An overcast day, a beach on the north east of England, a roll of Ilford HP5+ and a camera whose year of manufacture matches that of my birth.
What more could a man want?
Well, that was my happy lot one Friday afternoon recently. Wrapped up against the bracing wind, confident that no rain was due and with no expectations of anyone from our large family disturbing us the wife and I took a stroll first up, then back and down the beach.
The Silver Beach
Riding gently on the horizon Dark shapes against a slate grey sky Small and vulnerable
Two rutted tracks, destination unseen A break in the cliffs Tumbled onto the sand
On the beach a pebble glints Weak winter sun sparkles Dark patches on a silver beach
Two legs, four legs Feet patter, hooves splash All walkers welcomed
A grey sky Shimmering sea And a silver beach
All images: Canon VT de luxe VTDM, Canon 50mm, Ilford HP5+
Whilst it may not keep the doctor away, a picture a day is a good prescription for keeping the creative juices flowing. I started my picture a day challenge back in October 2017. With 63 days left in the year I was invited to take part in the upcoming 2018 365 project called “365/2018 – A New Focus”. I jumped at the opportunity, albeit with some nervousness. Having attempted a one-month picture a day challenge a year previously, and not fared particularly well, I thought I’d use the remaining time in 2017 to get into the daily habit.
In my first blog post on the subject (early November 2017) I commented that “I’ve decided to start the daily posting habit now, with sixty three days left in 2017, to enable me to work out the pitfalls and hopefully establish a routine to set me up well for the 365-2018.”
Well the strategy certainly worked. Indeed, my first piece of advice to anyone contemplating undertaking a 365 Challenge would be to try it for a month beforehand to start to embed the daily habit.
TIP ONE: If you get the opportunity, try the picture a day for a month before taking on the full-blown 365-day challenge. It’s a good way to get a routine established
One of the first things I discovered was the power of the “insurance shot” Basically, an image made very early in the day, often with my phone, to ensure I had something in the proverbial back pocket should I not find a suitable image during the day or if the day’s chores mean that there is no opportunity for photography. I’ve rarely had recourse to use the insurance shot but on the couple of occasions when I needed to it saved my bacon and ensured the daily run was not broken.
TIP TWO: Make an image early in the day using whatever is to hand to provide you with an insurance against not finding an image during the day.
Closely allied to this is to keep a note, physically or mentally, of easy images you can fall back upon if needed. I have made a mental note of various scenes or compositions in the house, the front and back-yards and also within a five minute walk of the house. These give further insurance in the event that no opportunities present themselves during the day. I’ve often referred to this mental list on days when I’ve a lot of domestic chores to attend to.
TIP THREE: keep a note of “easy” images you can capture within or close to the house, this means you always have something readily available on days when you are busy with other tasks.
The next tip is less a piece of best practice and more a source of reassurance. At the start you will find that making your daily image doesn’t naturally fall into your daily routine. You may well find that the image is on your mind up until you get something snapped (hence the suggestion of an insurance shot). However, over time it will become simply part of your every day routines, like washing and eating it will become habit.
TIP FOUR: don’t be disheartened if the challenge seems onerous at the start, over time it will settle into just another part of your daily routine that needs little active thought.
Now, the next point is very important. This is a picture-a-day project NOT a masterpiece-a-day challenge. Whilst I do try to post an image that I am pleased with every day I do not set out to capture a “wow” image every day. That is a recipe for disappointment and ultimately failure. I look upon this as a visual diary as much as anything.
TIP FIVE: it’s a picture a day not an award-winning image a day challenge!
At the time of writing this, I am well on the road to 2,000 consecutive daily images, an unbroken run from 31st October 2017 until today. I’m not going to pretend it was easy but it has become easier, not least because it is now something I do not need to consciously think about. I have my various strategies, or top tips, that have evolved over time and serve me well. From time to time I set myself themes or challenges within the wider challenge simply to keep thing interesting. January 2023 for example was nocturnal month where I posted thirty one consecutive daily images made either pre dawn or post sunset. I’ve done a week of colour (I’m predominantly a black and white worker) and also a week of shooting, developing, scanning and posting a film photograph on a daily basis. There have been pinhole weeks, iPhone weeks and also a week where I used a different camera every day. There has also been an “Instant Regret” week where I used various instant film cameras each day for a week.
TIP SIX: set yourself weekly challenges from time to time to focus your creativity and keep things fresh.
With five fully completed years under my belt, including two years blighted by a pandemic, shielding and lockdowns, and around 2,000 images posted, I can, I think, say that the 365 Challenge is now a part of my regular daily routines. I learnt very early to simply integrate the project into my routine. For example, I take one of my grandsons to school every day and have evolved several different ways to walk home afterwards specifically to provide an opportunity for that days image. It’s amazing how many of my daily images are made before 9am on weekdays.
My final piece of advice would be to relax, don’t stress about it and simply enjoy the challenge.
As I mentioned elsewhere, over the past month I’ve been playing with elderly rangefinder cameras. Specifically 39mm screw-thread rangefinder cameras. First was a Zorki 4, followed by a Zorki 4K and a FED 4. A Leica IIIb followed these as the rangefinder bug started to bite. Sadly, after the first roll it transpired that it had a faulty wind-on and also a sticky shutter curtain but it was replaced quickly and without drama with a Leica IIIf. This, even more sadly had a faulty take-up spool and at that point I decided to take stock and review my options. At the end of the day, despite being an absolute joy to use, these are ninety year old mechanical cameras.
I was fortunate that Jon stepped in and loaned me a Leica IIIf for a planned weekend away, and over these few days I became even more smitten with the so-called Barnack Leicas. Have I said it was a joy to use? It was. But there was one niggle. And one more pressing concern.
To take the niggle first; the film leader needs to be cut to avoid it snagging in the film gate. Not a difficult operation but it wastes film and takes additional time. The more pressing concern for me is the bottom-loading procedure. It’s straightforward enough and sat at home in the warm I was able to load the film first time every time.
Standing alongside the canal, with cold fingers, it was a far more hit and miss affair. I tore two films before managing to load the third (and last) film in my bag. It amused Andy who photographed my travails for posterity. Full disclosure, I’ve a touch of arthritis in my hands which doesn’t help. It was suggested subsequently that film can always be changed whilst sat in a cafe or pub. It can of course. But, if the film runs out whilst your still thirty, sixty minutes or more from a pit-stop, what then? If I’m on a one camera, one lens set-up I prefer to have film loaded and ready to go at all times!
With over a dozen rolls put through the various rangefinders, including six through the three Leica bodies, I’ve been enjoying the format immensely. I like the purely manual process. I like the tactile nature of using these cameras and I’ve suddenly “got” rangefinder patch focusing. The relatively small size of the cameras (yet still with a decent heft to them) makes them a good choice for a days stoating too.
So, having waxed lyrical about the Leica, and despite the disappointment of two defective purchases, you are probably wondering which Barnack I’ve bought?
Well, as yet I haven’t. I’m sure I shall at some point but that time isn’t now. I’m still in the market for a vintage rangefinder though … watch this space!
It goes back to January 2022. First it was the Cube, a diminutive 35mm pinhole camera giving square images. Great fun, pocketable in even a small pocket, truly take anywhere.
I was fine for a few months after this purchase, but without realising it the seeds of what would be several early 2023 purchases had been sown. But before we get there we need to stop off in late 2022.
Egged on by good friend Andy, aided and abetted by John, I started to look at the Chroma Snapshot on Steve’s website. I had a 65mm lens in the cupboard which I couldn’t use on my Intrepid 5×4 but everything I was reading both on Steve’s website and in messages from John and Andy suggested it would work fine on a Snapshot. But I stayed strong and resisted the siren calls.
Until October 2022 when the postman delivered a parcel from Wales. Inside was a Chroma Snapshot. Andy’s Snapshot. I was going to be testing the theory that this thus far unused lens was usable with the Snapshot. I tested it wide open at f5.6, at f8 and f11 then finally at f32. A tiny, tiny amount of vignetting at f5.6 but less to be honest than I usually add myself. It was more than usable so the following day I was out with camera, four sheets of film and no tripod.
That same day I was back on Steve’s website. Ensnared. I messaged Andy to say I had exposed 29 sheets of film and my order was in at Chroma Towers.
To be fair it’s a purchase I do not regret.
Which brings us to February 2023. Steve had been talking on social media about a new product. He had also been sharing images created by himself and others using this diminutive lens.
That’s a shame. I have no suitable cameras to use the lens on. I could buy an adapter to use it on my digital camera but where was the fun in that? Anyway, there was a Zorki 4 for sale online for £30 and that would take the Chroma Double Glass …
You’ve guessed it. Two orders made on the same day.
Something I hadn’t considered. I loved using the Zorki 4, not just with the lovely Double Glass optic but with the 50mm Jupiter 8 lens that came with the camera. I had fallen for the charms of the classic rangefinder experience.
Which then opened up another rabbit hole …
More of which on another day. Suffice to say Steve has caused me to buy not just two Chroma cameras, but a Zorki 4, two Zorki 4Ks and a FED 4.
I blame Steve. 😎
For the record, Steve is a fabulous bloke who really cares about his customers. He also has a sense of humour – otherwise I wouldn’t have penned this tongue-in-cheek piece. I’m watching his website regularly to keep up with what he’s adding to his repertoire. I’ve no doubt I will be spending more with Chroma Cameras before the year is out!
There’s been a lot of noise on social media regarding the ever-rising costs of film photography. Some of it is attention seeking; click-bait from the keyboard warriors. Some of it is genuine concern at the way prices in many cases seem to be far outstripping the headline inflation figures. Very little of it is evidence-based, much indeed is just rehashing what others have already parroted. Some of it though is well-informed, considered and a reasonably sober consideration of the situation.
Some of the noise I, rightly or wrongly, feel I can dismiss as simply attention seeking – I’M DONE WITH FILM! NO MORE FILM FOR ME! I’M GOING DIGITAL! FILM IS DEAD! [insert company name] ARE KILLING FILM PHOTOGRAPHY! FILM’S DEATH KNELL! THE END IS NIGH!
I’ve absorbed multiple price rises in the last few years and being honest these latest will mean a slight change in my behaviour (more on this later). Much of this change though is driven by factors other than price.
Take colour photography. For many years I’ve mainly used digital for colour photography. Yes. Digital. I’m a photographer and I don’t feel the need to differentiate between film and digital; it’s the end result that matters. In truth I don’t choose to use film because I think it’s the easiest choice. I probably do it partly because it’s not the easiest; I’m a born contrarian as my family will attest. I use film because I enjoy the whole process, from choosing which camera, which film and because I mainly use manual cameras (I’ve never seen a fully automatic wooden pinhole camera) choosing which aperture and shutter speed settings. I find film cameras more tactile, the act of winding on seems like a full stop to each individual exposure. I enjoy experimenting with different developers and find developing films a very therapeutic activity. I don’t enjoy digitising the files but do enjoy occasional darkroom time.
But. Colour. Sorry, rant over, I distracted myself there. I am by inclination and as an aesthetic choice primarily a black and white photographer. Film lends itself well to this aesthetic. I am also slightly colour blind and occasionally have difficulty in judging accurately the colours in an image added to which my eyesight is deteriorating too. Take the two considerations together, aesthetic choice and eyesight, add in how much I enjoy using my film cameras and then it’s no surprise that 90% of my photography over the last few years had been with black and white film. I do enjoy using colour occasionally, indeed I used to develop my own C41 colour films, but these days I send colour films away for processing.
Looking at my developing book for last year I see that I exposed 135 rolls of film. A considerable reduction on previous years but we’ll return to that. Of these 135 just 10, or 7%, were colour. 2022 saw a 35% reduction in my film usage overall compared to 2021. This trend is likely to continue partly because of financial considerations but largely because my way of working has been evolving. I’m not alone either it seems.
“I am now extremely comfortable in the realisation that I no longer feel the need to be constantly exposing film. Selective, thoughtful, darkroom and cheaper. It may be a phase I’m going through or an evolution.”
Andrew B on Twitter
Evolution. Definitely. It’s been creeping up on me slowly and stealthily yet steadily too. As time goes by I’m being fussier about pressing the shutter release. Be it film or digital. Whereas a few years ago I would measure the success of a trip by the number of rolls of film in my to-be-developed bag, these days I’m more concerned about what images I’ve made and not how many frames I’ve exposed. It applies equally to digital and film which has surprised me. I recently spent a day out with a DSLR and on getting home found I had made just 40 images. In the past 400 digital files would have been a minimum but the 40 I made that day is spookily close to the number of images on a 36-exposure roll of 35mm film.
So, how will the latest price increases affect me? Well, I will probably make the final switch to fully digital for my colour photography. But not immediately as I’ve around fifteen rolls of medium format colour film in my cellar. This is simply a continuation of an ongoing trend as I’ve already mentioned and whilst it may hasten the transition it is by no means the primary factor influencing the change.
I will definitely buy less Kodak film. Ironic, as one of the reasons cited for the increases is so they can expand to meet demand. Whether the price increases will shrink demand sufficiently for them to meet it without further investment though is not something I’m going to attempt to speculate on! On a practical level I am very happy with my go-to Ilford films and the price increases mean I will now use less Kodak black and white film, specifically Tri-X and T-Max, both film stocks that I’ve recently only bought when there’s been a price promotion if I’m honest. Back in the day Kodak Tri-X was my go-to black and white film and price-wise it was on a par with my current day choice of Ilford HP5+. In addition to using less Kodak black and white I probably won’t get to try Portra 800, a film that’s been on my “one-day-I-will-try-it” list for a while now.
But, in the final analysis, my current trend of using less film each year is likely to continue and that in itself will shield me in a sense from price increases; I will spend the same in monetary terms but will purchase and therefore use less film for that budget. For that matter, I’ve enough film in my cellar to see me safely through 2023 without bothering my wallet if things became tight though.
So, in the short term I’m not getting anxious about price increases. Pragmatically, I will further adjust my behaviour if required although ironically it seems I’ve been slowly changing my behaviour already. Based on current usage my 2023 totals will again be lower than in the preceding year and talking to some of my online friends this is a trend many of them are reporting too.
Anyway. It’s not often I publish an opinion piece but I hope this has been of some interest. If nothing else it’s been a vehicle for sharing a few recent images, both film and digital, colour and black & white.
‘tis the season for resolutions, for looking back and for generally taking stock of life. There was a time when I would have written a series of blog posts on these themes incorporating a commentary too on what I’d written about and how regularly I’d actually written during the previous 12 months. Well, spoiler alert, I’m not doing it this year so this isn’t that post. I have however been doing the thinking even if I’ve decided against writing it all down.
I’ve spent almost all of the Christmas period unwell, missing family gatherings, sleeping upstairs all day whilst children and grandchildren all descended on the house on Boxing Day, most disappointing of all though I’ve not been eating and drinking all the festive treats we got in for the holiday. As I write this, Christmas was four days away and there’s only a little over two days left of 2022 and I’m still coughing and spluttering, using at least half a dozen handkerchiefs a day and generally feeling crap. I therefore don’t particularly feel like reviewing the past year or contemplating the next. I just want to feel human again!
And I shall.
One thing that I did ponder on whilst laying in bed on Boxing Day was, as it happens, this blog of mine. I started it many years ago as a diary for my studies. Somewhere that I could record my research and related activities, ponder results and share them with my tutor and fellow students. I continued with the blog post studies, including a big “move” to a different blogging platform during which I lost 75% of my blog. Not a good time. I still dream of finding in a forgotten folder some of the essays that I’d worked so hard on and whose loss I still regret. But, as my studies came to a close, I continued to write in the blog.
Why did I carry on though? Partly as a way of sharing my hobby with the handful of people I stayed in touch with but mainly because I actually enjoy writing. I enjoy crafting the flow and pace of a written piece. I also enjoy seeing where my thoughts will take me; unlike an essay for my studies I rarely start with a firm plan and the subject evolves as too does the main point I am going to make. Sometimes this resembles whatever induced me to put fingertip to screen in the first place but oft-times it’s a surprise to me and the first I know of it is when I proof read the copy.
The germ of an idea this time came from watching Alex Luyckx’s latest YouTube video. This led me to ponder resurrecting my nascent interest in making videos, or VLOGs as I termed them, a pursuit I put on the back burner when my formal studies ended. I then found that Alex had, somehow, left me with a thought revolving around the empty recesses of my skull … “write about what you know”. This in turn led me to think about what I do write about and why and thereby to this point of sitting at the dining table tapping furiously at a screen trying to get it all out of my head before the family need the table for tea.
One thing I have noticed is that my blog became more focused once I’d made the transition from digital to digital plus film and from there to being once again a mostly-film based photographer. Much of what I’ve written about has related to my experiences and experiments returning to film photography and also discovering new techniques or formats. Often these are things I couldn’t experience first time around due to lack of funds or time but often through simply not knowing about them. Hard to understand in this digital age I know and I suspect many take for granted the wealth of information available at the tap of a finger or the click of a mouse button.
It’s not a gear-centric blog, although I enjoy the gear, but is more focused on what I can achieve with the tools and materials. At times, usually when I’m restricted in my movements through ill-health, I write opinion-based content, but on the whole I like to share what I know, what I’m learning and what I’m trying out by way of new techniques. This is both as a means of making sense of it myself but also as a way of sharing.
So, that’s my point for today in what is probably, but not definitely, my last blog post of 2022. If you are a film photographer, whatever your level of experience and whatever your particular specialist subject is, please consider sharing your knowledge, your experience and your technical skills. Whilst film photography is enjoying a resurgence it’s still a fledgling and its long-term survival is not secured yet. For it to continue to thrive and continue to grow we all need to play our part.
It’s not just about supporting those companies that are undoubtedly doing their best to keep film alive, they have a strong vested interest, nor is it just about making the gear available but it’s about keeping the knowledge and skills alive, ensuring they are passed on through the generations. I don’t mean simply burying things in websites or online databases. Those artefacts can be found of course and have value – but only if they are found, only if future film photographers know the right questions to ask or keywords to enter in a search engine. Our mission, should we wish to accept it, is to actively spread the word, to share and not to hoard our knowledge so that newcomers to this world can see for themselves the wonders that await beyond the marketing stories, the slick packaging and the glossy offerings of hip influencers.
So, that’s what I will be doing in 2023. Or rather, that’s what I shall continue doing in 2023. Whether or not I branch out into a podcast or I resurrect my nascent and long-dormant YT channel (thanks for that ear-worm Alex!) I shall at least be continuing to write for my blog. Continuing to share via social media and continuing to do my small bit to keep the film flag flying.
I hope you do too.
Here’s to a healthy, happy and creative 2023 with as much sharing as we can all manage.
Does the camera you choose influence what and how you make photographs on the day?
I was pondering that this morning following my wife’s announcement that the bathroom, where I hang films to dry, was out of bounds. “You will have to shot digital for a few days” was her less than sympathetic postscript. Now I’ve nothing against digital, I’ve several digi-cams available, but as my reader probably knows by now, I habitually use film. Mind you, having used (exposed, developed, digitised and sleeved) seven rolls of film over the last two days I thought it probably wouldn’t hurt. My thoughts shifted to what camera I should take.
I took my phone.
I still need to make a photograph every day as my picture-a-day challenge continues but the phone will be well up to the job. Had I known about the bathroom ban last night, I’d have charged a battery or two and stowed a small digital camera in my bag in readiness for this morning. As it was, I had just five minutes to decide what camera to take. However, we make the best of situations.
Once outside I photographed heavy frost on the car, explored some frost covered leaves and patterns in ice. All things the phone handles well enough for my needs. Scraping the ice off the protective screen with a fingernail I photographed the outdoor thermometer (-5°) and headed off on my morning’s errands which in large part covered exactly the same ground that I covered yesterday.
It was whilst sat in my favourite café, jobs completed, that I realised I had been looking at the world around me differently to how I’d looked at it yesterday. I further realised that this change in perspective was actually quite normal for me. I am always looking or at least sub-consciously watching, for compositions and photo-opportunities but it dawned on me that what I watch for varies with the camera in my bag.
Yesterday, I had the Holga Pan and two rolls of film in my bag. My thoughts instantly turned to architectural multiple exposures, inspired totally by friend and fellow photographer Andrew Keedle. My phone was in my pocket but it was the Holga Pan that had my attention and I photographed accordingly.
Today with just a phone for company I was instinctively looking for images that suited the “camera” in my hand. Thinking back over the past week during which I’ve used five or six different cameras, I’ve adapted my vision each day to the cameras at hand. Adding the Holga Pan on a couple of days was a conscious decision as it’s on loan and I wanted to try the multiple exposure technique Andrew demonstrated. However, going back through my archive it is clear that what and how I photograph is very much influenced by whichever camera I happen to have with me.
The fact that I probably make more images in the streets surrounding my home than everywhere else combined means that I am very familiar with my surroundings. I still manage to find something different every time I venture out however and I think that this is in part down to the fact that I look at my surroundings with slightly different eyes each time I go out.
Sometimes I go out with an idea in mind and on those occasions I choose the camera for the job. Oft-times though the camera I take is chosen quickly and the choice also influenced by what cameras currently have film loaded (normally at least four cameras have film loaded).
After a full English and several mugs of hot, black tea it was clear that I needed to vacate my corner seat as the café was starting to get busier with lunchtime trade. I’d written most of this blog post whilst sat there in the warmth but it was time to venture back outside onto the frosty streets. I thought more about the topic as I walked home and the more I thought about it the more I realised that my day-to-day photography was influenced mostly by what photographic tool I put in my bag or pocket as I leave the house.
In passing I guess that another factor to consider is the experience levels of the individual. I’ve tried most genres of photography over almost fifty years and am comfortable with quite a few of them. I am also predisposed to trying new things and experimenting, something that has grown particularly in the last few years. My familiarity with my cameras also means I generally don’t need to think too much about the technical aspects which leaves the brain free to attend to creative matters.
So, in conclusion, what I chose to photograph is generally influenced by the camera(s) I have with me. Other factors, such as the light and if using film, what films I have with me, are also contributing influences. The main exception is when I go out with a specific project in mind in which case the camera is chosen accordingly.
Hhhhhmmmm, now then, does your mood influence the camera you choose?
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:
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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