Unless you are reading this is 2101 there is probably no need to explain why I’ve been shooting local for the last year. Apart from four days in September/October 2020 I have not left Elland in almost a year now. I’ve continued to make photographs though, indeed in 2020 I shot more rolls of film than in any year since I started photography in the 1970s.
Street photography is a challenge when there are few people on the street
Despite the restrictions though I seriously believe that my photographic skills have improved during this period. I’ve been honing my “eye” for a photograph for many years and like to think I can spot a possibility where many non-photographers would see nothing of interest. But walking the same streets day after day I have refined this even further, coming home each time with at least one new image for my efforts. I really hope that this will extrapolate itself to new scenes and locations when I can travel again.
Even the stretch of canal nearest my house, which I have walked hundreds of times in the years I’ve lived up here has yielded several new images such as the one above. Fancying a change I chose to walk on the main road rather than the towpath. The road only offers access to the canal at a couple of spots along the route, one of which is immediately below the bypass. I stood here for around ten minutes and came up with two or three images that I was really pleased with. Most of those minutes were spent waiting for someone to walk into the patch of light. There’s another one below.
As is normal for me the vast majority of my images are in black and white whether film or digital. However, we had a few misty mornings recently and I did something I’d not done before when there’s been mist – I went for a walk in the town. Instead of being frustrated that it was misty and I couldn’t get “somewhere” I got on my feet and went into town (for context, the centre of town is a two minute walk from my back door).
I even dusted off the Fuji X-H1 and set it to shoot colour rather than my default B&W. Straight out of the camera I had a handful of very pleasing images, none of them compositions I had shot before and all of them within ten minutes of my home.
By taking a camera every time I go for my daily exercise I have been embracing the old adage to practice, practice, practice, and its born fruit. Without consciously intending to, I’ve even started to shoot my digital cameras as if they were film cameras. I’ve shot fully manually for a long while but I’ve now taken to turning the LCD screen off and only taking one, occasionally two, images of any scene. I usually carry one of my film panoramic cameras which restricts me to 21 frames on a 36-exposure roll of film and usually I shoot the whole roll on my walk. If I take just a digital camera there’s rarely more than a dozen images on the memory card when I get home. By being more selective I’ve not only improved my “hit rate” but more importantly I have been training my eye to “see” better. This more discriminate style of working with digital means less time on the computer which is an added bonus. Indeed, ironically, the only images I process on the desktop computer these days are film scans; almost all of my most recent digital images have been processed on my iPad using Snapseed.
It’s not only my “eye”though. During 2020 I shot and processed 180 rolls of 35mm and 120 film and around 50 sheets of 5×4 film. For the first time ever I developed my own colour negative films, saving £££s in the process; I can develop 18-20 rolls for the same price as having three rolls lab processed. I have experimented with different black & white developers but particularly pleasing has been that the consistency of my processing has increased exponentially. Developing film most days has also improved my efficiency and time management during the process. Without wishing to tempt fate I have been very pleased with the consistently good quality negatives that have come out of the tanks.
Early on in the pandemic I was told to shield, something I did religiously for over four months. During this period, embracing the need to stay at home, I experimented with still life and close-up film photography. I also dug out an old hard drive and reprocessed a few earlier images. However, this was not to be the most productive period of the pandemic as being confined to home for so long became very wearing very quickly. When shielding ended for me I vowed not to follow the shielding requirements quite so slavishly should the need arise again and indeed despite being told to shield during this latest Lockdown I am still taking a daily, socially-distanced walk; walking locally of course and avoiding people (which is my preferred option at the best of times). I don’t believe I have driven my car since November last year.
There is one backward step to include for the sake of completeness. Apart from a short flurry in March 2020 I’ve not been in my darkroom in the past 11 months. Darkroom work is mainly an autumn/winter activity for me so I was not surprised that I kept away from it during the very warm summer we had which drifted into early autumn too. However, as Autumn progressed there were few signs of me getting back into the darkroom. A leaky slot processor caused some activity in October and I thought that this would be the catalyst for a return to printing (I do not have an inkjet printer) but no. By early December my darkroom was press-ganged into extra storage ahead of Christmas BUT much of that is still cluttering the room three months later.
My darkroom – in reality one side of the small study I am sat in at present.
So, in a peculiar way the pandemic has largely been a real boost for my photography. Photography has also helped protect my mental health and has encouraged me to take some exercise every day even if it was just to take the image for my ongoing 365. I’ve been shooting a picture a day since October 2017 and have been determined not to allow a pandemic to get in the way of the Challenge. If I can motivate myself to reopen the darkroom over the next few weeks I will at least have a large collection of new negatives to play with!
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