I began working with a Rolleiflex at the age of fifteen, and a year later, had my own. It was my favorite camera. I like street photography best, and though the camera was rather indiscreet and cumbersome, one didn’t have to aim it directly at the subject through a view finder which, to an extent and depending on the amount of discretion used, protected one from immediate notice. The large negatives delivered the crisp images I loved and minimized my endless blunders in the darkroom.
The Rolleiflex ended up being my only surviving analog camera. My father’s Leica was stolen in DC in 1977, when I left my car door wide open while asking directions for the Smithsonian zoo, the succeeding Pentax was sold in 1983 to a friend who had had his camera stolen in an Indian railway station and needed a new camera for a trip to Tibet. My two Nikons, which succeeded the Pentax, were left in a plane to Hong Kong by Genam in 2005. The Rolleiflex stayed put, and spent some time with Noryang though none of my children discovered its charms, preferring their 35 mm analog cameras.
In 2017, we found a stash of 120 film left by visiting photographers. The Rolleiflex found its way from Seattle to Ritoma, and I peeled it out of its cracking leather case. It felt light and comfortable in my hands, bringing back the comfort and excitement it had brought me for years. The old reflexes, discarded in the age of digital photography returned: The awareness of the limited number of shots, the challenge of catching the best possible moment and the long wait to see the results. The wait now was particularly long; in the past I would step into my darkroom and in a few hours had the film and a contact print. Now I had to wait to return to Delhi or Paris, where a surviving analog photo lab would develop the film, which I would scan or choose to have printed later.
On a sunny November afternoon, Norzin and I made our way to the kora, the merit building road that circles Ritoma Monastery. I took my first photos of the main hall, circumambulated by a few regulars, and a monk doing household chores to the side. A small yak came trotting along in the opposite way from that of the pilgrims. As I clicked here and there, Norzin reminded me each film only had twelve shots; “do you really want to take that?” By the time we had made our way around, meeting up with the returning herds of sheep, my film was gone, but so was the light.