Monday, August 11, 2008

A Brief History of Photography (Part One)

I first studied photography during ‘A’ Levels. I didn't study it as an actual ‘A’ Level, but as an after school activity. In those days, the 1980s, you couldn't take all those easy ‘A’ Level subjects like photography or film or media studies. To kids now the 1980s must seem how the 1950s seemed to us in the 1980s (ie a different world).

The first photo I developed took all of us by surprise in the after school slightly geeky photography club. A picture emerged of fellow student Nigel Harrison – or so we thought. Slowly, a tall, geeky guy in a raincoat caught mid-stride in the school playground appeared on the photographic paper. All of us gathered round the chemical solution tray, laughing and mocking him until it was revealed that it was actually me. When the realisation came, it was like magic. First there was Nigel, then more detail came, and it was me. Then there was silence. Then I mumbled, ‘That's me’, like some proof of existence.

At art college I would also study photography and then again at film school. Each time I’d start studying it again, I’d have forgotten all that I’d learnt the time before when I studied it. I’d even bought some photography books I never looked at. It felt too much like maths what with f stops and exposures.

And though I'd used SLRs at college, I’d never actually owned one. I’d always loved taking photos (my favourite subject matter was nothing) but never took very good pictures. For my sixteenth birthday I was given a Fuji instamatic camera – my first ever camera – which I used for the next decade or so (before finally giving it to a charity shop). It had a cover you clicked open before taking the photo, then closed again. I used to like doing that really fast. I felt like a photojournalist doing that.

After that, a friend gave me an instamatic panoramic camera that came free with cigarette tokens. This wasn't a proper panoramic camera where each picture would take up several 35mm film sizes in a roll. This simply chopped the top and bottom off a regular 35mm sized picture, but it took good photos. The panoramic format feels more natural to the eye than a regular 6x4 picture.

In Asia, the panoramic camera was stolen somewhere in the tea plantations of Malaysia. A tourist took pity on me and gave me an instamatic camera in Indonesia – which was stolen in the Philippines, along with exposed rolls of film. I then bought a cheap one in the Philippines (with a separate flash) – but all the pictures turned out foggy (even with flash).

I'd always wanted a Nikon SLR – ever since hearing Paul Simon's song Kodachrome. In New Zealand, when I had no money, I bought one, then took it back to the shop a few days later. It was great – but I couldn't really afford it and it had a slightly protruding film winder located just above the viewfinder so I couldn't actually see through it properly.

My parents bought me a second-hand Olympus OM-30 SLR for my 30th birthday – which was nice, but not the one I wanted. At art college we used Olympus SLRs – beautifully simple models (I couldn't remember which) with only a needle to indicate the exposure. The one I was given had flashing green and red lights and needed about a dozen little batteries to keep them going. I’d fiddle around with the lights and take photos. Not great ones but they turned out okay. Then I bought a Lomo. I’d read about the cult of the Lomo some years back, and finally decided to shell out £80-odd for one. I loved my Lomo.

When we got burgled the first time they took my Lomo and Olympus SLR (and my girlfriend’s Praktica SLR BCA with zoom lens). The second time we got burgled they took another crappy giveaway instamatic panoramic camera.

For my 34th birthday, my partner bought me a Canon SLR camera (from eBay). On the second roll of film I took on it, the film jammed. Now I just stick to a point and shoot digital camera (which had been stolen once – we got a replacement on the insurance when we were burgled the third time). It works out cheaper and easier – obviously.

Total number of cameras stolen: 6
Total number of cameras given away: 2

1 comment :

Unknown said...

I was given an Olympus OM2N a few years ago. Just a simple needle. Aperture priority but that may be too technical for you. I also have a digital for daily use and a huge lumbering 40 year old Mamiya 645 for occasional use. I just love the clunk of the shutter release.