Film, 35mm, and scans, Rants and discussions

Early memories of photography

1966 – my 4th birthday. Dad was shooting in colour!

I can’t say that I grew up in a photographic family, but I did very much grow up in the age of the Kodak snapshot. Most households had at least one camera. They also had lots of printed photographs, in wallets, boxes, and albums. The boxes of photographs particularly impressed me. I loved rummaging through the old black and white prints of family. I guess that my family were pretty typical. I’m sure that I remember some old camera in a drawer that use to belong to Dad, and I saw photographs of him as a young man holding or carrying cameras. However, Dad spent literally everything that he had spare on us kids. In 1968/9, he did buy himself a Super 8 cine movie camera to record us – other than that, the cameras that I remember were ours. 


My earliest camera was a Kodak Instamatic 25. I recently bought another that I spotted at a car boot sale out of pure nostalgia. Just the feel of the body and shutter release brought back memories. I guess it must have been around 1971, when I was about nine years old. I remember laying in the grass, trying to photograph a herring gull nearby, on a family holiday in the Isle of Man. I also recall packing it into my bags for a school trip to London, and taking pictures of ducks in a London park, and pigeons at Trafalgar Square.

Instamatics were Kodak’s replacement for a sixty five year old line of Brownie cameras – snapshot cameras for the family and even children to use. My Instamatic had two stops – sunny and cloudy. A hot shoe fitting for a strip of one-use flash bulbs. Fixed focus only, and with a viewfinder. Whereas the Brownies had used medium format roll film – 120, 620, and then 127, the Instamatics were designed to use Kodak’s latest user-friendly film format – the 126 film cartridge. A black plastic encased, paper backed 35mm film that forwarded from one square frame to the next and did not require rewinding, it embodied Kodak’s long tradition of making photography cheap and simple to use.

The Kodak Instamatic 25 that I recently spotted in a car boot sale. Just like my first ever camera.

If I had enough pocket money, I could afford Kodak colour film. Otherwise I’d have to manage with cheap black and white. The excitement of opening a wallet of square photographs, picked up from the chemist. I loved the smell that burnt out flash bulbs generated. What would we have done without George Eastman and his Kodak company?


A few years later, it was the Polaroid. Elder brother, sister, then I got one. Big bodied, I remember squeezing around the shutter button (did that set the focus or exposure), then clunking down. This was followed by holding on firmly to the camera strap, while ripping out a wallet of strange smelling chemicals and plastics. In minutes of counting mississippi’s, I could peel out an instant print – still wet. There was so much waste material! Photography couldn’t get much easier and faster than this though, could it? Brother, sister, favourite toys, friends, and of course pets, formed the subjects. Why didn’t we invent the selfie?

Again, I remember biking maybe a mile up the road to a shop that sold instant film. One time I lost my money on the way to the shop. I was heartbroken. Bizarrely later that day, I picked up a similar amount of money that someone else had dropped elsewhere. Back to the shop that sold Polaroid film!

110 Compacts

After that, I’m not sure, but I think that it was later Kodak Instamatics, (or my old 25), then 110 pocket cameras. 110 film format was similar to 126 – only a narrow, tiny film encased in a plastic cartridge, unsuited to any enlargements above the standard print. I certainly had one when I left home, and started working as a zoo keeper, at the age of fifteen years. Easy, compact pocket cameras, sometimes with two focal lengths (wide angle and telephoto), and a hot shoe for disposable flash cubes (four use). The 110 really was a crap film format, but so cheap and pocket sized.

Around the age of seventeen years, when I was still working as a zoo keeper, I was lent a Yashica medium format TLR camera. I only took one roll of 120 film with it – but it seemed terribly old fashioned to me – the roll film was just strange. Even then I saw 120 as old fashioned film, after all, I was acquainted with film in a plastic cartridge. Seems ironic that I buy 120 roll, and use it now – some thirty five years later.

35mm Autofocus

My brother David bought a Canon AE1 during the early 1980s. A real, automatic SLR camera, with lenses and filters. Oh I loved that camera, but I could only afford compact point & shoot cameras. Still, I converted to 35 mm film at last, and there were some seriously good compact cameras now on the market – with built in electronic flash, autofocus, even motorised film advance. I really can’t remember the models that I used, but I think that following my brother, that I brand preferred Canon. They weren’t SLRs, but they did allow me to improve on my 110 photography. I was taking more interest in photography, along with David, and although I didn’t have much of a camera, I picked up on some of his techniques such as composition.

A 1990s snapshot of my kids with Kodak film vending machine in background!

I stuck with 35mm autofocus compacts until I switched to digital, except at one point, I’d guess in the early1990s, when a salesman talked me into a Kodak disk film camera. What a terrible format. The camera didn’t even last long. However, colour film really had sorted itself out by now, and some of the colours were great. Like David, I preferred Fujifilm, but if unavailable, considered the Kodak Gold to be nearly as good.

During the early 1980s, I would take my used 35mm C-41 films to be developed at the Norwich branch of Jessops. In those days, Jessops was very different to the later model that went into receivership a few years ago. The staff actually understood photography. The store even sold used equipment. It looked like a camera shop. However much we were pleased with our prints, we were shooting too much, and needed to save money. This was the age of postal photo labs such as Bonus Print, and True Print. We would post them off, five in an envelope to get the best value. Each day, I’d check with the postman to see if my prints had arrived (when will my prince arrive – old joke.).

I never took photography seriously enough to consider myself as a photography enthusiast, until as recent as five or six years ago. However, going way back, I enjoyed photography, and enjoyed documenting my life in photo albums. I amassed a pile of photo albums over I guess a fifteen to twenty year period. Raising a family, I stuck to a series of compact 35mm cameras, all of the way into the new millennium.

That was my experience of the Age of Film Photography.

Models and themed photoshoots, Portrait, Sony DSLR A200 and Sony DT 50mm F/1.8mm SAM prime lens, The East English Fens of East Anglia

Fields of Barley

Children of the Corn. Portrait of a girl in a barley field. Sony A200 DSLR camera. Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens.

In the Barley Field with Mum. Sony DSLR, as above photo.

The barley was so beautiful near to ours, that it had to be used for a piece of photography yesterday evening.


Film, 35mm, and scans, Rants and discussions

New Directions and thoughts

Len and Doris. Restored family photograph.

The above photograph I scanned and restored several years ago, from a family photograph.  It was taken in Norwich, dates to around 1905, and features my late great uncle Lenny Smith with his baby sister – my late paternal grandmother, Doris Smith.  I’ve used this photograph to illustrate recent thoughts about a series I’d like to do, using medium format film and that Russian Lubitel TLR camera that I bought from the car boot sale a few days ago.

Flickr is such a great resource for thoughts and inspirations.  There are so many creative photographers and photographic artists there – young, old, different backgrounds, cultures, nationalities   Some amateur, some trained, some photography students.  Ideas are circulated onto the Zeitgeist, discussions and friendships made around the planet via the media of that Internet website.  Community.

Looking for information and for photographs taken on that Lubitel, I’ve encountered new ideas.  I’ve discovered the World of 6 x 6 square medium format monochrome portraits, and I like.  I’m inspired by some of the photographers, particularly from Russia and Eastern Europe, who use their medium format cameras to capture portraits in Ilford and other monochrome films.  But these portraits remind me of old family photographs – they are very much stills.  No smiling – old style, people just glaring at a lens into the future.  Putting on their best frocks, posing with a chair, or a prop, maybe with something that meant something to them in their life, like a bible, a sowing machine, or a clay pipe.

I want to use the Lubitel to produce a modern series like that.  Square format monochrome portraits of people, that convey something of their self identity, a message of who they are.  Can’t wait to get the time to do that, but for now there is planning.

Rants and discussions

Fading Images

Owd Fiddler Curtis. Scanned from a Photocopy!

Ok, this photo wasn’t taken by me.  It’s also really poor quality, as I enhanced it from a scan of a photocopied photograph!  I didn’t have the original photo, but I was given this photocopy.  At least something has survived.  A memory that has been extended another generation.  The subject is my great great grandfather.   He was born at Hassingham, lived at North Burlingham, and Cantley, and is buried at Hassingham. All villages on the edge of the marshes. His real name was Samuel William Curtis, but everyone knew him as ‘Fiddler’. Some notes from my genealogical database about him: His grandson Geoffrey Curtis had photographs of him. Walter Tovell of Reedham remembered that he had a beard, and used to wear an old trilby type hat (Geoffrey’s photographs do indeed show him as wearing a hat and beard). Walter also recalled that he was known as ‘old Fiddler’. One of his sons or grandsons was known as ‘young Fiddler’ after him. Samuel Rose, youngest son of Robert William Rose, recalled to Sally Ramshaw, how in 1933, his older brother, Robert Rose (junior), took him up to Cantley, Norfolk, to visit their grandfather Samuel Curtis. According to a letter from Sally, “Sam’s recollection was of him with a large black beard trying to catch rabbits as they ran from the harvesting machines”. Print those images.  Don’t leave them in digital only formats.  Give copies to family members.

Film, 35mm, and scans

More treasures from old film negatives

Family snapshot of my young daughters on a family day out. Taken circa 1998? with some point and shoot autofocus compact camera and Kodak Gold colour 35mm film. Negative scanned with a Canoscan 5600F CCD scanner.  Touched up and cropped with Gimp 2.8 software

Those autofocus compact 35mm film cameras were getting so good during the late 1990s, shortly before digital came along.  I love old family snapshots as I call them.  I loved those boxes of family photos that we all had, and are now threatened with extinction, or at least, lacking the richness of odd, unselected, poor shots that told so many tales.  So I’m gradually sieving through a box of film negatives from the 1990s, and CCD scanning them.  I keep coming up with beauts, and treasured moments like the above one.

Family snapshots – a forgotten treasure and art.  Social history.

Film, 35mm, and scans, Rants and discussions

Family Snap Negatives

A family holiday snap from a holiday park around 1999. Taken with a 1990s 35mm film point & shoot compact camera on Kodak Gold 100 film. Scanned negative.

Things have changed so quickly, and we forget so much in a such little time.  There I was, snapping photos on a compact film camera in 1999.  I had been using film cameras since I was a boy, when I started with a Kodak Instamatic on a 126 film cartridge – passed through Polaroids, and then onto a series of 35 mm compact point & shoot cameras.  My brother owned a Canon AE1 SLR, and I was envious of that camera.  I grew up in the age of film.

I bought my first digital camera I guess around 2000.  My local camera shop wouldn’t sell digital cameras, as they were said that they were not up to scratch.  I was told, “anyway, a 35 mm photo only costs a few pennies”.  My first digital was a horrible Chinese Premier camera with a tiny internal storage.  I didn’t look back though for 12 years – I then progressed onto digital Canon Powershots, then Fujifilm bridge cameras, then onto D-SLRs.  Why on earth would I go back to film, with my instant, digital images?

Well here I am in 2012, and I’m enjoying my rediscovery of film. It’s not dead yet.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  It really is rediscovery, I’ve become so use to digital over the past 12 years, I had no idea how much I’ve forgotten.  I even found it difficult to load a film!  Old SLR cameras like my brother’s AE-1 are now cheap as chips.  People are surprised when they see you with a film camera – you get questioned on the difficulty of finding film (actually it’s still plentiful in the case of 35 mm rolls).  It’s incredible how quickly we forget.  Who would have thought that the tradition of film photography would die so suddenly, so quickly in the minds of the masses?

The above photo (I scanned it from a 35 mm film negative yesterday) is also representative of another tradition – the family holiday (vacation in US English) snapshot with a point and click camera.  That is a fine tradition, and I’m not ashamed to have been part of it.  It’s just that all too often, the modern digital descendant is not printed.  We rely to much on digital storage – these are key family memories that should be printed and stored – kept in boxes and albums, presented in frames – not enjoyed for a few weeks on the soft memory of a mobile phone or lap top only to be deleted or thrown away.  Think about printing them.  You wont have a box of negatives to fall back onto.

Cameras and equipment, Film, 35mm, and scans, Rants and discussions

My first camera

I bought this one at a local car boot sale for two quid. Bit pricey, as I can’t get hold of the 126 film cartridges, but sentiment, and nostalgia, got the best of me, as I recognised it as the same model as my first ever camera!

I imagine around 1972, when I was about ten years old, that I was bought my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 25.  My Dad had a camera, my brother had a camera, my sister had a camera.  Every family had boxes and boxes of family photographs.  Every now and then, when we had visitors, the boxes would be hauled out, and we handed around the photos to our amusement, and to stimulate our memories of past experiences and connections.  The bad and reject photos told as much of the story as those that were framed or lodged into albums.  I wonder how many modern families print off their digital images to this extent, fulling boxes of treasure?