Mission, Distraction, Epiphany in 5 Frames, featuring a Zeiss Ikon Contessa and Portra 160 – By Martin Misiak
My daily driver for the last 6 months or so is a 1950 Plymouth with a bit of a gallop. I learned that one of the wheels was warped. Finding a replacement stock wheel for a 72 year old car is apparently about as hard as it sounds.
There was a dilapidated old garage in central Florida near the nexus of some railroads and other industrial flotsam that looked promising for my purpose, though. It was a squat, stained, cinder-block building from the 30’s that sat shaded among the Spanish-moss-draped live oaks. There were several old cars in varying states of disrepair scattered on the property. I’d passed it a number of times, but it looked so dead I wondered if it was even still in business. An old fella – as squat as the building itself – was often out front, though, rocking in his chair, wearing the same dingy white overalls and cap every time I saw him. I thought I oughtta stop and ask him if he might have the wheel I sought laying around, or at least a lead on one. Old garage guys know things and have connections.
He said that he didn’t know if he had such a wheel – but I was welcome to poke around out back and look.
“Oh, there’s a back?”
“Yessir. Mind the snakes.”
I pushed open a rickety home-made gate and entered his unadvertised, private bone-yard. I took one look around and knew that I had to return to my car to fetch my Contessa. I’d never been one of those guys who always carries a loaded camera “just in case” – but I happened to have one today – and this was a fine case.
About 20 years ago, I inherited nearly a thousand rolls of film from some photojournalist friends who had gone digital. I’m still shooting from that stockpile, although I’m down to my last 50 or so rolls. The Contessa happened to be loaded with some less-than-ideal film for the circumstances. It was already an overcast day – and the back featured a dense canopy, beneath which the conditions were dark, moist, quiet, and positively saturated with vibrant emerald greens… and here I was armed with very expired and relatively slow Porta 160NC. Add to this that the Tessar 45/2.8 is not a particularly fast lens – and not very sharp wide open.
My whole reason for being there – the 1950 Plymouth wheel – became something of an afterthought as I became entranced by this outdoor museum of old Studebakers, crushed forklifts, rotting hearses, towers of disintegrating Detroitiana, and mouldering yellow school buses with broken windows. I did see a snake. I wandered slowly from this copse of trees to that and shot quietly away.
I made a tripod of two feet and a knee, steadied myself against tree trunks, and hoped my reassembly was done correctly.
Several months earlier, I had noticed that there was what appeared to be mold in between the elements. Many advised me to ignore it. The photos would come out fine, they said; but I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I disassembled a camera for the first time, cleaned the lenses, greased the helicoid, reassembled and struggled with getting infinity focus to work properly.
This shoot was the test that would show if it was done right. I wished it was being tested under lower-stakes conditions – I really wanted these shots to be good.
Then I came upon a mountain of wheels and remembered why I was there. As I beheld the impressive pile, it dawned on me that I would really only be able to recognize a 1950 Plymouth wheel if it was actually mounted on a 1950 Plymouth. There may very well have been the wheel I wanted somewhere in that mountain – but I wouldn’t have been able to identify it. Hell – maybe they were all 1950 Plymouth wheels! The old man didn’t seem inclined to help me rummage through the weed-choked rubble to find one either.
I left without a wheel but I am pleased with how the shots turned out. I think it was a worthy trade-off.
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