Canon AE-1 | Skillshare Projects



Canon AE-1

It's a tank small enough to hold in your hand, but instead of capturing land it captures images. The aluminum body feels cold in a way that is only amplified by its industrial feeling utilitarian design. There's nothing extra here. Every knob and dial is purposeful and considered. While I don't know what every control does, it's this intentional nature which assures me they all have some critical purpose I haven't discovered. This camera is older than me. Older than many of my friends. It's tire eye has seen things I never will through the eyes of many people I've never met.

This experience has taken a toll and it shows; even the most resilient objects fade with time and this camera is beginning to fade. The oval quality control sticker sitting on the trapezoidal flash mount is faded, though still proudly proclaims "passed". Painted black edges begin to reveal the metal finish underneath as can only be done with human hands and the sands of time. Despite the cosmetic wear – paint chipped here and there, and a series of small dents – the camera works flawlessly. I find myself constantly changing lenses for no reason other than to revel in the deep sense of satisfaction I feel when mechanical elements fall into place with a satisfying "chlunk". All of the knobs and dials click in between intervals such that I know what the image settings are without having to peel my eye away from the viewfinder, a reliable but tired eye.

It feels silly, being this poetic about such a naturally stoic and unemotional object. However in doing so it becomes clear that in addition to performing the relatively humble task of capturing photographs the camera itself also serves as a record and tells a story. Taking photos today is different, more commodotized. Cameras are on every phone, and every computer. We take 40 selfies for every one we post to our instagram accounts. But this camera represents a different type of image capture. A more intentional, studied, professional approach that mirrors it's intimidating and dizzying array of color coded controls.

I wind the film with the black lever attached to the ISO dial, their physical relationship a clever affordance for the exposure control. After composing the image-to-be in the viewfinder (which is a pain to use if you wear glasses) carefully depressing the shutter button halfway reveals whether or not the image is correctly exposed. The frail needle in the viewfinder seems indecisive. It hovers and jitters, seemingly doubting its own ability to tell me whether or not my image will be too bright or too dark. Then, almost reflexively, I depress the shutter until I hear the "clack" of the shutter opening and closing in 1/60th of a second. At this moment the only version I can see of the photo I've just taken is in my mind, but in a few weeks time this image will exist in the real world. I hope it meets my expectations.


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