It started 18 months ago with an impulse purchase of an Olympus OM2 from Wilkinson Cameras up here in Kendal – I was just walking past and casually looked in to the second hand section of the window and there it was, so I bought it just like that. While it was an impulse, that impulse was driven by the fact that 40 odd years ago as a teenager Olympus were producing the OM1 and some iconic adverts with David Bailey and I would look at those 70’s image of a camera system laid out on the ground – a camera equivalent of Pink Floyd’s concert equipment laid out on the cover of Ummgumma – very definitely ‘camera porn’.
After a few rolls of film I was hooked, taken right back to what I loved about photography – taking your time – having to wait to see the result – the complete opposite of what digital photography has become eg instant. I began to explore the UK film camera market and discovered that the iconic cameras that I had grown up drooling over you could now buy for a couple of hundred pounds or less – so I did.
It’s a long list that included a Pentax Spotmatic, a Nikon F2 a Canon F1 a Bronica ETRS, a MPP MkVIII, a Bessa T even a Box Brownie. I put film through them all, many times and enjoyed them all – it was about exploring film and to a certain extent revisiting some childhood dreams. It was a classic case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) and after about a year I realised 2 things.
1 – For my personal photography I wanted to use film.
2 – That as long as I had so many cameras it would be difficult to refine my technique and craft.
So I looked at what films and cameras I had used and enjoyed the most and a trend was appearing – large format – taking me right back to basics, challenging and with huge amounts of detail and ideal for Alternative Photography Processes. Medium format a bit more portable but still giving great detail for my landscapes and abstracts but I would prefer a square 6×6 format and finally a small 35mm camera to carry round and document everyday stuff. At this point I decided to trade and upgrade to 3 cameras that I would use until they or me gave up the ghost. The search began, I had a few ideas, a Hasselblad would be nice, large format Shen Hao or I would love a Gibellini 5×4 and for the carry round possibly a Contax or Ricoh. There are several sites in the UK and I obtained a trade in price from a couple of them just to know what I had to play with, a surprisingly large amount.
After a couple of months the ‘perfect storm’ arrived. West Yorkshire Cameras based in Leeds had a Hasselblad 503 CW and a Ebony RW45. So I decided to pop over and have a look. It was a long day, they had to check my trades and I had time to look and play with the ‘potentials’. They also had a couple of small high end compacts a Contax T2 and a Ricoh GR1.
In the end I came away with the Ebony, the Hasselblad, a lens eg 180mm for the E and 120mm for the H and the Contax T2 all for my trades and a small additional sum. I had simplified my film life from 15+ cameras down to just 3. More importantly I knew what I wanted to do with them. I had decided on 2 long term projects. The first, using the medium format based on the idea of decay and how it affects colour. The other, using the large and medium format, around an area of land called The Helm just to the west of Kendal. A year ago I had attended a lecture by Jem Southam – he said that the idea behind his long term projects was to choose an area and ‘unpick’ it. So I am going to ‘unpick’ The Helm – more on that later.