On being sociable

The flurry of posts here over the last few days didn’t go unnoticed in the land of the bird. “Are you becoming a Superblogger?” asked one, tongue firmly in cheek. Well, to give a serious answer to a not-so-serious question, no. Tried that, couldn’t keep up! Not just with coming up with something to say every day but finding time to write and post it. It was a bold experiment not least because I was working full time. But even noting that, I wouldn’t attempt it again even though I’m now retired.

This recent flurry, after a break of several weeks, does however serve to reaffirm that this blogger also has a life outside of social media. And outside of photography. My 365 continued, aided by the mobile phone and school run, but “serious” photography took a back seat due to unexpected and pressing family duties. It reminds me why I’m glad to be an amateur, without the demands of a professional practice. I could deal with real life without worrying about letting clients down.

For the record, I did briefly set up a portrait business soon after retirement. It was hard work albeit very enjoyable. However, the illness and death of my father, shortly followed by my uncle and then father-in-law meant that within six months I’d had to put the business on hold. When the time came to resume work I didn’t have the enthusiasm to start from scratch again, almost a year after pausing, that I took the pragmatic decision to return to strictly amateur photography – and the life of a full-time grandad!

One of, indeed probably the major, benefits of being resolutely amateur is not having to please anyone else. Not having to follow a brief, however vague, allows for full artistic freedom. I unashamedly make images for myself. Of course, if others enjoy an image then that is also fabulous; we all like to be appreciated and I’m not so self-centred that I don’t like applause from the sidelines. One thing that social media has done for me however is to introduce me to a group of people with similar outlooks, who appreciate the work that goes into an image and are always supportive even when work isn’t to their taste. I’m talking about the #believeinfilm community on Twitter of course.

I recently passed the 5-year marker on my picture-a-day (365) challenge. Belatedly I made reference to this milestone and amongst the responses was from Helen who commented on the mix of photographic methods I’ve employed over these five years:

“… mine was almost entirely digital – doing so many different types of photography along the way is just amazing.”

Helen H

It’s the type of support that we see daily from across the #believeinfilm community and means way more than any number of ticks, thumbs-up or heart emojis. Appreciated as these are its when people take time to engage that makes the time spent on social media worthwhile. And yes, any social media interaction worth having has to be worked at; you can’t simply post work then sit back and await the plaudits. The community works because people get involve, share ideas, provide feedback, encouragement and support. Like most things, the more you put in the more you get back.

“You are supporting my devious master plan of helping all photographers, across the world, enjoy their film cameras. I see you doing this too with your amazing blog!”

John F*

Another great thing about the community as I experience it is the diversity of experience and ways of working. From educators and authors through to complete newbies and every level in between, everyone within the community shares knowledge, ideas and even kit. I interact with photographers from around the globe and with such a diversity of photographic practices. Can you tell that I’m passionate about the #believeinfilm community?

So, I started by talking about the joys of being an amateur but this has ended up as an eulogy for the #believeinfilm community … I’ve even had to change the title of the post! If you are on Twitter please do come and say hello!

* The Art of Black & White Developing. John Finch

Five years of the 365

Pressing family issues meant that the 30th October 2022 went by unnoticed yet it was an important milestone in my picture-a-day, or 365, project. It marked five years since I started the challenge. So far I’ve clocked up over 1,840 consecutive daily images having not missed a single day over the last five years.

The one that started it all

My very first post, above, was taken with my Fuji X100T digital camera and I’m pleased to note that five years on it is still contributing to the challenge. I’ve used countless cameras over this period. Film, digital, instant cameras, glass plates and even a cyanotype. On the drawing board for 2023 are tintypes too.

If anyone is interested in checking out my daily images then head to Flickr where you will find monthly albums covering the whole challenge right back to 2017.

Interior 1

Four little bits of Magic

Following on from yesterday’s post four more images from that first roll.

All of these were taken on the Rollei Magic using Ilford HP5+ which was developed in Ilford ID11, diluted 1+3 for twenty minutes at 20°.

Thus far I’ve put three rolls through the Magic and been very happy with the results. I’ve used several TLR cameras over the years but none have ever left me looking forward to taking them out again the way this little marvel does. Give me a few months and I will try to write a more balanced report! For now though there’s a fresh roll loaded and I’m waiting for a break in the wall-to-wall deluge to get outdoors.

Embrace the plastic

I recently dusted off the almost forgotten Lubitel 166B and popped a couple of rolls of Ilford FP4+ through its plastic goodness. I’m not going to write a review of the camera however as pretty much everything that needs to be said has already graced the online world and I don’t propose adding to the wordage (is that even a word?) afforded this delightfully quirky box.

The crop
The full frame

It’s a kinda magic

Or a Rollei Magic to be accurate.

The Magic, as I shall hereafter call it, is a medium format, twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera manufactured by German company Franke & Heidecke. It was Rollei’s answer to the demand for a TLR with an automated exposure control. The camera uses 120 roll film so there are no issues finding film. As is to be expected, twelve 6x6cm square images can be captured for each roll of film. By using a special mask set the camera can be adapted to produce 16 images of 4×4 or 4×5.5cm on a roll however that’s not something I have in my kit bag.

The Magic’s successor, the Rollei Magic II, has full manual controls whereas the Magic has very limited capability in this respect; it was designed to be quick and easy to use. Load, compose, click! A true point and shoot really even if it’s in a TLR body.

Automatic Perfect Pictures!

Rollei Magic brochure

I’d seen the camera several weeks ago in the local camera shop’s window. Compared to prices on a certain internet site it was very modestly priced so I did some further research. In a nutshell, if the meter is knackered then it’s an interesting paperweight – very nice to look at but very little practical use. So, when my wife went in to town again recently I asked her to pop in and ask about the meter, explaining it was a good buy if the meter worked. I fully expected her to return home with an answer, which she did, but wasn’t expecting her to have the camera in her bag though!

My first task was to check the meter. The needle reacted to varying light levels which was a good start. The shop, who I trust implicitly, said it worked and had even given a 3-month warranty to back up this assertion. I loaded a roll of HP5+ and headed out for a wander.

It works! Twelve evenly-spaced, properly exposed negatives. Result.

I’m looking forward to more time with this magic little camera and perhaps a few more blog posts too!

The Influence of Intent

Does intent influence photography? By which I mean that if I’m just out for a walk and happen to take a camera with me will my images be any different to those I’d have taken if I’d gone out intending to complete a dérive or make images for my portfolio? Or if I’m out and engaged in routine domestic activity will that change how I see the world through my camera? For that matter, does what photographic device I am carrying (phone, digital or film camera, pinhole etc) make any difference?

School run 28/9/22

I’ve probably not explained that very well so let’s take this morning. It’s a weekday and on most weekdays I leave the house around 8.20am to walk one of my grandsons to school. There are basically two routes and he always chooses; it makes no odds to me as both take the same time.

Today it’s the front door route. Out of the house, turn right and walk to the end of the terrace and through the enclosed path behind the pub. Down a slight incline, turn right and walk in a straight line until the school gates are reached. A simple walk, it takes under ten minutes, twenty if you include the return.

School run 28/9/22

On days like today I leave the house intending to return straight home after seeing Harry safely into the care of his teachers. I always have my phone and sometimes a camera as I often make an image during the walk back. I’ve been working on a picture-a-day project since October 2017 and these “insurance” images take the pressure off me if the day evolves in an unexpected way. So, whilst I have a camera the purpose of the walk is practical and mundane and definitely not something I’d class as a dérive. Or “serious” photography.

At this time of the year the sun is still working it’s way up above the terraced houses yet it still sneaks it’s way through the gaps, bouncing off windows and creating wonderful patterns and shapes. I can’t resist. Never.

School run 28/9/22

This morning I made four images during the journey. Each uses the shadows created by the rising sun as it filters through gaps in the houses. None are what I’d call pictorial; I doubt if anyone thinks they are pretty and they are certainly not traditional picture postcard material. I’m probably the only person who will like them, especially once I’ve removed the colour.

They aren’t really documentary images either except in the sense that they are documenting something I saw. Rather they represent the way I responded to the urban landscape. These are the vignettes, small slices of the landscape, that caught my eye this morning on a walk I’ve probably made hundreds of times now.

School run 28/9/22

As I’ve been writing and thinking this morning I’ve realised that, to answer my own question, whatever my reason for being out I still photograph with the same intent. What differs is the amount of time I can devote to the act of photographing the world around me. However, this is something that has evolved over time so in a way is a learnt behaviour. I do remember a time when I termed an outing as either a “serious” photographic expedition or a “snapshot” day. The former would inevitably be me alone with “proper” kit including a choice of lenses, two or three cameras and a bag containing filters etcetera. The latter? Any time when I was with a member of the family or when the trip was for a specific purpose other than photography.

So what changed? Well, I did I guess. I believe that subconsciously I must have gradually realised that any outing could form the basis for “serious” photography. Slowly the things that caught my eye when out with a camera started to merge into a more coherent form. Still an eclectic mixture but the “serious” and the snapshot have gradually merged and I just take photographs these days. Perhaps “serious” photography should be renamed as “my” photography?

Whilst not necessarily “pretty” my photography still exhibits fairly formal composition – part of my “style” perhaps?

Thinking about it, I have always made photographs that appealed to me. Yes, I went through a brief period of entering competitions and did so successfully. But I very quickly realised that in many ways I wasn’t being successful as a photographer but as someone who could identify an image that a camera club judge would deem worthy. I enjoyed the accolades at the time but it was a brief dopamine hit if truth be told especially as I realised that in a lot of cases I no longer liked my own photographs any more! I soon reverted to making work for myself. If anything I took a conscious step away from the typical camera club aesthetic and returned to film photography, embracing pinhole for the first time and in doing so found a photographic genre that really resonates with my view of the world.

Reading: pre-breakfast wander 25/9/22

I have habitually carried a camera at all times for the last fifteen or more years. Every time I leave the house I am full of intent. My intent is to capture images that resonate with my view of the world. Whether that’s through a day dedicated to the craft or something I fit around other activities is irrelevant to me. Be it a couple of quick images on my phone or several rolls of film. But it hasn’t always been like that and I’m sure the same is true for many people.

Turning briefly to the last question in my opening paragraph. What difference does the type of camera make? The only difference it makes these days for me is from a practical perspective. I routinely carry a wooden medium format pinhole camera in my bag and with exposures lasting into the minutes I am constrained in where I can place the camera in an urban environment by the need to stay out of peoples way. My panoramic swing-lens camera has a clockwork motor and is not a discrete tool; I was using it recently at an indoor exhibition (photography was allowed) and in the cavernous mill loft I was sure that people at the far end of the room could hear every exposure as it was made.

The Ian Beesley retrospective at Salt Mill

In truth I can only answer the question I originally posed through the lens of my own experience. For me the answer would be that it used to make a difference but not any more. I make images that appeal to me, that reflect how I interact with the world and how I interpret it. Increasingly, the images that I share are the most personal rather than sugar-coated picture postcards (think stunning sunsets or sunrises) and in many cases are the complete antithesis of the work currently in favour amongst many photography enthusiasts.

Finally, I spoke with someone yesterday that I’d not spoken to since before the pandemic. She and I had both been on the same college course a few years back and had stayed in touch. Writing on the college forum later she said: “Love the images you shared, very evocative and they are very much your style.” That made my day.

As for style that’s a topic for another day but perhaps the evolution of intent has been hand-in-glove with the evolution of my style?

Drawn to the Edges

Six-thirty am Sunday 25th September. It was a late night last night but despite this I was awake in a Reading hotel room, feeling tired yet ready to start a new day. As it was likely that I’d be the only person up and about for a while I dressed and left the hotel for a wander.  No plan as such although I wasn’t going to stray too far from our hotel not least in case the wife woke and wanted an early breakfast!

I wandered out of the front door and took my first lung full of the chilly Sunday morning air. Left, right or straight on? Left was previously unexplored but would take me away from the centre towards mainly residential streets. Straight on had already been “done” over the previous two days so I crossed the road and turned right along the dual carriageway.

The moment I cross the road I am aware that the sun is just peeping above the buildings behind me to my right. It is dark under the flyover although the sun filters in through gaps in the infrastructure creating slashes of light against the industrial detritus to my left. These are the backs of the flashy restaurants that line the River Kennet hereabouts and are a place of shadows, dark recesses, industrial-sized fans and concrete. In the morning light though they are irresistible. Well, irresistible to an urban photographer at least.

These too are for me the Edges. The places where man’s interactions with the land are most obvious. Here the glittering glass and chrome of the restaurants that border the land is replaced by concrete, tarmac and steel and the colour palette moves towards dull black and battleship greys. These are places where most folk hurry past unless they have business there. There is nothing for them here. Suddenly, a flash of light catches my eye as an anonymous grey door opens and someone, presumably a cleaner, momentarily appears in the light before it is extinguished as abruptly as it appeared.

Moving slowly on up the dual carriageway I turn left and find myself at another intersection. This is where the periphery of the City centre shops and the flashy newer Oracle Centre almost touch hands. Its another edge seemingly. The Grosvenor Casino on the corner, dated yet neon-bright, stands sentinel. To its right the old bridge over the River Kennet. From here it is heading steadily to its appointment with the mighty River Thames above Sonning Lock here in the heart of Reading.

Here the rising sun is poking a wary finger through, lighting up the pedestrian crossing. Sun flare and haze greets the eye before the tree branches part slightly and the rising sun briefly assaults the eyes. I check my watch. It’s the first major decision. Do I cross the old bridge and wander down into the city centre shops? It would make for a longer walk hence checking my watch. On balance I decided to turn left and wander down into the newer Oracle Centre that straddles the River Kennet at this point. 

It’s Sunday morning, nowhere is open and it is a lot quieter than it had been last night as we had gone in search of some supper. Here too the sun is filtering through gaps in the buildings creating patches of light. It is also reflecting back from the chrome and glass to create similar splashes of light on the opposite side of the river.

As I stroll through the riverside cafes my footsteps slow. I suddenly realise that my decision to turn left was made not by my checking of the watch but by a subconscious desire for a hit of caffeine. I realise that I am actually looking for a coffee shop that might be open at 8am on a Sunday. Starbucks, Costa and Caffè Nero are all resolutely shut as are the independents in the main concourse. Nothing is open it seems and it’s looking as if I will have to wait until I get back to the hotel. Then as I walk past the automatic doors of a seemingly dark and closed McDonalds they slide invitingly open and my sub-conscious quest for coffee is over.

I’m definitely sub-optimal this morning. The beer, red wine, casino and a late-night chicken supper weigh heavily on this sexagenarian so the coffee is welcome. I pay my 99p, take the proffered paper cup and retreat to a window seat. My first instinct is to have a look at the images I’d just made but instead I opt for pen and paper and jot down the notes from which I am now writing twenty four hours later; images still unseen.

Sat there with a weak sun starting to warm the autumnal air, behind a large plate glass window, sipping hot coffee and putting down my thoughts on paper is a great way to start a day. I’ve a six-hour drive ahead of me later but for now all is good with the world.

As I’m sat there my eyes wander again to the patches of light on the opposite bank. I’ve crossed the river so what I am seeing isn’t direct sunlight but the reflections from this monument to retail commerce and consumption. I’m inexorably drawn to these patches of light. These too represent the margins, the Edges as I dubbed them in paragraph four. The places at which man’s interaction with the landscape is most visibly displayed. Not in terms of big landscapes though, but more intimate scenes where the man-made meets the natural. Where, in this case, the river has been channelled and tamed by man to enable him to create the centre that I have been happily wandering through this morning.

It may not be on a grand scale but these little vignettes, for me at least, are where man’s impact on the natural world is most apparent. In these intimate, seemingly insignificant interactions I can see most clearly man’s hand at work.

The Dentist

Since the pandemic started our weekly routine has undergone a massive change and as a result so has my photography. We no longer pop into Halifax or Huddersfield just to wander (me with a camera), have a look at the shops, enjoy a coffee or some lunch. Such trips are now based on necessity rather than leisure and so I’ve photographed closer to home far more extensively in the last two and a half years.

Can’t resist a shadow-selfie

These last few months though I’ve had an ongoing issue which has necessitated regular trips to my dentist which although I no longer work in the town is still based in Halifax. And a trip to the dentist always includes a wander with a camera. It’s my one photographic “rule”.

So, here are a few images from my most recent dental appointment and there’s not a molar or a drill in sight!

I got rain!

Last time out I was bemoaning the lack of rain. Well, not today. I’d already had a taste of light drizzle when I took the grandkids to school but as I set out for a wander with the cameras half an hour later it had stopped.

I turned right and walked to the end of our street. I decided that it was time I photographed the small row of shops opposite the entrance to Albert Street so took my battered Weston Master V from my jacket pocket. One glance at the dial and I knew I was going to have a challenging morning.

Challenging light … but at least not raining

The KMZ FT2 was loaded with Ilford Pan F, a 50 ISO film. Even the fixed aperture of f5 wasn’t enough to give me my preferred 1/200th second shutter speed. In fact even the “secret” 1/50th option wasn’t enough as the needle hovered between 1/20th and 1/30th. I’m a pragmatist though and accept that my choice of such basic, some might say crude, tools comes with such limitations. I’d deal with the problem later when I came to develop the film and once I knew what other compromises I’d had to make on this roll.

The other camera in my bag, you knew there’d be another I’m sure, was the Horizon S3 Pro. I have plenty of options with this one although I prefer to use it at f16 and 1/125th second. Again, my film choice was against me.

A partly used roll of Kodak Double X, was forcing me down to f8 at 1/30th. I rarely use any apertures other than f16 as images get quite soft from f8 onwards in my experience. The sweet spot is undoubtedly f16 with f11 as wide as I usually go.

I spent ten minutes at this spot. Using both cameras and seeing if I could get some blurry traffic but mainly waiting for a moment with no traffic. A moment which never came!

Nearly empty of cars!

Putting the S3 back in the bag and turning left I was debating walking straight on into the town centre or heading south through the back streets. Debate was cut short by a cloudburst though and I darted left under some well established trees to escape the worst of the rain. I’d wanted rain and now I had it!

Sheltering under the trees

I amused myself with some compositions under the trees, with even less light than before and employing the same settings though. I’d decided at that point that semi-stand development was going to be the way to go. The rain was clearly settling in so I decided to move on, across the playing field towards the town centre.

Half way around the field and I was already soaked. It was the classic situation, I had the right clothes on … but not for the prevailing weather. Ever the pragmatist I decided to cut my losses. The film in the KMZ was finished and there were only a few frames left in the S3. I was wet through, I’d not had any breakfast … so I headed north towards my favourite local cafe.

“Good morning! Your usual?”

No better greeting!

Whilst I ate the usual the rain eased and by the time I left the sun was making a feeble effort to peep out. I though had a date with a developing tank and some Rodinal!