About me – a photo summary
I decided to try to get back into film photography a few years ago now but it was only in mid-2012 that I made a concerted effort, about the same time as I began blogging as ‘grumpytyke’, which started as an attempt to get back into writing as a pastime rather than writing for my job. Soon after, I thought it might be an advantage to set up an additional blog just for the interest in classic cameras and film; and ‘grumpytykepix’ was the result.
Photo mementos of Romania: Exa (working – this one is quite rare), Lomo LC-A (!) – each picked up on a market vegetable stall in northern Romania for about £1 each – and the only remains of my Olympus kit used for most of my picture taking there – a battered OM system flash (still works – sort of)
Printing by gaslight
I was first introduced to photography by my grandmother in the mid to late ’40s. I don’t remember taking photographs myself then, nor developing films, but we produced contact prints on ‘gaslight paper’, as the name suggests exposed to the light of a gaslight (that fragile white ‘mantle’), by which her living room was lit. There was no electricity – the radio, which played such a part in developing my love of music, ran from a glass bottle we called an ‘accumulator’ (charged from time to time at a local shop), and a massive battery.
When I was 11 years old I passed the 11+ exam, so opening the way to a ‘grammar school’ (which I subsequently hated and, for the most part, performed and behaved very badly). My reward for passing the exam was a box camera, almost certainly a Kodak. Money was tight so I didn’t shoot many films and sadly few, if any for sure, prints from these endeavours survive. I was hoping to find a shot of me with this camera in my late mother’s effects but no such luck, though some of the pictures I found might well have been taken with it.
Exacta, Nikon, Minox, Olympus
Sometime in the late 1950s I acquired an Exacta from somewhere, and sometime along the way I had a Nikon F, but the camera which really caught my imagination was the Olympus OM1, which I bought in the 1970s – by which time I was a journalist (’62 to ’71 – Nikon?) then in PR (Olympus?), and built up the basis of a system. This remained my photo equipment until the 1990s (at some point I acquired an OM2 and I still have the now very battered Olympus flash) although I did venture into family film-making in a small way and had a Leicina.
In the late 1960s I got a Minox 35EL and, travelling a lot as a journalist at that time – including visiting the Zeiss factories in both East and West Germany, the Minox went everywhere with me. It produced superb pictures, especially colour slides. I still have it though it doesn’t work – hopefully I’ll fix it some day. When I come across it now it reminds me of being on my back at night on pavements (sidewalks) in New York, capturing the jewellery of the myriad glittering ‘skyscraper’ windows.
Normandy, French food and Mahler
I always preferred black and white photography but did shoot a lot of 35mm colour slides and made dual-projector synchronised ‘shows’; I even made one with nine synchronised projectors, for a 30ft wide screen, for a French client sometime in the mid 1970s (I’d migrated to PR from journalism by this time). The thing I remember most about this show was the music I used as backing – Mahler’s 1st Symphony (2nd movement?), which seemed to me to sum up the happy bustle of the river Seine between Le Havre and Rouen, which the show was partially about. I loved the 7 year period I had this client, with frequent jaunts to Rouen (and cafe au lait and brioche for breakfast in the Cafe de Post, trying to read the French newspapers) sometimes flying a party of journalists down the Seine in a light aircraft – and occasional expeditions to Honfleur.
Cooking in the kitchen, dunking in the attic
And the food … , so good, so much! It’s the period in which I became an avid cook (though I had cooked from about 7 years old as a necessity), believing I could produce ‘haute cuisine’ – I think I might have got pretty close then and when I was not brewing up developers in the attic I was at the Aga in the kitchen simmering a giant cauldron of roasted bones to make stock.
At this time I had a pretty well equipped darkroom (for 35mm only) and did a lot of film developing and print making.
At some point I acquired a Mamiya Press with a couple of lenses. There were one or two other cameras, eg Zeiss Nettars and Ikontas, picked up on the way. But these were used relatively little as my darkroom wasn’t equipped for medium format.
I took the OM equipment with me to Romania in 1993 (I think only the OM1) and took my first photograph there on my first day in the country, 8 March 1993 (as a rampant feminist I can’t forget the date, especially as the Romanians really do celebrate it), at a Romanian Ukrainian border post at -22degC. Having been forbidden to take it with a sternly wagged finger (I knew neither Romanian nor Ukrainian then), I was escorted the 7km back to the nearest town, where I was to stay. Don’t get me wrong, the armed escorts were very friendly, but firm. They did not know I had taken the photograph anyway; I still have it but exactly where I do not know; I’ve been looking for it to do a post on ‘forbidden photography’ and when I find it – it may be in Romania – I will do that.
This is Laura, 7 years old when I met her in 1993. I took her paddling in the river Siret – the first time she had been out of her bed. Not abuse – the opposite, but from ignorance. One of the few of my Romanian photos I have access to at the moment. I used another of her in a report I did for a UK newspaper. See the crinkle cut still being used then by the local photo shop in Romania; they only did black and white processing. Could have been taken on the Olympus, Lomo or Exa. Almost certainly Romanian film – Azopan (100ASA). I still have an unopened packet – expired April 1998.
Over the coming years I used the OM to photograph the beautiful Romanian countryside and people, including many, many children, a lot of them the severely disabled ones I worked with as a volunteer. Almost all of these photographs – negatives, prints and some slides – are stored away somewhere with that first one but for the moment I don’t know where. Almost all of my photography before I went to Romania was disposed of by someone else while I was away.
Contax and Zeiss
- Contax AX with some of the lenses. I got this after I began to have difficulty focussing but wanted to continue to use my manual Zeiss lenses; but also for its unique engineering, moving the film plane to provide auto focus with the manual lenses. It’s great. Zeiss lenses on the left, Yashica (the 24mm is, I think better than the Zeiss and the macro is very good and much cheaper than the Zeiss) on the right. I also have some much longer and shorter C/Y fit lenses – Vivitar.
At some point the Olympus OM failed but as a result of some letters to Amateur Photographer about the wonder of Romania as a photographers’ heaven, some kind person sent me a Contax 167MT with a Zeiss lens. This eventually set me on a path of acquiring and using (Japanese) Contax SLR cameras and Zeiss lenses, along with their sister Yashicas. In the meantime I had bought the couple of cameras shown in the first picture on market stalls (among the vegetables!) in Romania.
I’ve bought a few more film cameras since I returned to the UK in 2004, for the most part purely mechanical ones which I prefer, but most of this time I’ve used digital cameras, especially for my work in marketing communications and PR, for which I often acted as an informal photojournalist, especially for newsletters and the like.
Oddly, as I’m someone who studied physics and worked in a research laboratory at the start of the semiconductor age, pioneering digital equipment, then later as a journalist I was a specialist writer on computers, instrumentation and control, digital cameras now bore me. They are convenient and quick, so I use them for work and for things like family gathering snapshots. But slowly and surely they are being replaced by something with film.
What is more, I now have two distinct photographic interests: first is the photography – taking photographs and admiring those from others (for which I’m very grateful to the internet age); second is a fascination with the mechanics and ingenious mechanical solutions in many classic cameras.
Corrupted by digital – for a while
I have been ‘corrupted’ by digital, though fortunately I did always retain the care for each exposure necessary with film so usually would make no more than 20-30 exposures in a session even though I had a multi Gbyte card in the camera. I do, of course, have to digitize my images to post them on my blogs but I’d really prefer to be doing things in a dark room. I’m really trying to create a pre-envisaged image in the camera, so the unpredictable results enthused about by many lomographers doesn’t appeal to me and manipulation and re-creation in Photoshop or the like doesn’t thrill me either, though I use it of course. In landscape and nature photography particularly I try to capture the real colours, so I have always disliked, in general, the over-saturation of Velvia (which has now been carried over into so many digital shots), especially its distortion of the Yorkshire landscape and particularly when that is by renowned celebrity photographers.
It’s much more difficult to return to what was second nature to me over 30 years ago than I thought it would be.