What happened to fun? Like genuine “I don’t give a sh*t! I’m having a good time!” fun. We all sense that it’s still out there somewhere, but its getting harder and harder to drop said sh*ts and go play.
Brandon Jennings remembers fun, and he’s inviting everyone else along.
In 1963 Nikon (a reasonably fun company) and Jacques-Yves Cousteau (the embodiment of fun) began the Nikonos series. It was a fully submersible 35 mm camera with interchangeable lenses and eventually (1980) an internal light meter. That series of camera became the go-to for water-based good-time photography (and some water-based bad photography too — the Nikonos was used heavily to document the Vietnam War).
Then, with the digital revolution and the introduction of housings, Jacques Cousteau’s beloved camera became a thing of the past. Until 2013, that is, when Southern California-based food-broker and photographer Brandon Jennings came along. Jennings is the founder of the Nikonos Project — in which he sends Nikonos cameras to curious adventurers, surfers, and photographers with the sole/soul request that they send the cameras back after a spell.
Brandon never coaxes anyone to submit their imagery to his website or Instagram, but many camera-borrowers do.
“They don’t have to,” he explained to Uproxx, “If they want to they do, if they don’t they don’t.”
We spoke to Brandon about the project and he shared a collection of his favorite images with us:
On the project’s beginning and growth:
Around this time two years ago I had been out shooting at Trestles [a famous Southern California surf break] and there was the usual zoo of photographers… I started to laugh. You get home and uploaded your photos and see that every other guy has the exact same photo as you. I decided “this is ridiculous, this is dumb” so I got rid of my digital stuff and went all film. I sold all my digi gear to buy the first 30-50 cameras. I started to wonder what other buddies of mine, who were surf photographers, could do with a film camera. So it started like that. It was a personal challenge to myself — then I wanted to see what other guys could do, basically. It all snowballed from there. Once I bought a couple and lent them out…I just wanted to keep doing that.
Now, we’ve receive a lot of donated cameras and cash donations for that matter. Also I’ll sell the occasional print off the website and 100 percent goes back toward more cameras. I quit putting my own money in over a year ago. Now the project is self-sustaining. The project only grows when we have the funds to do it. If I sell four to eight prints, I buy another camera.
[The cameras are easy to find on eBay, ranging from $20-$200]
On the joy of sharing:
The last counting I did, I had 358 cameras. Since then I’ve gotten 15 back that were flooded and I’m aware of nine more that are broken. So, out there right now, I have about 315 functioning cameras. The ones that I know are broken I have to get them sent back so I can start fixing them.
On hand, in the back of my car, I probably have seven or so that I shoot or bring to the beach with me to hand out. I’ll go to the beach and people will see the Nikonos and they’re like “wait, wait have you heard of this project?” and I tell them that that’s me and they’re like “what!?” (laughs) Depending on whose there I’ll hook a grom up with a camera for a few hours or let a guy swim out with one if there’s a shot he wants to get. I get stoked about it, “Here ya go, go play with it!”
On the “look” of film:
In my opinion, a lot of everything we see — and I don’t want to say it’s because of the project — but a lot of the vibe you feel from surf photography these days has that more vintage/grainy look to it. People dig that look and that feel. I have friends who have given me back a camera and all of the sudden they started editing their digital images to look like film (laughs). I’ll give people pointers and tell them where they can get their film processed but I don’t want to be responsible for other people’s film. The images you pick and choose from a roll of film stick with you. You take that photo and you have to wait a week or however long to process and then you’re proud of that roll. You remember putting that work in.
On why digital won’t do:
It’s just not the same thing. And most of the people shooting the cameras are my age or a little younger like, we may have gotten a little bit of film experience when we were little little kids and didn’t really remember much or maybe we worked a little bit with it in high school… but that’s about it. This is an opportunity to get back in it and express yourself in a better way.
My favorite is the younger kids. Like I have all these high-schoolers emailing me and they’re like, “I have no idea what a roll of film is, but I want to learn about this stuff.” That’s super exciting to me. It’s cool to me that the younger guys can get a hold of it.
On the Nikonos V. GoPro:
To hear a kid — these groms in San Clemente, California, all have these GoPro’s and they’re always like “can we use your camera this weekend cus’ we’re really tired of this” — I’m like “Yes! Do whatever you want with it!”
These 12- to 15-year-olds are sending me links to eBay asking me which Nikonos to buy. I love that, it’s a completely different thing as opposed to the five GoPro’s they have. GoPro is a big reason why I started it, it’s so frustrating to see all these exact same images that everyone is getting by just going out and putting a stick in the water, you know? But, okay. Take this camera that gives you 36 shots and let’s see you do it.
On the responsibilities of the borrower:
The cameras I send out, they’re responsible for the film. All I want to be responsible for is the camera. I send out the cameras, people shoot the cameras for two months to four years depending (I’m having issues getting some back), and they send back the resulting images… if they want. They don’t have to. If they want to they do, if they don’t they don’t. But most people do.
Why do all this?
Dude, there’s not really a purpose. Nobody really gets that. Eventually I’m planning to do a book with all the photos in it. Which isn’t something I’m planning to get a bunch of money from, it would just be cool to say “look at all these rad photos” type of thing.
For me, it’s more of a “we’re building this community of people that are shooting film, that are enjoying the camera, that can go out and shoot these cameras and not stress out over a million photos.”
It’s just a cool fun thing to do.
So community and fun are taking precedent over purpose and profit?
(Laughs) Yeah, It’s just not something…I have these different people coming to me and saying, “Let’s get this going” and, “Let’s get this other thing going” and, “I wanna design shirts for you!” but really? Why? It’s just not that kind of thing. The priority to me is to just get cameras to people and to let people have fun. Not to turn it into something.
View this post on Instagram
I think we need to create a secret #nikonosproject handshake. I'm going with a double fist bump, to swimming hand, followed by air camera snap, ending with blowing up a first bump to boom. Any other suggestions? @drew_martin_photography with Portra 400 looking nice and magical.
View this post on Instagram
Found this image by @hectorclarkphoto on the Nikonos Project's Facebook page. Not gonna pretend like I know how Facebook works. But we're there if anyone does know how to work and spends time on FB. Aaaaaanyway Hector has some rad images both on Instagram and that thing we call Facebook. #Nikonos #nikonosproject #shootfilm