I am a digital gal all the way through, this happened unintentionally due to the easy availability of digital cameras (and I will admit cell phone cameras). Sure, I owned some film cameras growing up. I even used to take a cheap film camera into the field with me on Geology field trips, but everything about that process was automated. You loaded the film, lined up the little notches, and bam the camera did the rest. You then shot the roll of film, the camera rewound the film back into its little canister, and you then handed the film over to the nearest Walgreens.
As this was my only experience with film it did nothing to help me with my one assignment that required film this semester. The students in my class were all given these cheap, plastic cameras called Holgas along with various versions of film (it shoots medium format 120mm film and with the use of packing peanuts (high tech, works perfect!) you can also shoot 35mm).
The distrubution experience felt similar to Christmas day when you open a gift that is totally exciting only to discover later that afternoon when you try to use, build, or assemble the gift and the euphoria quickly dissolves! Along with the lending of the Holgas there was an in class tutorial on how to load the various films along with instructions about what could be done in the light and what had to be done in total darkness. Because Film! Little did I know that I was about to show little to no manual dexterity in the complete darkness.
We were allowed to shoot any subject matter we wanted, so I promptly loaded a roll of black and white 120-format film into the Holga and headed outdoors. At least I thought I had it loaded, it was really hard to tell because the whole process is manual and I found many ways to mess the different parts of the procedure up. I usually spent at least 10 minutes wondering if I was actually shooting images or if the film was just sitting maniacally on its original spool! There is a small window of blurry, red plastic on the backside that you are supposed to be able to view dots and numbers through, but that never seemed to work for me.
When you use the 35mm film the guessing game is even worse, it has to be loaded in complete darkness as it does not have paper shielding it from light (like the 120) and there are no numbers to guide regardless if you were able to see them or not. Needless to say, I did shoot an endless role of 35mm (thinking wow! I am really getting a lot out of this one role of film…). I finally figured out that it was not winding to the second reel properly, and that I was taking make believe pictures for an extended period of time. Eventually, I corrected that mistake only to then fumble with the next part of the process that had to happen in the complete dark.
For some reason every time I have to work with film in the complete dark my hands seem to turn into flubber. So, I found a dark spot in my basement and messily opened the Holga (both small metal clasps go flying into the great beyond). I knew that I was supposed to turn/partially twist the top of the film canister to rewind the film, but it was all tightly wrapped around the opposite reel and it would not unwind so I pulled it off the reel. I started to twist the top, but nothing happened. Somehow during my mismanagement of this process I accidently pulled the film a little too hard while I was trying to figure out if it was actually going into the canister. It was not. The film then sort of released slightly (from whereever its interior attachment was) and sent a shockwave of impending doom up my arm. I finally gave up and tried to force feed the film back into the canister, which worked until I ran out of room because the film was not winding tightly. I feel pretty lucky because I think I did manage to get an image or two from this now shortened, almost ruined roll of film. I highly doubt there was a masterpiece on the ruined portion of film, but I will never know.
The 35mm film debacle was not my only mishap with the Holga, the dark, and film. I will not keep giving all the gory details, but I will say despite the mishaps and mistakes I did manage to learn a lot, take some really fun images, and I am considering purchasing my very own Holga. The best part is that you never know what your images will look like even if you do everything correctly. The cheap plastic body and lense provide an endless variation of vignetting, blur, light leaks, and other distortions so that when you finally do get to see your images that feeling of Christmas satisfaction finally returns (you know after you have shredded the directions, lost 20 screws, and whatever you have assembled is sitting lopsidedly in the middle of the room).