The Minolta Around The World Project
“There are times when one needs to do something in the least practical manner possible, just for the joy that it can bring to the soul. Like building a kite with a child, when a far better one could be bought. Or making by hand a birthday card with ribbons, and colored paper and crayons, when a far nicer one could be had at a shop. Or the fun of using an old camera to send on a long journey around the world, to make photos of places most of us will never see, Harold Herrington
by a stranger we will never meet.”
“There are times when one needs to do something in the least practical manner possible, just for the joy that it can bring to the soul.
Like building a kite with a child, when a far better one could be bought.
Or making by hand a birthday card with ribbons, and colored paper and crayons, when a far nicer one could be had at a shop.
Or the fun of using an old camera to send on a long journey around the world, to make photos of places most of us will never see,
On 19 November 2003, I send a Minolta XG-1 camera on a tour around the world, with the aim of having a number of members of the Minolta Manual Focus YahooGroup take one photo each on the same roll of film, each using a lens of their choice from their collection. The camera was on the road until 1 June 2005, taking 560 days for its trip around the world – exactly 7 times as long as Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s famous novel. On its journey, the camera visited 29 group members: 1 in the UK, 2 in Canada, 1 in Finland, 2 in Sweden, 2 in the Netherlands, 3 in Germany, 1 in Singapore, 3 in Australia and 14 in the USA in the States of Ohio (2), Arizona, Wisconsin, Minnesota (3), Virginia, California (2), Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Georgia. There were 30 pictures taken – one more than participants, because I took the liberty to take two, one on the day before I send the camera, and one on the day it returned. A list in PDF format with technical detail and comments about the photos is here.
The idea for the Minolta-Around-the-World project was born when I learned about similar projects that Photo.net members had attempted with disposable cameras. To the best of my knowledge, all of these projects failed, since the cameras disappeared on the way, and the pictures taken were never published. Since the Minolta-Around-the-World project was started, I have heard rumors that other groups of camera enthusiasts might have started similar projects. There is another one being done by the Minolta Manual Focus YahooGroup with a rangefinder camera at the time of writing this. The cameras actually crossed path in Singapore, and Kheehua Hung had a photo of himself with both project cameras taken in front of the new Konica-Minolta logo.
Anyway, I have never heard about another such project that has been finalized, and I believe Minolta-Around-the-World is the first successfully completed project of its kind. I attribute this success to the closeness and feeling of friendship that has developed between members of the Minolta Manual Focus YahooGroup over the course of many years. This is a great bunch of people, and I am glad to be part of this group!
When I first suggested the project to the Minolta Manual Focus YahooGroup, there was immediately a lot of enthusiasm, and people were signing up spontaneously, but there were also words of caution and skepticism. Postage could be too expensive, there could be issues with customs in sending a camera across so many borders, the film could be destroyed by undergoing so many X-ray scans, wouldn’t it be cheaper to send just a roll of film – and in fact, why wouldn’t everybody just take a picture with their own camera, and we could put those on the web! Make no mistake about it, all of these were valid concerns, but eventually Harold Herrington, initially himself a skeptic, eloquently summed up the spirit of the project in a posting that now stands at the top of this page, and that ended the whole practicality discussion once and for all.
The 30 pictures that were taken as part of the Minolta-Around-the-World project, and that now form part of this online exhibition, prove that all problems standing in the way of this project could be overcome. The group worked together in everything from drafting the Ground Rules for the project, over working out the best way to post the camera internationally, to giving the project the most appropriate name. The decision to conduct the project in a non-competitive and collaborative manner was made unanimously. Thus, all pictures taken as part of the project are presented here next to each other, rather than choosing and showcasing one or more of the ‘best’ shots.
Why did it take so long to complete the project? Surprisingly, there were no customs issues that I became aware of, and the postal service worked nearly flawlessly, loosing the camera only once for a short time – amusingly on a domestic shipment in one of the smallest participating countries. Delays were mostly caused by more important things than a camera project occurring in people’s lives over the course of 1.5 years. Sadly, these included health problems of members and their families, but these circumstances also made for some photos with a very personal touch. For example, one of the flower shots shows the favorite flowers of a member’s mother, who passed away while he had the camera.
This type of personal expression was promoted by not limiting members creativity through a given theme, but merely encouraging them to take a photo of something that would be indicative of the region where they live, or the time when they had the camera. The resulting photos present an incredible spread of subjects and personal styles, including many landscapes and cityscapes, close-up shots of different things including flower-shots, architectural details, still lives, some near abstracts and others. Many are difficult to fit into a particular category. In my opinion together they form one piece of artwork, which is indicative how manual focus Minolta photographers see the world.
I received only positive feedback, and participants stated that they enjoyed being part of this project, even if it did not always come at just at the right time, as for example in Ed Rice’s case. I believe the stress over making the single shot they had available on the roll of film work was shared by everyone. Some also experienced technical difficulties with the camera, such as Stephen Molnar, and I believe it was Olaf Ulrich who first pointed out that the XG-1’s meter actually underexposed by 1.5 stops! Luckily the film we used (Fuji Sensia 100) seems to have been forgiving enough to prevent a disaster. Olaf also volunteered to take on the role as co-organizer in case I could not be reached when any difficulties occurred. Again, many thanks to Olaf for taking on that role. I might also take this opportunity to thanks Antony Hands for creating the Rokkor Files, and for agreeing to host the results of the Minolta-Around-the-World project. Overall, the project appears to have strengthened the ties between members of the Minolta Manual Focus YahooGroup – some of whom took it upon themselves to hand on the camera in person to another member whom they had only met online before.
The Minolta-Around-the-World project was also alleged to have caused more wide ranging effects, such as the worldwide skyrocketing of prices for XG series cameras. I am not sure if we can believe this, because the source appears to be the same as for this article which first likened the XG-1 to Phileas Fogg. Regardless, I think we will all agree that our old Minolta gear has again surpassed many people’s expectations, and the XG-1 did a fantastic job. Thanks to the great care of all participants it still appears to be in the same great condition that I would not hesitate to describe as ‘minty’ on eBay – not that I am planning to sell this camera anytime soon. In fact, I believe as its next adventure it plans to attend the inaugural Minolta Manual Focus Convention in September 2005, where every participant will be asked to use it to take a photo of NYC. After that, who knows, it might go around the world again – maybe this time with a theme for the photos?!
Kent, OH, June 2005
Addendum February 2009:
Life moved on, I never attended the inaugural Minolta Manual Focus Convention – but I understand all who did had a blast, and history was made at this event! The XG-1 never embarked on another project, but the images of its unique journey remain!
This article was originally published in June 2005, when I did not yet have my own web site, and Antony Hands agreed to post it on The Rokkor Files. It is still mirrored on that site. Many thanks to Antony for that!
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