I was sorting out some old photograph albums recently and they brought home just how precious photographs used to be. The sepia ones, the black and white ones and the first to be taken in colour. A Kodak Box Brownie, was still the order of the day in the fifties and sixties.
Do you recall the days when you’d buy a roll of film and wait for the right moment to use each frame? No use wasting any frames as the film was quite expensive to develop. I don’t know about others, but I would keep the last, unfinished roll of film from one holiday to the next. I’d often find several rolls waiting to be developed when I did come to take them to the shop. The shop would dutifully send them away to the laboratory for me.
Half the prints would come back containing memories of events long forgotten. Some would be returned looking distinctly blurred/pink/blue/blacked out. Yet more would turn out to belong to someone else entirely. We would be forever destined to hold in our drawer, a wallet full of cute shots of other people’s children on the beach, someone’s grandma laughing uproariously into the camera or a particularly cute pooch on someone’s lap.
I am talking about a time before disposable cameras and definitely before digital cameras were available to the man on the street.
On one memorable occasion, on a visit to Whipsnade Zoo, my five-year old brother begged to borrow my father’s Box Brownie to take a picture of the flamingoes. My father grinned and allowed him to do just that. John handed the camera back, pleased with his effort but unable to see exactly what he had taken. My father decided he had better take a picture just in case my brother’s did not come out. He got us to stand in front of the flamingoes and clicked.
Some time later, the newly developed photographs were collected from the newsagents. We sorted through them eagerly. Most were ok. One was outstanding.
The picture my brother had taken of the flamingoes was perfect. My father admitted it was excellent. He had to say that, because the one he had taken straight afterwards, with my brother and I positioned by the fence, was minus our heads.
In 1981, during a very hard winter, living in the Cotswolds, my husband and I photographed some amazing images of the ten-foot snow drifts that bordered the lanes and recorded our eldest daughter’s attempted first steps in the snow. Back at the house, some time later, my husband decided to remove the film.
Unfortunately, the film had not re-wound completely. He opened the back of the camera and panicked. Now, I would have closed the back quickly and wound the film on, hoping to have saved some of the images at least. My photographic knowledge extended thus far.
Dave’s apparently, did not.
By the time I got to him, he had pulled out the film and thrown it into the bin. All those images, even the ones that may have been saved, had gone. I suppose that is a bit like pressing ‘delete’ or failing to back-up images before re-formatting a disk.
How different are things today! Today, we can record everything and anything at the touch of a button. We can view and discard immediately if we wish. None of this waiting to see if the developing fluid has turned everyone’s faces orange or if someone blinked at a vital moment.
The Polaroid images were amazing of course but who had a Polaroid camera? Not me!
In my early teens I acquired an interest in photography. I was not so concerned with the taking of the photographs, I was more interested in the way they were developed. Hence, I was a little jealous that my elder sister had received a photographic development kit for Christmas a few years before but had never used it. Luckily for me, she had little interest in the subject and the kit became mine to experiment with.
This kit allowed me to carry out contact printing on a very small scale. It sufficed for a short time. Once I’d mastered the art of transferring a negative image to photographic paper though, I was keen to explore further. I opened an Encyclopedia (everyone’s route to knowledge in the sixties and seventies) and read up on the workings of telescopes. I learnt how a telescope works, studied the effect of convex and concave lenses and, armed with the facts, I began work on building my own photographic enlarger.
My project was challenging since I had no funds to buy any materials. Undeterred, I removed the lenses from a pair of my old glasses and rummaged around in an old toy box for the slide projector we’d had as children. This, taken apart and re-jigged would be very useful. An angle-poised lamp provided a stand and old cardboard was used to mount the lenses in their correct positions.
Amazingly perhaps, the enlarger worked. My physics teacher would have been proud of me for I had used much that he had taught me in its making. I didn’t tell him about it though. Perhaps I should have.
A year or so later, my father bought me a state-of-the-art (so I thought) enlarger which came in a padded box with an amazing array of attachments. In essence, it was not too different to the enlarger I had built from scrap but I have to concede, the photographs I re-produced using it, were somewhat superior to those re-produced with the angle-poised lamp.
Thinking back to this episode makes me smile. I did not become a famous photographer. I just continued to be interested in how everything works.
Today we can print out our photos as soon as they have been taken. We can upload them to Social Media sites, email them to friends and family. The thrill of watching that mysterious black and image appear in the developing tray, whilst shrouded in darkness, the door barricaded against unwanted visitors, has gone.
This instant access can be daunting as we scroll through hundreds of images and try to choose one that stands out. We are spoilt for choice! Sometimes though, there is a gem among them that makes us smile. I leave you with one such photo…
…my youngest daughter and her little son see the funny side of life…