I went on my first ever photo-walk. This was in Coventry and was organised by the Sunny 16 crew to commemorate John Whitmore. I never met John, but I did like listening to him on the podcast.
I was also feeling a bit of a fan-crush – a lot of the podcast people I listen to would be there. It’s a bit like meeting the characters in your favourite soap.
Strangely, what could have been the hardest decision was easy: what kit do I take with me? We would be walking around, so I would be carrying whatever I took. I really don’t need to take a show-off camera. I’m more likely to take pictures of the people in the walk than of buildings, so that would direct my choice of lenses. Handily, I can take one camera and a lens that I am writing-up for this blog. Decision made.
Coventry though – that’s down south somewhere. The return rail fare was even more than a five-pack of Portra, so it would be car and park-and-ride. Call it two and a half hours to get there, but the walk was to start at 10:30 so that’s easy enough for an early riser. I’m not sure I’ve been to Coventry, so it should be interesting. It’s the most central city in England, after all. Besides that, I wanted to make the effort.
The trip down was easy enough and the car park was easy to find and just about a mile from where we were meeting. I could have taken the bus to get in, but it was a lovely crisp morning and I fancied the walk across the War Memorial Park. Let’s hope we never have to build more of these.
Incidentally, I use Waze as my sat-nav. It crowd-sources traffic flow from everyone using it and routes you around jams. It got me in and out of Leeds during the week by back roads that bypassed the traffic, so I like it a lot. Part of the A1 was closed northbound for my Coventry trip, but it routed me past it so I got home afterwards in time for the birthday party I was attending </advert>.
I had seen some of the pictures of the podcaster presenters, so I recognised Ade from Sunny 16 as soon as he arrived. He coped well with being accosted by what probably looked like a shambling old bloke with wild hair and a confused expression. Then the plan for the day developed – or rather, what would take the place of a plan. Half the people had spotted a coffee shop as they left the railway station and had stopped there to refresh. The group in the park at the meeting point gradually grew as others spotted the gaggle of odd-looking people with strange cameras and the obligatory shoulder bag. It sounds haphazard, but it wasn’t. There was actually a very good plan for the day and two guides with local knowledge. But the Law of Crowds says that the speed and intelligence of a group are inversely proportional to its number. You could say it’s like herding cats, but it’s harder. At least with cats you can use gaffer tape.
It was here that I discovered my goof de jour – the batteries had expired In my camera. I’d tested them before I left, but they vanished on the second shot. Luckily the camera was manual and luckier still I had brought a separate light meter. Even so, my exposures were going to be “variable”. I was shooting black and white, so I was going to have to develop it using semi-stand. If it had been colour print film I would just have made sure to err on the side of overexposure.
Anyway, enough of the geek-speak – let’s get to the important bit: the people. What a delightful bunch! The joy of chatting to whoever was closest as we wandered about (aimless and oblivious, to the despair of shoppers and drivers). The lack of pretentiousness and the general shared joy of a group of people with a common interest who are just glad to be together. I had been wary of organised photo-walks before because I was worried that I would be marched around the compulsory sights with a clique of technofiles. As it was I mostly chatted to a delightful chap called John who had just given up work, sold everything, and was about to cycle to Australia with his wife. Oh, and I may have taken a couple of pictures of stuff.
Coventry? Some nice bits, some rough bits. Some surprisingly old buildings amongst the modern brutalism. The remains of the cathedral. Quite poignant, given the invasion of Ukraine, was the plaque on the cathedral wall. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation” it said. Yeah, right.
As you might expect, the group turned into a loose association, then a gaggle and then several gaggles. What would the collective noun be – a fractal of gaggles? We proceeded by Brownian motion, with groups splitting off to have lunch or drink beer. A small core of us followed our guide back to the starting and end point. Core? I’d call us a rump. Poor Ade then tried to find out where everyone was and to organise the next stage of the day.
The next stage was to go back to John’s house to sell or auction his photographic and darkroom gear to help his wife and daughter. This bit I sadly had to miss, as I was due back home at 5pm.
What a lovely day though, even though we were brought together for the saddest reason. I have changed my opinion of photo-walks. They are nothing to do with taking pictures and everything to do with meeting other people.
And the plan to stand develop the film? My Rodinal is at least two years old, but dabbing a bit on the cut-off film leader showed it was still active. The fix was exhausted though, but I had some fresh stock in the shed. And it worked. What could have been a difficult set of over and underexposed frames came out all usable, at the expense of a bit of grain. Hurrah!
Would I do it again? Yes. Have I got over my hero-worship? No. Will I bring spare batteries? Yes. Did I actually use the kit I brought with me? Yes, all of it.