Australian photographer Andy Summons took a bag full of film cameras on a 16-day hike through the Himalayas – the hidden gem was an untested vintage panoramic film camera.
Words and Photography by Andy Summons
Halfway through our 16-day hike through the Nepalese Himalayas, on our only rest day and at the highest altitude all trip, I became bedridden with gastro. My recipe for Imodium is to go hard early so, hopefully, everything goes harder earlier. Six up front and ask questions later. I’m a high functioning coffee addict so I’m never that concerned about overdoing it with blockers. Fortunately, my illness’ timing was as good as the views. While I shivered in bed choking down electrolytes, plain rice and cups of tea between fitful naps, the panoramic views on the other side of the dusty window and breezy wooden walls called louder and louder.
“Few better places come to mind to test a panoramic camera than scraping the sky in the Himalayas.”
I packed a bag full of cameras for this hike around the Annapurna Circuit – all of them film except my trusty Fuji XT-1. The most decadent camera was a vintage Lomography Horizon 202 panoramic camera manufactured between 1991 and 2003. It has a 28mm f2.8 swing lens that captures 24 x 58mm photographs on 35mm film. What does all that mean? Well, a normal 35mm negative is 24 x 36mm, so the Horizon 202 gives you a much longer negative, which makes it feel more cinematic.
The swing lens is super fun too. You set your aperture and shutter speed and there’s a tiny spirit level on top. Photos come out sharpest if the camera is level because once you push the shutter button, the camera whirrs like an old wind-up toy and the lens pans around to capture a 120° field of view.
“Film looks like the memories I see in my head – dreamy colours, indescribable colour gradients and bokeh details.”
I found mine on Gumtree and hadn’t put a roll of film through it before the trip, but everything seemed to be working as it should and it looked like it was in mint condition. I was optimistic and happy to chance a couple of rolls of film through it and am glad I did. I didn’t have the luxury of time to sit around speculating about better health or conditions for shooting. I had one chance to capture the area so I shuffled outside between storm squalls and times in toilet stalls and then again at sunset to capture the surrounding landscape.
I was in no state to linger and enjoy the views for long – too far from safety, too weak from gastro – but the images I captured remind me of the harder challenges of the hike and the stunning views that made them all worth it. Few better places come to mind to test a panoramic camera than scraping the sky in the Himalayas with an uninterrupted view of the world’s seventh-tallest mountain – the mouthful Dhaulagiri with an altitude of 8,187m – and back south towards the town of Pokhara.
This series, captured around 3,600m at Kopra Community Lodge, embodies why I love shooting film nearly perfectly. And a huge part of that is because it’s not perfect. Shooting film is as reliable as my memory – often blurry, grainy, random hairs where you don’t want them, too much or too little light and all my fault – in a word, unreliable. I love looking at super crisp, hyper hi-res digital photos but nowhere near as much as the soft, warm imperfection of film photos. Film looks like the memories I see in my head – dreamy colours, indescribable colour gradients and bokeh details.
For me, roaming through film photographs is like looking at physical manifestations of my imperfect memory. My memory isn’t as sharp or pixel perfect as digital photos, which sometime feel hyper-real, un-real, not always unreal – my memory is analog. The joy of film is in the experimentation and the joy of panoramic cameras is the surreal and dreamy perspective – like capturing your peripheral vision in sharp focus.