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THE BEGINNINGS

Photography is something I have always loved and being able to capture a moment in time for all to see is, to me, very precious. Whilst I love some paintings, a photo, undoctored by Photoshop or anything else, is a true record of something that I saw that I can share with you. I will admit to cropping some photos; I will admit to changing the brightness of some photos (although very rarely), but there will be no other changes made to any photographs I publish anywhere. What you see is what I saw or WYSIWIS if an acronym is needed.

Still   Still camera
Movie   Movie camera
Photos   Why photography fascinates me

MY FIRST STILL CAMERA.

I first started to take photos and become interested in photography in 1956. In the summer of that year, just before my birthday, we had left the suburbs of London, Rayners Lane to be precise, where we had lived for six years, and moved to Leeds, all on account of father's job.

For my seventh birthday, July 1956, I was given a camera and whether this was to allow me to keep my relations back in London aware of our life or as a way to foster my creativity, I do not know and there is now nobody to ask.

The picture on the left shows me “wearing” said camera somewhere in Leeds in the late nineteen fifties.

Prior to that all pictures were taken using my father's camera, a picture of one almost identical, or maybe identical, is shown on the right.

On reflection, looking at the picture, and pardon the pun, I can see it had some sort of reflective viewer as you looked down the top of the camera and saw out the front. I remember this fascinated me at the time. There were also a few knobs and levers on the side which allowed you to use a timer and adjust for light etc.

I also notice that the viewfinder cover had side wings to stop the sunlight obscuring your view. Clever. However, from the photos with which I was recently re-united and had been kept by my mother, this camera would take prints about 5½ cms square. Think about it, measure it; that is small. You could have larger photos but that was the standard size.

My camera was a Brownie 127 and I have unearthed some pictures on the net showing what it looked like.

It was simple. On top a white button to press to take the photo and a white winder to wind on the film. The viewfinder was above the lens and so as a beginner (and folks I was that beginner), you could accidentally take some headless pictures. I did.

It was simple, it was easy to use and somehow I managed not to break it for over ten years. Not bad starting as a seven-year old.

The back of the camera had the same top, I'm trying to entertain you, and the other end of the viewfinder.

For those like me who are unable to shut one eye, although after many years of practice I can now close the left eye independently, it was extremely useful that if you placed your left eye up against the viewfinder, your right eye was pressed firmly against the back of the camera so there was no need to manually shut it.

The small slightly reddish disc/window allowed you to see how far you had wound on the film; more later.

On the bottom of the camera was a locking device which, when undone, opened up the camera. Doing this when you had a film in was not a good idea as it allowed light in and ruined all the pictures.

The next two pictures show how the camera looked when opened and the film you bought and how to put it in.

You would put the full spool of film in one side, carefully pull it over the back of the camera and then wind it on to the empty spool on the other side.

Then close the camera and off you go.

Each roll of film took eight pictures. Unlike father's pictures, mine were rectangular and measured 6cm x 4cm. Each time you took a picture you would, as I said, wind the film on and it would click when it reached the correct place on the film and you would look through the little red disc and see “2”; obviously only if you had just taken your first picture on that roll of film.

After eight pictures you would wind on for a while until you felt the winding operation free-up and then open the camera, take the full spool out (now on the other side) swap the empty one over to that side to be ready when you bought your new film, shut the camera and toddle off to the chemist. About a week later you would toddle back and he would give you your pictures and if it was Friday, you had something for the weekend. Continuing that theme, and if you don't follow don't worry, as I grew older I wanted something bigger and so I would ask for “enprints” from my negatives. Oh, by the way, with your pictures you were also given the negatives so you could make copies later if you wanted. A little google research tells me that these “enprints” were the standard ones you got back from a processor so I now wonder what the piddling little ones were. The enprints were about 13cms x 8cms (or 5ins by 3ins for those still dealing in old money).

This phase of my photography career continued for nine years through my time in Leeds (3 years) and then when we came back to North Harrow in 1959.

There are, in my mother's old desk, hundreds of photos I took over that period.

One photo I did come across had been labelled by mother with “My little Ricky trying to be clever”. I would have used the word creative, mother, and as you are no longer around, you can't argue when I do.

Basically I realised while we were still in Leeds, that, if you didn't wind the film on after a photo and took another immediately, you would have one superimposed on the other when they were developed and printed.

You can see by the position of the deck chair how far I moved between shots but at least my parents were supportive enough to do as I asked.

I obviously tried this a few times as there is another picture of me trying to shake hands with myself; one of life's little pleasures. Once again, it seems to have missed but by considerably less.

I suppose I must give some credit here to my little sister as I assume I conned her into taking that, but it was a bit difficult without a tripod, which we didn’t possess, to focus in exactly the same area. By the way mother appears to have made no comment on this one, probably through apathy.

Funnily enough I used an extension of this technique in the latest video I made but I think I'm getting better or at least the equipment is.

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MY FIRST MOVIE CAMERA.

Fast forward nine years and, for my birthday in 1965, I was bought a movie camera and, yet again, there is a picture of me holding on to it while sitting on the boot of father’s Ford Cortina GT, the car I learned to drive on.

Many people wondered why a 60-year old sedate civil servant would want such a racy car but that just brings me back to my parents, or in this case my father, being so supportive. Until I bought my own Ford Escort GT in 1969, the Cortina was as good as my car.

However I digress, the movie camera allowed me even greater scope to use my creative talents. Again I have found some pictures of a very similar model.

This picture shows the actual camera. Once again you can see that the viewfinder and lens are at a different level but I had got the hang of this by now. You could adjust the lens slightly for zoom but it is the lever on the side that may amuse you younger folk. In order to operate the camera, i.e. to take a movie, you had to first wind it up. I’m serious folks.

Once fully wound, and it could break if you over-wound it which luckily I never did, you could film for about 40sec. Then you would need to rewind and off you go again. Life was a little staccato in those days. The handle slotted into the hole on the side after winding so that it didn’t “unwind” when you were filming.

On the other side was the knob which allowed you to get inside the camera plus a set of instructions for the lens setting taking into account weather conditions and lighting. On the day I got the camera, father borrowed it and went off to film my sister horse riding.

After that it was mine and the lovely thing about being born in mid-July is that you have eight weeks to play with all of your birthday presents without school interfering. On top of that you had your camera ready when you set off on the annual family holiday, normally to Southrepps in Norfolk.

You would buy your roll of film from the chemist. I remember it exactly as these pictures show. It came in a square yellow Kodak box and, when you opened it, the film was in a metal circular canister, sealed with black, sticky tape. This roll of film you then had to insert into the camera without, as before, getting too much light into it, the film not the camera. You could get as much light into the camera as you wanted before you inserted the film. Inside the camera were two spools and it was almost exactly the same process as my old Brownie 127 camera.

You put the full roll of film at the back end of the camera, unwound a small amount of film, fed it through the shutter at the front and wound it carefully on to the empty spool. Once done, you shut the camera and started filming. But that was not the end of your threading work. The roll allowed you to film for four minutes but after two minutes you had to open the side again, swap the spools over, the empty one now being the full one and then film for another two minutes using the other half, width-wise, of the roll of film.

Once you had filmed for another two minutes, it was open up again, take the full film out and post it off to Kodak, in the envelope provided.

Memory is a funny thing but I would swear it was PO BOX 40, Hemel Hempstead. I must try to check this out, if I can still remember short-term things.

Your film would then come back to you, Kodak having kindly developed it all and put the two bits together, and you had a four minute film to watch.

Yes, that's correct. All that work by you and Kodak and you just had four minutes to watch.

Aha, but you couldn't just plug this into the back of your television.

You now needed a projector to watch it on and mine looked something like this. You would put the full spool on the top reel, feed it through the lens and fit it on to the empty spool on the bottom. Having drawing pinned one of mother’s best white sheets to the wall, you could now watch your film in full.

I seem to remember that the projector had a side lid, if such a term is possible, and the inside of this had a white-coated surface and this also allowed you to see your film. However it was very small and encouraged personal hygiene as you all had to sit very close together.

But there was more to this “do-it-yourself” director’s role. You could buy, and I or my parents did, a splicer and some film cement and it was the same model pictured here. You could then cut and edit your film. You put the film into the splicer, the holes which fed it through the projector would fit over some nodules in the splicer and closed the splicer. A sharp edge would cut the film. You could do this as many times as you liked. You would then have these negatives hanging all around you and you would select the order, usually by holding it up to the light, and then place the two strips back into the splicer alongside each other, apply some cement at the join, shut the splicer down, without the sharp edge bit, and leave it for a while. You would then have a complete roll back again; eventually.

You may think, if you wish, that this sounds stupid, time consuming, ridiculous in today’s world but unless you have done it you will not know the feeling you get when you watch the little four minute film that you have edited. I made my first ever animation with this camera shooting a frame at a time. It starred two match boxes which moved closer together, while on their side, then opened and a match left one box and entered the other before that whole box was consumed in flames. The whole thing took me eight hours to film one Sunday. I loved it. I also filmed a couple of weddings for friends before, in 1982, my career took me to the stage where, over the following 12 years, I filmed, scripted, edited, produced and directed innumerable training videos. Editing a video in those days was fun too; you needed two recorders, a TV and who knows what else. God I’ve had a fantastic life. In 1995 I set out on my second coastline journey and thereby satisfied my love of landscape photography even more. Then between 2002 and 2010 I travelled the world and some of the photos I took during that period can be found on this site.

And now, as I head off into the sunset of that fantastic life, I am taking you with me and my camera. I hope you enjoy the photographs of my future as much as I have enjoyed my time behind the camera these last 60 or so years.

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WHY PHOTOGRAPHY FASCINATES ME.

I love travel, I love history, I love seeing what nature has given us and I love experiencing different cultures. I like to understand how things were, see how they are and think about how they might be. Photography allows me to do this. By taking pictures now I can not only have a record of what I have seen but also share this with others who weren’t there. By looking at old photographs I can get an idea of how things were, how people looked, how landscapes may have changed.

Although Photoshop and other such packages can now mean otherwise, I have always believed that a photograph should be an exact record of what was before your eyes. I accept a little lightening of a dark picture and maybe cropping out something you didn’t mean to be at the edge of your picture but nothing else. I use the word cropping on purpose; I do not accept that removing a person, an object from a picture should be allowed. For me it is the artist, the painter, who can interpret a view, a person (ask Henry VIII for his opinion on Mr Holbein’s interpretations) and I will leave that role to them.

Photographs allow me to see the sort of clothes that my great grandparents would have worn. Not an artist’s impression but the real clothes. These pictures were taken at the turn of the last century or about 120 years ago.

The formality is possibly a case of “wearing your best for the photo” but other photos from the period suggest formality, in those days, was the norm. I think it's true that everything in life was less relaxed than it is today.

Photographs allow me to see that while bicycles don’t look that different from how they looked in the 1930’s, cars do. These pictures show cars from that era but they were very similar to those when I was born in 1949. The war years stopped development and style changes. My mother is seen in one of her father’s cars and I love the spare wheel on the side. For your information, I think the middle car is a Standard but the make of the posh one escapes me.

I can see that in 1899, when attending church, everybody wore a hat, most men had moustaches (they probably had these at other times too) and the shortest skirt was well below the knee. Most people, especially the young women, wore boots not shoes.

I can see the type of clothes families wore at the beach. This is not a one-off either. I have many photos of my grandfather on holiday in collar and tie. I accept that he was probably bracketed as "upper class" but I have seen pictures of crowds "promenading" along Blackpool pier and all wore suits and ties.

And, much to my surprise, I note that my own father wore a tie while mowing the lawn. I shudder to think how he would cope with today’s world.

And finally, and to me most amazingly, I can see a photo, printed on glass, of a relative who was born one year after the start of the French revolution and to those who don’t like history as much as I, that started in 1789, 226 years ago. The glass plates also show her with her daughter and were probably taken around 1860, or 155 years ago.

Therefore, in 155 years from now, what pictorial record can we leave to our dependents, our children’s children’s children. The idea excites me and I would give anything to be around to hear what they think. This, however, seems a little unlikely so I can only leave photographs at which they can marvel.

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