We should’ve known better but we didn’t want to. While the entire country was moving south to reach the sea, we joined in and embarked on an odyssey of detours and traffic jams to spend just a couple of hours under the Mediterranean sun. We’d had it with the rain, had it with fresh water. We longed for salt in our eyes and sand in our shoes, counterfeit sunglasses and tourist traps. We were sure we had earned it. But someone or something thought otherwise. After just an hour on the road we encountered our first roadblock.
We were idling between two family vans packed to the brim when a police car bypassed the queue on the opposite lane. Eventually the hand signals of an oncoming driver informed us that the route had turned into a dead end and we had to drive back to were we came from to search for an alternative path to our promised land. As grey clouds traveled over the mountains we looked for a way around them. With our spirits high from wanderlust we put our trust in the front passenger’s navigation skills and went on with our discussion about where we’d eat and what we’d wear at the beach in just a few hours. As we got close to the border the day was coming to an end.
A few kilometers from customs, traffic slowed once again. Understandable, we thought, but we didn’t expect the situation to stay the same after crossing the border. Had we done our research, we would have known. The heavy rainfalls of the last few weeks – the ones we were so desperately trying to get away from – had severely damaged the region we were trying to cross and all traffic had therefore to be diverted onto secondary roads. As we sought our way through one-way streets, looking for green and yellow signs leading us onto the highway, we got a message from our booked accommodation. If we didn’t make it to our destination within an hour, our booking would be cancelled. Impossible.
Being two hours away, we decided to call our hostess. We tried to bewitch her with the gentlest of voices – which turned out to be much easier than we thought, but the worry had already struck our spirits. She told us she wouldn’t be able to welcome us at 3:30 AM, the time by which our navigation system had calculated our arrival, but she’d happily let us in first thing in the morning before going to work. With the pressure gone and three hours of extra time on our hands, we decided to make the best of it and drive straight to the coast, looking for a spot to park and rest.
Along the highway, we stop at a gas station. The loud chirping of crickets and the smell of gasoline finally deliver the first dose of vacation vibes. A warm ocean breeze fills the air inside our car the moment we open the doors. I decide to take my first photograph.
So far my camera of choice had been sleeping on the center console, waiting for the deep black asphalt and sky to give way to something more photogenic. She expected her first duty call for sunrise. Instead, she got a line of caravans and trucks under a street post in the middle of nowhere.
The plasticky body squeaks in my hands. A little pointer inside the viewfinder reminds me to slide aside the lens cover. I hear the flash charging as I flip a switch on the top plate. I always forget to cock the shutter but on this camera my thumb automatically rests on the intended mechanism so I keep it at eye level while I catch up. A gentle press, a ray of light, and the vacation officially begins.
Had I brought any other camera on this trip, it probably would have gone back home with the frame counter unchanged. The cumbersome journey and tiredness have honestly robbed me of my desire to photograph anything. This always happens when I find myself in unpleasant situations. But this is just the right camera to have. It makes it easy enough to (at least) snap something.
And surprisingly, taking an image not worth mentioning gets me hooked to shoot more before we even arrive at the picturesque coastline. I guess the Keystone Everflash XR308 is the perfect camera for the day after a sheer endless journey. It’s perfect for someone who loses interest in everything when something doesn’t go according to plan, perfect for a lazy person on a lazy vacation. And to me it also offers the magic of shooting a new format without the fear of screwing up.
When we finally arrive at our accommodation long after sunrise we feel tired but unwilling to waste the day in bed. We switch bermudas for trunks and bras for bikinis and head straight to the beach. Whistling Faithless’ Insomnia in my flip flops with the Keystone Everflash XR308 around my wrist, I have everything I need to survive another day. It’s my first time shooting 110 film and I can’t have found a better occasion.
Standing on the beach with a bottle of beer clamped between my pale, white thighs I take a shot of my friends in their bathing suits and feel a very specific sense of nostalgia come over me, a long lost feeling unexpectedly filling my spirit. This very moment suddenly feels more like a vacation than any trip to far away places I’ve done this year. And I can’t help but think this weirdly shaped, plasticky Keystone camera is somehow responsible for it.
After our first swim in the sea we decide to go for a walk in the city and look for a place to have an aperitivo. Then, we look for another one. We pass by historic sights, cross large squares, get lost in small alleys. Though I’m constantly in awe, I only take a handful of images. And looking back, I really don’t mind. The XR308 wouldn’t have done the scenery any justice anyways. The camera’s lens and 110 film in general is really lo-fi. This, to me, makes it an immensely liberating way of photographing. You’ll shoot just to have a splinter of a memory, nothing more.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but some cameras definitely make it easier to take meaningful photographs than others. I’ll happily use the XR308 to document for myself, but it’s the wrong format for easily legible photographs to show someone who didn’t live through the captured moments themselves. In a way, the technical weaknesses of this camera and film format bring back a sense of privacy which in my opinion has largely disappeared in photography with ever more perfect equipment.
I really don’t want to talk about any technical aspects of this cheap camera, a camera with the worst shutter button and least precise viewfinder I’ve ever used – mostly because it doesn’t matter, but also because it would distract from its qualities. I want this article to be subjective and unbalanced. Because if it were technical and balanced, you might miss out on an experience I can only recommend.
On Sunday we drive along the coast for a while. Here and there the cloud cover opens up and reveals a deep blue sky. We take advantage of every ray of sunshine to stop and go down to the shore. I keep my camera on my wrist and flick it every now and then. It’s all casual, weightless and fun. Instead of looking for spectacular compositions I just document what catches my eye the way I first see it. No circling around people and waiting for perfect lighting, no body contortions or standing on the tips of my feet to get the shot.
Soon we’ll have to leave again. Once I’m home I won’t store my roll of film for weeks or months before sending it in for development like I usually do. I can’t wait to see the results. There’s excitement, curiosity, a new lust for photography – of all things it’s my cheapest camera to trigger this.
I remove the small cassette and put the XR308 back in its packaging. I don’t know when I’ll use the camera next or for what I’ll use it. But after seeing the prints and tiny negatives I just know it won’t have been the last time. I look at the photographs and have to smile. These are pictures of the most tedious weekend trip I’ve ever had, photographed with the most straightforward camera I’ve ever held. And to me, the product is perfectly imperfect.
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