The Power Plant and the Bridge: Learning to Relax

I thought with this post I’d provide a bit of an update where I’m at with my photography journey. At the start of the pandemic, I acquired a Polaroid SX-70. After learning a bit how to shoot instant film, I kept my eye on the Polaroid SLR 690, a 90s version of the famous SX-70. Can the 690 be considered “vintage”? Anyway, the SLR 690 takes ISO 600 rated Polaroid film, which means that it doesn’t require as much light and it also comes with flash and auto-focus. I was interested because I wanted to shoot the higher ISO film. A revived/restored/refurbished 690 popped up on the Retrospekt website, so I jumped quickly. When I shoot Polaroid film now, I am more often (read: always) reaching for the 690, it’s a fantastic Polaroid camera and my go-to of the two I own.

A strong desire to keep pushing myself and to expand my horizons, I moved to 35mm film and at the date of this writing have shot 24 rolls on my first Canon AE-1. I say “first” because as I was shopping around for second-hand lenses, I discovered a Kijiji posting for a used Canon AE-1 with a 28mm wide angle lens. The seller didn’t want to break up the set and the price was right, so I bought the whole kit and now have two camera bodies. Surprisingly, this second AE-1 (which I’ve nicknamed “Crono”) is in better shape then the first. It required a replacement to the light seal foam, which thanks to a quick YouTube lesson was easy enough for me to perform myself. (Although I really liked the effect of the faulty light seals, which you can see in some posts in my gallery.)

My main gear now includes:

  • Polaroid SX-70
  • Polaroid SLR 690
  • 2x Canon AE-1 cameras (one of which has the dreaded shutter squeak so I’ll eventually ship it off for a CLA, I ain’t blindly dripping clock oil into that sucker)
  • Canon New FD 28mm f/2.8 lens
  • 2x Canon New FD 50mm f/1.8 lenses
  • Canon New FD 135mm f/3.5 lens
  • Epson Perfect V600 Photo Scanner (for Polaroids and 35mm contact sheets)
  • Plustek OpticFilm 8100 35mm Scanner

I have my eye on the Canon New FD 85mm prime lens, but it’s a touch over my price range at the moment, so will keep looking for good deals. Since acquiring a 135mm lens from a seller in Japan (in perfect condition) I’ve been primarily using it on my shoots as it instantly became my favourite. Again depending on price, I will look at other lenses that are compatible with the Canon AE-1, but will likely slow down on collecting until I enter the DSLR market. I’m not there yet.

I firmly believe I’m still in learning mode. When I shoot a roll of film and am only happy with just one of the shots, my discouragement turns into drive, after a bit of sulking. Other times, rarely, there’s a roll with multiple shots that I’m happy with. This particular post will include eight shots from a single roll. To be honest, once I got the negatives back from the lab and scanned them in, I was bummed because I felt nothing really turned out how I wanted them to. I was shooting in low light conditions, which I am very inexperienced. I left the shots alone for a few days, and when I built up the desire to revisit them, I found lots of things to like! Okay! Great! All is not lost!

Let’s start with the outdoor shots.

Thomas Wong Matthews – Rossdale Power Plant 1, Edmonton, 2021.
Thomas Wong Matthews – Walterdale Bridge 1, Edmonton, 2021.
Thomas Wong Matthews – Walterdale Bridge 2, Edmonton, 2021.

The three above photos were taken using Kodak Portra 400 film and since I’ve started shooting on manual mode, sometimes I get the exposure wrong. I know the basics of the exposure trifecta (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) but still make mistakes. These particular shots were composed in a way that I was very, very happy with so I decided to do a bit of post-production to salvage them, including colour correction, content-aware fill (to clean up the crop), and conversion to B&W for some. What I took away from this is that just because the negative isn’t “great” when you first lay your eyeballs on it, nothing is ever a lost cause.

The next three photos required a bit of love. The colour versions are neat, but they seemed quite pedestrian to me. Taking a page out of the books of photographers before me, I tried out some B&W contrasty post-production methods. The end result turned out to be great to my eyes, so I hope you enjoy. For those who don’t know, the Rossdale Power Plant just outside downtown Edmonton is decommissioned, but is now available for tours. It was really cool to go inside and time travel a bit.

Thomas Wong Matthews – Rossdale Power Plant 2, Edmonton, 2021.
Thomas Wong Matthews – Rossdale Power Plant 3, Edmonton, 2021.
Thomas Wong Matthews – Rossdale Power Plant 4, Edmonton, 2021.

And finally here are two shots that I’ve kept in colour because I absolutely fell in love with the pastel green and the dirt & the grime. The tour guide also made comparisons to Star Trek at this particular area of the plant, which I certainly agree with. I love the labels and old-school feelings of the dated panels.

Thomas Wong Matthews – Rossdale Power Plant 5, Edmonton, 2021.
Thomas Wong Matthews – Rossdale Power Plant 6, Edmonton, 2021.

‘Rossdale Power Plant 5’ required a bit of Photoshop to fix a skewed perspective.

This roll was an “ah hah!” moment for me: don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Let things stew & simmer a bit before making a decision whether or not you’re happy with the result. Film photography requires patience! A lot of it. The reward for me – all while taking things slow – is the confidence I’m building. Shooting is becoming more exciting, more relaxing, and dare I say: natural.

Best. Hobby. Ever.