This is the first in a series of posts I’m writing about objects I have that I love. I set up a light tent in the basement to use for a winter photography project and I’m going to try and post one of these a week and see where it goes.
This is the second camera my Dad bought me for college. Yes, you read that right, I’ll explain in a minute.
It’s a 35MM film camera first introduced by Minolta in 1981, and it was a wildly popular camera for its day.It was designed to be a prosumer entry into the compact SLR market, and with a healthy selection of accessories, the basic model was in production for 18 years. It features two main modes, Program (basically point-and-shoot) and Manual, which is what I set it on for most of the 90’s.
As a college freshman, we were assigned a photography class in fall and spring semester, so I needed a camera. Dad could have given me a second-hand camera from our collection of unclaimed electronics out of the repossession business (as per New York State law, after 120 days, any valuables left in a repossessed car were forfeit) but he wanted to make sure I didn’t have a piece of junk. So he spent big money at that time to get me a new camera with two lenses–a 50mm and a zoom of some kind, as I recall. I plunged into photography, spending days prowling Baltimore looking for subjects to shoot and long nights in the dark room, listening to Zeppelin III, Disintegration, Ritual De Lo Habitual, and Master of Puppets on my Walkman as I developed and printed. I didn’t learn the technical aspects of photography like I should have, but in shooting a lot, I had a lot of happy accidents. The camera did everything I asked of it and more.
Over the winter break, my roommate Pat and I lost one roommate to attrition and another to irritation, so the housing department placed another student in our suddenly vacant four-bed apartment. He was a flighty, dreamy individual who admittedly had artistic talent but also a couple of untreated mental issues and an annoying girlfriend who smelled like feet and cheap incense. Over the next couple of months we realized we’d traded a mildly irritating roommate for an absolute dipshit who stank of patchouli and left dark rings in the bathtub.
So, the camera. One day I came home from class and noticed a strange man sitting in our living room with my flaky roommate, who told me he was a friend and he needed a place to stay for a couple of days. I thought this was a little odd but naively went along with it, and Pat had the same response I did. A couple of days later I went to the back of my closet to grab my camera for something, and found it missing. When Pat got home I told him, and he found his camera missing as well. Livid, we waited for the Flake to come home. He blithely showed up with his girlfriend and we asked him exactly where he knew this friend from. It turned out he’d met the guy on the street begging for change and invited the guy to come and stay in our house. We told him our gear was missing and asked him if he knew where it was, which he claimed he didn’t. Then we told him we were throwing his friend out, to which his girlfriend started objecting, not so vaguely hinting that we were being racist. At this point I was furious and might have asked her to get the fuck out, but I don’t think I was that collected.
We called the cops and filed a report, and the Baltimore City officer who showed up could not have been more racist and homophobic. Thank you, sir. then we had to call our folks and tell them what happened. I recall standing in the hallway on the payphone, completely ashamed at how stupid I’d been for trusting my stupid fucking roommate and terrified that I’d let my parents down as I explained what happened. They were scared at first (I think I might have started out by saying something like, “I have some bad news…” which is not the way to open a long-distance conversation with one’s parents) but understanding when I they heard the whole story, and probably relieved I hadn’t been mugged or shot. A short time later, the Flake left school after being arrested for driving with an open container in his stepdad’s car. Hopefully someone put him on the medication he so desperately needed.
Dad swung into action and sent me down a replacement camera, the one you see above. It served me well through three more years of college–I got A’s in my photography courses–and I continued to use it as my primary camera through the 90’s up until I got my first digital in 2000. I’ve put scores of black and white film rolls through this camera, dropped it on the ground, bounced it on the bottom of messenger bags, stuffed it under the seats of oven-hot cars, and it still cranks out crisp photos.
Somewhere along the way it was dropped a little too hard and the plastic wind lever/ISO wheel (on the right in the picture above) was cracked to the point where it fell off. Last year I used eBay to source a replacement and did some surgery to fix it. Batteries are still available, and I’ve continued to take pictures with it, here and there, for the last couple of years. Luckily, UMBC has a full-service darkroom available to faculty, so I can start printing photos again when I get some time and the supplies to take advantage of it.
Recently my sister came to visit while I was in the hospital (thanks, Ren!), and brought two boxes of film cameras with her. Most of these were holdovers from the repossession days that were sitting in her attic and did not downsize when she moved in with her husband. One of the cameras was another X-700, in a leatherette case, with multiple lenses. It was absolutely mint; it looked like it had never been used. I left it in the box, unsure what to do with it, and stuck it in my basement. A few months ago, I saw a post on Instagram from one of Jen’s cousins, looking for a film camera to send her son to school with. I messaged her back and told her I had what she needed. I dug out the spare X-700 with a zoom lens, put some new batteries in it, and sent it off to Ohio. Hopefully he will not fall prey to an unbalanced trustafarian or his homeless grifting friends; I don’t know where I’d find a third one of these at this point.