Brookwood Cemetery

New girlfriend, work, travel, jazz gigs, breaking up with girlfriend, gym, travel, new girlfriend, politics, work, boxing, breaking up with girlfriend. These are just some of the trivialities over the last 12 months that have cut in to my available time for doing the more important things in life. Like wandering round old cemeteries.

Camera: Mamiya 645 Pro TL
Film: Ilford Delta 100
Process: Developed in D76 1+1

At 500 acres, Brookwood was the largest cemetery in the world when it opened in 1854, and it’s still the UK’s largest today. I’m really lucky in that it’s just a short drive from me, but best of all is that its occupants give me just the right level of social interaction I’m looking for at the moment.

If I lived on the equator then I’d see the sun 90° overhead at noon. But in the UK, even at the height of summer it only reaches around 60°, and in winter doesn’t even make 20°. The cemetery’s filled with hundreds of very tall trees that the sun doesn’t have a hope of peaking over at this time of year. It’s a challenge to find areas where the sun can break through. But where it does, you get those long raking shadows I’m rather fond of.

Smack bang in the centre of the cemetery lies the Saint Edward Shrine Church. This and the buildings beyond belong to the Saint Edward Brotherhood, a small Orthodox Christian monastery that was formed in 1982 to care for the Church in which the sacred relics of Saint Edward the Martyr are enshrined. Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar the Peaceful, but was not his father’s acknowledged heir. On Edgar’s death in the year 975 the leadership of England was contested, with some supporting Edward’s claim to be king and others supporting his younger nephew Harry. Edward was eventually chosen as king, after which Harry went on to marry an American television actress, Lady Megan of Markle.

The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.
~ William Cowper

I see a great deal of discussion online about people’s techniques for shooting film and the way in which they experiment. A lot of stuff is along the lines of “Yeah I know FP4 is rated at 125, but I’m shooting it at 71.5 iso and then dropping it in bucket of developer for a week that I made myself out of organic unicorn fur and lard.” It does sometimes seem that the experimentation is more important than actually creating pleasing pictures. And that’s absolutely fine of course, because we should all just be doing what we enjoy.

Most of my own experimentation these days is with darkroom printing, but that’s only because I still don’t know what I’m doing. But when it comes to developing film, I’ve spent many years whittling down the films and developers I use in order to produce consistent and predictable results. For example, with medium format it’s always FP4 and Tri-X stand developed in Rodinal. It consistently gives me results I‘m happy with. But with the recent renaissance in traditional photography that I don’t think many people saw coming, and with new emulsions coming to the market and old ones reborn, maybe now’s the time for me to be a bit more adventurous again.

I was rummaging through the film box in my fridge and found two rolls of Delta 100 that had just slipped past it expiry date. Developed with some D76 that really needed to be used up, and I’m happy with the results. Oh yeah, I’m really starting to mix things up a bit now. Crazy, eh?

Right, I’m off to round up a few unicorns.

Put Up Or Shut Up: Olympus XA2

I don’t have a particularly large collection of cameras. In fact, if I’m being pedantic, I don’t really consider I have a collection of cameras at all; they were all bought to be used and not to be put on a shelf. Nevertheless, as I’ve settled in to the five or six I use regularly, on the shelf is exactly where the remainder now spend much of their time. Of course, if it wasn’t for trying all of these cameras I wouldn’t have been able to find the ones I really love to use, but that aside, it’s time for those slackers to put up or shut up. So here’s the plan: I’m going to bung each of these cameras in turn into my bag or pocket, and carry it round with me on a daily basis until I’ve shot a roll or two. I don’t plan to use any of these as my main camera during that time, or to use them solely to capture specific events. Just to be there to shoot some everyday snaps. I also don’t intend to review them as the internet already has enough fantastic camera reviewers that do a better job than I ever could. I’ll just say the things that I like and dislike about each camera; what I love and what drives me nuts. And most importantly, whether it’s a keeper or not.

First up: Olympus XA2.

This tiny 35mm compact came to me about six years ago in a little bundle of cameras from a friend who worked in a charity store. In exchange for a donation, I got this and a couple of 1990s plastic monstrosities. The others I secretly donated to another charity store rather than appear ungrateful, but the XA2 came complete in its box with manual and flash. I don’t think I’ve ever used it. It has fully automatic exposure, a three zone focus selector, and a f/3.5 35mm lens. And that’s it. There’s no exposure lock, but potentially you can gain some control of exposure by altering the ISO setting, which ranges from 25 to 800. But why would you? I don’t think you buy this sort of camera if you are going to faff around. It’s a compact, carry everywhere, point and shoot kind of thing. And I carried it everywhere for a month or so.

OK, so here we go.For the first roll of film I used Kodak Tmax 400…

One word to describe the London skyline these days? Cranes.

That’s the South African flag flapping in the wind, atop South Africa House. I queued for several hours in 2013 with the woman formerly known as my girlfriend to sign the book of condolence for Nelson Mandela. Somewhere our names and words remain inscribed next to each other.

This ornate building is along The Mall, the road that leads up to Buckingham Palace. I’m not sure what goes on here.

These were taken on the pro-Europe march back in September.

As I was crossing over Westminster Bridge there seemed to be some kind of crazy boat race going on. No idea what that was about.

I can’t be sure what nationality this woman is, but odds-on she’s Chinese. This is something I’ve seen more and more in London over the last few years. Pre-wedding photo shoots are very popular amongst the Chinese middle classes these days. It’s not only Chinese students who are studying here, but people come to London specifically to have their photos taken in front of famous London landmarks. In this case it was St. Paul’s Cathedral. There’s a big market in London for this now, and companies are springing up that don’t just take the photographs, they also do the hair and makeup, and even provide the wedding clothes.

Having lunch with friends in Paternoster Square. People are not normally as excited as this to see me

This bronze sculpture by Elisabeth Frink has been in the square since 1975.

This ones a temporary installation for Blood Cancer Awareness Month: 104 giant names to represent the 104 people diagnosed with blood cancer each day in the UK.

Eating bananas is serious business

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square

The Elizabeth Tower is currently undergoing four years of refurbishment. That also means four years of silence from the bongs of Big Ben in order to protect the hearing of the workers. Cue howls of ‘PC gone mad’ & ‘Nanny State’ from a tabloid press frothing at the mouth.
‘We never worried about these kind of things when I was a lad and it never did me no harm’, claimed Barry Gobshite, a retired construction worker I may have just made up. When asked if he thought that people today were just namby-pamby snowflakes, he responded ‘Can you speak up a bit?’

Foreground building: Since the last five years we’ve been gradually outgrowing our Heathrow office, to the point where we’ve had to rent the ground floor of an adjacent building to fit everyone in. With the lease being up for renewal in 2018, the company spent quite a bit of effort looking round for a suitable building capable of housing everyone.

Background building: In the end it was decided just to build a bigger brand new building next door. As you do. The outside is now pretty much complete and we’re expected to move in Q1 2018.

I had to change the film at this point, and as I knew I’d be travelling to somewhere sunny in the next few days, I dropped in a roll of Tmax 100. The new building looks deceptively small in this shot.

That sunny place is Nice on the French Riviera, where we have a couple of campuses. This was taken after arriving at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport.

When visiting the offices in Nice I normally book one of the usual corporate identikit hotels like the Holiday Inn, but a little bit of googling found the wondeful Villa Azur for not much more money right on the beach. Those are actually chairs on the sun terrace.

Just a mile or so along the coast in Antibes is La Grande Roue. It’s not really so grande if you’re used to the London Eye.

A couple of miles inland to our Belair offices

These pictures don’t at all do justice to how wonderful the views of the Alps and the sea are from the grounds. I used up the rest of the roll on some of the people I was working with, but thought it might not be appropriate to post them here.

When it comes to compacts, as far as I’m concerned the Olympus Trip is the one that every other camera is going to be compared unfavourably to. That said, the XA2 has a pretty sharp and contrasty lens, and the exposure meter was spot on in every shot. The one thing that did drive me mad was the hair trigger response of the shutter button. You only have to look at it out the corner of your eye and it goes off. I have more than one snap of my feet.

The main point of this exercise is to either find a hidden gem or to reclaim some shelf space. The XA2 doesn’t do anything that my Trip doesn’t do slightly better. It really should go. But its small, by far the smallest camera I own. And it came complete in the box with the and flash and everything. And parting with a decent camera is not as easy as I thought it might be.

Verdict? Keeper. Relectuantly. Damn.

The People’s March for Europe

These photos were taken on a pro-European march a few weeks back. I should probably write a bit more about it, but since legislation was introduced in the late 1990s to make civil discussion about politics on the internet illegal, I’ve found it’s best just to keep quiet.

London, Sep 09 2017
Nikon F90x / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1

Hawaiian Party

Way back in August, those of us who work in the London office and who spent May in the US supporting the {airline name redacted} project were rewarded with a party. We gathered on the side of the river and were whisked away on a cruise along the Thames. Sadly I very quickly lost the light and was only able to fire off half a roll. Which is probably a good thing, as thanks to the free bar things got seriously out of focus soon after.

Nikon F90x / Kodak Tmax 400


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Ely Cathedral

I could give you a half dozen geeky reasons why I tend to stand develop my medium format films in Rodinal, but they’d all be lies. Ultimately it’s just because I’m lazy.

  • Drop the film in the tank
  • Crash on the couch and watch an episode of totalitarian fly-on-the-wall documentary The Handmaid’s Tale, just so I know what to expect
  • Stop, fix, wash, dry
  • Voilà

However, the last roll of FP4 I developed this way seemed to have a lot more grain than is typical, and just as I was pondering whether I’d done something differently, I came across the remains of a bottle of Kodak HC-110 under the sink. Like Rodinal, HC-110 tends to live forever in its undiluted form and would probably even survive a nuclear holocaust. Which may well prove to be useful, given current events. I’d previously given it a go with a few 35mm films and not been too keen on the results, but I thought it was worth trying on the roll of 120 FP4 I shot last weekend on my trip back to the area I grew up in.

Ely is a small market town about 80 miles north east of London. Not only is it famous for the fact that I went to school there, but it also boasts one of the most magnificent cathedrals in England, dating back to the 11th century. My school always had strong links with the Cathedral, and as such I was required to attend services three times a week. I’m sorry to say it didn’t make me a better person. Under His Eye.

Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Developed in HC-110 Dilution B

The Beast of the East

At 05:25 on May 9th 2017 flight WN1257 pushed back from the stand at Pittsburgh International Airport, taxied to runway 10L and took off into clear skies, heading south towards Orlando.

1200 miles away in Dallas, several dozen people in the Command Centre watched throughout the day as a further 4000 flights came to life in the new reservation and departure control systems.

In a number of strategic airports across the the US, more than a hundred subject matter experts were deployed to provide technical support and operational advice.

My assignment was Baltimore. They call it The Beast of the East, due to the huge volume of departures; we handled up to 260 flights a day. And there were tears, screams, frayed tempers, banging of fists on desks, banging of heads on walls, periods of dark despair, and mainly that was just me. There was also a great deal of laughter.

Cameras and airports don’t mix well. Being behind a check-in desk, at a departure gate, in the hold of a 737 or wandering around on the apron snapping pictures raises questions, even if you do have the appropriate ID. With film, there’s an extra problem. Whilst I’ve happily subjected film to a couple of x-ray screenings, I knew that in this case I’d probably been going back and forth through security a dozen or more times a day. Therefore I reluctantly made the decision to take a single roll of film and to keep the camera landside, hopefully grabbing a few shots in the downtime.

These are a few of the wonderful people I worked with in a state of barely controlled chaos over the last month. Thanks guys, for all the laughter, warmth and friendship.

Baltimore
Nikon FE / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1