Note: The Film Photography Podcast Internet Radio Show (Episode 40 – FPP Midwest Meet Up) can be accessed here.
Much like the white rabbit, I was running late. My stupid GPS had told me to take a wrong exit and so I lost fifteen minutes of time. The meet up time was 11 AM, and I was going to be late. Turns out that when I pulled into the parking lot of the Findlay Inn & Conference Center, I almost ran over the whole FPP gang. Mat Marrash’s Eastman Kodak Commercial B 8×10 camera would be the only thing left intact. Fortunately, I didn’t hit them, because Mat was the whole reason we were here in Ohio; his first gallery show had its kickoff reception that night.
I’ve been interacting with Michael Raso and the Film Photography Podcast for a while now, and the first thing that you learn about Mike is that he’s very enthusiastic. The end of any long road trip brings with it a small pile of trash to sort through—energy drinks and candy bar wrappers, usually—but I also had cameras to pick out. As I was just about ready to open the door to step out and stretch my legs, I could see that Mike was there to greet me, recording material for the next show. The tone for the day was set—it was going to be about having as much fun with film photography as you could possibly squeeze into a span of 24 hours.
Thankfully, everyone was willing to wait as I checked with the hotel staff (who verified that I could not yet check in) and picked out cameras for our photowalk. I settled on my newest, a Nikon FE2 with some Portra 400 left in it, and my workhorse 120 camera, the Yashica Mat-124G. (By workhorse, I mean I’m not as afraid of dropping it as I am my Hasselblad.) Apparently everyone was taking a small camera and a larger camera, so I fit right in.
I also quickly realized that most of the faces I saw were familiar. Of course, there were Mike and Mat, along with Joe Kolbek, who was shooting video for the YouTubes. Chris Fecio and Tom Schaefer, whom I had met at the New York City meet up in April, were there as well. Though I hadn’t met Lauren Bagley, past FPP guest, I had seen pictures of her and arguably the cutest dachshund I’d ever seen, Strudel. So, at least it was a familiar face I was now meeting in person. The two “newbies,” so to speak, were Dave Mahaly, from Columbus, and Jason Benning from Troy (a bit north of Dayton). Unsurprisingly, everyone I met for the first time was very cool. Would you expect anything different from FPP listeners?
The first surprise of the day was that Kodak—yes, THE Kodak—had supplied our group with some free Portra film! Mike dished out rolls for everyone, who had their choice of the 400 or the 160 flavors. It seemed as though most went for the wonder emulsion, Portra 400, but I opted for the 160 since I still hadn’t gotten around to purchasing my first “pro pack” of it yet.
The first stop of the day was a photo store, Imagine That! (No, “Imagine That!” is the name of the store!) Proprietor and all-around super-nice lady Leslie Lazenby Hunsberger had set up an array of classic cameras for us to see. Everything from a spy camera perched on top of a 620 roll to a Leonardo 8×10 pinhole to (what else?) Polaroids! We had a grand time at the shop looking over the cameras and talking about film when Joe said he felt like a cup of coffee. Whenever there’s an FPP meet up, I’ve noticed, there’s a very big “go with the flow” vibe. As such, we soon all found ourselves sipping coffee next door at The Baker’s Cafe.
While sipping that coffee (and enjoying some brownies), we were surprised with a big Kodak box from Leslie. It was full of all sorts of film goodies, from Kodachrome to some heavily expired Polaroid 108 film. Nobody really seemed to want the Kodachrome, so I took it for some desk ornaments. I also grabbed a pack of the 108 film to try.
After the snacks, it was time to head up and down Main Street. It was a pretty relaxing walk, with no place in particular that we were going. It was a very different feel than the New York City meet up, when we had a set itinerary and were constantly running behind schedule. We stopped in a shaded alleyway for a bit to cool off, and even stopped by the Jones Building where we hoped to find some artists hanging out, but to no avail. On our way back to the hotel, we ordered up some pizza and stopped by a nice Asian market, where I discovered both a refreshing aloe drink and that wonder of wonders, Mr. Brown iced coffee. After a bit more walking, we were back at the hotel, where we were able to hijack a conference room for an hour or two for our pizza lunch.
Well, what had started out as a “pizza” lunch quickly turned into a ‘pizzas and Polaroids” lunch. Dave brought his Polaroid Big Shot camera, and a number of us had our Polaroid Automatic Land cameras. By the end of lunch, we had laid out about thirty Peel-apart Polaroids. In photography, I seriously doubt that there’s anything more social than passing around the Polaroids. Mike is known for his obsession, but I think that everyone, even those of us who prefer the classic roll film formats, should bust out the Pack Camera every so often.
After what turned out to be a late lunch, the group split up and did their own thing until the gallery reception that evening. I tagged along with Mike in his Kia Soul (apparently pronounced “Sah-oooul”) to drop off everyone’s Portra for processing at Rite-Aid. The super-nice ladies there seemed worried until we told them that we’d happily pick the rolls up the next day, rather than expect them ALL to be done in an hour.
That evening, we all met at the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion for the gallery reception, complete with punch and cookies. The room that featured Mat’s prints was very well-presented. Lighting, framing, and even acoustics were great for producing a dignified atmosphere. Yet, despite wearing a suit, Mat was true to his form—chatting with all of us about the photographic process, making prints, and even getting down to the gritty details of framing.
After the gallery wound down—and after we went upstairs to see some of Lauren’s illustrations as well as the university’s darkroom—we all headed to the George House coffee shop to kick back and reflect on, well, a day of kicking back. Upon ordering a “Scipio” hot sandwich, I found myself confronted by a seemingly envious Mike Raso, who kept asking each new person who sat down with their food, “Did you know they make sandwiches here?” A good time was had by all, and before we knew it, we were headed to bed.
The next morning, I met Mike, and eventually Joe Kolbek, in the restaurant of the hotel for our complimentary breakfast. The food was OK, but I really liked the DIY waffles they had. Mike had never seen the self-timed waffle irons, and to be fair, I’d mainly seen them on college campuses. Though the other highlight of the breakfast was that Joe’s coffee was likely soapy, we were unfazed and picked up the previous day’s photos from Rite-Aid.
Next, we met Mat, Lauren, Chris and Tom for a darkroom extravaganza. I got the opportunity to show Mike my processing techniques, which are probably pretty different than his only recent black-and-white developing, which was done in Caffenol. Actually, I used Kodak D-76; although it’s a standard developer, I had never used it before. Of course, the negatives turned out beautifully, regardless.
In the end, my trip to Ohio for the FPP meet up was a great way to re-invigorate my photography. I hung out with like-minded film enthusiasts. I saw what the fruits of dedicated effort to a photography project can be. I even learned a thing or two that should help my darkroom printing process. What’s more, I hope that I can find occasion again to at least pass through western Ohio. If so, I’ll most likely pay a return visit to the charming little town of Findlay, Ohio.
Regular FPP contributor Dan Domme is a film photography enthusiast and PhD student in the Acoustics department of Penn State. He’s been a serious photographer for the last two years, and now shoots nearly exclusively on film. You can view his Flickr stream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/yeknom02/ or his photography blog at http://dommephoto.wordpress.com/
Listen to the entire recap on the August 1, 2011 / Episode 40 of The Film Photography Podcast Internet Radio Show!