Think of Europe and you think of its cities, many of them boasting hundreds upon hundreds of years of history. You could spend a lifetime travelling and not see them all: Alesund to Zagreb, Aalborg to Zaragoza, Aberdeen to Zurich.
At some point in my life I would love to spend six months cross-crossing Europe; finding out the connections and the differences in these cities separated by borders and languages, standing on a hundred different street corners and watching life float by. Sifting through a few hundred rolls of film at the end of it.
But until then, it’s city breaks, snatching those days and long weekends when you can. But my recent stopover in Antwerp in Belgium showed me that you don’t need a lot of time at all to capture some of its photographic flavour.
I ended up in Antwerp at the tail end of summer after a whistle-stop tour of Holland and Belgium with Boston rockers Buffalo Tom; it’s the third time I’ve joined them on tour since they resumed making records and touring in 2007. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon full of a summer cold and with little energy to do anything. The next morning I had a few hours to traipse the city and rattle off a few rolls.
The past couple of years I’ve made a real effort to use as many of the old film cameras I’ve collected through the years, and I’ve also built up a stash of expired/retired films to shoot with. It’s a good recipe for experimentation; combinations of cameras and film stock that might never be shot again.
On this trip I’d been shooting the band on a pair of Pentax ES IIs, mostly on rolls of pushed Tri-X, so my street snapping would have to look different. The indifferent grey skies lifted and the Antwerp morning was bright, sun burning off a heavy haze. This is the kind of lighting perfect for cross-processing, bringing out eye-popping colours and boosting contrast. I popped a roll of Agfa Precisa into my old Zenit E, and wandered.
A few hours, sometimes, is all you need. I walked through the early morning calm of a city waking up, through squares empty of the tourist hordes still in bed. I ate in an artfully scruffy cafe and spied retro toys in shop windows; cracked stone monuments and an old woman pressing a paper close to her face through a cafe window; a dog stretched on a tattoo parlour sofa the colour of ox blood. Jet black mannequins in ruby red dresses, colour and contrast against the dull stone. Maybe it was the fever, but the cross-processing makes these shots look like that morning felt.
I’ll most definitely be back in Antwerp, hopefully with more time, more film and a few less bugs.