I have wanted to take photographs since my father first let me peer into the top of his old Lubitel at the upside-down image of my brother peeping through the cutout window of the new playhouse he’d got for his birthday. I must have been about six and a half years old.
I remember too being allowed into the bathroom which was bathed in an eerie red light to watch images appear as if by magic on the paper floating in the poisonous water that I was not allowed to touch. I had dreams about stepping into one of these trays of developing fluid and watching my foot turn blue, then green, the veins throbbing and unnatural. My parents must have done a great job on the ‘don’t touch’ stories – the trays were stored on the floor behind the toilet in between developing sessions, not locked away ‘out of the reach of children’. No cotton wool for me – but that’s another story.
These memories can’t have been much before my parents divorced and I was denied the chance to learn these mysterious techniques from my father. I didn’t really think about it at the time. When I was a little older – probably about ten – my mother got herself a little 110 point and shoot Kodak camera. I remember being allowed to put the little flash cubes on for her, but I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs. Film was, of course, expensive and she never quite trusted me to get it right. Pity. I was desperate for my own camera. Whenever we would collect the prints from Boots I would be happy to see the photos of myself and my brother, but I always felt that there should have been other photos too.
In my mind I could see the kind of photos I wanted to take. I’d seen things in magazines and books and I’d seen things in the real world that could be made to look like these photos.
My mother started to get adventurous and was delighted one holiday with a sunset photo she’d taken in which a little boat was just to one side of the dying sun’s reflection on the water. It was a beautiful sunset, but all I could see was that the horizon wasn’t straight and that if she’d just waited for the boat to be a little further away from the reflection it would have been better. I must have been insufferable.
I grew up, left home, and still no camera to call my own. In the mid 1980s I was given a Zenit 12XP SLR. Brand new, all mine. That was it. I was off! The Zenit was a perfect beginner’s camera – totally manual so I had to learn all about apertures and shutter speeds etc. It was then that I was able to stretch my compositional muscles as manual focus gave me so many more opportunities. All this with the standard 50mm lens, but oh what a world was opened up to me. I discovered depth of field and began to venture towards the world of the abstract and the closeup. I could get to half a metre away from my subject with the 50mm and started to look at the world in a different way.
My daughter came along and was relentlessly photographed for several years until she began to get a bit fed up with it and I had to take sneaky shots, and I continued to explore other subjects. In the mid 1990s the camera that my father had used to take baby photos of me – a Pentax SV (also totally manual) – had been sold on to a friend many years before, but this friend had decided to move on and he gave it back to my father who, in turn, passed it on to me.
The great thing about this camera, apart from the delightful sound it makes when the shutter is fired, was that the M42 screw-mount lenses that came with it were compatible with my Zenit as well. Having learned and practised the basics I now had a 28mm, 135mm, 200mm and a 2x converter at my disposal. I didn’t know where to start! Even now when I dig out the gorgeous old camera I still can’t decide between the 28mm and the 135mm. I loved being able to stay back from my subject yet capture its detail, and all the different effects it is possible to achieve with a different focal length combined with aperture and shutter settings. I also fell totally in love with wide angle and the new composition opportunities it presented. A later acquisition of some old extension tubes brought macro to my eyes too, and my love of flower photography was born.
I took an A Level course in photography at the local college so that I could learn darkroom techniques and got seriously into black and white photography at that point. Having the two compatible cameras was great – bw film in the Pentax and colour in the Zenit meant I could choose according to my subject. Once again I discovered the magic of watching a photo appear before my eyes – but this time the images were my own and the excitement was even greater. Plus I was allowed to touch the magic water and I didn’t go green!
It was at this point that I discovered too the joy of having a ‘photo buddy’. I made friends with the mad but lovely Brenda on this course and we would go out for hours taking photos. We had a similar fascination for decay and dereliction and would spend hours out and about, then more hours in the darkroom. She’s moved away now. Years later I teamed up with Kevin (sadly no longer with us) who went from technophobe to owner of a shiny new camera on his retirement to Isle of Wight Photographer of the Year in a very short space of time. Neither of us had any sense of direction so every outing was an adventure. I miss them both. There is nothing better than going out taking photos with another photographer. There is nobody patiently or impatiently waiting for you to finish getting a shot just how you want it, and nobody cares if you wander off the track and disappear into the undergrowth for a while. No pressure – it’s all just understood.
While Brenda and I explored the darkroom together, Kevin and I had moved into digital photography and the world of Flickr. Back in 2004 when I joined it was shiny and new and very very exciting. There was nothing else like it. It’s very hard to imagine now that there was a time before Flickr. As always with photography, so much more to learn, so many new techniques and ideas presented themselves, and continue to do so. I made contact with other photographers from all over the world – some who shared my passion, some who favoured the same subjects, and others who became firm friends.
My father would have loved Flickr. He got his first digital camera a little while after I joined up. Sadly the early-onset Alzheimers with which he was diagnosed at the age of 62 had to all intents and purposes taken him from us by early 2007 when he had to go into permanent care. My brother and I had to clear his house and of course I found all of his photographs. He’d been a keen photographer all his life but I had very little contact with him as a child and I was still getting to know him as an adult. Photography was a passion we shared and yet we had very little time in which to share it fully.
I found this slide from a holiday to Cornwall that I vaguely remember. The hubcap belongs to our old Morris Minor and that’s my mother and our tent. People have said that the style is just like mine. I can’t have learned it from him, but it’s clearly where I get it from.
I am a photographer.
All photos link back to the originals. If you’d like to take a look at my photography you can see a small selection here, or if you’re feeling brave my original Flickr account (warning, over 14,000 photos!) is here.
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