This winter has been one of the longest, and most miserable I can remember. What has been especially strange is the way the wintry weather continued even when the light was clearly indicating Spring. This was taken in March at Fox How, near Ambleside, in the Lake District.
From a brisk walk with some fast film.
I don't need much from a camera. Most of the features on a modern digital camera are not needed for the kind of slow photography I enjoy. I could live without auto exposure, autofocus, even an LCD screen. I hardly ever shoot video, and I tend to take one image at a time, so I have no real need for 10 frames per second. But there are two things I really like about modern digital cameras. The first is image stabilisation, to counteract my shaky hands, and the second is weather sealing. Not many cameras have good weather sealing, even quite expensive ones, but being able to take your gear out in the rain, and not worry about it, is worth any number of other headline features; a camera you have to keep in your bag during a rain shower is no good half the time in Northern Britain. The image above is of the Lancashire seaside town of Morecambe. It's a wet and blowy sort of place, and this was a particularly wet and blowy Sunday afternoon. I was absolutely soaked through by the time I was finished, but the camera was fine.
For quite a few years now I have been collaborating on an occasional basis with poet Rebecca Goss, on a web-based project we called the Jupiter Project. It is so-called because we both liked the idea of pictures taken with a Soviet-era 50mm lens called the "Jupiter 8". The actual lens in question was made in 1968, and is roughly the same age as me. We've recently added a couple of new poem/picture combinations, Tall Grasses and The Horses. Although the lens offered me some variety (and two effective focal lengths) when used on film and Olympus digital cameras, and has a look all of its own, we both realised that the lens was less interesting than the ideas we had been exploring. I'm not going to say too much about it just yet, but I thought I would note here that we've started working on a more wide ranging, and hopefully more coherent, project that might just appear in print. I'll have more news soon.
It's been a while since I've used any really old cameras, but in the past few months I've put a few rolls of film through my 1920s Contessa-Nettel Cocarette and have been thinking a bit about where this camera fits in. Unlike modern do it all digital cameras, tools like this have a very limited range of applications, and of course, after almost 100 years of usage and neglect, most of them need to be handled with some care; most are less reliable than they might be. In the case of The Contessa, I've learned to be very careful in loading film to make sure it is flat in the transport system, and that the film door is closed precisely, to make sure the film is parallel with the back of the body.
With the practicalities dealt with, I'm also learning about the lens, and what it can and can't do. The negatives from this camera are 6x9cm in size, a format which on the face of it seems ideal for landscape photography. However, the limitations of the lens mean that's not as straightforward as it might be. In particular it tends towards low contrast, especially at long distance, giving images a washed out look. The picture above is a good example of this. Even allowing for the deep shade under the trees, the middle distance is a lot more contrasty than the background. Another factor is the film. This was taken with 400 ASA black and white film, a film speed unheard of in the 1920s, and I find that the camera produces better results with slower film and longer exposures. In any case, I've learned not to attempt landscape images without a foreground feature, or some sort of shade to shelter the lens.
Contessa-Nettel made cameras independently until 1926, when the company merged with Zeiss. A camera like mine--which has the top of the range F/6.3 Anastigmat lens--would have cost £3 17s 6d in 1924. To put that in context, in 1925 a railway engine driver earned around £4 a week. I imagine the Contessa would be in her element taking group portraits in shady gardens, perhaps in the hands of a twenty-something photographer visiting family in the summer vacation. Imagine the moustaches, waistcoats, and the elaborate hats. Even so, she's done alright with Rydal Water I think.