It’s been over a year since I wrote my longer piece about the importance of a long term photography project. My last project at The Vinyl Factory has been in the can for a few years and to be quite honest, at the time took over my though processes for too long. So, now, with a desire to do something else longer term I’ve decided the best way to approach another one is to break things down into smaller ‘projectettes’. Hopefully making it more manageable. The theory being that a short shoot with a subject can be done and put away, then move on to the next one. Sectionalising the work is to speak. Ultimately though, each part will have a common theme and add up to the larger body of work. Below is a few of the first batch from a session with a local tailor. Nicky is 84 at the time of the pictures, and three days later was going to have a knee replacement, so I had little time to get in. A fabulous craftsman, and been involved in the trade since he was a boy, coming to the UK working at various jobs including a gardener and owning his own garment factory in Luton. It’s quite a story. And I thought he made a worthy subject to start off this project.
Following on from this I made contact with a local glass blower, Ricky. I didn’t even know that we had a creative glass bower in the area. We managed to make what I thought were some really interesting images. You can see his work here.
Since starting this project I have discovered many local craftsmen and women, all doing their thing. It’s been a real pleasure to discover these people chipping away at their own niche of creativity. It has inspired me to extend my own creative processes into the world of film making, so there is a link here to a short documentary I made about a local spoon carver. David Yule.
I met David through doing some paid work with a commercial joinery company that fits out top end houses and hotels etc. He has worked there full time since coming to the UK having lived abroad for a long time. He asked me if I would like to use him as a subject for my project.
Having been asked to possibly make a short film for an other craft client I asked if I could use him as a test subject. The results are below
Ultimately though this body of work will form part of my portfolio and he portraits will be entered into the BJP Portrait of Britain Awards for 2020, I’ll let you know how I get on.
I have never used expired film or used a bulk loader until now. Not however for any particular reason, probably just because I simply didn’t feel the need to. I had been given a bulk loader and a handful of reloadable cassettes in a collection of darkroom gear by a retired professional. He no longer used them, or any of his other film developing gear, and donated a few choice morsels to my growing stock pile.
Having had no plans on using it, it went in the cupboard in my darkroom, probably never to be seen or used again. However. On one of the many visits to my regular camera shop, we got chatting about bulk loading and a recently found stock of expired film. Much is written and posted about expired film. I never really understood the hype. so when I was asked. ”Want to try this? It’s Ilford FP4+ Expired Film.” I have to admit, I was not overly excited. “We have no idea what it’s like. It’s old cine stock, rolled emulsion side out. So you will need to convert it.”
Now, It’s no easy task, re-rolling 200 feet of film by hand. Grappling around in a dark bag. I converted about half a roll (and used several expletives in the process), just managing to get enough to fill the loader.
I’ve never shot any expired film, let alone 20-year-old stock, I put a call out to the analogue community. The advice received yielded a good starting point. Start somewhere between 50 – 100 ISO. Next I rolled two short films. One film I metered successive frames at 50, 64, 80,100 and 125 in turn on the same shot. The other I shot a box speed and push processed as if 200 ISO. All processing done in Ilford Ilfotec LC29. Scanning was as always done for me by Truecolour Imaging in Luton.
Below are some of the results.
After this little exercise, I shot a full roll that is metered for 50 ISO therefore will be push processed as if shot at 200 ISO n my OM1. This essentially equates to the other piece of advice given of one full stop every decade of expiry by Matt Evans (@mattevansphoto) via Instagram. This offsets the fact that almost all the first frames suffered from varying degrees of under exposure. I think that it is amazing that 20-year-old stock can still be found and produce more than acceptable images.
I really like the look of the images that have resulted, they have an almost timeless quality with a soft light feel. It also seems to have added some extra contrast to the sky, perhaps that was the push development? The few portraits I have made with this stock look beautiful, more to follow.
Cheers for now!
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I’ve been in possession of what has become my favourite 35mm SLR, the Olympus OM1 now for about eight months. Truth be told I have not shot it as often as I was expecting. The honeymoon period with it has faded a little. Because I now know that I can get acceptable exposures on my favourite film stocks (and some not so favourite) without too much trouble, the unpredictability of a new camera has now become the reliable and consistent. But I love the all manual nature of the Olympus OM1, and the Zuiko optics are in my opinion, exceptional. Recently I’ve been doing some digital editorial and interior work, and for some reason I’ve either not been inspired to shoot this (or any other film camera) or just not had the opportunity. Is this something others find?
So when we booked a holiday trip to Ilê de Ré, France earlier this year, I had to take my beloved Olympus OM1 and the borrowed Zeiss Ikon along. Loaded with Kodak Portra 400 and Fuji ProH 400 respectively to see what I could get. I’d also recently bagged a bargain 24mm f2.8 from “the bay” and was looking forward to using that for the first time.
Here are a few frames from the first roll of Portra 400 in the Olympus OM1. I like documentary style work, and if possible street portraits or people at work. As well as of course the usually holiday snaps and landscapes. Documentary type shots make me feel like I’m not just a tourist. Concentrating on the real people that live and work in these places that we just visit and enjoy on a more superficial level.
Ilê de Ré is famous for many things, sailing, holidays and camping some of the main things, but also salt production and oysters. The salt pans really caught my attention.it is hot manual work. In the days before tractors, donkeys pulled the carts wearing distinctively striped leggings to protect the, from the salt scrub in the wind. I couldn’t come home without some more interesting shots among the pans. Getting close and speaking to the people that you are about to photograph makes the experience all the more rewarding. Visceral even. I like that.
Since getting back film photography over the last two years or so, like many others, I seem to have accumulated a number of different cameras. Some of which the first time round I would never have considered. One of those cameras is the much praised but diminutive Olympus XA.
In my first film photography life, I could not wait to get away from a compact camera. The SLR was the pinnacle of my equipment desires, and for me, the Pentax K1000 was that.
But since re-discovering film with a storage box found Olympus Trip 35 belonging to my wife from I-don’t-know-how-many years ago, the compact scale focus and rangefinder camera has found a place in my heart.
Fast forward to just a few months ago, and now I actively look out for old cameras that pique my interest. A local antiques centre to me does house clearance and sometimes interesting camera gear pops up in there. On the day I went into the shop for a rummage through the box I came upon this little gem. Complete with the original box, the detachable A11 flash unit, a case and even film left in it.
Having read on this very site a couple of XA articles, I knew that this was a camera of some reputation, with its tiny dimensions, cute clamshell case and tack sharp 35mm f2.8 Zuiko lens. The controls are a little fiddly for my larger hands, especially the focus lever, but not enough to cause a major problem. The viewfinder is small but bright enough. The big red shutter button being electronic is also a little sensitive. A quick check over as the batteries were still good, it all seemed to work.
I finished off the roll of Kodak film that was in it, it was so old that everything was massively under exposed. But having a roll of Ilford HP5+ in stock and a trip into London for my day job to do, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to give the little Olympus XA a proper test drive.
I think for me street photography is where this little camera excels. Small, black, discreet and almost silent when shooting (not the wind on though, that clicks like a tiny football rattle). If you use zone focus it become a cracking little point and shoot. I love it.
Below are a selection from that first roll of the found film and HP5+, let me know what you think.
If you have read any of myprevious posts, you may have noticed a small but growing common thread running through them: the Olympus OM range of compact SLR cameras. I have been using them since early 2016, starting with a borrowed an OM30 from a good friend at the start of myVinyl Factory photo project. It is good, but requires a stack of five (yes five) little LR/SR44 cells to work! The advance clutch also slipped a few times causing frame overlaps indicating it needed attention. Then, having been bequeathed a “2 Spot” (to use a colloquialism) and bought a usedOM2n, I had, inevitably I suppose, begun to hanker after the original. The Olympus OM1.
Much has been written by others on the tech specs of the OM1 on this site and others, so I’m not going to add to the chorus – you can read the timeline story if you want to here.
I’d learned to expose film ‘correctly’ with my late fathers Pentax K1000 through a City & Guilds evening class at a local college in my early twenties. The directness of the all manual camera with a simple needle meter in the viewfinder had been all I’d known. Having used other types of exposure metering in camera since, it now appealed even more. I still cannot believe I sold that camera and all the accessories both he and I had acquired.
Most of the simplicity I was looking for had effectively been achieved with the OM2n in manual mode. This stripped back appeal is something talked about very well by Hamishhere. However I often found myself falling back on the excellent aperture priority Auto setting. You can find this all too easily on the little top plate switch on either the “2Spot” or the 2n. I had to change this situation.
After watching a few on Ebay etc. in various conditions, I eventually pulled the trigger on a fully overhauled, early serial, black paint body only fromLuton Camera Repair Service. My camera came supplied with a battery conversion, new light seals plus all cleaned and calibrated. There was also just a smidgen of wear to the pentaprism housing paint on the most appropriate corners. Quite an indulgence in my book. Singularity achieved.
Getting back to basics was the intention here. No exposure compensation, and limited manual shutter settings from 1 – 1000th. This means that I have to take a more considered approach to my photography. I have also found that I’ve started to assess light by eye more. Working with Sunny-16 as a starting point, then confirming with the needle; it’s slow progress but I’m getting better. It’s nice to have the meter to confirm or otherwise my initial assessment.
Using the OM1 brings joy to the photography process, with both shutter and aperture dials on the lens barrel, like the35 SP rangefinderI shoot also, making adjustments with my eye to the big bright viewfinder a breeze
Below are a selection of images for my first couple of rolls with this camera, all either home developed if black and white and scanned by the same lab as my colour film. Colour film processed and scanned at the excellentTrue Colour Imaging.
It is often said that the best way to improve something, anything that you do creatively is to give yourself a project. A self set goal that focuses your creative energies onto an end target. This allows you to break the goal down into steps, a plan, a strategy. I can honestly say that none of that applied to how I started my own long term photography project.
I had recently got back into taking pictures, mainly on my iPhone and posting them to either Instagram or EyeEm. It seemed I was just snapping aimlessly really. My interest in film cameras had returned after a chance encounter with an Olympus Trip 35. Then quite by chance, I was asked to visit a factory in West London to discuss an engineering contract with a new client as part of my day job.
The client in question was a vinyl record pressing plant now known as The Vinyl Factory. Born from the ashes of the EMI press works when it ceased vinyl record manufacture in the early 2000’s.
On entering the plant, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia for my youth. My record collection and music taste literally defined who I was back then. Standing in the very place responsible for some of the most iconic records ever, I felt compelled to go and get a camera and start photographing everything in sight. But it’s not as easy as that.
After my day job work was done for that visit, I plucked up the courage to ask the MD if it would be OK to come in and shoot some pictures in the factory. That took a little time to get agreement, but after looking at my slowly growing portfolio, was granted permission. Could it be that simple to get access? It seemed so but I think timing and approach had a lot to do with it.
With such an analogue legacy before me, it seems the only option was that this project had to be done on analogue cameras, the tools used to record this project had to be authentic, and contemporary with the subject matter.
It wasn’t long since I purchased a classic fixed lens rangefinder. A near mint Olympus 35SP, you can read about that here, so was on the lookout for a small project, an essay subject. Something to give me a reason to shoot. Serendipity?
Now what? I was in way over my head, having never done anything like this before. Looking at essays online, to get some ideas, I started shooting, some colour film some black and white, to see what worked and go from there.
The first rolls showed lots of promise. Both the color and black and white had potential. Every frame seemed to scream vintage character, and history. However, after some consideration, discussion with friends, and the client (I use the word loosely as it was self commissioned project!) I settled on Ilford excellent HP5+ Black & White, for a number of reasons, speed being one, but mainly I just thought the aesthetic gave the right look. Black vinyl, white labels.
Now this is where the hard work set in. With maybe 70-100 frames after the first visit or two, the gestation and editing begun. Killing your own babies is a very difficult process. Extracting just the images that really connected with the slowly unfolding narrative was really difficult. Particularly as I didn’t have a clear brief in the first place! I needed space between the shoot, first view of the shots and eventual selection to get the objectivity needed. They say this is what Garry Winogrand did with his rolls. One reason why so many undeveloped rolls were found after he died. He needed to look at the images without the memory of taking them, seeing them with fresh eyes.
Clearly I couldn’t do that. But I could put some space between me and the images to get some perspective on them. This of course extends the duration of any project timeline. A typical photo project I read somewhere was between 2 – 5 years. I wasn’t sure I would be able to sustain that level of commitment, especially with an art director friend saying I just needed to finish it and move on.
The largest challenge I found was the edit. Not editing or retouching of the images themselves, but the selection of images. With about 400 plus images to choose from, some very similar but with a slightly different angle or lighting, it seemed never ending. Pulling all my favorites into a book template really helped. What would have been even better in hindsight would be to use prints to select and order the sequence. This is how I feel it would go in future. Taking the time to note image numbers and roll numbers with greater diligence would make this stage much easier.
The real sticking point for me was coming up with the words needed to tie it all together. It needed a story, more than just the pictures. There was a lot going on in some of the images and without some explanation, the relevance of the image in would be lost. Running the commentary through every page detracted from the idea of a photo book. It broke the flow of the images. So after a couple of re-writes the images and words were divided into three sections. Process, People and Place. This I felt was a natural grouping of subject matter.
Finally after two proof prints, and nearly two years of shooting, consideration, writing and thought process a complete book emerged. A long way from the initial concept of a brief photo essay of say 10-15 images and a short article, but it is something I am proud of. It’s also the most expensive book I own. Adding up the film, processing, proof prints and days of holiday taken to shoot I don’t want to think what this project has actually cost directly. Not to mention the gear acquisition that occurred during the process. Starting with a single rangefinder and ending up with two Olympus OM SLR bodies and a collection of lenses, continuous soft box lights and bags etc.
Giving myself a project has been a great learning experience and one I plan to repeat. But only once I’ve managed to do something with the product of all this effort. Maybe before? I have a few ideas for the next one, but with the wisdom of hindsight it will be based around smaller “projectettes” that could build in to a larger body of work. I have definitely been bitten by the documentary bug, recording for the future what is today seen as ordinary.
So, go on, give yourself a project this year and see where it takes you. You may surprise yourself.
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After my dalliances with compact Rangefinder cameras, a very good friend of mine who is also an amateur photographer presented me with a thin strip of brown leather from a certain period in camera history, hung with a larger case and various brown pouches. Investigating further I found a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517/16, supplied complete with clip on rangefinder, yellow filter with lens hood and an Agfa fan out flashgun, all in separate little cases. Cute!
“What’s this?” I enquired. “It’s my dads old camera from his time in Germany in the ‘50’s on National Service, I thought you would like to have a play with it as I know you like old odd cameras.”
Given its simplicity, and limited settings I wondered how I even shoot this camera with modern film? I knew it should work because I had seen others online get good results, however the cameras shutter speeds didn’t get anywhere near my understanding of Sunny 16 using the ISO 400 Ilford HP5+ I had in stock. So I loaded one in and set out on a short photo walk along Whitstable High Street with no meter or rangefinder, just with my eyes for exposure and my best estimation of focus distance. Thank goodness for the exposure latitude of film.
Below are a selection of the results. It’s been a great pleasure to shoot this camera with a personal connection. I plan a family portrait session with the owner at some point. A fitting use I think for a family heirloom.
Because these images were grabbed in less than an hour, with little time to think about what I was actually doing, I didn’t note the settings, something I need to get better at. Intuition and guesstimation were my meter, fortunately, all 12 frames captured something. No retouching or post production, just straight from the scanner. Developed at home in Ifotec LC29 and scanned at Truecolour Imaging in Luton (I can’t wait to receive my pixl-latr, Hamish). Overall I feel very pleased with the results. Is there room for improvement? Of course! But it’s not a bad start. Always learning.
“I think you’re getting obsessed” my wife said when I told her about my latest impulse purchase, an Olympus OM2n. It was to good of a deal to pass up! She’s right though.
I had fallen in love with my bequeathed OM2 SP, but wanted to have the manual interface and functionality of the OM1 as well as some of the auto exposure electronics that the SP has. The OM2n seemed to deliver it all.
A kit had come up on a well known auction site with a best offer option and a buy it now price of £100.00 including a couple of Vivitar third party lenses (28mm and a 70-200 zoom) as well as the standard 50mm f1.8, an Olympus flash, all in a retro semi hard case and with a brown leather “ever-ready” case. It looked lovely, caught up in the moment I offered, first bid refused, second accepted. Oops!
It all arrived safely, but with the potential for light seals needing replacement (I haven’t had this done as yet, and probably won’t till it’s absolutely necessary) and a sticky aperture on the 50mm all was well. After a full service on just the lens at Luton Camera Repair Service, all is now working beautifully. I’ve run a few rolls through this one so far, mostly colour, mostly Portra 400, making me even more impressed by the OM series generally. Since this addition to the family, I’ve picked up a bargain 50mm f1.4 as my standard lens, great for street portraits that I love doing when I get the opportunity. A couple are below.
The OM2n also has a few tricks up its sleeve too. Automatic slower shutter speeds up to 120 seconds for use in low light that you can’t get manually, for example. I’ve benefitted from the slow speeds on a dark workshop shoot in particularly low light that’s provided, in my opinion, satisfying results.
I have completely fallen for the OM range now. It is small enough to carry all day and a joy to operate, has one of the biggest, brightest viewfinders I’ve used, a smooth film advance and a most satisfying shutter sound. For the price these go for even fully serviced, I am smitten.
Now, how about looking for a nice OM1 to extend the line up…..