Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Those days

Apart from a paper round, my very first job was working in a local camera shop. It was a shop owned by a good friend of my Dad and it was one of those "favours" that ended up being useful to all. In true Tommy Cooper fashion I should also point out that it was only a "local camera shop" if you lived nearby.

I can't imagine that I'll ever forget the first task I was given. The shop had a load of bellows, for close up work, in many different fittings, and was trying to get rid of them. Jan, the owner's wife and manager said to me, and I mean she was the wife of the owner, not actually his manager, although that could be a whole new debate:

"Can you go and stack all those bellows boxes in the window?"

Off I went, to return twenty minutes later to tell her I'd done it. Being seventeen and totally clueless about anything except masturbating and heavy rock was never going to put me firmly on the first rung of the managerial ladder. And, being honest, my knowledge of heavy rock wasn't that good at then either. Jan took a look at my "window display" and started to laugh.
"I meant to make some kind of nice and attractive looking display, not really what you've done."
I had stacked the boxes, like bricks, up against the inside of the window. Each box was about the size of a brick and it had seemed like a good idea. From outside the shop people could no longer even see through the window because of my "bellows boxes" wall.

She viciously and cruelly demolished my wall and then showed me how to make an eye catching display. Over the next few days the bellows flew out of the shop as if close up photography was highly cool and trendy and there was a international bellows shortage and we were the only place in the world to have some left.

Years later I found out that, at the time, close up photography was highly cool and trendy, there was a worldwide bellows shortage and we were indeed the only place in the world to have some. Amazing.

This was in the 1980s and it was one of those old fashioned owner run shops, the type we hardly have around London these days. There wasn't the remotest thought of a no smoking policy let alone any legislation about smoking in public, so we'd happily serve customers while smoking fags and not one customer ever batted an eyelid, unless they got smoke in their eye. The bulk of the shop's revenue came from consumables like film and batteries and developing and printing. But we had a reasonable stock of second hand gear and even a few new things that I always took pride in selling.

I remember being captivated by a little second hand outfit we had once. It was a Pentax Auto 110 outfit (I hope I remember the name correctly). If you're under about thirty you won't have a clue about 110 film, unless you're a photographer. It was a tiny sized cartridge film that was used in compact cameras. The image quality was crap, because the negative was tiny. But, Pentax brought out this little 110 SLR, complete with a few lenses for it. I think it was an aperture priority only model and it was a little beauty. It had all the handling and features of a bigger 35mm SLR, just without the image quality. I played with it for a few days and it so nearly became my first camera until I came to understand that I'd want better image quality.

My first serious camera was to come. It was an old Minolta SRT 101 with a 58mm f1.4 lens. It was a second hand model but a stylish and lovely old tank of a camera. Manual only and with a rather spectacular lens that I still have in my garage somewhere. In those days we learnt about photography in a very different way to today's shoot, view and delete methods. Zoom lenses weren't the norm so we had to actually move to change the framing, film usually stayed in the camera until we finished the roll and we would send it off and wait for the pictures to actually see the results.

Don't get the wrong impression. I have no doubt that today's photographic world, full of digital images, digital cameras and cheap high quality optics is far better than that of yesteryear. Since I went digital I have rediscovered my interest in the fantastic art that photography is. I can learn from my mistakes quickly and easily, I can take better pictures without fear of finishing my roll of film or the cost of developing and printing. I can choose to point and shoot or have full manual control or anything in between, all in an SLR that's about the size of one of yesteryear's Olympus Trips.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I pull out some of those twenty year old photographs and get flooded with nostalgia. They seem to contain vivid memories. Call me old fashioned, but there's something so tactile about those old treasures. That's without even getting started on all the old boxes of Kodachrome 64 slides I've got stashed away.

The shop closed down many years ago, I'm still in touch with Phil, the owner, but sadly lost touch with Jan after they split up. But, I drive past the shop on a regular basis. It's now a Thai restaurant and, whilst the decor is totally different, the windows are still there. I cruise past and gaze at the window, thinking fondly of the bellows wall.


sach said...

haha the window display part cracked me up. but i suppose I'd have done exactly the same thing had I been in the same situation.

about your rant on cameras. i'm clueless about my own camera so i have nothing to contribute there but what you say about old photographs is very true. i like to think that every generation carries its spirit in their generation's photographs, if you know what I mean. if you don't, oh well too bad.

Anonymous said...

I was going to write that i have a couple of bellows that need a better window display.. and were you interested in the job..

But decided against that kind of vulgar unnecessary smut. Instead I would say that you seem to have had a passion for photography for a long time, which is great and fortunate, and that as much as we didnt get rid of the radio when the tv was invented, it would be a shame to throw away film, in order to grab on to the digital medium. I am not entirely sure that is "progress"

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Sach - there's definitely some kind of spirit in those old photos for sure.

anon - I agree. I can't see film ever vanishing but I think it's getting pretty close to the time when it's mostly used by enthusiasts.

N said...

Old pictures make me nostalgic becuse they're old...not because their the product of film...personally I think mourning the passing of film is as pointless as mourning the passing of photographic plates and other old technologies...

Lovely story though...glad that you rediscovered ur interest cos ur stuff is definitely good!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

n - fair point, but it's the tactile nature of old photographs that I don't get from looking at images on a monitor that does make me nostalgic sometimes.

Thanks for the compliment too.

S said...

My first job was in a bookshop - a proper seventies throwback, despite me working there in 2001. It had smoking, crap haircuts and a BASIC-enabled computer system. My boss looked like John Prescott, perved like Prescott and wore a glass eye. His wife was the first 'man's woman' I'd ever met - a nasty piece of sh*t if there ever was one! I got fired without actually being informed too. C*nts!

So so glad they're closed :D

Anonymous said...

Let me add my 2 cents worth. I still use a film camera . Photographs are then scaned and uploaded to my blog. Why? I have this silly notion that the image quality actually matters for even an amature like me. But the main reason is the mystery & magic of not knowing how your photo turned out until it is developed. And the joy you get after seeing the result. It is like , not knowing whether your unborn baby is a boy or a girl & discovering it at birth. Pure magical feeling. Yes did that too.