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A year of photography

The other project I’ve had on the go in the background has just passed its one year mark. My dalliances with black and white film photography have been fun, even if I haven’t taken quite as many photos as I optimistically planned to at the outset. But this is strictly for fun and learning so it doesn’t really matter. It has, however, helped that LoLo decided to do her class project around the same thing so we have been spotted in similar locations with similar cameras throughout the year, even if she has gone over to the dark side and embraced autofocus, auto exposure and auto winding on, leaving me with the manual everything camera. I’ve now taken to referring to her current favourite camera as ‘that piece of plastic junk you keep using’ just so she can remind me how much better she finds it. At least I’ve managed to ensure she puts a decent (non-zoom) lens on the front of it so at least she has to think about where she’s standing instead of just zooming in and out.

Anyway, a year on and I’ve had one of the cameras with me a lot of the time, including trips to London and Berlin. It was supposed to be one camera for the whole time, but I got a second, different one, so LoLo and I had the same one for a while and it was so inexpensive it would have been silly not to get it. Plus it’s brilliant.

My hit rate has increased from 4 or 5 per roll of film to a much better ratio. There are still some duds in there where I think ‘have I learned nothing?’ and others where I’ve consciously tried something different and it hasn’t worked quite as I had hoped. The picture you see in your mind is not always what the camera tells you is actually there. In some ways, digital is good for that in that you can see the results immediately and try something else, but I find that I end up thinking more about the shot in advance, taking it and then moving on. None of this instant replay business. I like the surprise when I find a film and realise I haven’t developed it for several months.

Here’s a few I quite liked from a trip to London (yes, this was the film I found a few months later).

We came across a lovely garden hidden in the middle of Hackney. Turns out pumpkins aren’t just about their colour:

London 2016 003

I liked the juxtaposition of the crumbling bricks, the stone carving and the addition of the modern art:

London 2016 007

I was guessing the light and therefore exposure all the time and this one should probably have been a bit lighter, but I quite liked how the black stands out (it was actually the middle of the day!)

London 2016 011

And this one was a surprise – I really wasn’t sure how it would come out but the texture of the wood and the different shades caught my eye. The way the leaves stand out was not what I had anticipated – sometimes it turns out better than you had thought!

London 2016 010

And you can imagine how happy I was to find this structure outside the Gherkin. A good way to burn half a film. The last one is my favourite. Black and white is great for patterns.

London 2016 021

The food container hovering in the middle was pure luck – I think there’s a hand holding it (all right, there must be one there) but it helpfully blends in to the background.

London 2016 022

London 2016 029

The original idea was to do the project for a year and then either carry on with it or sell the camera. Anything except leave the camera lying in a corner unused somewhere. The beauty of a Leica is that, while it does cost a lot to buy, it doesn’t lose any appreciable value, so you can think of it as having the use of a Leica for free for a year. And the Olympus only cost £50 to begin with. I’m hanging on to them. I am still having fun with this and every once in a while, the Leica just bowls me over. When I get the focus, exposure and composition right, at least. But that’s down to me.


This was the first week in a long time that I seemed to have the most recent copy of the New Yorker in the right place at the right time. Normally, it’s the thing I never quite get to reading, despite it being my favourite magazine.

New Yorker 1

One thing that was different this week was that, while flicking through to see the cartoons (I read it for the articles, honestly) I kept seeing headlines that really caught my attention. A new generation of airships, a look at the leadership industry, a profile of Justin Peck (a rising star in the world of choreography), Edvard Munch, and an article of a guy calling himself Mr Money Mustache.

You have to read that one, don’t you? Mr Money Mustache. Really?

Money 1

His real name is Peter Adeney and he retired at 30. Well, retired isn’t quite the word, but he did manage to spend, save and invest in a consistent manner that allowed him (and his wife) to leave their paid jobs. These were no millionaires. They just chose to spend less money than most of us and build a lifestyle consistent with that. I browsed through some of his website, laughed a fair bit, thought “yes, but” a few times, but found that I agreed with the principles of what he was saying. Why spend more than you need to? Think of what you need, not what you want. And have some fun along the way – as you cycle instead of driving a car all the time.

My generation has grown up being told all the time that what we need is the newer, improved version of what we already have, even down to our washing up liquid, and if we don’t have something, we ought to have it, and preferably the best there is. But as Erich Fromm said, “Unrestricted satisfaction of all desires is not conducive to well-being.”

We, however, have grown up in a “growth is good” world and growth means buying more, even if we don’t need it. And even if having that new possession has larger consequences on our planet than satiating our current desires. It’s worryingly like an addiction, the need to buy more and more. And it’s neither sustainable for our little planet nor beneficial for us.

Here’s a recent example of the temptation that is presented to us. I have a few cameras. I like my cameras. By and large, each has a specific purpose, but maybe I just tell myself that. All right, I just tell myself that, although in my defence, most of them are second hand and I do use them. And then I got an e-mail from Olympus. Nothing wrong with Olympus, they make some great cameras. They wanted to let me know about a new camera, naturally inspired by an old one, the Olympus Pen F. The old ones look great. So does the new one. The thing which stood out for me – aside from the price tag of £1,600 with a lens – was the new feature that emulated Tri-X black and white film. And I do love my Tri-X.

So there it is. A must have. A digital camera that can emulate black and white film. For £1,600. And the film-emulation thing is a big marketing feature.

I already have an Olympus. It’s about fifty years old, cost about £50 last year, and it is simply amazing.


It also emulates black and white film… no, wait, it USES black and white film. That comes out like this:

Berlin 3 020

Not bad for its age – the camera, not the musician, he was great.

That film costs about £5 a roll. Add in some developing costs (seriously cheap if you do it yourself, pennies per film), and I reckon I can burn through somewhere around 300 films before I get up to the cost of the film-emulating-camera. 300 films – that’s over 10,000 photos. And if you really want to drop £1,600 on a camera, you can get a beautiful (old, of course) Leica with a stunning lens for that much, and in a year, two years, ten years, it will be worth as much. Actually, it might even be worth more. The digital camera? At best in a corner somewhere, maybe even binned.

So I am never going to need to replace my ancient Olympus that is super easy to use, super simple, and just a lot of fun to use. Because to do otherwise would be to confuse consuming with contentment.

I learned this from my dad. You can only spend money once. Now or in the future. Some we have to spend now. But often not nearly as much as we choose to. And what we don’t spend now is still there for the future. We don’t have to go as far as Mr Money Mustache, but then he’s the one who retired at 30. Reading some of his website reminded me that he’s really just got back to something we all knew, if in a more extreme way. Money does not buy us happiness. Time well spent does.

Cheap, cheerful and fun

Last week I mentioned writing with pen and paper, the way it was done for longer than word processors and computers have even existed. Not that anything would ever get published without technology, but there’s a lot to be said for slowing things down and thinking before committing words to paper.

So when it came to our summer holiday, I found myself thinking along similar lines about what camera to bring. There is not a scenario where I go somewhere without a camera of some description, even if it’s just the one in my phone, which has done me more than proud in the past when I suddenly saw something I had to take a picture of. This time, there’s no particular event that requires a particular type of camera, and I’m long since through with the tourist photos of Berlin. So what I wanted needed to be different. And feel different. Oh yes, and not cost much if I wanted to try something else out, mainly because I just want to be able to throw it in a bag and not worry about it, but also because I don’t want to be worrying about someone trying to steal it. So indestructible and small and light and cheap.

Right, that ruled out anything made since I was born then.

Which was just fine with me, because I wanted it to be a film camera, and I’m limited to black and white this time – I have more than enough colour photos of Berlin.

Hello, eBay (please tell me you see the irony of using an internet giant to find something pre-technology).

The answer in the end was really simple.




A forty year old Olympus with manual focus – just the job. But it also has automatic exposure setting, which should please the rest of the family as I don’t have to mess around with measuring the light all the time. Or guess it, which is a fun exercise.

And for the photo geeks – an f1.7 lens, how good is that?

£80. That was it. About as much as a couple of filters for a Leica.

Plus film is cheap in Berlin (what, you thought I hadn’t checked?) – about a quarter cheaper than the best I can get in the UK. So I don’t even have to take loads of film with me. It turns out Berlin is quite the place for photography. Not sure how I missed that before.

About week after it arrived, I had my first roll of film through it, answering the first question – it’s fun to use. And it just felt right, everything where it should be – and where it used to be when I was first messing around with cameras.

And I managed to get some shots I was pretty happy with. My hit rate was certainly better than I was expecting.


Yes, it’s hanging off the side of a building.




The side of Edinburgh you don’t see on postcards.