By Olli Thomson
I was a teenager when the Nikon FM2 first appeared. I wanted one, but it was far beyond my financial reach. I added it to my list of cameras I admired from a distance but could never afford – the OM1 and OM2, the Pentax MX, and later the FE and the ME Super. In the end, I kind of lost interest in photography, and and by the time it returned 15 years later it was the era of the plastic auto-everything SLR.
Eventually I switched to digital and thought no more of it. That was until around a year ago when I began to consider a return to film. When I finally decided to bite the bullet recently, there could only be one choice. After a few days of waiting that seemed to last forever, a beautiful Nikon FM2N arrived at my door with a Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AI lens.
Though I'm originally from Ireland, right now I'm living in Northern Virginia, just across the river from Washington DC. So as soon as I had installed the batteries and loaded up with film, I took a walk. The FM2N is a manual everything camera, and while focusing is relatively straightforward with the split screen, I did have a few brain freeze moments adjusting the exposure, missing occasional shots as a result. I also routinely forgot to wind the film on. I know it's simply a matter of time and practice before such things become second nature.
I decided not to be too ambitious for my first roll and went with the familiar – the Metro, the Mall, the Memorials, the Smithsonian. Washington's Metro system with its modernist, brutalist influenced, architecture lends itself to photography, and particularly to black and white photography. As a result quite a few of my shots from that first roll were taken in a number of different Metro stations.
On the Mall I started at the Lincoln Memorial at one worked my way through the many monuments and memorials before ending up at the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, an I M Pei masterpiece that has some great interior spaces. This part of the city is often crowded, even midweek, but it requires just a little patience to find a moment when the tourists part and your opportunity arises.
To be truthful, DC is not a particularly interesting place visually, but that in itself can present a worthwhile challenge – both in finding ways to make it interesting, and in shooting some very familiar and iconic sites creatively. I was quite pleased with the results from my first roll, considering how much I was having to think about what I was doing with each shot. Since the FM2N arrived I've added an F3, 24mm and 35mm lenses and a supply of HP5. I'm looking forward to shooting many more rolls.
All images: Nikon FM2n, Nikkor 50/1.8 AI, Ilford HP5