It is 1980, Jimmy Carter is the US President, the Rubik Cube makes its international debut, Led Zeppelin formally announce they will break ip and I bought my very first SLR camera. After working as a Saturday shop assistant for 6-months, earning a princely £6.90 a week, I had finally saved enough. Dixons (remember Dixons anyone?), my regular lunchtime haunt was right next door. I vividly recall the day that I purposefully strode into the shop with £139 cash in my pocket and bought a brand-new Pentax MX complete with f1.7 50mm prime lens. My research had revealed this was the camera of the moment, the choice of professionals and now it was mine as well. Excited does not adequately describe it! I still have that camera today, 38 years later.
This was the start of my journey of photographic discovery. First learning how to effectively use all the functionality of the camera; limited to a basic light meter, aperture control, shutter speed, manual focus and there was also a self-timer for ‘selfies’. Then photographic techniques; composition, depth of field, motion effects gained through shutter speeds and light exposure. I would choose which film to buy; slow or fast, colour or black and white, print or slides, 24 or 36 exposures, etc. Once loaded, take the pre-allotted number of frames then have to wait and excruciating few days for the prints to return in the post before assessing my successes. Apart from the wait, it cost £8 a go… you can buy an 16Gb SD Card for that!
Eventually, with access to a dark room I could develop my own film and prints. This was really exciting but also slow, expensive and let’s face it, the chemicals stunk! I even hatched a plan to create my own dark room in the cupboard under the stairs.
This was the start of my passion for photography. I acquired an eye for composition, a skill for understanding the desired image and gained the technical knowledge needed to expertly handle the camera. Times have moved on significantly. Almost everyone has access to a more technically advanced camera in some form, whether a professional DSLR or the camera on a Smartphone. Pictures can now be taken, edited and posted in an instant. A relative on the opposite side of the globe can see the family holiday snaps in seconds. No longer do photographs just reside dusty shoe boxes in the loft (or in the cupboard under the stairs), they are electronic files filling the internet.
I too have all the modern technologies and as a technologist love the accessibility and connectivity. I now own the great, great digital grandson of the Pentax MX, can take over 700 images stored on one memory card and have a power darkroom at home sitting on my desk and attached to the internet. I also have all of this in my back pocket with an iPhone, which enables me to take a picture of the London Underground, edit, post to social media to receive view notifications and likes before I get home. This technology that allows you to take picture and quickly make it stand out using clever editing tools, how exciting that would have seemed in 1980!
Each time I pick up a camera today I remember my roots, where it all started. I still think about the image I am trying to capture, the technical aspects and what it will mean to me later in my portfolio. It is about capturing that very moment at the point of shoot but now I can share the moment so much quicker. Conversations with other photographers reveal how they struggle with the concept of leaving behind a powerful DSLR in favour of a Smartphone. I have enjoyed limiting myself to using a Smartphone, not only has it liberated me from the lugging around a heavy kit bag full of gear but helped me identify closer with my creativity and connect with the world around me.
My closing message. There are lot of people today that own a vast mix of technology, some of it hugely expensive with added ‘brand awareness’. For me, it doesn’t matter what camera is used. It is the person that takes the picture and their imagination that drives creativity.
Enjoy, have fun and capture the moment!