Call yourself a Photographer?

by Jim Graves on 21 June 2011 -

Lancaster Enlarger

Aspects of the competitive spirit

In my salad days I joined the growing mass of people in post WWII Britain who embarked on a life long hobby as amateur photographers.

I wasn’t as green as some. Pre-war, my father had schooled me in basic processes and he imbued me with his belief that photography - I can put it no other way - was strictly a form of charity for family and friends.

One day I was to encounter a photographer of a different stripe. I attended a monthly meeting at a local camera club at the suggestion of a dealer, who promised me an enjoyable evening rubbing shoulders with club members. The highlight of the evening would be a talk by a ‘Great Man of Photography’ who would discuss composition and the chemical processes. My photographs were sure to improve.

I remember the occasion well. In fact one could hardly forget it. The Great Man was big. He showed us big prints. His voice was big, authoritative and he spoke down to his audience. He reminded me of Shelley’s “Ozymandias”.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, look on my works ye mighty and despair.”

He rounded off his talk with a description of his washing technique “I place my prints face down in the bath and separate them with jam jars, attach a hose to the cold tap, run the hose along the side of the bath then turn on the tap and leave it running for 24 hours. There is no hypo left in my prints, I can promise you.”

He sat down after this Churchillian peroration. A couple of seconds later a voice called out “And I’ll bet there’s no water left in the reservoir, either!”

There followed, to use diplomatic language, a frank exchange of views, a.k.a, a flaming row. Those guys took no prisoners and after sitting through several minutes of bitter altercation, I’d had enough. As I crept out, the dealer spotted me and urged me to come again. Next time they were having a “print battle” with a neighbouring club, which I was sure to enjoy. Having just witnessed photographic gang warfare I decided to forego the pleasure.

As it happened, I fell victim to a pair of charmers from the local club by accident when I took a 12” x 10” Rollei enlargement to another dealer, who had had my camera repaired. I’d had negatives with stress marks and the repairs had successfully cured the problem. I showed the dealer the print, unaware that two people were in the shop. They promptly offered gratuitous comments – “too little foreground, too much sky, figures in the wrong place, not worth entering in a competition”.

So ended my tangential connection with my local camera club. I shuddered to think what happened at the print battle (perhaps I should have kept my eye on the obituary columns).

Many years after these events, I had arrived at a country railway station, when I met son of Ozymandias, a large individual with a couple of Nikon F2’s displayed ostentatiously on his chest. He waylaid me and launched into a lengthy diatribe about the Leica I was carrying. Leicas have an extraordinary effect on people, I find. No one is neutral about them, particularly those who don’t own them. Reviewers find that on the technical and performance front, Leicas stand alone but let fly at the cost – “97% performance, 1% value  for money”. Son of Ozymandias was a supreme Leica basher. He wasn’t the only one I have met.

A colleague of mine agonised for weeks over the purchase of a second hand Zenith. He earned considerably more money than I did but when he asked me to show him my two cameras – Rolleicord and Leica – he blew his top saying how I’d wasted my money. A Zenith was just as good at a tenth of the price! As an aunt of mine might have replied “My cameras haven’t cost you a penny”.

Verbal belligerence provided good copy for the “Amateur Photographer”. Who can forget the passionate rivalry between the Planarites and those who worshipped the shrine of the Summicron? Within the Rollei family too, were the rival Planar and Xenotar fans, and even the Tessar vs Xenar crops up in the press old timer columns. I fear that some amateur photographers give credence to the unwritten law of inverse triviality which states that the more trifling the subject the more heated the argument.

Last year I made a nostalgic visit to the remote Cumbrian village where I had spent my teenage years. If ever a place was “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife” this was it. I stood by my old home and my eyes strayed upwards to the attic where Dad and I had churned out our prints on his Lancaster enlarger (pictured) and for which he never charged anyone a penny. When I had printed the pictures I took that day, I mused on the passage of time and the inevitable changes in photography. I gave thanks that film was still around and for small mercies such as resin coated papers and rapid fixers. Whether my humble prints would have found favour with the unforgiving critics of a certain camera club I neither knew nor cared.

But of one thing I was absolutely certain; I hadn’t emptied the local reservoir in making them.

Lancaster Plate Clip

Lancaster Plate Clip


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