Power Big Meet, or simply Power Meet, is an event that hits the town of Västerås in Sweden the first weekend of July each year. In a city with around 130,000 inhabitants on a normal day, some 80,000 additional car-crazy people flood in bringing with them some 20,000 cars. And not just any cars. We're talking about classic American cars, from the spotless and gorgeous to wrecks that can hardly drive. And people come to this event from all over the world in an annual pilgrimage if you like.
This year was the first year I shot Power Meet exclusively with film using a Canon EOS 1v, a Canon 35 mm f2.0 IS USM lens, and Ilford HP5+ film developed in Xtol and scanned with an Epson V850.
The Canon EOS 1v I had received earlier in the week that Power Meet started so it was new to me. Previously I've had a number of other Canons, including 1n, 1Ds and 6D so I’m used to the design, the layout of the controls and the functionality. This was important, I didn't have much time to get acquainted with the new camera. I suspect that even if you would happen to have no experience of Canon cameras the 1v would be very easy to start using.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the 1v. Truly, it seems to be the pinnacle of analog SLR cameras with top-notch build quality and functionality. The 45-point autofocus is fast and accurate and very few shots were out of focus, even as the light dimmed in the evenings. And the 21-segment light metering was also spot on in most situations, even in tricky backlighting. In short, it was a joy to use.
The 1v certainly is not the smallest and lightest SLR but without the bigger battery grips it’s surprisingly manageable. It didn’t weigh me down even after hours of walking around. And the top speed of 3,5 frames per second you get without the big battery grips was fine for me. In fact, I had the camera in one shot mode anyway.
Even though the actual Power Meet event is Thursday to Saturday, already on the Monday before you start hearing the cars in the city, especially at night. From Thursday, they circle the city center from dusk, driving bumper to bumper in an endless procession, partying hard as they go along. During the day, in between sobering up, they gather at an airfield to buy and sell car parts and look at all the beautiful automobiles. Love it or hate it, it truly is a spectacle like no other in the world.
Photographers from near and far turn up to document this event. Most common is to stand at the side of the procession and take pictures of the cars as they pass by, typically with a telephoto lens. That may suit most photographers but not me. For me it's not the cars that are interesting, it's the people. So for a few years now I've been at every Power Meet taking photos of the people who so love their American cars and the culture that goes with it. I should add that Västerås is where I grew up so it has a special place in my heart.
The participants at Power Meet fascinate me and I like to engage with them. I usually walk right next to the cars, talking to people as I pass them, showing an interest in their cars and outfits. And since the cruise moves slower than I walk, I often pass the same cars a few times each night. Often when they see me with the camera they are more than willing participants in a staged shot. But it's when I get the spontaneous shot I feel the most. That's where the wide-angle lens helps as well, establishing an intimacy, which I find so important in such situations. I also need a camera that is fast to work with and the 1v certainly is that.
Besides the 1v, this was also the first time I was using the Canon 35 mm f2.0 IS USM lens at Power Meet. It’s pretty much the only lens I ever use in addition to the Canon 50 mm f1.4. The 35 mm lets me get close and cover a lot, and it’s fast and sharp. At f2,0 not only is it fast but I can get a very shallow depth of field, something I really like.
And it’s nice to know that the stabilization can help me gain a few stops in low light, something that's of a bit more concern with film compared to digital. In fact, I was surprised that I could keep shooting at ISO 400 until about 11 pm and still get fast shutter speeds, only switching to 1,600 after that.
Power Meet was again this year a lot of hard work but I already look forward to next year’s spectacle. In fact, I already have some ideas about how I will challenge myself and improve my work further. Chances are the 1v will again be my main camera then. Perhaps I will get a chance to report back to you. So, until then.
Magnus Nystedt is an amateur photographer based in Sweden. He specializes in black and white street- and documentary photography. You can follow him on his photoblog Västeråsbilder.se and his portfolio is available at Nystedt.org. He's also on Facebook and Twitter.