At times, objects seem to take on more than their physical nature; they embody and become part of the memories attached to them. This is no different for cameras, maybe even more so for a camera. It has been the object which captures the memory and places it on film, allowing it to last. Recently on a trip, I took along my Vivitar V3800N, a camera I had almost completely abandoned since obtaining a few medium format cameras. While holding it, looking through the viewfinder, I felt at home. It was natural, unlike the medium cameras purchased in the last year or so- cameras that I have been learning how to use, struggling at times. I have put rolls of film on backwards, effectively exposing the paper and not the film. The other day with my Mamiya RB67 I could not get the shutter to fire. I was kindly reminded that I had failed to remove the slide. Learning and growing can at times be painful. Maybe that is why today, while using my Vivitar V3800N I felt as though I could relax, and remember to breathe.
My mom purchased the V3800N for me from a garage sale. I imaged that the camera had been used by student in a high school photography class. Once the class was over the camera did not get picked up again. The V3800N is about as bare bones as they come. The perfect camera to become accustomed to 35mm photography. It is a fully manual with a 50mm f1.8 kit lens. Not intimidating, always forgiving, it welcomed me back into the world of film photography. The feature that truly made this my camera is the ability to shoot multiple exposures. Once I became aware of this feature I shot roll after roll of my multiple exposure “experiments”, dropping the film off at my local grocery store’s in house photo lab. Once I received the call I would rush over to pick up my developed film, unable to wait to see the results.
The camera is small so it has traveled across the country with me in my tiny Hyundai Accent. Together we have explored abandoned places and hiked trails. I was heartbroken the day I foolishly left the camera in my unlocked car. The camera was stolen. I sobbed. My dear friend, taken from me. After a month or so passed I struck gold at my local thrift store. There it was, another V3800N still in the box. It even included a splitzer. Once again I had “my” camera.
In September of 2015 my local grocery store closed its photo lab. It was not a surprise. The only next step, I felt, was to start developing the film at home, and that I did. As a result, I do not shoot as much as I have in the past. Developing the film myself has made me a bit more reserved, and I find myself considering the time I will spend developing. In another sense, it has been an opportunity and opened the door to medium format photography. I have been collecting and shooting with medium format cameras ever since.
Today I am feeling sentimental about my V3800N- the camera that welcomed me back into the world of film photography. As a student my final year was spent in the darkroom creating photograms. The process was exciting and fulfilling. A camera and film was not a part of that process. I started to feel that film could not give me what I was after - a way to explore. My V3800N provided a change of perspective. It pointed me to the path and encouraged me to go. Thank you old friend, I owe you.