london on film / fomapan 100

During May I took a few days off work and spent some time just walking around / exploring different areas of London with my Konica C35. The weather was cloudy for the most part, but Fomapan 100 is such a forgiving film and can handle a variety of light conditions. Some of my favourite shots covering the people and architecture of NW3, NW8, E2, EC2, W1D and SE1 postcodes:

perfect stranger 1/

Throwback to a crisp, beautifully sunny morning in March. I was walking to the park before work, when I crossed paths with a guy; tall, white-haired, red-cheeked. Dancing with a broom and beaming in hi vis yellow.

With his face to the sun like a daisy, I hear him say: “I’m loving it”, as I walk past. To himself, I think, with me a happy eavesdropper. I felt it too. The weather was beautiful.

I couldn’t help but smile. I walked along, but then the glue of this perfectly happy stranger made my shoes stick. It pulled me back. I looked over my shoulder, and he was still there. Glowing. Pushing a broom. My camera hung like a brick over my shoulder. It knew it would become two bricks, and then three or four bricks of regret if I walked away. It took me a moment, but eventually I psyched myself up to go back and ask if I could take his picture.

He’s Polish. Says: “I don’t want to be famous”, but he proudly lifts his chin, when I lift my lens. We wait for a bus to pass. And then the sun hits his white hair and hi vis jacket just so. Through the lens; a perfect stranger. His cheeks are red from the cold. Mine are red from daring to take “one more for good luck”, walking away feeling like I captured a moment of pure joy. And possibly the best portrait I’ve taken in years.

Later, a few blocks away, I look down and notice the multi-exposure lock of my camera had been on the whole time. I didn’t capture this perfect moment perfectly after all.

Still, the memory of this brief, but joyous interaction lasts.

suburbia 3/

It’s May. We’re still easing out of our third lockdown. Emerging from our houses, and into the sun, like leaves emerging from buds on trees. Spring has fully sprung. But the icy wind still lurks around corners, and ruins my mood some days. Some afternoons are unexpectedly warm though. And then I turn my face to the sun. We flip between coat and light jacket weather. And our walks are newly green after months of grey on grey.

Some random observations as I walk around the neighbourhood with my photographer’s eye.

//

I step out of the post office, and into the high street come alive again. Doors to shops stand open, to invite people and noise from the street in. Polish pop music is blaring loudly from the van idling in traffic. I decide to walk around the block before heading back home, and I slip through the alley. Three guys in grey tracksuits (a uniform of sorts) approach from the other end and I have to stand and wait to let them pass. One is on the phone: “I’m in the alley right now….no, our alley. I’m almost there.” His friend has a camera slung over his shoulder, nicer then any I own.

 //

As I walk into the supermarket, our postie is walking out. Think of our old one. AWOL. Disappeared. It is a game of dodgems inside the supermarket. “Milk”, I remind myself. A guy pulls a paper list from his pocket. I add to my own in my head. I look for rice paper, up and down crowded aisles for long minutes but never find it. 

//

An abandoned canvas bag with bits of rubble sticking out of it lies on the side of the pavement. Like a mystery mini skip with handles. I pause and take a visual inventory. It bleeds sadness somehow. I walk away feeling dusty.

//

As I turn onto the footbridge, I see a guy sitting cross-legged, hoodie up, holding a small glass doorway to outer space between his thumb and forefinger. Ready to enter the weekend on a high. He’s a regular in that spot. It is 11.45am on a Friday. Discarded face masks snagged in brambles, hang like paper cradles in the wind. Huge white clouds climb upwards, like powdery wigs of French nobles. A screensaver blue sky beyond. A perfect spring day.

//

Hindi music drifts from my neighbour’s window, as I walk up to the our common door. One of the kids screams “11,300 years” behind the net curtain. Their dad comes up behind me on the path , wearing his standard red baseball cap. We say “hi”.

//

A woman makes a fuss in the charity shop about her purchase which she says she “might need to return”. Everyone thinks the same thing. The guy on the register doesn’t hide his annoyance. A small soap opera unfolds. I browse through the vinyl records, pretending not to listen. Another woman comes in carrying a woven basket, oblivious to the drama. She asks if we’re allowed to park on the road outside. “No”, from every corner of the shop. She makes a hurried exit and I see her running as fast as her pencil skirt allows to a ticket already in progress. The traffic warden is like scooter-riding ninja waiting to pounce. I don’t like him.

//

At the house next to the nursery home, some shirtless guys are drinking beers in the garden, blasting shitty dance music. The envy from the next door is real, I am sure.

//

I continue on towards town. A guy in a green shirt in an upstairs window pulls on a red jacket. Delivery drivers huddle outside restaurants three by three, never bothering to remove their helmets. The Chinese restaurant is setting up tables outside under huge umbrellas. The sun is blinding.

//

In town, a greasy looking guy in aviator glasses is having a very serious conversation on his phone with someone. I’m curious about the dramatic advice he is shouting at them through the phone, talking about Rome and gladiators and their faith being tested. He’s pacing back and forth and waving his arms. Eventually I spot a street preacher behind him, and start laughing at the illusion, thinking I was hearing the guy on the phone instead of the preacher. Further along, a long line of people are waiting to enter the temple of fast fashion.

//

A couple laden with grocery bags are walking ahead of me. They stop where someone has kicked one of the spokes of some railings out of place, making it a trip hazard. The man hands his wife his bags and bends the spoke back into place. A small good citizen act which takes all of 5 seconds. This moves me. I wish I could bag that feeling.

//

The door to #48 at the entrance to the alley is slightly ajar. As I walk down the alley, a kid kicks a ball against the fence alongside it, which makes me jump a bit. Moments later, the kid multiplied by three is running up the alley behind me with his brothers. I emerge on the other end, relieved. I step aside to let them through along with their apparently long-suffering mother. Two run ahead to the park. One stays behind, trying to wrangle a baby pram away from the mom. My stomach drops when he actually knocks the pram over. It’s empty. I stand under a tree and look the other way for a bit.

//

In the park proper, I’m in awe of how rapidly spring has progressed since my last visit. I crouch down in a bed of bluebells. I watch squirrels skirt along a tree branch fallen across the stream. I run my fingers along the edges of huge green horse chestnuts leaves. I love watch the sun shine through them from above. Glowing green. I brush up against nettles accidently and feel my ankles burn as I drag my arms through the small white flowers of cow parsley. I can hear sirens in the distance. But also birds, announcing a new season in suburbia.

fantôme kino / film 19

A couple of months ago a friend in Berlin sent me a roll of Lomography’s Fantôme Kino black and white film. It was way too dark and cloudy to shoot it over winter, but we’ve had a few brighter weeks recently, so I thought I’d finally give it a go. Some days have been starkly bright actually, which I think is perfect for this ISO 8 rated film. The lowest ISO film I’d shot before was Rollei RPX 25, so I didn’t actually know what to expect to be honest.

I didn’t realise the film is not DX coded, so my camera remained at 200 ISO (rating for last film I shot before this one), and I shot a couple of frames like this, before manually pushing the ISO down to 25; as low as I could get it in my dad’s old Chinon. Those first frames were pretty much wasted (very underexposed). Most of the shots I took indoors at ISO25 were very underexposed too, but I got lucky with two that I shot right in front of a window on a sunny morning. On the whole, this is one for outdoors. Or flash and tripod indoors. Apart from the leaf double-exposure below, I shot the whole thing freehand. 🙂

As far as development goes, I used Rodinal at the timing they recommend for Compard R09 (8min) and used Ilford stopbath and fixer. Despite using Ilfotol in my final wash, I had issues with watermarks again. Super annoying. And constant problems with dust while scanning. I feel like I have tried everything to reduce dust while scanning, but still have issues. Would love some tips. Worth mentioning that this is super curly film, so was a pain to scan. Might be easier if you have a flatbed, don’t know, but I was up until 1 am and I started scanning at 9 pm. Jokes.

Here are the best of the results I got:

beautiful disasters/

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to try my hand at colour development this year. The results I’m sharing here are from a roll of Fuji Superia Velvia 800 I shot in March. It gifted to me by some friends for my birthday last year; not an easy to come by film – it was actually sourced from Japan. That alone should tell you I should have sent it to a lab, but I decided to develop it myself anyway. This was only my third go at developing colour film. Obvs decided to develop in the evening of a day where I’d had about 3hrs sleep the night before. I think I’ve been trying subconsciously, to squeeze as much art into the last 10 days as I can, knowing I have some stressful stuff coming up in my day job in the next few days, which will wipe me out as far as creative inspiration goes.

Anyway. I used the chemicals from my Tentenal C41 kit again for this one. Side note here for the self developing nerds, I’ve noticed the developer going dark already, and I only mixed this up about 2 months ago and have done only 2 films so far. Not great. Would be keen to know what C41 developers other people are using. This kit is supposed to be good for 10 rolls, but doubt the developer will last that long. Onto the actual development; I must have put too little blix in, because I ended up with a whole roll of only half – 3/4 exposed frames. If I had inverted the development tank to agitate the blix it might not have happened, but blix leaks out of my tank when I invert it, so used a stirrer instead. I did something wrong anyway. I could be annoyed with myself, given how promising some of the shots look, but I sort of love these shots anyway; they hint at something greater.

Despite the lack of sleep I ended up scanning the film the same night as well. I think scanning film when you’ve been awake for 21 hrs is the “you can’t just pause the game, mom” of film. A few sample shots below. Keen to know what you guys think.

film 14 / on construction

An old work friend recently gifted me a couple of rolls of expired film, including two rolls of Ilford FP4+ (ISO125) that expired in 2008. I’ve only shot one roll of expired film to date; a roll of 20 year old Fuji Xperia 200 my dad sent me last year. It was pretty degraded, and the results were blah and unshareworthy. I was not won over. Can’t say I’ve had the best experience shooting Ilford films in the past either, but I’ve not shot FP4+ before and I’ve got the time and inclination to experiment, so….

Since I had two rolls, I sent one roll to one of my analog mates in Berlin, so we can each have a go and compare results. After a brief exchange on the topic, I decided to shoot my roll at ISO80, to compensate for potential degrading of the film. It was supposed to be sunny this weekend, so I thought it’d be fine to shoot it. In the end it was more cloudy and sunny, but I went ahead and shot it anyway.

I was going to develop it using Ilfosol 3 (which is the first developer I started out with last year); thought it’d be fitting to use Ilford’s own developer. I opened to bottle to find it had turned the colour of Coca Cola since I last used it a few months ago, meaning it was probably stone dead and useless. I didn’t want to take a chance and use it, so reached for my go to developer of choice these last months; Rodinal (@ 1+24 dilution, 7.5 min dev, 20°C), and my usual Ilford stop bath and fixer. I didn’t expect much, given the age of the film, but I got a few decent shots I think. Some were quite “soft” (but I like that), while I got quite good contrast on others. The light conditions were pretty varied with clouds blowing through.

It was slightly surreal walking around this area again, and seeing how much it’s changed from my last visit only a few months ago. Starting about 5- or 6-years ago, it’s been in a state of constant construction, with new builds spreading along the railway line, doubling back and encroaching upon itself again. Bulldozing whatever was before in its wake. It weirds me out, the speed of it. Like mushrooms appearing overnight. “Regeneration” is the hashtag of choice, used by marketing agents / property investors, who I always picture in my head as cartoon wolves greedily rubbing their paws together with dollar signs in their eyes. Gentrification is another. When I first moved to London and was getting to know the different neighbourhoods, an acquaintance who lived in the area at the time told me it is “a good place to get mugged/stabbed” (and he did, multiple times – get mugged, not stabbed). No one wants to be mugged or stabbed, but the transmorgification into a place where one rental agency describe the places they rent as follows: “Our apartments are co-designed with the likes of John Lewis & Partners, Hay and Samsung. You can enjoy roof terraces, landscaped gardens, cinema rooms, gyms in your building, flexible work from home and social spaces, and even a 24 hour concierge – all included in your rent.“, is unreal. You can’t help rub your eyes.

//

Having declared my ick for the weirdness of all this grey concrete, reaching up towards the grey sky, I have to confess I like looking at buildings mid-construction. I like to see them in their skeletal stage. Before all the walls and holes are plugged and plastered. Like dollhouses with temporary miniature hivis-wearing occupants, threading and layering and wiring away. Constructing what they will likely never occupy. And what I can’t afford to occupy either for that matter. Nor would I want to. Or can I ever imagine myself occupying this cardboard box homogeny with “on-site amenities”, where each window is overlooked by a hundred others. A lot of these buildings have balconies; you will never see people on them. You never do in London. Send me a picture of a balcony in London occupied by something other than a bike, plants or laundry. I challenge you. That’s an aside. The ever-growing, partially occupied, as yet unscuffed and unweathered high rises make for good subjects to photograph though. Lots of linear lines.

I watch construction workers file out of sites, some, two-by-two with heavy tool-filled tog bags between them. Scuffed, weathered. What a thing, to have hands in the actual construction of a building. That will stand in major city for many years. That will be occupied by people. Who will live their lives in it. Random thoughts these, floating through my daydreamer head, sitting on a bench listening to construction sounds. I’m rambling. I’m definitely rambling.

film 13 // in colour

Starting last year, I’ve managed to develop 12 films black and white to date. With varying success – hah! I feel reasonably comfortable with the process now though, so thought I would finally venture into trying to develop colour film. A short note here; I prefer shooting colour, but everyone always tells me to shoot more black and white. I will give it to them that it is easier to shoot in monochrome when the weather/sky is consistently grey. It took me around 7 weeks to shoot this roll (vs film 12, which I shot in 2-3 hours), just seeking out colour-worthy scenes in this bleakest part of winter. Oof.

I ordered Tentenal’s Colortec C41 kit from Fotoimpex in Berlin; even with international postage, it was cheaper than what I saw it listed for anywhere in the UK. Go figure. I won’t go into what mission it was to get it from the courier, but I wasn’t in a hurry anyway, so no harm was done. The way the chemicals are supplied, makes it dead easy to mix 1L of developer, 1L of bleach fix (blix) and 1L of stabilizer. That is where it being “easy” stopped for me.

The actual development instructions supplied with the kit was pretty confusing to me, so I took the advice supplied here. I don’t have a sous vide/water bath, so I was struggling to think how I would bring my chemicals to the exact temperature (I went with the 30°C option), whilst having to constantly agitate the developing tank. Ended up feeling as clumsy as I used to in chemistry lab sessions. First, after carefully bringing the developer to the right temperature, I started pouring it into the tank, before pouring out the water I was using to soak the film. Only realised when the tank started running over, so had to empty the tank, and accept the developer I had poured into it was down the drain. Heated more developer, and then started the 8 minute development process, trying to agitate with one hand, and trying to bring blix up to temperature over a bowl of hot water with the other. My agitation method was very stop start, and with a mix of stirring and inverting; who knows how the process was affected. Blix leaked out of the tank when inverting it, so I settled for stirring. I think that step went okay. Blix stinks by the way. I then washed/rinsed the film for 6 minutes in running water (wasteful, I know), before doing 1 minute of agitation with stabilizer. The kit / blog I consulted does not recommend this, but since I often have problems with watermarks, I did one rinse with de-ionised water, and one with de-ionised water with a few drops of Ilfotol. The latter might have been a mistake, because I had massive problems with fluff/dust on the film while scanning. To an infuriating degree actually. The featured image at the header of this post, I probably scanned 20 times, before begrudgingly cropping it. It is one of my favourite shots of the last months, but I could not get a scan of it without spots of fluff/dust on it. If anyone has tips for me in this regard, let me know for sure.

The result are a bit of a mixed bag. I would blame the lack of sunlight, more than I would the fact I’ve not been able to go anywhere in the last 7 weeks. The right light can make the most mundane things glow up, and worth looking at. So it is not the lack of things to photograph. It is the lack of “look at what the light did” moments.

I should say, I’ve not used this kind of film before (Fuji Superia 400 Premium), so not sure what results to expect. There was a reddish tint to most shots. This might have been a result of my development process, but I managed to correct this with scanning software anyway. Again, if anyone knows, let me know. Not sure how I feel about doing colour development myself. I feel like it might be easier to drop it off and get the scans back in an hour from a high street place. I don’t know if I’d want to risk developing myself if I had treasured / potentially amazing shots on a roll. I might shoot a few cheap practice rolls, just around the neighbourhood to see if I get a hang of the method, and what the results look like. Standing in the kitchen for an hour noodling away with chemistry kit is better than looking at screens anyway. Some of the results from this first go:

Took this one on 02Jan, when I met my boss for the first time in 10 months. We walked from Edgware Road to Embankment across an eerily deserted Zone 1. You can see the reddish tint I mean in this shot:

Took this on my walk home from getting the Covid vaccine, using cranes in the sky to navigate by. Might be my favourite from the roll:

I sort of like these bare branch fringes / frames in winter shots:

This was early one morning, and there legit was a golden glow in the air:

Two guys asked me if I was lost when I stopped to take this. They didn’t see the 🙂 hiding in the shadows behind them:

Weird double/triple exposure. Figure on rollerskates in a dreamscape:

on re-emergence/

There’s no real reason to be up and awake at 8am on a Sunday. In winter. In the suburbs. In lockdown. Yet here I am. In other lives being lived, someone is already on their way to work. Or has long been at work. Someone is running. Someone is only just going to sleep after a long night. Sunday mornings (and 3am any day) are the quietest times around here. A light remains on in the 24/7 supermarket, but the trains are less frequent. And I’ve not yet begun to distract myself. I find it the best time to write.

//

Lockdown 3 continues – I’ve lost count of the number of weeks spent solo. Five, six, seven? This week the cold weather has penned us in more than we already are. The predicted day time temperatures were a neatly uniform 1°C across the week, but in reality it was far colder. The wind chill (“real feel”) was brutal; to me anyway. Multiple times I walked out into our yard, only to ‘nope out’ and come back inside. Felt weirdly physically energised this week, so felt doubly trapped being stuck indoors. Fretted and paced around, unable to sit still and focus on work. When I did make it out for short walks around the block or to the supermarket, the wind did its best to cut right through me. Rude. Yesterday I came home with red fingers, struggling to turn the key in the lock. I thought back to when I first moved here, and after having been out for an icy mid-March walk, had to have a friend unbutton and unzip my jeans to use the bathroom, because my hands were too cold to do so. The winter days of my youth were cold and crisp. Sunny and blue-skied. Nothing will ever feel as big and wide open as the blue skies and plains of Africa to me. Nothing can feel as far as being penned in from those big blue skies. Although, ironically, when I visit there now, I find a landscape of high walls and barbed wire. A landscape of people penned in. But that’s a story for another day. One of yearning for something, only to find it’s changed. Maybe that slots into this post actually….

//

I dipped back into a podcast this week that I haven’t listened to in a while; GABA, and happened upon a very short episode, with the host, Adam, simply reading these lines from The Two Towers by Tolkien:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

I found it soothing, these words. It felt so apt for this time and for this week. When winter and lockdown frustration is at its most biting. To keep going. To get up early, and be presented with a new day. A thing yet untouched. Where anything may happen. And mostly nothing much has happened these last weeks and months. That is how it feels anyway. Still, the city moves. Many variations of life are still lived, including our own, however mundane and tiring they feel in the/at the moment. Eventually the cold will dissipate. Eventually spring will come. The vaccine roll out continues. We keep our distance, in order re-emerge into a world of interaction and closeness again. We hope. Why would we get up, if we didn’t hope or believe or want that? (They kept going, because they were holding on to something.)

I’m droning on, trying to “convince” myself, but this brings me finally to the image I share with this post. The original (which you can see in this post) was taken by me during Lockdown 2 last year; emerging from the Underground. The image was re-imagined by an artist friend. There is something unique about emerging at street-level from a place beneath the surface. In a foreign city, you don’t know what to expect. It takes a moment to get to grips with your surroundings. If I’m honest, this is still the case for me sometimes in a city I’ve lived more than 10 years. The oddest thing is to emerge into rain when it is dry down below. Or into snow. Or blinding sunlight. Into the midst of a fistfight. Into noise, or as I found in Lockdown 2, onto eerily deserted streets. Either way, in whatever city; you emerge from a regulated, gated, time-tabled world below, into a different scene. We’re all desperately looking forward to emerge back into “the world” again. To see people again. To return to those old familiar scenes. But I also think we will find a world slightly changed. Nothing really ever truly stands still in our absence. Vines and fringes and beards grow, pavements crack, new buildings cast new shadows on old streets. Once shiny coins become dull. Things that were once overlooked become newly interesting. Whatever has changed, some things remain. (I’m being massively sentimental here, but so what, man.) The same arms that hugged us before, will hug us again. Can’t wait for the warmth of that. And spring, yo.

suburbia 2/

Thought I’d continue the thread on scenes in suburbia I started last month. On Sunday last, I got my first shot of the Covid 19 vaccine. Bit of a historical moment that. In my excitement, I jumped on the wrong bus heading there. I was so engrossed in local high street scenes, that I only realised when I was already miles beyond where I was going. I’d been making mental notes of spots I wanted to return to and photograph. The sun made everything a frame. I disembarked at a random suburban stop, hailed an Uber, and just about made my slot. Afterwards, I stood for a while in the same spot outside the local community hall, trying to get my bearings. I decided to walk instead of taking the bus again. Used cranes in the sky to direct me as to which way home is; navigating by way of local building sites.

I ended up in park, as do most days these days. Stopped for a while at a spot where birds gather en masse to “shoot their shot” (or so I imagine). Or gossip. Or strategise. But it’s loud, and it makes you turn your gaze up. Hail the day, birds.

//

I felt fuzzy-headed during the week; a side effect from the vaccine, who knows. A walk to the park on Wednesday drained the blood from my face, and left me wanting my mom. Got home on autopilot somehow. Thursday, something similar. Felt like I was walking in a fever dream. The sun came out for a bit in the morning, and it had rained the night before, so there were mirror puddles everywhere. Reflecting bits of sky, trees, telephone wires. A low haze hung above the ground, like steam rising from the grass. One lone guy on the pump track. Not riding; just sitting on his bike, looking at his phone. Three different trains blasted past behind him in this scene. Some other guy in the foreground was shouting at his dog for no reason. I shielded my eyes from the slow-rising sun, like I wanted to shield my ears from his shouting.

//

Friday the fuzz started to clear, and yesterday I fell back into that observational way of the (street) photographer. The details came back into focus, and I listed them in my head as I walked to the park. Little kid in a window waving. Paint on a roof, peeling and fading. My own breath. Dripping water. An empty saucer. A rosebud. A salt bin. My pale skin. Mottled sky. Downhill slide. Bare branches. Empty school. Plane up above. Turtledoves. Squinting mom. Sullen son. Dutch-style house. Curve in the path. Mattress leaning against a tree. Dog off its leash running free. Cracked slate. Electrified gate. Apricot sweater. Turning weather. Bubbling brook. Abandoned book. A metal skip to put it all in.