson that has stayed with me and now when one hand picks up my Number 2 Brownie, the other picks up my tripod.