Exploring a family legacy through the lens of a treasured hand-me-down Pentax K1000

The room must be completely dark with no visible light. The nearest bathroom will do. I shut off all the lights and run my fingers along the frame of the camera, searching for the round knob on top of the device. I curl my fingertips around its edge and pull up.

The camera jolts in my hand as the back casing bursts open. Fumbling in the dark, my fingers search for the film casing sitting on the countertop. Once found, I place the roll of film protected within the case inside the small nook within the camera. I push the rewind knob back down, locking the film in place, creating a snug fit. The process is very meticulous, and any error, no matter how small, could ruin the film. This is a fact I know far too well, given the amount of trial and error I have explored over the years.

I could tell the camera was a special gift from the moment I laid eyes on the package that Christmas morning. My Bopa had saved it until last, once almost everyone else had moved on from the festivities.

Adventure awaits on the road to the Mount Kidd campgrounds in this photograph. Subtle coloring, a signature feature of film photography, in a way highlights the quiet beauty of the rolling green hills and stoic, towering mountains on the horizon. Photo by Courtney Ingram“Now, this used to belong to my father,” he said. He reached inside the box and pulled out a Pentax K1000.

Now comes the particularly tricky part. I grasp the end of the film and pull it across the camera frame, sliding it into a crack inside the take-up spool on the left. Gently, I continue to slip the film in further, until it peaks out the other side of the spool.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d always dreamt of using a film camera. The ancient art enticed my vintage soul. I loved the grainy resolution and desaturated photos it produced. Every image has its own personality. Like a snowflake, no two pictures are the same.

I could see in my Bopa’s wizened eyes that this was a gift he wanted me to remember forever. Being the oldest grandchild and an only child, this was the first hand-me-down I had ever received.

The author’s cousin, Sarah Ingram-Reid, stares down over a sunlit lake in Duncan, BC. The high-contrast development of film lends this photo a much more intense thematic feel than if it were taken digitally. Photo by Courtney IngramMy dad, sitting next to me, turned and cautioned, “You better take good care of this.” I knew he meant business. My younger cousin, Sarah, who had also stuck around to watch, looked at the camera with envy.

The film must be properly fitted in the spool before I can close the casing. The teeth of the spool must grip the holes lining the top and bottom of the film. So again, I feel around the camera for the rewind knob and twist it, reigning in any slack on the film.

Living in Calgary prevented me from seeing my grandparents often, who lived all the way out on Vancouver Island. My cousins lived just a five-minute walk away from them, allowing for frequent visits. It was hard not to assume that they were the favourites.

The natural desaturation of an image that film photography supports in its process lends this mountain scene from the window of the Delta Lodge in January 2015 an austere, dreamlike quality. Photo by Courtney IngramHundreds of miles away, I often felt the distance between my grandparents and myself in more ways than just the physical. But on this Christmas morning, I felt like the most important person in my Bopa’s world.

“He’s giving the camera to me?” I thought to myself in astonishment. Sarah also shared an interest in photography, so I couldn’t help but feel a little proud that I was chosen to receive such a gift.

With relief, I snap the casing shut. Now that the film has been neatly inserted, I slide my finger down just below the rewind knob to find the film advance lever. I tug it outwards, against resistance, until I am halted by a loud click. The noise echoing in the dark room signals to me that the camera is ready to shoot.

Even before birth, I had a unique connection to my great grandfather, the former owner of the camera. In honour of his life, my parents decided to name me after him.

Film photography has been critiqued many times over for its low-resolution, dark imaging with soft focus. This style doesn’t hit home for every photo-enthusiast, but in the case of this picture, such qualities turn a simple still into a dynamic, mysterious action shot. Photo by Courtney IngramOn that Christmas morning, the camera weighed down in my hands, reminding me of that unbreakable bond.

This wasn’t just any old camera – this was a legacy, passed down from generation to generation. I couldn’t imagine how I was ever going to live up to it.

I leave the dark room and rush to tug back the film advance lever. The best part is watching the ticker number crawl down to 24. Eager to take my first shot, I press the camera exterior against my brow. When the subject for my print is framed within the viewfinder, I push down on the shutter release button and take the photograph. I knew my Bopa and namesake would be proud of this one.

Thumbnail by Courtney Ingram.

cingram@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Michaela Ritchie, mritchie@cjournal.ca