Inspiration from childhood

Yesterday was one of those rare days when my training plan called for a long run and I just didn’t feel like it. It had been a hard training week and the last thing I wanted to do was a 16-miler. But I got my sandals on anyway and did it and was glad I did. I think it showed that the training is working, and this week is a lighter week to allow my body to recover before we go into the next phase of the training. One of the reasons I normally love the weekly long run is that it gives me time away from everything when I can just think. Yesterday was particularly good for that because my watch decided to stop finding any satellites after mile 6 so after a brief tantrum I had to gauge my pace by how I was feeling for the rest of the time. That meant no checking of pace or distance for quite a long time.

I found myself thinking about the things I used to do as a child when there seemed to be unlimited time and life was much simpler. My recollection is of reading a lot of books, but the one time that sticks in my mind was when I was determined to read Dick Turpin all the way through before getting out of bed one morning (the book might have changed since but not my idea of a perfect morning!). I remember being thwarted in my attempt at a personal record by being made to get up, but I like to think I’ve got over that experience by now.

I also remember the day I received my first camera. Well, I think I remember it anyway, who knows how much is factually accurate after all these years? I received it as a Christmas present, it was a simple 35mm camera with a fixed lens and I took it everywhere with me, including on several tours of different parts of Germany, burning through film like there was no tomorrow. The approach we took on those tours was not always the most creative, but very practical. We looked at the photos on the postcards from wherever we were, worked out where the photo had been taken from, and went there. In the case of Heidelberg, that required crossing the river and walking up a long hill. But we got a good photo at the end of it. That camera lasted for years and years, never once went wrong, and I have boxes of photos with decades of memories from it.

With the advent of digital, I don’t have new boxes of photos any more. I have hard drives full of pictures which I now realise I should have sorted at the time. Maybe when I’m older…

The photos we have hanging up in our house are in the ratio 2 digital to 9 (alternating) film. This isn’t on some principle, I just like the film ones better. But that’s partly because those are all ones I took my time over, which is greatly aided by the camera being manual everything – focus, exposure, winding. It doesn’t even have a battery because it doesn’t need one. It forces you to stop and think. No zoom lenses either, you have to get yourself in the right place to take the picture. It’s also not the most portable.

For events when there is a lot of action – think school groups, sports – or when being able to whip out a camera from your pocket and take the shot, digital is great. No thinking, just point and shoot. If it doesn’t work, delete it, nothing lost. So I don’t have anything against digital. It’s just different. And I’ve now had a small digital camera in a pocket for several months just in case I see something unexpectedly. And, in case of absolute photo emergency, a phone (which is worryingly good).

I recently read an article which tried to cut through all the technology and issue a photography challenge. The premise was to keep everything very simple and learn the craft of photography by trying things out, learning, and trying again. So the recipe for any long-lasting success. I took from it three rules:

1. Use an old (almost by definition manual) camera. You could really buy a second hand camera, use it for a year and sell it for about the same amount of money these days. It’s pretty much free photography equipment if you want it to be.

2. Use one type of black and white film for a year (film is still really cheap, particularly compared with the depreciation of a digital camera, which is horrific). B&W has the advantage that you can develop it yourself for not very much money and it’s fun. Well, it was the one time I did it many years ago, and I’ve never quite got to the point of doing it at home. But I do have lots of film taking up fridge space, so I might as well get over that particular hurdle. I can also see a Duke of Edinburgh project coming on somewhere in all this.

3. Take photos. 2 to 4 rolls a week was the suggestion. So that’s somewhere between 10 and 20 photos a day. Now that part is hard because it requires time, and the article was aimed really at would be photography students. But the point is that you have to practice and learn.

So I’ve taken that article as new inspiration of going back to what I always loved about photography when I was younger. There was a wonder about it, the uncertainty (and sheer dread when you’ve done the photos for a wedding and you just hope the pictures don’t all come out black, it’s amazing the things you can imagine going wrong) and the amazement that this little box in your hand could capture a moment in time that you could go back to again and again and relive the memory. So something good came of yesterday’s run. And today… is a rest day from running. Wonderful. Time to get out the fifty something year old camera, give it a dust off, get the film back out of the fridge and find that light meter which I know I put somewhere that I would never forget… and then go and read a book. Probably not Dick Turpin though.

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