Roll 800

A couple of years back, I wrote a piece titled ‘Roll 600’. The piece marked the moment I logged my — wait for it — 600th roll of film in my film spreadsheet. In the piece, I mentioned how rewarding it was to rediscover old memories, holidays and events one six-frame strip at a time, sometimes having to employ creative detective work to deduce when old rolls were shot. 

In the past couple of weeks, I logged Roll 800

Keep on Roll-ing

I recounted Roll 001 in my last piece, so this time I wanted to focus on Roll 800. Much like my first roll, my 800th is a consumer 400 ISO colour negative film. Only this time, it is Fujifilm Superia 400 instead of Kodak Gold 400. This roll was sourced from my favourite place for all things film in Australia, Ikigai Camera, the type of specialist store that could scarcely be imaginable 17 years ago. 

And, naturally, the subjects captured differ wildly from Roll 001. When I shot Roll 001, I was 15 years old. I could scarcely conceive a world after schooling, let alone a world where I would be married and be responsible for two children of my own.

Roll 800 is therefore representative of a time in my life where my photographic endeavours are focused more on memory making than any other artistic pretensions. Instead of frames and frames of subjects my mother would call ‘nothing’, there are parks and playgrounds; toys and tots — with a handful of frames of the man-altered world thrown in.

Roll 800 begins half-way through a walk along the Alamein railway line. A linear trail parallels the current railway line, then traces the right-of-way of the long-vanished Outer Circle railway line — a route that would likely be of tremendous value in 21st century Melbourne. Like most weekends, I was out with the family for a morning adventure. No breakfast or coffee stop is complete without a play on the nearest playground and a walk along any nearby track. 

Hence the first couple of dozen exposures are of play time as we made our way from one playground to the next along the linear trail. Interspersed between sequences of sandpits and swings are visual curiosities — shadows, brick walls, concrete, miscellaneous people sitting and enjoying the sunshine. These are the sorts of photos I used to almost exclusively capture. But now with my official role as family photographer, such frames are much more limited. There are more important things to photograph.

For when we are no more

I don’t get as much time to shoot these days as I used to, but I enjoy it no less. And I know that one day, when all our JPEGs, CR2s, NEFs, DNGs and RAFs disappear into the digital black hole of deletion, corruption or incompatibility, they’ll be left with a physical reminder of their childhoods. They’ll be able to hold negatives and slides up to the light and be instantly transported back to a moment in time with the very material that was present when that moment was captured. 

In a fitting piece of symmetry, Roll 800 was loaded into my beloved Olympus µ[mju:]-II — a mju was my mum’s camera for much of the 1990s, the date stamping and ‘All-Weather’ sticker imprinted in my memory. If she’d kept it, she might have been able to retire long ago!

Screw mju

The MJU-II cops a bit of flack online for being overpriced in today’s market for what it is. It is a fixed lens 35mm f/2.8 camera with almost nothing in the way of manual override bar flash mode control. It’s true there are probably better-featured compact 35mm cameras on the market for less money, but I’ve come to understand the MJU’s appeal since having kids. When we’re going for walks, it’s the first film camera I’ll grab when heading out. It’s small, unobtrusive and—most importantly with kids—can be used with one hand. I bet the majority who bitch about it aren’t running around after two kids under 4.

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