Working On my Story

No images today, but since the urban fantasy story “Sideways” that I’ve been working in is definitely film-photography related, I thought I might post the first portion online for fun (of course feedback is welcome as well!) This is a small part of what’s been written so far.


“Can you still get film for that camera?”

Darcy Callum sighed at the voice that interrupted him, as he looked up from the viewfinder of his 1950’s era Rolleicord twin lens reflex camera. He had been composing an image but the moment had passed, and the chance for taking a good photograph was gone. He had observed a young couple sitting together outside a cafe on a bench of weathered wood and intricate but rusting wrought iron, framed by the golden leaves of a Maple tree on a mid-fall day. The couple were sitting close together, hand in hand, oblivious to him, indeed oblivious to everything and had eyes only for each other. It would have made a great image, but now they were getting up to leave. (Love was always getting up to leave when he was around he observed ruefully,  even when it wasn’t his).

He looked up and regarded the source of the interruption. “Yes, no problem at all getting film,” he replied to the twenty-something man with a digital camera dangling from his neck. The young man was looking quizzically at the antique camera hanging around Darcy’s own neck by  a very worn but still sturdy brown leather strap.

“But isn’t digital better? Why do you still shoot film?” the young man persisted. He wasn’t being particularly dismissive, so Darcy prepared to launch into his standard response. It was well-rehearsed; he had had this conversation many times before. As he spoke, he appeared to fondle his vintage camera lovingly but only half-attentively, twisting the focus and adjusting a couple of dials in a way that seemed absent-minded.

“Digital may be more convenient perhaps, probably cheaper, but I love using these old cameras and the film,” he replied. “The cameras are a lot of fun to use, and I really like the results.” Darcy didn’t think the young man was buying the explanation.

“But how do you know if you got the picture right if you can’t look at it right away?” the young man asked. He seemed genuinely mystified.

“Like anything,” Darcy replied, “practice. Remember it wasn’t that long ago that all photography was on film; and we didn’t have any choice…”

The young man was starting to lose interest. “I am so glad those days are gone” he said, as he turned and started to move off. Darcy sighed again; whenever he went out shooting with one of his older film cameras he always got the “can you still get film” question, sometimes from someone who was reliving fond memories of using an old camera (he liked talking with these people), but more often than not it was someone whose photographic horizons did not expand much past taking selfies on an iPhone. Someone had once shouted at him “The 50’s called and they want their camera back!” His response had been to call back “The land of the ignorant called and they want to know when you are coming home.” He didn’t get the stinging reaction he had been hoping for, as he recalled. As for this young lad, Darcy was smugly amused that he, a thirty-something, slightly pudgy and unremarkable man had been able to take a couple of candid shots of the young man, shooting from the hip while talking with him, with the young man being completely oblivious to the fact. You still have the touch, Darcy told himself.

As it turned out, the two pictures he took of the young man were the last frames on the roll, and seeing as it was now finished, Darcy decided it was time to head along to one of his favourite shops, Bill’s Second Hand, since it was only a five minute walk away. He started walking and soon he could see the faded yellow and black store sign, the familiar blue door, paint peeling, slightly ajar, and in the stairs leading up to it, depressions worn into each step by countless customers over the decades of the store’s existence. He walked up the steps, his hand sliding along a wooden railing smoothed in the way that only time and hands could accomplish, and pulled the door the rest of the way open, listening to its familiar complaining creak, and went inside.

It was the kind of store where you had to turn sideways to snake down an aisle, with boxes bulging with the remnants of the past piled in high tottering columns on either side. Darcy wondered what would happen if a customer asked for something in a box in the bottle of a pile, how would the the proprietor of the store even move merchandise out of the way?

Darcy came to the part of the store he called “camera corner”. With the advent of digital photography, fewer and few people were even using film cameras, and it seemed a lot of these unused cameras ended up in this store; Darcy would go in every couple of weeks and there always seemed to be something new, or at least different, but the pickings today seemed rather lean; Darcy saw a few more of the seemingly infinite supply of Kodak Box Brownies that seemed to inhabit the world; at least this store did not try to get $100 for a 10 dollar camera, like so many other antique stores. He also noticed a couple of Argus C3 “brick” cameras, likely sitting idle for decades since they had recorded their last graduation, wedding, birthday or Bar Mitsvah.

He was about to turn away when he saw a battered leather camera bag that seemed to be a recent arrival. He fussed with a buckle to open the main compartment and his eyes widened as he saw what was inside: a Vest Pocket Exacta, a German camera from the the 1930’s, highly collectable, beautiful in an art deco kind of way and in mint condition. And the film! He counted at least 30 rolls of Agfa black and white film, in the long discontinued 127 format. 127 shooters had resigned to paying a small fortune for the remaining film stock online, and there was so much here that it was likely worth more than the camera (which itself would be worth at least three hundred dollars to the right buyer). Finally, wrapped in wrinkled tissue paper, a large,bottle of Rodinal film developer liquid that was at least a hundred years old. The label was stained and torn, but the Agfa label was unmistakable. Unlike most darkroom chemicals that went bad after a year or less, Rodinal was reputed to never go back, and film geeks would talk about developing film with century-old Rodinal in the same way Scotch drinkers would wax rhapsodic over a rare single malt.

Darcy hand never made a find like this; he had to buy it. He put everything back in the bag, picked it up (it felt surprisingly heavy) and took it to the front of the store.

The owner Bill seemed distracted today; Darcy waited to get his attention.

“How much for this?” he asked. (Nothing in the store had a price tag on it; that would have made it too easy, and Bill always seemed to like haggling. Darcy hated it; he preferred price tags and a quick payment).

“What?” Bill replied, his eyes looking up  from up a column of handwritten figures in an old account journal. (Bill put computers in the same category as price tags when it came to his store). Bill looked at Darcy briefly, then at the camera bag, then back at his column of figures. He sighed as if he had lost his place and said “40 bucks” without looking up further.

Darcy did his best to maintain a poker face; on eBay the contents of the camera bag would fetch at least $600, although Darcy did not want to resell this treasure). He took out his wallet and saw to his chagrin he only had thirty-five dollars in cash, and a store that didn’t use price tags or computers was not going to accept a credit card. Darcy still remembered the sound of Bill’s laugh when some hapless customer once asked to pay with a debit card.

“I only have thirty-five on me – can you give me 10 minutes to go to get some more money?” Darcy knew he wasn’t the only film photography junkie in town. He had once missed out on a pristine Rolleiflex 2.8F camera by 15 minutes and he wasn’t going to let that happen again. Just then Bill’s black rotary dial phone rang, with a mechanical bell sound that one only heard these days as a retro ring tone on iPhones carried by hipsters. Bill, distracted, picked up the phone and answered, seemingly oblivious to Darcy. The phone conversation did not seem to be going well, and Bill seemed to be having trouble getting a word in. Hi finally turned to Darcy, looked at the cash in his hand, and said “Fine, I’ll take what you have” and grabbed the cash and then turned back to the phone.

Darcy stood for a moment, disbelieving his luck, then turned to go quickly home with the camera bag. He wanted to get out in case Bill changed his mind!


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