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There are cameras that are awkward to use, but worth it for the results. I’m not sure that I have any of these – I have tended to get rid of stuff that is difficult in favour of things that work and don’t get in the way (are you listening, Nikonos?).

Back when the world was young, I bought a Lubitel TLR as my entry into medium format. I had been using an old folding Kodak before that, but this was going to have proper settings and controls.

It was a right pain in use. There is no focussing screen as such, so it lacks the main feature of a ‘proper’ TLR: the large composing screen. The viewfinder is the bright type, like the Ensign Ful Vue, but with a small ground-glass spot in the middle. There is a little fold-up magnifier to be able to see the spot. So focusing means picking where the point of sharpness will be, popping up the magnifier, finding the subject spot, doing your best to focus, then composing the main scene and attempting to get the verticals aligned with the frame edges.

You can take a Lubitel climbing, if your partner doesn’t mind you letting go of the rope.

Yes, it can be zone focused and yes, the focusing procedure can be done quickly. But the Yashicamat TLR I bought later could be focused and framed much more easily.

The camera is also held shut with spring catches, so be careful not to bump it. Saying that, the Yashicamat had a better catch for the back, but a surprise in the hinge. The entire back could be removed for loading, which I first discovered accidentally.

The lens is also quite slow, at f4.5. It helps that you are not focusing through it, but it does need to be stopped down for best sharpness. You are likely to be stopped down anyway, as the fastest shutter speed is 1/250. Oh, and the shutter needs to cocked with a little lever on the side. Later models came with a mask to shoot 6×4.5 as well as 6×6, so you could get more shots on a film and also crop less if you were printing the negatives.

It was capable of good results, given effort. The picture of the motorbike here was taken with it. The slow lens meant resting the camera on the ground, but that actually helped the composition.

Anyway, it did work and I coped with its shortcomings until a second-hand Yashicamat turned up. I eventually sold the Yashica after several years of not using it, but I have never regretted moving-on the Lubitel.

The Lubitel wasn’t completely user hostile, but it was never friendly. When you see how much is being asked for them, you have to think there are better solutions. For me, the Yashica was a far better TLR, but at a higher price. My old Balda folding camera is equally fiddly, but has the advantage of folding to pocket sized. I picked up a 6×6 camera with a collapsible lens that works as well as the Lubitel did and is easier to carry around. Eventually I bought a Kiev 60 and some lenses, which was a much better set-up at the expense of being a lot bigger and heavier (pulling a Kiev with Sonnar 180mm out of a rucksack is a real Crocodile Dundee moment).

I would rate the Lubitel as a potential entry to medium format, if you already know how to use a manual camera and can cope with the process of adjusting all the settings. I certainly don’t think it’s good for a beginner – there is too much to remember to do and the focusing is too difficult. But it can still be cheaper than most other medium format cameras (that are not toys).


Developing a style

There are some photographers whose pictures are distinctive. There are others whose work is so well known that it is distinctive because you know who took it.

Do you have a style? Could someone see a picture and guess it was taken by you (and not just because it’s on your wall)? Has your style changed with time? Do you need a style at all? Is a fixed style another word for rut?

There are also styles of photography – street, urban landscape, documentary and so on. Do you stick to a style or have a range? By range I mean shooting a series of pictures with a specific look, and then another series with a different look?

I must say that I never thought about my personal style and never thought I had one. (You’ve only to see how I dress to agree.) I would try to render a picture in the way I thought I had seen it but that was always more about the picture than adding myself to the picture. And yet, the reason for thinking about this was somebody recently looking at an anonymous picture in a set and guessing it was taken by me. I can understand why, which made me realise that the things I like to photograph and they way I present them is exactly what is meant by a style. Perhaps I do have one?

It’s probably all sophistry though, because you always add yourself to the picture just by choosing where to point the camera and when to press the button. So before I damn my soul and write an artist’s statement, what is this thing called style?

Let’s ask Michael Freeman, who wrote a book called Achieving photographic style. The book is an analysis of the ‘central aesthetic values of the photographic image’. He takes some basic types (or styles) of photography and analyses what makes good pictures in each genre work. So perhaps this doesn’t tell me how to obtain or find my personal style, but he could tell me what each genre contains.

The genres he examines are:

  • Journalism and reporting
  • Advertising
  • Glamour
  • Landscape
  • Portraits
  • Special effects

Not a huge list. Adobe list 28 types. Urby list 32.

But none of these are what I am after. I can fairly easily pick the genres I like – yes for things like portrait and action, no for many others. That doesn’t give me a style though, it gives me a subject. To have a style I need to do more than point a camera at something. The additional part is the selection you make when you take the picture. I like visual simplicity and simple shapes, so I will take pictures where I can achieve this. (By the way, this is how my picture was named in the anonymous set).

I like action, but where there are only a few elements in the picture. Street photography often seems too busy, unless you get close and then it turns into portraiture. I have ranted previously and often about landscapes. The only landscapes I am interested in now are where I can make pleasing and simple shapes. I also like amusing (to me, anyway) juxtapositions or irony. I’m also happy not have the ultimate levels of sharpness or resolution – it is a bourgeois concept, after all. I am very lucky – I don’t have to make pictures for anyone else so I can please myself.

So I think these have become my style. I often stray, and I usually dislike or find boring the pictures that result. So I think that, if I do have a style, it has evolved from what pleases me and what I want to see in my pictures. And that came out of me thinking about what it was I could see when I started to lift the camera, and wanting to make sure I captured as much as I could of that thing.

I know the pictures in this blog are not in a single or recognisable style. They were taken over many years and mostly long before I brought my brain along when I went out with a camera. But all of them make me happy in some way, if only as warnings to children of the perils of strong women and loose drink.

But in answer to the question I think it is possible to have a visible style, but only if you apply your preferences. Most people choose to decorate their home or to dress in a certain way. They select from options and a new item might be added if it conforms to the overall style. We should do the same with our photography: take pictures of things we like in ways that we like to see them. And like home decoration, your style may change over time.

Your options also change with technology. Colour mixing has made the range of paint colours far greater than it used to be – I don’t have to use magnolia for a neutral/ warm wall colour any more. In photography I can now shoot at extreme ISO or wide dynamic range. These give me options that I might like to use, and will be come part of my style.

Ultimately though, I don’t care whether I have a recognisable style or not. The value for me is in working out what I like and how to do more of that. And what I like is to try different things, as settling into a style isn’t a signature but an epitaph.

But I’m still going to keep wearing that hat.

Stories as memories

So what happened was a collision between Jonathan Haidt, Instagram and Blade Runner. It sounds like the sort of thing the kids used to ask – “Batman versus Spider Man: who wins?”.

I had read Righteous Minds and the ideas had been slowly percolating through what remains of my cognition. Then I was listening to some people talking about the burden of feeding the Instagram beast and how our trivial daily pictures had come to frame and define our lives. Which led to the importance placed on pictures in Blade Runner as hoped-for proof that a memory was real.

From Jonathan Haidt I had taken the ideas of how the stories we tell and share encode a culture or group or religion. We are the stories we tell about ourselves. And in his model of the elephant and rider (read it and see), the rider makes up stories to explain the elephant’s behavior. 

Then there is Instagram, which is standing-in for all social media in my argument, becoming the journal or diary of our lives. It feels almost as if experiences don’t exist unless they are shared. I was listening to someone talking about the ubiquity of mobile phones with cameras and how the blizzard of images has become the measure of people’s lives. It is the end point of the democratisation of photography – it is no longer a technical specialist confined to the priesthood but is available to all. So photography is then used for it’s primary purpose – to capture what will become memories.

You may remember the scene in Blade Runner where Rachael is talking to Deckard about her memories and whether she can play the piano or only remember that she can. Deckard’s piano has old photographs on it, hinting that he too is a Replicant. And the baddies are found from the photographs they took. Photographs are the physical manifestation of memories, especially when memory itself can’t be trusted.

Back in 2016 I had a motorcycle crash. It was serious, in the sense that it could have been life changing, but I was very lucky. My memories of the events were mixed. I had great clarity of some actions and the sequence, but some parts happened so fast that they were just a loud noise. (Incidentally, what saved me from greater harm was training – I took an action that had been drilled into me that was counter-intuitive but life saving. If you are going to ride a bike, get some training too.) There was a lot to process, not least what could have happened. I did this by writing about it. It laid the ghost. I’ve been honest about whose fault this was (entirely mine), why it happened and what I did right. The only pictures I have were taken after the event but they are now the placeholder for my memories.

A good reason for wearing a full-face helmet

So where am I going with this? Towards the idea that the great majority of photography serves people as memory. We can talk all we like about art but pictures are stories in shorthand. So perhaps we should should let everyone get on with saving and sharing their memories and not be critical. If we want to take photographs for art’s sake we can be free from the Instagram treadmill: why throw art at the family album? And then we are also free to save our memories without worrying about art or style or any form of pretention.

Easy cable tidy

A quick practical post.

Digital things come with cables. I have a LOT of cables. And it is the nature of cables to tangle. So it’s impossible to find the one that has the correct connectors on each end. I could probably hang them on a shadow board if I had the time and inclination, but I don’t. So the answer is rubber bands.

Pinch the band so that it becomes a doubled-over snake rather then an open loop. Tie a knot close to one end.

Coil your cable so that the ends are close together (to make it easy to select the right cable). Hold the knot of the rubber band against the coiled cable. Pull the free end of the rubber band around the looped cable, keeping the band stretched, until you have used up the slack. Loop the end of the band over the knot. The little loop above the knot also gives you something to hang it up with. Simples.


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