Film Photography and Learning to Cede Control in Norway's Fjords

A well regimented expedition to Norway reveals life lessons and surreal landscapes while biking, hiking, and kayaking the immense countryside

Film Photography and Learning to Cede Control in Norway's Fjords

Author

Brandon Herrell

Photographer

Brandon Herrell

Camera

Rollei Prego Zoom, Canon A1

Film

Kodak Portra 800

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Brandon Herrell is a Seattle-based photographer and creative consultant. Follow Brandon on Instagram here.

A quick survey of my hard drives suggest I shot roughly 30,000 frames in 2019. That’s digital, of course—that amount at my film lab would cost a fortune. To a fault, I can be meticulous about composition, exposure, and the various other technical aspects of photography. I call this ‘Work Brain’, and it shows up every time I pick up a camera. Even on vacation, uninvited.

A few years ago I found that if I only packed an analog point and shoot, I was able to reengage with the spontaneous quality of photography that drew me in in the first place. No knobs, no buttons, no nonsense. See a cool thing, aim (or don’t), and snap. Flash or no flash, who cares?

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As anyone with this strategy knows, a relationship with aging point and shoot cameras can be a bittersweet one. My Yashica broke, my Olympus went MIA, and I can’t afford a Contax. The Rollei Prego Zoom has been my go-to since I found it at Rose Bowl Flea last summer. The 35-70mm Schneider lens gives me just enough control over composition, and as long as I don’t mess with the wacky program settings, Work Brain seems to stay away.

A recent trip to Norway was the first time I considered bringing Work Brain to travel. I work with a shop called Glasswing, and this season we partnered with the 160 year old Norwwegian knitwear brand Devold on a popup shop at our store in Seattle. The family behind Devold owns a handful of Norway’s most beautiful hotels, as well as a luxe adventure guide company called 62° North. When they invited us to visit their home in the Sunnmore region, I felt confident that our adventure would warrant more serious film work than usual.

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The Rollei point and shoot can do a lot of things well, but consistent sharpness and focal accuracy aren’t included among those strengths. So I decided the trusty Canon A1 SLR would be my go-to setup for the trip. With that, the Rollei, and my digital rig, I felt equipped to capture whatever sights we may encounter. 

But from the start, the A1 was a little finicky. I’d press the shutter and… nothing. It took some fidgeting with the advance lever to get the shutter appropriately primed. I was missing shots. Meanwhile, the Rollei met every spontaneous moment with its satisfying robotic pachink.

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In the steadier moments of the journey, I could take the time to get the A1 working. Sometimes, though, this just wasn’t possible. Like on the bumpy boat journey through Norangsfjorden on the third day of our visit. We’d round another bend in the fjord to a viewpoint of some cloud shrouded mountain peaks, or speed past a charming homestead on the shore, and I’d inevitably reach for the Rollei after wrestling with the increasingly faulty A1. 

I can only tolerate so much when it comes to missing once in a lifetime moments, so on frame 17 of roll four, I decided to rewind the film and pack the A1 away for good. Having brought a limited amount of film for the trip, it was a no brainer I’d pop that half-shot roll of Portra 800 into the point and shoot. I figured I’d rather have a few double exposures than waste half a roll.

Our boat captain that day was a fun loving fella (read: he was hauling ass and I was getting rag dolled around the boat with my gear) so when it came to switching out the film, I crouched down in the cabin with the two cameras between my legs, braced myself in a corner, and fished the leader out of the rewound roll with the end of another roll. Somehow it worked and neither I nor my gear went overboard.

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Ultimately, the spontaneity of the analog process won out. As usual, my efforts to exert control were hijacked by reality. I invited Work Brain to the party, and the universe sent it packing.

While hardly any of my photos from the trip are as sharp or perfectly exposed as I’d like—their shaky flaws portray accurately the pace of the trip. In six days we saw three hotels and countless fjord crossings, and went mountain biking, kayaking, and hiking through one of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever seen.

The slight blurriness of the resulting photos matches the memories in my mind—a bit out of focus, but nonetheless stunning. The handful of double exposures from the middle of the trip encapsulate the push and pull between trying to control everything and relaxing into the experience, which is a message that always bears repeating if you ask me.

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Published 12-12-2019

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