Back to the past

Like many, I learned the basics of photography before the digital age. Pause while I put on the sunglasses of nostalgia. With the glasses on, I remember the thrill of unpacking the film from its cardboard and plastic containers, fiddling to load the film without exposing too much leader, and hoping to squeeze an extra frame if I was using black and white, which I would later develop myself.

Only 36 shots on a roll, so I had to make every one count. Even so, with slide film I’d bracket either side of the measured exposure which would often result in only 12 unique photos from every roll. The film speed was given but we all had our favourite adjustments to get the results we wanted. Professionals would buy batches of film manufactured at the same time and expose one roll to test the proper settings for that batch. Colour print film had a wide exposure latitude, forgiving any minor errors in exposure (which is why wedding photographers used it). Slide film, and to a lesser extend black and white film, had to be accurately exposed or compensation applied at the processing stage. It had to be a consistent exposure variation for the whole film so we had to decide in advance. Many, including me, had two camera bodies loaded with different films just in case. My preference was for slide and black and white.

When I started, lenses were all manual focus. Film cameras had a great focusing screen with a split prism that made focusing easy in most situations. As my main interest was landscape, there was no need for lightning fast focusing. Part of the appeal for me was the slow, methodical approach and the actual taking of the photograph was almost secondary.

Then, once the snaps had been taken, there was the delay in seeing the results while the films went off for processing. Sometimes, if I was on holiday, I might have to wait up to two weeks to see the final prints or slides. Black and white film was slightly better as I’d process it myself and this could be done overnight. But then, all I’d have was tiny negatives until I printed off the images I wanted. I got good at assessing photographic potential from these tiny reversed images.

And here is where the nostalgia goggles start to leak reality.

I didn’t always develop the black and white films immediately after taking the photographs. Once I left college and the convenience of darkrooms set up and ready to go, I sometimes waited until I had two or three films to do. And then, I sometimes waited until I had more. It was all about the darkroom. At first, it was in my bedroom and had to be set up and put away every time I wanted to use it. And then I set it up in the garden shed and it was cold, damp and uncomfortable. So I started using less and less black and white, which was actually my favourite medium.

Slides came back from the processor in boxes and to view them properly I had to set up the projector. Which meant loading up the magazine in just the right way so that the projected images were the right way up and the right way around. It took time and was fiddly, so I got a smaller viewer for checking the results. And it was more convenient but no one else saw them.

The prints from print film stayed in their wallets and only occasionally got put in albums. I have some of those albums still on my bookshelf. They look impressive but I can’t remember what’s in them. I have sent for recycling more photos that I can remember.

One day, I bought a digital camera. The quality of the results weren’t the best but they were instant and that appealed to me. This meant I could retake the photo straight away rather than wait until I was next in the area. I could see the pictures on my computer and I could edit them without having to go out to the shed dressing in several layers of warm clothing. I didn’t have to breathe in chemicals and wait for the negatives to dry, all the while hoping no dust got on the wet film.

With the nostalgia goggles fully removed, I confess that I sold up all my film gear and went digital and never looked back. I have no regrets in doing this and I think it rekindled my interest in photography. I made the decision when I saw the results from a 6mp Fuji DSLR and for me, the moment when digital quality surpassed analogue quality was when I got my Nikon D300. Not only can I check the results (and for those who would never stoop to such crass activity are missing one of the main advantages of digital technology), but I can change film type and sensitivity without having to worry about rewinding a partially exposed film (and remembering where to wind it back on to afterwards). A modest memory card costs less than a roll of film plus processing and can be reused. Digital is just better.

So today, I picked up a CD with 36 images scanned onto it by the people that processed the film I dropped off to them about an hour earlier. I’d taken the photos on film that was at least four years out of date, on a camera made in the mid 70s using manual focus lenses probably made in the late 60s. And despite all I’ve said above, I enjoyed using the camera. I’d forgotten about the satisfying clunk as the mechanical shutter thumps down on it’s mounting and I’d forgotten about the big, bright viewfinder than made focusing a pleasure. The camera required me to translate the meter reading into aperture and shutter settings by interpreting three little red LEDs. I had to trust it was accurate but I also had to know roughly what to expect. And I found I did.

The images below are from that film. Some of the colours are odd and there’s a lot of grain. I suspect that’s a combination of out dated film and poor scanning from the shop. They were just test shots I took while out and about so they’re not masterpieces. But I have more film, some of which is new, and I’m sure there’ll be more posts about the old fashioned way of doing photography.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 6: Rufus’ day of rest

We’ve been doing quite a lot over the last few days. Rufus runs, gallops, jogs and jumps about 50% more than I do on any given walk and I’ve done nearly 30 miles of hills, dales and water courses in that time. So today was a rest day for Rufus.

I took the opportunity to do some domestics and to visit the local museums (yes, I have an interlekt… intalect… inlect… I like museums). But the one I wanted to visit is closed on Mondays. I know because I read the sign as I walked past it. So instead, I headed off to Mumbles and had a so-so coffee at Bracelet Bay before going for a stroll along the beach. I remember coming to Bracelet Bay as a kid – we used to stop at the Big Apple (literally, an apple shaped shop overlooking the bay. It was built as part of a nationwide advertising campaign for an apple flavoured drink and it’s now one of the few (I think there are only two) left in the UK).

The tide was out today and the gentle smell of the sea also reminded me of my childhood. They say smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers and the memories were so fresh I felt as if I’d been here as a child only a few years ago. Sadly, it’s a lot longer than that. I stepped over rocks and remembered that I’d trained to scramble and walk over rough terrain by clambering over the rocky outcrops around here. But it wasn’t the same without Rufus and I turned back to the car. After a detour to the local supermarket for some supplies, I headed home.

Most of the rest of the day was taken up by bread making, chasing Rufus around the garden trying to get his chew from him, and planning where to go tomorrow.

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A difficult gig

We played in a holiday village pub on the coast as a four piece last night.  Great venue, lost of people there. But it was a difficut one for all of us because a great friend and long time member of the band, Neil, wasn’t with us.

Neil passed away on Wednesday.

When I played regularly in The Insiders, Neil and I would almost always travel to gigs together. His car swallowed all our gear with room to spare but if he wanted more than the odd pint at the gig, I’d take my car and the squeeze to get all the kit in was more of a challenge. We’d have lively conversations about new songs to play or the latest guitar he’d bought or his experiences while he was in the RAF.

At the gig, we’d alternate between playing bass and guitar for a half. Neil was an excellent guitarist and he had a really clean sound on his Telecaster which would cut through the combined noise of Stuey and me. He’d played in bands for a large part of his life and this experience showed in his attitude and playing skill.  He showed me a much quicker and more accurate way of tuning the guitar and he set up a couple of my guitars for me – a job that not only needs skill but patience too.

Neil and I would usually stand to the right of the drums and he would stand to my right. In small venues, we’d share a microphone. If I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be playing, I’d look over and get a good idea from Neil. We’d both moan at Stuey to turn down, with little prospect of any results. Instead, we’d share a joke and have a laugh, sing the (somewhat risque) wrong lyrics to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and try and out do each other on guitar riffs to ‘Summertime Blues’.

I have many happy memories of Neil, which is how we should remember our friends and loved ones. Some are hard to share because they depend on the moment, others raise a smile when I tell them. I can picture the moment we started playing in a social club and I turned to my right to see Neil facing away from the audience. He’d spotted an old age pensioner dressed in an outrageously tight pink plastic dress dancing with an short old bloke in a terrible wig. Neil was laughing so much he couldn’t really play properly and had to look away. In the end, we all had to avert our gaze and we chuckled for most of the night. Another time, he turned up for a gig in front of the Mayor of Swansea slightly worse for drink after having spent the day watching Wales beat England at rugby. He grinned all night, but he was still the best musician on stage. When I think of Neil now, I think of that grin and that he was always smiling on stage.

Before the first half of last night’s gig, we didn’t really say much. I certainly felt subdued and I think Stuey and the others did too. We played the songs and when it came to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, I deliberately looked over to my right where Neil should have been. There was a big gap that we couldn’t fill but I sang his words and they made me smile again.

During the break, Stuey and I talked about playing a song for Neil. In the second half, Stuey introduced ‘Hey Jude’ as a song for a friend who couldn’t be with us. It’s a great song but this added something to it and the lump in my throat came very soon after we started playing. The tears came during the chorus part at the end (as they are again now, as I type this). It was a good version, worthy of his memory and, as Neil would have pointed out, we played it loud enough for him to hear wherever he is now.

We went down well at the pub. We had a guest singer who did a great version of ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’. Surpassing the usual situation where Stuey tells me that we’re playing a song I’ve never played before, last night we played a song and I still don’t know what it was. I couldn’t hear Stuey from my place on the other side of the drums and before I knew it, I was busking along to the song, trying to make out what chords Stuey was playing whilst being blinded by the flashing stage lights. It wouldn’t be the same without the adventures and challenges Stuey sets.

When I started loading the car up at the end of the night, I found that some joker (not the original word I used) had prised the mirror out of the housing on the driver’s side of my car. It went back but I haven’t been able to check it properly yet.

It was a lonely drive home

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