“Is that a real camera?” Even if they weren’t saying it out loud, that is clearly what people were asking themselves when I appeared to be dangling a novelty key ring in front of my face on a recent trip to Rome. I was blissfully unaware of course, but my long suffering wife watched with mild amusement (or was it irritation) as I juggled with the five different film cameras that I’d stowed away for our three day break in the eternal city.
The Petie camera is really a working toy, they were made in Germany in the 1950s and 60s and are surprisingly common. They appear regularly on Ebay and usually sell for upwards of £20, I was tempted by this one, as it came with four of the original films, which are a unique format and haven’t been available in the shops for 40 years or so. Previous experience has shown that there is often some life left in even very old film, but that would have been the icing on the cake, what mattered was that I would be getting hold of the spools and backing paper which I could then reload with some old 16mm film that I’ve got in a drawer somewhere.
The camera duly arrived, and in addition to the unused films, it still had a partly used film in it, out of curiosity I finished the film off and developed it, and there were some faint images visible on the exposures that I’d made, but the first half of the film was completely blank. Interestingly, the seller had included the original hand-written receipt for the camera and films, dated 4/8/61, it showed that the camera cost £2.15.00 and the films were 2s9d each, at today’s prices that translates to around £45 for the camera and £2.50 for each film. I reckoned that the £26 I paid for the bundle was quite good value.
I’m slowly gaining experience in reloading defunct film formats, the Petie camera takes 14mm x 14mm photos on 16mm film, and it was fairly easy to attach some old 16mm FP4 film to the old backing papers, I re-spooled two films, loading one into the camera, and carefully wrapping the other in foil for later use.
The Petie is of course very basic, with a non-focussing single element lens, a fixed aperture of f9 and single shutter speed of 1/50th of a second. All this means that bright daylight would be essential, what better excuse to leave behind a cold, dark, wet Yorkshire and jet off to the the clear blue skies of Italy!
We had a great time marvelling at the centuries old architecture, but the trip wasn’t without it’s mishaps. The very first time that I unzipped my photographic bag, my multi-image prism filter promptly dropped out and rolled into a nearby drain, making a faint “plop” as it hit the water, before disappearing for ever, perhaps to be unearthed by the archaeologists of the future. Later, in the Pantheon, who’s concrete dome is bigger than St Paul’s and nearly 2000 years old, I fell victim to local pick pocket and lost a small case containing a semi-fisheye adapter, and the spare film for the Petie.
I don’t know what the thief was expecting the small hand-wrapped foil package to contain, but I suspect they were both puzzled and disappointed when they found out!
For the best part of a day I was convinced that I had lost the camera as well, but after repeatedly searching our suitcases and the hotel furniture, I eventually located it in the pocket of the trousers that I had been wearing all the while. I made a mental note to take a bigger camera next time we go on holiday, or to wear trousers with shallower pockets…
Back at home, I developed the long-expired film in Ilfosol 3 before scanning it on a flat bed scanner, and considering the tiny negatives and simple lens, the results aren’t at all bad. Of course the original film would have been unperforated, and I was using 16mm movie stock, but I like to think that the sprocket holes (and the dust!) add character to the photos.
We timed out trip well, as the day after I’d been fiddling with my cameras, Rome was burning, set ablaze by anti capitalist protesters, I wonder if a disillusioned pick-pocket was amongst them?