My film camera on pilgrimage

photography, the creative life, the spiritual life

A run to replace the tiny battery in my trusty old film camera also yielded a colorful set of notebooks made with fancy German paper – on sale and just the right size for a portable, packable journal. Preparations for my trip abroad are coming along, and the countdown is in the single digits. Giddy excited is the operative word.


I used to shoot exclusively with film – this very camera in fact took me through my first 10 years as a photographer. Eventually it was replaced with a digital SLR, and my iPhone for daily use. But as I am about to go wandering with a backpack through gorgeous rural France, I had to rethink how I was going to approach the photo essays I want to make along the way (literally The Way: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques).

(Re)Enter my Pentax K-1000. He takes 35mm film, has travelled Europe with me before, and has made for me some of my best photographs.

There are drawbacks, however. He is all mechanical and metal and a little heavy, I will have to carry film in hot weather which could damage it, and I will not get to see how the images turn out until I am home.

Yet this pilgrimage I am making has so many themes which shooting with film will help to remind me of and ground me in. 

At least for me, photographing with film is a very different experience than photographing with a digital camera. You have to be fully present to what is in front of your lens, more deliberate about framing and exposure, and patient with the time it takes to focus the lens properly or advance the film. In particular there is a trust needed: that your discernment and judgment in the moment may indeed yield something exquisite and profound, even though you do not see the outcome until much later. 

Metaphors such as these echo the journey of the spiritual life:

Intentionality, being in the present moment (attention + presence), prudence, trusting your intuition, and a peaceful detachment from needing a thing to turn out a certain way…

The constant emphasis of these themes have been why my life has felt like a pilgrimage for awhile now. It will be interesting to see how these flesh out as I shift from my Camino, at home, to making my Camino pilgrimage along the ancient ‘way of the stars’.

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