Seeing The World Through My Yashica TLR
Let me tell you a secret.
I am terrible with cameras.
I can take pictures, I don’t mean that. I mean the technical part, the machine part– I don’t find it intuitive. Perhaps it’s part of the reason I never felt the need to switch over to digital– there was enough to still figure out on my analogue machines.
At the beginning of the year, I received a beautiful gift: a Yashica MAT 124G twin lens reflex camera from the ’70’s. I’d been swooning over these TLR cameras for a while, and the popularity of Vivian Maier and her stylish self-portraits made them even more appealing. I was eager to try a film camera that I wouldn’t have to hold up to my face, a camera that would force me to capture the world with a new tool.
But, much like my early Holga struggles, it took a little while to learn how this baby worked.
In what’s becoming an annoying trend, the first few rolls didn’t develop at all. I would put it away for a month in frustration, before digging it out to try it again. I took deliberate pictures, trying to learn which knobs controlled what and how to best frame the shot. The image in the Yashica’s viewfinder is reversed, so when I move the camera to the left, the image moves to the right.
TLRs use medium format 120 film, much like my Holga– this means that the negatives are larger (allowing for greater clarity) and the prints are square. Medium format film is the original analogue Instagram, no filter required. Each roll only contains twelve frames, so I tend to be pickier about which photos I shoot. This also makes the stakes higher—I don’t want to waste my already limited frames.
Because the camera isn’t held in front of my face, it allows me to be slightly more subtle when taking pictures. I get awfully shy about taking pictures of people—this is an ongoing struggle for me—so I’m hoping to use the Yashica to push myself, to get closer. A lot of people don’t even realize it’s a camera. Those who do, though, are immediately enthusiastic—so many people have approached me and started conversations when they see the Yashica around my neck.
The second time I went to the Sutro Baths, a guy approached us to chatter on about the Yashica, ignoring the other two or three cameras we were lugging around. I love that the camera itself can be a way to begin a conversation, and I have learned that there are an awful lot of analogue camera and TLR enthusiasts lurking around (especially in San Francisco).
I’m still playing with this machine. These pictures are just the beginning of my Yashica TLR journey. But figuring out how a camera works is always worth it, especially when you end up with such nice photographs at the end.