When my friend, who knows little about cameras, presented me with the 35mm Olympus Pen FT, it was a total surprise. Quite literally as a gift, but moreover, the camera’s function was what was most surprising. When I picked up the Pen FT for the first time, I observed how light the compact camera was. I immediately put my eye to the viewfinder and was confused. I silently thought to myself, “This is so weird…” I had never encountered a viewfinder that wasn’t horizontal. I had to learn about this new species. Little did I know, this “weird” small camera would become my better half.
Eager to figure out how my camera worked, I put in the only roll of film I had laying around, Ilford HP5+ 400. I hadn’t shot much with black and white film, so I tried both a new film and a new camera. The Olympus Pen F series has a maximum iso speed of 400, and a small image with a fast pace produces more grain. With that thought in mind, I went out and started shooting.
I had to be patient for the first roll as I was shooting 72 photos now instead of 36. I didn’t expect myself to be as thrilled as I was when receiving my first negatives back. Without intent, I had created a visual comic strip. For the first time, I didn’t mind the grain. The contrast was incredible with the photos side-by-side. My go-to film recently has been Ilford Delta 100. The tonal range and balance are phenomenal. I feel with the half-frame, the detail becomes richer to my eyes. I have noticed so many more symbols and how anything can create a contrast between worlds.
In my experience, the half-frame camera allows more freedom. Beyond the obvious benefit of having double the number of exposures, I have expanded my interests in different genres.
Once I started shooting, my thoughts of a half-frame being best for portraits immediately proved itself wrong. I have taken my best street shots with my 42mm lens and my 24x18mm frame. I can now create the accurate, big pictures of street photography with meaning and depth. I feel as I have so much more flexibility with photography while shooting half-frame. You get two different perspectives in one. I find the ability to shoot at 180 degrees and then turn and capture its reflection satisfying. I believe sometimes you can’t honestly see or feel something until you see another side of it. This allows me to show more of the subject passionately. Being able to shoot two completely different matters and bringing the juxtaposition to the forefront excites me.
I specialized in cinematography in college and have been shooting digital for as long as I can remember.
I have lived in New York City for about five years now and have never felt more in love with a city. In a place so crowded, it felt like the first time I had the space to grow. Living in the city of sensations and thrill and individuality, I must capture it.
I have always had a physical need to express myself creatively. I had to have taken a million photos in my first years here, but all were digital. I was moving with the pace of the city.
I love how this city is loud and aggressive and constantly moving but, I finally found a hobby that makes me slow down. In late 2019 I picked up my grandfather’s Pentax K1000.
Working with cinema cameras and being on set is something I’ve worked for, and I am so grateful for, but shooting film photos has become something I didn’t know I needed. The film limits me, challenging my creative ways. I love the unpredictability of film; even after framing your scene and reading the falling light, it never comes without flaws. Those millions of digital photos I took throughout the years were nowhere near perfect, and I saw them as dull. I wasn’t focused on the details in the photo as much as I am now. I like how real the world can feel through film.
When my eye is against my vertical viewfinder, I feel like I’m watching an old movie scene play out. Shooting analog is a detachment from the consuming gentrification around us and the constant plug-in. I cannot live without the romance of film.
Grace Herlihy is a visual artist residing in NYC. She is a recent graduate from The School of Visual Arts where she majored in film production and cinematography. From a young age, Grace has been inspired by the power of art and the physical effect it has on someone. She currently works in the TV industry doing creative marketing.
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