How To Get Started With Super 8 Film

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Welcome to your simplified guide to shooting Super 8 film. Like most quests, my film journey has had intense highs, low lows and the slow and steady grind between them. Of these highs is the connection film gives me to my senses, the amazing artists I've met so far, and the thrill of seeing my creative intent actualize before my eyes. The chiefest of the lows is the disorganized, frustrating process of getting information known as the learning curve

Part of me has to own that I am averse to the learning process in general. My photographic approach is rather neanderthal: me press button, me make magic now! The process of learning on the internet is disorganized: photographers, blogs, forums. Consider steering clear of the latter if you struggle with anger management, have little patience in general, hail from New York, are a millennial or are all of the above (me).

So! Here is the condensed version of how I got started with Super 8, intended to enable you to start shooting right away leaving the research phase as optional. Although my knowledge of this medium deepens as I go, I like to stay on a need-to-know basis. I learn by doing. You too?

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Step 1. Buy this camera

Two options: invest in a new one like this one or this one. Pros: completely guaranteed to work and will not need servicing. Stellar quality. Cons: price! Or:

Buy an old one from this list. I got mine (Canon 518 Auto Zoom) for $40 on Craigslist. You will likely need to have it serviced although many still work well. I sent mine to  Marvin at Photo Center in LA. I believe I spent $90 on service and about $40 on shipping. 

Step 2. Buy this film kit

I found two main labs that sell and process Super 8 film, both in California. One had a stellar website: Pro8mm. That's the one I went with and have never looked back. They babied me in the beginning and answered all of my questions, bless them. Bonus: self-addressed stamped envelopes, people. Buy their Film Kit from their website or on Amazon, which includes everything you need: film cartridge, process, scan to cloud, return envelope and shipment of your negatives.

Step 3. Shoot and send

Note to self of the past: don't overthink the film kits. Use Bright Sun in bright sun, use Color in good light indoors or soft light outdoors, and Low Light in low light. It really is that easy! I only use auto exposure and tend to shoot in 5 second clips. Once you're done filming, send it to the lab and you'll get a link within a weekish. 

There you have it, the blog post I wish I had come across in the beginning. See a few examples of my work below and feel free to reach out with questions. Creating Super 8 films for families (mine and yours) is a passion I love to share. It captures the feeling, warmth and intimacy of family like no other film. I call it the medium of memory. Blessings to you on your journey and may the learning curve ever-bend in your favor. 

Goodrich Family on Super 8

Will you be the one to unravel me
Put me back together again?
All I got is this tangled heart,
Oh my God where do we begin?
We've come such a long, long way
I am not gonna stop what we started
But I saw it in your eyes today
A little tired and a little discarded
But honey, honey, honey
Hold me, hold me, hold me tight
Till the morning, morning, morning
And it's fine
I think that we'll be fine
I think that we'll be fine
We're not getting younger
I can count the years on your skin
Trailing the lines of the tears you cried
Look who we are still smiling
If we wish things were different now
We all know that we'd be lying
But honey, honey, honey
Hold me tight till the morning, morning, morning
And it's fine
I think that we'll be fine
I think that we'll be fine
Oh Honey, honey, honey hold me tight
Till the morning, morning, morning
And it's fine
Oh Honey, honey, honey hold me tight
Till the morning, morning, morning
And it's fine
I think that we'll be fine
I think that we'll be fine
I think that we'll be fine

From Mind to Form: Making Memories Tangible

This year we took our first vacation as a family of four to California. An overall success! Despite a few serious hiccups. I find travel with kids to be like everything with kids: infinitely harder and infinitely better. Can you relate? I grew up going to the beaches of New Jersey, so giving my girls some memories in the sand each year is a definite goal. Faithful Matt lugged my backpack around... five cameras and a bunch of silvery, wonderful polaroid packs later... I happily present the results. I purchased this box at the gift shop of The Huntington, which is one of my easy travel traditions. Buy box, put trip stuff in box. It keeps the spirit of memory-keeping on my heart as we travel and inspires me to keep creating even if inconvenient.

Thoughts on Form

My creative process usually begins with a discontent with form. Something about the medium I'm using doesn't allow the voice of The Thing to emerge. I felt this way about painting with acrylic until I discovered oils. Messy! Movable! Thick dollops of black, mistake-proof. Freedom. 

With photography I became disenchanted with digital a few years deep into a business that I hated. Is this a service merely? Am I being hired to achieve a result or tell a story? That was almost ten years ago. Now-a-days I joyfully admit to being center-wave in this tide of creatives returning to antiquated mediums. The physicality and irreversability of instant film was a breakthrough. YES. 

My paper prints allow me to use the best about digital - the ability to take a bajillion photos during a shoot - and keep the romance of film. I like to insist on this designation of myself: photograph maker. Meaning my aim for all images is that their eventual end would be in print. As a writer I likewise favor the physical - taking field notes and reporting back vs. creating fictional worlds.

My desire with Instagram-as-microblog is to document that process - the process of physical art-making. Sharing perfected (nothing wrong with perfect, you know I love you, perfect, you're my friend) IMAGES of humans without story feels exploitive for me. Another beeeeautiful family or couple or wedding. Eye roll. I realize this is revelatory of my general cynicism and creative superiority but there it is. Images feel like commercials to me; selling the same old lie I fall for every single day when I scroll Instagram and feel inferior. The lie that says when I have ______ like this person, I will be whole. I feel conflicted about contributing fodder to this aptly-named "feed", even if they're good. 

So! One solution? Story + embodiment. The paper trail of our lives that explains our values and choices. The shaping forces. The trauma, the legitimate triumphs, the things-still-in-progress that should be more established but just aren't yet. Not that physical photographs tell this story always, but in a way distinct from digital I feel they testify to it's presence. That we are time-bound human lives in process. And that is the master I seek to serve creatively: all hail process. 

I've been thinking about ways to share my photos that are not an infinite scroll of digital images. How to incorporate polaroids? How to show the texture of these living rectangular memories? I've landed on stop motion for prints and I think it suits it well. Enjoy!

Super 8: the medium of memory
 

It all started one Thanksgiving when my mom popped in a VHS tape saying, "I got these old home movies from my Dad!" Her father had digitized their super 8 home movies from the 60s. Watching it, I could see the thread of intention and love that connected their family before the waves of brokenness came in... before the divorce, the Vietnam war, the unspoken trauma that characterized their later years. Working in the medium of the family story my intention is to specifically not idealize relationships ie. make commercials for perfect happiness.

In my experience film testifies to this: despite the darkness of life there is light undeniable. There is love and connection. They did visit the Grand Canyon as a young family of six, the girls in bob-haircuts and the boys in shorter than short shorts. They had Christmases and they were good. There were presents hard-won and unwrapped with joy. There was a kiss between my mother's parents, at that time high school sweethearts who were trying. I find that inspiring.

So when we decided to take our trip I knew I wanted to revisit the medium I had come to associate with family memories. Super 8 film. Film in general hits me in the gut every single time and I typically observe the same reaction in others. It's permanence, tangibility, nostalgia all allow it to capture the visceral nature of memory. It looks like how we feel when we remember: sun-drenched and hazy; clips instead of long, hard days. Joy.

I am please to now offer super 8 films with my family archival packages and look forward to building up my portfolio and sharing in the furtherance of this charming, romantic medium that speaks so deeply to me.

Polaroids: Reflections

I took two polaroid cameras with us, the Instax Mini and Instax Wide. I'm in the process of purchasing an SX-70 and wasn't going to lug the land camera around in addition to the excessively heavy metal-body super 8. I favor the mini absolutely, in color quality, ease-of-use and because you have the only necessary function (in my opinion, but I'm right) on a point-and-shoot: flash control. I love these babies for what they give me: they capture the loveliness of the scene. But I long for the control a 600SE or 195 land camera would give me. Alas, funds. In time! 

Photo Notes: The Original Caption

One of my favorite things about old photographs is the notes on the back: Mary, age 4. Jack at the lake. Santa Monica, 1974. My mom the optimist and general happy-person used to include lots of exclamations and proclamations which I see emerging when I took up the mantle with these. Vivian, lover of strawberry ice cream cones! Whenever I find a note or photo from my Oma who is now passed, seeing her 40's-style cursive with it's sharp peaks brings me back to her in a way that nothing else can. Hopefully these prints will be the same for my girls one day.

Duplexity: Creativity and Mothering

Duplexity: (of a machine) having two identical working units, operating together or independently, in a single framework or assembly.

I feel this in myself. Though the units are identical, they produce different ends. Both require my whole being: mind, heart and hands. Creativity and mothering. Perceiving: a quiet and receptive act. Nurturing: a communicative process in the form of output. I fought laziness and idealism this trip when I wanted the creative process and mothering to co-exist peacefully and in complete obedience, thankyouverymuch. They don't. They can't. There is no philosophical tension whatsoever, but practical. I am one woman with one lens with which to focus. As much as I would like to shoot wide open (photo lingo) and zoom fully into the subjects that interest me, in this season of mothering wee ones I am forced to pan out and keep it all in sharp detail. Exhausting, new and therefore uncomfortable, but worth the discomfort in both arenas. Often I feel I am doing both areas in mediocre-ly by not devoting myself whole-heartedly to either. But my conviction that doing so would annihilate me keeps me from diving all in to the exclusion of the other. 

And so this is me right now: a mother cutting grapes in two while rationally explaining why we can't sing Jingle Bells at the top of our longs over and over and over in June; also while unconsciously and irresistibly writing in mind about covenant and essence and place and other things that call me to them like a whispering adulterer. Does this sound grim? It's not yet settled. Take heart, dear soul. Process, right?

 

details

Digital images taken on 5D Mark II and printed by Artifact Uprising on 5 x 3.5 paper
Polaroids on Instax Wide and Instax Mini film
Super 8 shot on a Canon 518 with Pro 08-13 film, processed and digitized by Pro8mm
Super 8 song: We Will Say in That Day (Isaiah 12) by Wendell Kimbrough
Paper prints song: Sewee Sewee by Mountain Man