Film Friday with a Kodak Retinette II
By Jozef Gwizdala
My first film camera was purchased around 3 years ago in an antique shop in Poznan, Poland. After admiring an old-fashioned camera whilst walking down a backstreet in the old city, I decided to enter the shop that was selling this camera (the shop looked as though it had been left unchanged for the past 100 years). As I entered, I was coldly greeted by an old woman who once I expressed interest in purchasing something, lightened up. I had no idea how a camera worked back then so I asked her if the camera worked, which she assured me that it did. I knew that I should probably not trust her but once I found out that it cost 40 Zł (around £8), I decided that it was worth it, even if it didn’t work, due to the beautiful aesthetics of the camera. Once I got back to the hotel room I decided to find out what this camera really was.
The internet told me that my camera was a Kodak Retinette II that was manufactured around 1939 in Germany. There was a total production run of 41,000 and cost $74 in 1939 (which the internet informs me is the equivalent of around $1300 today. 35mm film had only recently been made popular with the launch of the Leica camera in 1925 which probably explains the high cost. However, the thing that struck me the most was the rarity of this camera. I could not and still to this day can not find any record or trace of one of these cameras being sold on the internet. I’m sure that there must be a few of these camera hiding in people lofts but it is also inevitable that these leather coated cameras have largely been broken and thrown away over the years. Regardless, I decided that I needed to try out this camera.
My parents had stopped shooting film over a decade ago but had two rolls of colorama film left. The expiry date, 2005. I realised that this combined with an ancient camera would yield interesting results so I decided to give it a go. I wouldn’t recommend a beginner using a camera that was this complex but I definitely learnt a great deal from this camera although with no meter on the camera, I am sure many of the photos I took on the roll were ruined by my optimistic guessing. Although perhaps not applying enough tape to the broken hinge on the camera, flooding the negatives with light was the bigger culprit to the ‘interesting’ image quality.
After keeping the shot roll of film for a couple of months on my shelf I finally got round to sending it off to AG photo lab in Birmingham to be developed. The photos I got back were certainly interesting. The majority were just light leaks but there were a nice handful that came out. One in particular was a self-portrait in my bedroom using the fully mechanical (and utterly unpredictable) self timer on the camera. The light leak and the ‘off’ colours in this photo added to the overall aesthetic if anything. I also managed to get a photo of a couple of friends in there which didn’t turn out so great. Perhaps the most amazing thing for me was the photos I took in London, just over the Thames, that came out in surprising detail.
There were still light leaks but they were less prevalent than in other photos that I had taken with the camera. From this photo I can see how this would have been a fine camera back in 1939. I cannot help wondering what photos have been taken with this camera. Undoubtably, being made in 1939, this camera would have captured the Second World War and the aftermath. The events of communist rule of Eastern Europe. The list goes on and so does this camera’s legacy. However, the camera in its current state is perhaps better suited to the lomography movement but hopefully it will still be able to continue to produce in some shape or form the art that is photography.”