Once every 13 years I get an irrepressible itch to partake in some fisheye photography. The reason for this remains a total mystery, as does any explanation for why the pattern coincides with the mating cycle of a particular brood of cicadas.
In the past, scratching this itch has meant purchasing a fisheye lens, mounting it to my system camera du jour, and bathing in the metaphorical calamine lotion of extensive hemispherical visual experimentation. Within several months, I’d inevitably tire of the fisheye look, and would exile the lens to my drawer of shame. There it would sit until a subsequent Craigslist gear cull would erase all evidence of its previous existence.
So when fresh signs of fisheye rash began to appear a few months ago, I did the inevitable: I started researching fisheye lenses for my micro four-thirds system. I considered everything from a $250 Rokinon to Olympus’ $1000 M.ZUIKO PRO — weighing the pros, cons, costs and resale potential of each.
I was on a march to destiny that could not be stopped — until, that is, I spotted a “50% Off” sign hanging above a table at a local art store. On that table sat a Lomography Fisheye One film camera. “How wonderful!” I thought, “A fisheye lens and another film camera — two things I don’t need, combined into a single product!” I immediately went to work concocting a plan to justify its purchase.
It’s now been several years since bERt, an industrious working-class neuron from the west side of my frontal lobe, inventoried my collection of film cameras and recognized that the sum exceeded all measures of sanity and sense. Acting swiftly and decisively, bERt devised a corrective strategy built upon a stringent regiment of discipline and austerity.
But a split second before he could submit his proposal to the prefrontal cortex, bERt was beaten to a pulp by a roving gang of bad-ass limbic system neurons, who were hopped up on Rodinal and Hell-bent on scoring an early 1960’s half-frame Olympus Pen from an acquaintance in Portland.
Since that fateful day, no neuron has ever again dared to propose a moratorium on the acquisition of film cameras. Instead, they now work together as a network, and have ushered in a new era of diplomacy and compromise. The process works as follows: if the limbic system wants another film camera and can actually find some clever and creative way to justify its acquisition, then the prefrontal cortex will allow it.
This system keeps the limbic neurons focused on the task of validating their inexhaustible desire for film cameras. It’s a mission so all-encompassing that it limits their time and inclination to seek additional pleasures — pleasures that could easily eclipse the relatively benign side effects of film fetishism, and plunge the mind into an asylum of insatiable excess. In this context, a few too many film cameras appears a rather small sacrifice to make for the sake of overall mental stability.
Which brings us back to the subject of the Lomography Fisheye One. As camera justifications go, this one was particularly easy for the limbic gang to pull off.
For one thing, I now have so many film cameras that the addition of one (or two, or three) has become statistically insignificant, making it rather easy for them to slip past the prefrontal cortex while it’s focused on more pressing matters. Second, this particular film camera was ridiculously cheap. After watching it sit on the “50% Off” table for a month, I waited until the final day of the sale, then offered to take it off the retailer’s hands at a 75% discount. They bit. So for less than the price of the three rolls of film I would eventually spool through it, the little Fisheye was mine.
If you’re hoping for a review of the Lomography Fisheye One, you’ve come to the wrong place. Anyone who’s ever used a Lomography camera knows to set their expectations subterraneously low. Though with this particular camera, you might want to rent a backhoe.
The Fisheye One is more toy than camera — a cheaply constructed, one-trick donkey that’s inherently incapable of any semblance of fidelity. It sports a black plastic body with a white faux-leather wrap and a matching white lens barrel, which gives it a certain baby panda aesthetic. Those who want something even more ridiculously adorned may opt for a “Hello Kitty” version, which Lomography also sells.
The camera sports a plastic lens element, with focus fixed to a single immutable distance. It has exactly one shutter speed (1/100s) and exactly one aperture setting (f/8). If you need a different exposure, you’ll need to load a different film stock into the camera. Fortunately, it does possess a built-in flash for those myriad situations in which 1/100s at f/8 would result in serious underexposure. But personally, I only used it twice — preferring to simply accept any underexposure as an incubator for maximizing some truly gnarly grain.
The lens is the circular fisheye variety rather than the more popular full-frame type. Most “real” photographers shy away from circular fisheyes since they leave so much imaging surface unused. But frankly, anyone shooting with a Lomography Fisheye One has already made the supreme fidelity sacrifice.
Double exposures are easily achieved — just rewind the film a crank or two and shoot it again. A much harder (if not impossible) task is to precisely align the exposures. Since there’s no way to measure exactly how much film you’re rewinding, subsequent shots will result in misaligned circles — creating an entirely different look that resembles overlapping streams of consciousness more than individual snapshots of time.
In spite of its numerous limitations (or perhaps because of them), the Lomography Fisheye One has enabled my most satisfying foray into fisheye photography to date. And while I have, as always, wearied of the fisheye look for another 13 years, I do have plans to repurpose the camera into a “streams of consciousness” machine as mentioned previously.
So here’s to you bERt the neuron. Were it not for your demise, I would have been forced to choose between the mundanity of functional sanity or a cabinet full of film cameras. Instead, I’ve miraculously managed to have both.
©2016 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS, MUSIC & vBOOK:
Those wondering about the title need only realize that hurdy-gurdies are a metaphor for film cameras. Long replaced by so-called superior technologies, the hurdy-gurdy is all but forgotten in modern music, whether it be pop, rock, hip hop, electronica, jazz or classical. But the hurdy-gurdy exudes character and attitude. Honestly, it’s one of my favourite instruments of all time. And for that reason, it deserves space in my own music.
As you would expect, all the photos in the vBook were shot with a Lomography Fisheye One camera, though I did use two different 400 speed film stocks in the process (Tri-X and expired HP5+) along with two different developers (Rodinal 1:50 and HC–110 dilution H)
The mood of the soundtrack is a purposeful mishmash. First, I wrote the requisite hurdy-gurdy part (which, due to local noise ordinances, I was forced to perform using a virtual Hurdy Gurdy from a company called Rhythmic Robot). I then punctuated the fisheye’s innate distortions with psychedelic underpinnings from a pre-production Intellijel Rainmaker 16-tap stereo spectral rhythm delay and comb resonator eurorack module — which I just happened to be beta testing for the company. Because of the utter cheesiness of the Lomography Fisheye One (and fisheye photos, in general), I next decided to tacky it up with some up-tempo, funkier bits using several software synths, including Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere 2 and U-He’s Diva (which I opted to record at toxically overdriven levels). Finally, I used Ableton Live to assemble the various elements into a somewhat cyclical pattern for reasons that, I believe, are quite obvious. The final song was mastered in Izotope’s Ozone 7 and the video was assembled and edited in Apple’s Final Cut Pro X.
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