Saturday 17 December 2016

Painting With Light

This afternoon I've been moving stuff from the loft to the man-cave. This is a job I've been putting off, because I knew exactly what would happen...and it did. You see, mostly it was boxes of old photos. Fatal. Whenever I am in close proximity to old photos I seem to lose multiple hours of my life at a stroke...

When it comes to photos the time thing is a problem for me in other ways too. Photography very nearly became a hobby, but I could never give it the time it needed. In fact I deeply resented its temporal demands upon me. "Don't go fishing," it said, "No. Instead take your horrible Russian Zenit B out for the day and compose some arty shots of tree bark or something. Then spend the evening developing up your black and white negatives before booking a session in the darkroom, where you'll be able to fritter a few more frustrating hours being inept with the enlarger."

It all began in February 1979 when I got a job at Kodak Ltd in Harrow. As older readers will remember, once upon a time the name 'Kodak' was virtually synonymous with 'photograph', and the average punter's camera was loaded with Kodak film and his/her photos were printed on Kodak paper. New employees like me were sent on a training course in Hemel Hempstead to learn some basic photography skills. We were sent out with a manual SLR and some B&W film to do some painting-with-light in Hemel Old Town. Predictably a couple of us wound up in a pub, where I took this...

Summer 1979. Even today I don't think this is too shabby. It won 'Best Portrait' category on the course, which went straight to my head and told me that I was a photographic genius in the making.

So that was it. I was - kind of reluctantly - hooked. I bought the awful second-hand Zenit B and began to waste a lot of perfectly good fishing time. Here's one I took a while later...

Summerhouse Lake, Bentley Priory, Stanmore, in 1979 or '80. I did the sepia-toning by hand. At the time I worked in the Kodak Research Dept. I took the B&W print in to work with me and mixed up a sepia-toning solution in the lab when I should have been doing actual work for my employer. I got the recipe for the mix from a book in the department's library. Back in those days everything you needed for a good skive was just handed to you on a plate...

My flirtation with photography didn't last. I was soon back to angling, and then birding took over. However, in the very late '90s I was surprised to be signed up for another company-run course, this one on colour photography. Looking back I'm amazed that the firm could afford it by then. Competition from Fuji et al., plus the looming spectre of digital meant Kodak was struggling. Still, if they insisted on sending me off to play for a few days I wasn't going to argue. Once again we were let loose with a manual SLR, this time armed with a couple of colour films. We were given some subject categories and a couple of days. I got up very, very early the next morning, full of plans, and got stuck in...

The River Chess at Scotsbridge, Rickmansworth. It was dawn - dead still, and only just light. I put the camera on my birding tripod and used a long exposure, which is why the river has that smooth, hazy look. This shot won 'Best Overall' and confirmed what I'd always known - I am actually a genius.

Later that morning I headed for the Grand Union Canal at Harefield, where a stream rushes into the canal through a culvert - so vigorously that a short kayaking slalom is permanently located there. I was hoping to take some action shots of someone using it. I timed my arrival perfectly. A friendly bloke was just getting in the water and was fine with me taking some photos. So I positioned myself at the top of the run, just where he'd have to turn around to head back to the start. I set a fast shutter speed, and waited...

Okay, just in case no one else says it, I will: this is a BRILLIANT photo! Remember this is the pre-digital age; you had no idea what sort of photos you'd taken until you developed the film. In the event I had 35 frames of rubbish...and THIS. Back in the classroom I am convinced that everyone thought I'd cheated somehow, photographed a page in a book or something. Even I was totally gobsmacked, despite the fact that by now I was well aware of my own genius...

Notice how water is involved in all the above? Even my little dabblings in photography reveal that love of wet places. River, lake, canal...and yes, the pub had liquid if I recall...


  1. Wow - Kodak and Hemel Hempstead? We must have crossed paths at some time or other? I worked in the Swallowdale Lane D-SR warehouse for six years at exactly the period yo write about. I was fishing at Tring with Ric F and, also, Tiddenfoot, where you also enjoyed some successes.
    It really is a very small world! - Dyl

    1. It is, Dyl! I also fished at Water End, where you caught your first 20lb pike. We must have been like the proverbial ships passing at night!

  2. Gav, my very first SLR was a Zenit B - no idea what happened to it - I was using a Canon AE1 by 1980.
    That picture of Summerhouse lake must be about the only one in existence which shows the house. A rare shot indeed.
    I once had a full transparency of the house but like a lot of slides and negatives, I seem to have mislaid them. I can only hope there's another box hidden somewhere.
    The kayak shot really does look a professional job.
    What about the Pec Sandpiper shot? a belly on the mud crawling job at Staines as witnessed by myself.

    1. Cheers Ric. The Pec Sand was in '84. Still that Zenit B, plus a primitive helios 500mm mirror lens - also Russian. By that time taking photos was competing with just looking, a dilemma which still plagues me today. At least a bridge camera is less cumbersome though. I'm not sure why I never bought better kit back then. Probably a bit too skint half the time...

  3. Are Gav, Dyl and Ric F really the same person?

  4. Possibly Steve.
    We've all caught 20lb's plus Pike, we've all run marathons, and we've all found rare birds.
    The telling point is; and I suspect I'm not far wrong on this, that flowers and plant life are ??

    1. ' and plant life are??' well, can't speak for you and Dyl, but most definitely my weak area!