A car breaks down and my shutter clicks

Canon AE1 w/ Kodak T-Max 400 developed in Ultrafin 1+9 @7mins


As much as I make a fuss about it, I only get to go home to Malaysia once a year, but when I am there I never give up the chance to shoot, shoot, shoot!! The last time I was back at the end of 2013, delusiana and I were setting out on a photowalk, and of course her car breaks down like it always does!!
I took the chance to snap away in the back alley where the repair shop was located. Lighting conditions in the shop were not ideal, underlit and subdued safe for whatever sunlight that hit the room, and no thanks to the lone fluorescent light that was trying to do its job. The photos turned out pretty grainy for a 50mm fast lens paired with Kodak’s T-MAX 400, one of the sharpest B&W film in the market in addition to being one that boasts fine grain. But then again super sharp and super smooth is not exactly the mood I thrive to capture when shooting on film.

Anyhow, that was just the first part of the roll, the rest was spent on shooting around in Venice in LA close to dusk, once again with light not exactly on my side but it seems to be a recurring pattern in my shooting time table. More next time.


Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Nikon FM2n w/ Lensbaby Sweet 35 , Kodak T-Max 400 dev. in T-Max Dev 1+4 @6:45mins


This high school turned security prison simply known as S-21 was situated just 2 blocks away from where we were staying in Phnom Penh. After making a trip out to the Killing Fields that morning, we decided to walk to the prison. Today it is called the Tuol Sleng (Hill of Poisonous Trees) and has been converted into a museum to bare remnants of a horrendous past where over 20,000 prisoners were tortured and executed, many of which were prominent public figures and politicians, at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Like other known concentration camps around the world, S-21 also had a very organized administration. Photographs were shot of every prisoner brought there, personal details were taken and concisely documented, their possessions confiscated before the horror began.  It was an utterly grim place and the atrocity lingers to this day.


For other prison-themed photos, check out this post by delusiana with pictures shot in an abandoned jail in Kuala Lumpur. A recurring theme here at CGSF are our excursions into abandoned buildings and sites for those of you who are interested.

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

Nikon FM2n w/ Lensbaby Sweet 35, Kodak T-Max 400, home-developed in Ultrafin Plus 1+6


In April this year, I flew to Cambodia with my travel buddy La Petite Feérie, who graciously shared her hands-on experience with the Belair with us, and spent about a little over a week there. Before I left I was all sorts of anxious and excited to explore foreign land, but what greeted me in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh was a little sad. The historical sites and the people are beautiful, but the state of poverty in Cambodia was harrowing. As much as the people have survived to live past the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime during their occupation, little else have been done to revive the economy and state of living there.

I was trying hard to just enjoy the pretty side of things, but it was not very easy to do, when everywhere you looked, everyone you talked to reminded you of how bad things really are there. But here I want to write about my photographic experience in Cambodia, and there is so much this country has to offer to the curious eye hungry for mystifying and unconventional sights. The temples are a splendor to explore, but during my stay I did not forget to visit places that bear the agony and pain of those exiled from a life they all deserved at the hands of barbaric and ruthless radicals serving a wrong cause.

The pictures here were all taken at the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, the site of a former orchard and mass grave of victims of the Khmer Rouge. Today, it looks just like any other open field with a Buddhist stupa erected at the entrance as a memorial and a reminder of what had happened between 1975 - 79. But with the audio guide and the signs put up across the area, you are transported back into a solemn time, and all you could begin to feel is a sense of helplessness. At most parts of this field trees are growing, adding a lot of shade and shadows to the surrounding. That was when I knew the Lensbaby was the way to go to keep the focus on only one part of the image. The friendship-bracelet-like bands you see are little offerings made by the locals for victims of the genocide. Along the path, barricaded behind ropes and signs are fragments of bone and cloth that emerge from the ground due to constant rainfall in the area. They are not very prominent even to the naked eye, and so using the Lensbaby and shifting the point of focus, I was able to keep the subject clear and distinct while blurring out the background.

This is my second visit to a genocide site, the first being to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland which I photographed with my Holga and they both left a very strong impact on me. It reminded me again how powerful man can be, when they try their very hardest to get what they want, even if it only is in their best interest and no one else’s.


Abandoned Tin Dredge

Kodak T-Max 400 on Holga GCFN


These pictures are from one of the first few rolls I shot on my Holga GCFN, the Holga that captured my heart from that very first roll I shot on it. I probably have said this a thousand times, but I love looking into my Holga to marvel at the simplicity of the build and machanism of this plastic camera that many call a toy camera. I love the dreamy images produced with a plastic lens on the Holga, but I absolutely adore the extra pinch of sharpness the glass lens offers. The only secret to getting amazing film photos on the Holga is to shoot it under the perfect light when on N-mode (shutter speed at about 1/100, aperture f/8 or f/11) or with a tripod on Bulb mode.

The pictures above were shot at an old tin dredge in Batu Gajah, Perak in Malaysia, which was in operation from 1938-1982.

From the goTaiping.com website,

The dredge would run on diesel generated electricity 24 hours a day, in two shifts with approximately 20 workers per shift. The conveyor buckets would dig the tin-bearing soil and transport it upwards, emptying the contents into an oscillating drum. The tin would then be extracted through a system of jigs and screens, leaving the excess material to e disposed of via a system of chutes at the back of the dredge. (which you can see in the third image above!)



People in Photos by ali

Kodak T-Max 400




Kodak Color 400





Like for all of us, photography is an exercise of capturing moments and memories. My main goal is always to create a timeless & classic shot. I am 27, from Long Island, and have been bottling memories for as long as I can remember. My favorite subjects are my friends and family as well as my pre-school students. I shoot with a 1972 Konica T-3 Autoreflex, mainly, as well as a Canon Rebel from high school, a thrifted 1950s Kodak Rentina and also with toy cameras.

xx. ali

Share your photos and stories with us. Click here to find out how you too can be part of CGSF. Boys welcomed too :)  What is your favorite subject to capture on film? People? Architecture? Landscape? Still life? Macro? Your lunch? Yourself? Tell us, we want to know!!—CGSF

Nature vs Model Monochromatic Swap

Kodak TMAX 100 on Nikon F80, Lensbaby Soft Focus (Macro) vs Sweet 35 
self-dev: Ilfotec HC 1+31, 6:30 mins



Some 2 months ago I made an announcement on the Cool Girls Shoot Film Facebook page regarding a BW film swap project involving nature vs live model(s). I apologize for my tardiness in replying the emails but to make thing clear  I did  this self-swap series as an example of what I had in mind. The idea is for me and the participant to shoot on the same roll of BW film of choice, and if the other dude chose to do model shots then I will shoot some nature ones on the same roll and vice versa. To those of you who emailed me, I will get back to you as soon as possible for I’m still very much swamped with work >_<;;

For this series I chose to work the nature shots using my Lensbaby Soft Focus optic equipped with a macro lens, traipsing all over my backyard shooting tiny weed flowers through all 36 exposures of the 35mm Kodak TMAX 100 film. Then I re-exposed the roll by photographing the lovely Luthién Ben Ghaffar during the magic hour in a park using the Sweet 35 optic.

I did not want to completely obscure Luthién’s features with the macro so I just shot normally and did not aim for sillhouette shots, however I couldn’t resist the temptation and did just one as evidenced in the last photo.

Overall I’m rather pleased with the results and can’t wait to embark on this international film swap project!


Remnants of Christmas Past from Köln

Kodak T-Max 400 on Nikon FM2
(developed in Kodak T-Max Developer @13:45mins)

Believe or not these were all shot using my Lensbaby Sweet 35. So when it’s not all bendy and angled awkwardly, you can expect to shoot pretty darn clear and sharp pictures with it. These were all shot very close to dusk, with ghastly gray clouds hanging low in the sky. The weather was horrible, but that is when a roll of 400ISO film comes in handy. It takes the drab away and replaces it with a touch of sombre mystery.


The Cat In My Life

Kiev 88 w/ Shanghai GP3



Kiev 88 w/ Kodak TMax 400




I was going through my old scans and found some pictures of my Prince, the almost 9-year old Maine Coon kitty I left behind with my family, thanks to work abroad. I miss the tubby old bugger, especially taking pictures of him. He was quite an agreeable model as he doesn’t move a lot.

The pictures above were all shot on my Kiev paired with an Arsat 80mm f2.8 lens. This lens is no doubt very sharp, you can see it work its charm even on the ultra grainy Shanghai (just check out the glinty focus on my kitty’s eye in contrast to the rest of the image). When you put Kodak TMax film next to the Shanghai though, you can’t help but just fall in love with the former’s smooth and inviting fine grain. I love the Shanghai despite its erratic results, but my heart still belongs to the more faithful and dependable Kodak Tmax (and Tri-X!!) films.

I’ve just recently purchased another medium format camera which I will announce after I shoot my first roll on it, but let’s just say I won’t be purchasing any cameras for awhile after this. I’ll try not to at least. As for lenses, I can’t say I won’t shop for more. I do have my eyes set on the Arsat 30mm f3.5 fisheye lens, just look at this wide view and now a close-up. Absolutely stunning!! Oh well, that’s one more lens added to my ever-growing wish list.



This picture just didn’t belong with all the kitty pictures above but I wanted to share it anyway to flaunt the allure of this Arsat lens, cheap and not as sought-after in the market, but still able to produce satisfying images.

Sweet, sweet 35.

Kodak T-Max 400 on Nikon FM2 w/ Lensbaby Sweet 35
(developed in Kodak T-Max Developer @13:45mins)






imageThese images were shot in Rome in December 2012 using one of my favorite Lensbaby optics, the Sweet 35, which is a huge upgrade in terms of usability compared to the Glass Optic, thanks to the built in 12-blade adjustable aperture. It not only saves time, it gives you more control over capturing your compositions, without having to physically swap out aperture discs especially when you’re trying to get that quick shot. The Sweet 35 glass is sharper, so if you like a softer look to your photos, the Glass Optic would be a better option. I am a proud owner of many Lensbaby optics and I love that there is always one made just for every occasion.


The Black Widow

Kodak TMAX 400 on Nikon F80D, Lensbaby Sweet 35


(Ilfotec HC  1+31 @ 6:30mins, Epson V700)

Yup, this was way overdue. 

The shots were taken some 6 weeks ago at an abandoned shoplot somewhere in Shah Alam. For the first we weren’t bitten by bugs so everything was cool and the outing turned out quite well.

Honestly I’ve forgotten the experience I had during this particular shoot since it was so long ago, LOL. Damn my university life!

Anyway, I’ll be posting more shots from the shoot in color soon so look forward to that.

Till then, keep the analogue spirit alive.


Up, Up In The Air

Kodak T-Max 400 on Holgamod 120N

Just going through my old scans and found this set of pictures discarded in the ‘No Good’ pile. They are from a crazy trip across the globe on work last year where I was spending 40% of my time in transit or flying across a whole continent, and not enough time shooting on land. Most of the pictures shot on film from my window seat came out super blown-out, as the sun was just too strong up there. I was hoping to be able to capture something good, something better as the shots I randomly snapped on my iPhone turned out lovely. All 5 pictures above were taken in different parts of the world, in the air upon lift off from Kuala Lumpur, over Japan, over California, over Russia, and finally in Mexico. Pretty cool when I see it from that perspective ;)

Next time, I hope for more time on land! Yes, on land where the action really is!


Sunday Tea & Vitamin C

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 on Gevaert Gevabox (Flipped Lens)

At CGSF, we weren’t just busy preparing some tasty soup for colorful film adventures, we’re also brewing some Tea in Vitamin C to develop our black & whites in! Thanks to Paul Gadd of The Print Room KL who’d kindly allowed us to use his space & darkroom to demonstrate how to make your own film soup & develop your BWs in tea, we’ve finally managed to achieve this feat which has been eluding us since we first featured this technique courtesy of the lovely Firda Beka of Many Cameras.com!

Yes, I know the results aren’t that great, the photos look almost like a badly xeroxed version but this set was from one of my experimental phase. I’ve yet to discover the exact developing times & agitation scheme for the Neopan Acros 100 & Kodak TMAX but I’ll be sure to post here once I get that figured out.

So, the first set was taken with my vintage Gevaert Gevabox with flipped lenswhich explains the crazy flared out effect & lack of focus.

The recipe: (to make 1000ml of stock solution)

5 bags of black tea (I used Lipton) in 600ml freshly boiled water
10 tsp of washing soda
5g of crushed Vitamin C

- Let the tea steep for 30 mins and squeeze every drop out, you should get about 500ml of tea
- Dissolve the washing soda & vitamin C in about 400ml of water and add the two solution together and mix them well,
- The solution should stay usable for about 24 hours

- First minute continuous agitation, then 3 agitations every minute for 30 minutes
- Stop bath, fix & rinse normally.

Kodak T-MAX 400 on Gevaert Gevabox (Flipped Lens)

For this set I used the same recipe but with 8 bags instead of 5 (6 bags of japanese green tea & 2 bags of black tea) to avoid the excessive fogging & staining by the black tea which could hamper your scanning (and printing if you plan to do it  traditionally with an enlarger!)

I also cut down the developing time to 15 minutes, with continuous agitation during the first minute and 3 agitations every 30 seconds (that’s an almost continuous agitation scheme!). I found that the negatives are much less foggy but I guess it could still be fine tuned. 

This recipe works really well with the cheapo Shanghai GP3 100 though, and I’ll be posting  the results from that set in my next post so stay tuned for that.

Oh, and say hi to my lovely Gevaert Gevabox!


Meow, if you love Kodak!

Kodak T-Max 400 on Diana 151

(self-developed: Ilford Ilfosol 3, 1+9 at 6 mins)

Even Sora wants you to know that our beloved Kodak is here to stay and that FILM IS NOT DEAD! 


The Bone Church of Kutna Hora in Prague

Kodak T-Max 400 B+W on Minolta XG-1 w/MD Rokkor 45mm f/2.0  

Went for a day trip to Kutna Hora while spending my holiday in Prague. One of the main attractions there was the Kostnice (Church of Bones), Sedlec, Kutna Hora. All the bones used for the church were from the black death plague in the 14th Century. The decorations and sculptures were created though by a woodcarver named František Rint.It was done so to create a reminder of the impermanence of human life and inescapable death. 

From the outside, the church looks like a small church serving a small community. Nothing special and nothing too fancy. Stepping into the church, one cannot help but start to feel a sudden chill and sense of eeriness upon seeing so many bones and skulls. It was not long before you fully appreciate the artistic decor and sculptures by the creator. Overall it was an interesting sight and experience and I hardly doubt one would be seeing bones and skulls to that extent!

These photos were meant to be shot at ISO 400 on the camera but due to my forgetfulness, I left it at ISO 100 from my previous film. Since the labs in my area do not do push or pull processing, I was worried that the film might not turn out correctly exposed when developed at 400ISO. Surprisingly though, when the negatives came back and after scanning them, they were marginally overexposed but still very useable. The only downside was some of the pictures were not as sharp as I had hoped but that was due to the manual focus of the lens in a low light place. Overall it is a good lesson learnt!

- Ben