An Instamatic Throwback, or: A Favor for Lefty

One of my photographic experiments has involved working with Kodak’s Instamatic film – technically known as “126” film, or as I call it, that stuff I try to crack out of its original cartridges and shoot, even though it’s five days older than dirt.

Now here’s the thing.  Fresh Instamatic film hasn’t been manufactured in nearly 20 years, and finding fresh color Instamatic film is harder than finding marshmallow Peeps in September.  Color Instamatic film already suffers from decay and degrading, so trying to use it has been difficult in and of itself.

That being said, I did acquire a cheap point-and-shoot Instamatic camera – an AGFA Agfamatic shooter – as a throw-in in an eBay auction, and I figured I’d give it a few test shots.  And since I knew that my black and white Instamatic film could remain fresh for years, I tossed a cartridge into the camera and went for a shoot.

I walked around St. Agnes Cemetery for a while, taking pictures of monuments and markers.  And when you shoot with an Instamatic camera that has no f-stop, no adjustable shutter speed, nothing short of a shutter button and a lens … you start to trust your feelings and your instincts.  You take a breath and you press the shutter button, just as if you were taking aim at a dartboard.

Instamatic Monument 1.  AGFA Agfamatic camera, Kodak Tri-X Pan film, expiry unknown.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Instamatic Monument 1. AGFA Agfamatic camera, Kodak Tri-X Pan film, expiry unknown. Photo by Chuck Miller.

There we go.

In the past, I’ve done the opposite when it comes to shooting with vintage Instamatic film – I’ve cracked the film out of its cartridges and rolled it up in 120 or 616 film paper, and exposed the film, guide frames and lug holes and all, in my medium format cameras.

In shooting with the camera for which this film was originally created, you can see the reason for the imprinted framing marks, which allowed photofinishers to properly frame the 28mm by 28mm images when it came time to print snapshots.

I’m not going to enter this photo in competition, this is more of a “well, I guess the camera works, so here’s another avenue for me in the future if I’m feeling creative.”

Okay, I can take a few more photos to burn off the roll, and then go take care of other …

What’s that?  Coming up one of the winding roads at the cemetery?

Black Cadillac stretch hearse.  And if it makes a right turn onto this road, it’ll be in the path of my car.

Yikes.  I can’t have my car blocking a funeral procession.  I quickly got to my car, started the motor, and pulled forward.  Okay, if I make this right turn, I can leave the cemetery and –

Oh, crud.  That’s a LONG funeral procession.  I can pull over here, but there’s no way I can access one of the exit roads when people are driving up the same paths.

Okay, Chuck.  You’re now part of the funeral.

Well, I wasn’t going to sit there in my car and stew over when I could leave the cemetery grounds.  If I’m going to be part of a funeral… I should at least pay my respects.  I got out of the car and walked over to the burial site.  The mourners gathered there as well.  I didn’t recognize anybody, I didn’t know the name of the soul who was called to Glory.

All I knew was that this was a very solemn moment.

Prayers were said.  Tears were shed.  I bowed my head.

And as the funeral ended, I thought to myself about this moment in time.  That moment when the final four numbers are placed on the right side of your life-long dash.  That moment when your family and loved ones and blessed friends arrive to pay their respects.

For some reason, I was reminded of a short story called “A Favor for Lefty,” in which a man recounts his story of attending the wrong funeral and how that accident changed his life and outlook.

And I thought to myself.  Our lives may be finite… but our deeds are infinite.  What we do in this short time on this planet can set the boundaries and goals for the next to walk the path.  The goodness we share today will bloom in a garden of kindness that can last for an eternity.

I suspect that many who attended that funeral today had good, wonderful memories of the departed.  God bless them for that.  Hold onto those good memories and keep them tight in your heart.

As for me?  I’ve got a roll of black-and-white Instamatic film and a camera that still works with it.

My dash isn’t over.  At least not yet.

It still has a long way to grow.

And come the day when my dash ends… and someone accidentally attends my funeral…

I hope you also take good memories and thoughts with you on that day.

Whenever that day comes.

Hopefully for me, not too soon… 🙂

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