Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette – this is the internal view of the Coates Roundhouse on the Thames & Severn canal. The picture was taken in the autumn of 1977 and, as far as I can establish, it remains the only one of the Thames & Severn roundhouses which has not been renovated. The image was taken with a Mamiyaflex C330F, lying on my back looking up to the sky. It is just possible to see from the remaining beams that, in common with the Marston Meysey and Inglesham roundhouses, it had an inverted roof which was used to collect rain water. Sadly these remaining beams have also collapsed.
This photograph was taken along the Rochdale Canal in 1981. The journey through Manchester forms part of the Cheshire Ring and this section was always ‘interesting’. An excess of water coming down the flight would cascade over the back gates filling the lock almost as quickly you tried to empty it – descending was a slow process. In confined spaces there were short lock beams operated on rusted chains by a windlass, smooth and easy it was not. On top of that there were just too many disreputable characters lurking in the shadows, some quite keen to lend a hand 😦 . This stretch of canal has changed utterly in the intervening years but the excess of water, laborious locks and ‘helpful’ characters remain:
This second image shows where these broken English windows once looked out. The iconic Refuge Assurance Building can be seen in the background with the time frozen at 11:25. The puddles along the towpath are not from rain but from the canal overflowing – the natural flow of water down the canal combined with emptying locks is more than some of the pounds could cope with. I have been down this stretch three times (1977, 1981 and 2008) and there was never a dull moment.
The photographs were taken with a Mamiyaflex C330F Twin Lens Reflex – the scans are from the printed images, scanning 120 Roll film being just too tortuous.
By coincidence I was about to post these two images under another topic but conveniently they seem to fit this week’s photo challenge. During the week I watched the BBC Imagine story of Vivian Maier, the nanny and amateur photographer whose prodigious talent was only recognised after her death in 2007. Predominantly she photographed the streets of Chicago and New York in the 1950s and 1960s leaving a precious archive of more than 100,000 negatives which were only saved from oblivion quite by accident. The photographs are a delight and surprisingly, they were all shot on a twin lens 120 roll film Rolleiflex, a less than discreet device which would have demanded a close-up relationship between subject and photographer on some very mean streets; not something I would like to attempt unless I was relaxed about losing some teeth. These two examples are not intended for comparison with Vivian’s much superior work but they do demonstrate how close I was prepared to get on the 1970s back streets of Dundee with a similar camera – a twin lens Mamiyaflex. Vivian would work from about three feet for some of her street subjects – I only felt comfortable at something like thirty. Cartier-Bresson worked with a Leica 35mm for good reasons.
It feels like he has just popped out, more than likely to take the dogs for a walk through the estate or along the Trent & Mersey, a few yards over the Essex packhorse bridge. Patrick Lichfield died suddenly in 2005 at the age of 66. Besides a small permanent exhibition of his works and studio equipment, visitors to the elegant mansion house at Shugborough can enter his private apartments which are much as he left them. The drinks cabinet appears well stocked beneath a photo cartoon with Bailey, the dogs’ toys are strewn on the floor in front of the fire and his motorcycle gloves and helmet sit waiting to be gathered up beneath the window.
In the late seventies my father gave me his Mamiya C330F camera and I became much more serious about photography, constructing a darkroom in a shed at the bottom of the garden, I disappeared for hours into the womb of the red safety light. The C330F is a twin lens reflex with interchangeable lenses, an over-sized piece of kit which would not look out of place on a modern film set. I was very fond of the high contrast achieved with Kodak’s Tri-X 120 roll film but with just twelve exposures, you had to think long and hard before pressing the shutter. There was a 24 exposure version but this was such a devil to wind onto a developing tank spool that I usually opted for the more reliable shorter roll. Whilst it produced wonderful technical results from its two and a quarter square inch negatives and even the odd published picture, it was just too cumbersome to capture the decisive moment. Needless to say I coveted the more agile 35mm cameras from Nikon and Pentax but it was the really nimble Olympus OM range that I desired most. The advertising campaigns featuring Lichfield and Bailey eventually worked their magic and I acquired a black OM1 and an OM10. The photography didn’t improve much but getting around did and they were such joyous pieces of technical jewellery, the OM just nestled in the hands and you felt the part.
I was reminded of these much desired cameras at Shugborough. In Patrick Lichfield’s lounge there is a small bronze of two hands cupped around an Olympus as though holding a precious ornament.
I still have the Mamiya for sentimental reasons but with the advent of digital my OMs were sold or passed on; a beautiful object of desire, I wish I had at least kept an OM1.
As an example of how we have ‘progressed’, this fuzzy image was taken on a smart phone, the latest objects of desire (this was as close as I could get and even then set off the motion detector – the lady from the National Trust was very understanding).
My Dad’s Mamiyaflex has found fame at last on the cover of the Newcastle Journal’s golf supplement. Not quite as iconic as McCullin’s Nikon F but then the bunkers at Bellingham were empty.
This is ‘photographic irony’ – the Bellingham photos which feature in The Journal (cover and inside) were taken with a Nikon DSLR up a 5M Pole – try putting the Mamiyaflex in a similar place and the camera would probably take flight!