Who said photography needed to be a solitary pursuit? While I’m never happier than when combing city streets camera in hand, there’s something to be said for hitting them in like-minded company too.
Back in August I took part in a photo walk organised by Impossible and Instagram, held in conjunction with The Photographers’ Gallery in Soho. Instagram, of course, need no introduction, their analogue-apeing photo community has become one of the great successes of social media. (I’m resistant to its faux-analogue filters but you can’t knock it as a photo-sharing community).
Impossible, meanwhile, have done the seemingly impossible and rescued instant film from possible demise, buying the last Polaroid facility in Europe and making new emulsions for those old Land cameras that would otherwise gather dust. They also have created a quasi-camera that makes Polaroids from the pictures sitting on your smartphone – an analogue-meets-digital mash-up.I’m good friends with impossible’s Heinz, and jumped at the opportunity to join a gang of photographers shooting digital and Polaroid on sunny London streets; though I would be shooting neither and sticking, instead, to 35mm film.
This weekend, I took out a camera that I’d recently bought, a double of an old Soviet classic from the late 1950s; the KMZ Start. Forget the bog-standard Zenits and Zorkis churned out in their millions, the Start was a 35mm camera intended to rival pro-level SLR cameras like the Exakta. It had features – like focusing at full aperture, removable prism and a film cutting knife – only seen in top-range SLRs. The problem is, they only ever built a standard lens for it, making the Start too limited for pro use.
The original Start I have was a perfect shooter apart from one thing – it lacks the detachable take-up spool and cassette. The new one did have a cassette and spool, though I decided to ditch the cassette – a mistake, since this led to slightly wonky advance and, more problematically, scratches on the films. Thankfully, they were easy to fix during the scanning.
The Start’s Helios-44 58mm lens doesn’t have the modern coatings that new lenses have; that means that its more prone to flare and light spots from bright lights. the trick is to use that to your advantage. Those effects might look nasty on a studio portrait shoot, but take on a whole new flavour using expired films and black and white.
The other photographers were shooting with smartphones, digi cameras or Polaroids – taking shots that could be experimented with at a workshop later. Included amongst them was Lomokev (aka Kevin Meredith), the one-man Lomography movement who has authored several brilliant books on analogue photography. I’ve been following his photography since discovering his xpro Lomo shots on Flickr back in 2005. I shot as I normally would, to develop the films a few months later.
The Start’s lens might be nearly 60 years old, but it’s beautiful with black and white film; the rich black and striking contrast here are shot on Fomapan 100, a cheap-as-chips mono film from the Czech Republic. It’s a cracker for bright sunny days.
The colour is a roll of expired Agfa Precisa CT100, cross-processed and scanned at home. It’s the best film to cross-process, and its boosted blacks and saturated reds and blues really pop on bright days. I aways make sure I have a roll with me shooting in summer. The xpro Precisa brings out Soho’s retro colours and faded, seedy glamour (something that’s gradually being edged out with London gentrification), and is perfectly suited to the Start’s vintage Helios.
Soho is still full of character, even if the chains and the posh coffee shops are edging out the old pubs and red light dives. Shooting in a group is a fantastic way for those who haven’t honed their street photography yet to be a bit bolder – when you’re one of a bunch of photographers, people seem to relax more. The market sellers that might have bristled at one photographer become less unfriendly when confronted with half-a-dozen. And the fellow photographers become part of the scenery aswell, cameras hung around their necks or held up to their eyes, a new cast of colourful characters with Soho as their bohemian backdrop.
Check out the pics below, or the full set on Flickr. If you haven’t already downloaded Instagram for your mobile phone, check it out. Impossible’s new Instant Lab is well worth investigating. and if you find yourself in London with a few hours to kill, make your way to The Photographer’s Gallery; it’s world class.
And if you fancy checking out more quirky Soviet cameras, have a look at this post on some of the designs from behind the Iron Curtain.