My first few years of photography involved just the phone camera in my pocket.
Then a Nikon Coolpix digital compact when I started learning about aperture, depth of field and shutter speed, and wanted a little more control than my Sony Cyber-shot phones of the day could give.
In June 2012, I received a Holga 120N for my birthday, something that had been on my wish list for a while, having see some extraordinary pictures made with Holgas that looked nothing like anything digital I’d seen before.
This started me along the film pathway, and converting the Holga to run 35mm film through it – for the cheaper film and processing costs, as well as being able to expose multiple frames at a time – opened a gateway to another new world.
Though my first couple of 35mm film cameras (a Smena 8M and a Minox 35GL) couldn’t be considered stone cold vintage classics, it did start me exploring other vintage cameras, that were considerably older, and beautiful not only to look at, but to hold and use too.
Cameras like the Asahi Pentax S1a, Asahi Spotmatic F, Voigtlander Vito B, and Kiev 2A readily come to mind in this category.
Despite this era of my photography now being long behind me (I last shot 35mm film four years ago, and have just two 35mm film cameras remaining, plus the Holga), and me mostly favouring digital compacts these days, there’s no denying the enduring allure of those vintage machines.
That said, whilst obviously not physically and mechanically as highly engineered, some of my older digital cameras could perhaps be considered vintage digital.
My Pentax K100D from 2006, or Ricoh GRD III from 2011 I would class as digital classics in a heartbeat.
But somehow not in the same category as old film cameras.
This vintage allure extends to other objects too.
I’m a sucker for photographing vintage cars, whether in pristine fully restored condition, or rusting in the back of beyond.
In fact any kind of old machinery – especially from my early childhood or before – holds great appeal, bicycles being another high on the list.
So why is this? What is it about vintage machinery that makes some of us drool and swoon?
I think there are a number of reasons.
First, it’s the pure aesthetic appeal.
These are very beautiful objects that delight our eyes, regardless of what they do (or did) or how old they are.
Second, an admiration and perhaps longing for, an era when things seemed made to last, out of proper, organic materials like wood and metal and leather and glass, not plastic and plastic, and yet more plastic.
A quality 50 year old camera, well maintained, will last another 50 years. A 15 year old camera probably won’t last another 15 years, let alone 50.
A few years ago, I remember taking our then main car, a Honda Jazz, in to the local dealer for some repairs, when it was around eight years old.
The garage told us quite bluntly that Honda – and indeed most manufacturers nowadays – only design their cars to last about seven years before they expect you to essentially chuck it away and buy a new one, so we should expect all kinds of components to fail on it in the next couple of years if we kept it.
Planned obsolescence at is finest.
Third, another kind of longing, for times that were simpler and slower.
An era where you weren’t bombarded with advertising a thousand times a minute, streets weren’t crammed with cars and people, and the main pastimes over here on weekends were gentle pleasures like nature walks, photography and fishing, not shopping for another dozen things you don’t need, eating junk, and binge watching Netflix.
Fourth, a more personal nostalgia perhaps.
I remember photographing the old Rover above on a very warm summer day, and as I wandered past the cars with their windows open, the scent of warm, aged leather upholstery instantly transported me back 35 or 40 years to sitting in the back seat of some of my dad’s older cars.
Fifth, a kind of vicarious time travel.
Using these objects – cameras, cars, bicycles and more – from a generation or two before us, allows us at least in part to feel what it was like for their original owners to use them when they were new, to relive their experiences and their lives in some way.
Part escapism, part historical sociology experiment.
For these reasons – and no doubt more I’ve not yet thought of – I see the presence of vintage items in my life – whether I own them myself or admire other people’s – only increasing as I get older.
Indeed, perhaps the more advanced modern technology becomes, the greater the allure of these old objects will become too.
How about you? Do you love vintage objects? If so, which are your favourites, and why?
As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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10 thoughts on “The Vintage Allure – Or Why I Love Cameras And Other Objects Older Than Me”
There are some fine looking toys out there Dan. I do like vintage objects or more precisely I like objects from the 80’s or 90’s as they have nostalgic element.
Yeh I see things like calculators or TVs I remember from my youth and want to buy them!
This is a feeling that gets stronger as you get older. Just a ‘heads up’! 🙂
Ha, yes that’s certainly been true so far Marc. Along with things like prioritising clothes purchasing by factors such as warmth and comfort, rather than any kind of trend or fashion!
My grandfather is mechanic, when my mom would take us, me and my brothers, to visit our grandparents usually it would be late afternoon, he had usually a jeep and an old truck that would fit into a gangster movie. There was a metallic outdoor bench, Coca Cola red, with a nice pattern, his grey overalls, his tools and oil glimmering. The ligth would be quite golden and his workshop would have a golden curtain for the light entering the dusty space. These memories are what makes me like to have vintage objects. Although when hiking I am glad of a good plastic camera than a heavy metal one : D
They sound like lovely memories Francis. I think about of the cars my dad had, and tractors on my granddad’s farm, and wish I could go back in time with a camera to document them.
Some time ago I read a report about a scientific study, stating why people love to use Hipstamatic and other retro filters nowadays. A photo looking like the ones in their old family albums or their parent’s wedding album produces a little amount of dopamine – a happy and sentimental feeling, even though that image has been taken five minutes before. Maybe it’s the same with old cameras and other vintage objects – they bring back memories of simpler and carefree times.
Robert yes I think there is great truth in that. Most people above say 40, have predominantly fond memories of cameras and photos like Polaroids. A modern image that can be easily made to appropriate that old style and feel can be almost as appealing as the original.
I think there’s perhaps a kind of time travel / immortality thing going on too. If I take a picture of my kids now that looks like it could have been taken in the 70s or 80s, it takes me back there somehow, or maybe brings the greater simplicity and warm memories of those times into the present. If that makes any sense!
My longing for past times has been going even further…
I’ve been quietly longing for living out in the countryside, by a creek perhaps, but most importantly with a vegetable garden and fruit trees, a wood stove and perhaps even some small farm animals like chickens.
I guess it started when I started making bread at home about 10 years ago, and then discovered how incredibly better food tastes when it’s made on cast iron pans.
Of course my wife would never want to live in a farm… so it’s just a wish.
Funny enough, with cameras that has not translated in starting to use film again. I had even purposed that this year I’d shoot film, but the price hikes of 50-100% I’ve seen here after the pandemic started, really make me resist it.
That sounds a lovely dream Chris, I have similar ones about living in (very) rural Wales near the mountains, with a log fire and a Land Rover, spending most of my days wandering the countryside and enjoying the elements. Certainly it’s involve some home grown fruit and veg too!
It’s a shame that film nearly always comes down to the cost for many people. It’s the predominant reason I gave it up in 2017. I’ve been toying with a Fuji instant camera, but to shoot any kind of volumes the film costs become prohibitive. Then if you decide to use film only for “special occasions” it comes with an increased pressure and expectation to make those images count more, and be more special than just regular almost-free digital images, and so the enjoyment plummets.