In a few hours, 2014 will be over. TV news bulletins, newspapers, magazine and website are, in traditional style, giving their salute to the year that’s been. So, in true 31st of December fashion, I’ll join them.
It’s winter here in London, and with short days, overcast skies and the beginnings of a bitter cold spell, this is the perfect time to look back on a photographic year – and look forward to what 2015 might hold
Here, in no particular order, are nine highlights from 2014 shooting film…
1) Getting to know a new neighbourhood
Last year I moved from London’s north west to the other side of the map – south east London, near the Royal Borough of Greenwich. After 20 years in London, it feels like living in a different city. The huge expanses of Greenwich Park and Blackheath are on my doorstep, and neighbourhoods that were once just names on a railway map and new areas to photograph.
For most of us, the places we live in are the areas we get to photograph the most, honing our skills for when we’re lucky enough to travel. I’ve barely scratched the surface of south east London, and can’t wait to see what’s around the local corners in 2015.
My first African country, ticked off the travel list. I went to Morocco in May with my mum, brother and sister-in-law, a little over a week from the chaos of Tangier to the Saharan stillness of Ben Haddou, the gateway to Africa’s legendary desert. Morocco’s reputation as a must-visit for photographers isn’t overstated; the souks and medinas are a street photographer’s dream, especially the 13,000 winding alleyways of Fes and the tourist mecca of Marrakech.
The High Atlas and Rif mountains are ridiculously photogenic, as is the mountain town of Chefchaouen, a blue-washed oasis after the port-city bustle of Tangier. The famous Chouwara tannery of Fes – where leather has been processed for hundreds of years – is an assault on the senses, dazzling colours and the dizzying odours of horse’s urine and pigeon dropping used to treat them.
My highlight? Using my much-neglected old Soviet Iskra camera, a medium format folder from the 1960s, during a morning wandering around the Marrakech souks. The Iskra is a beautiful camera to use: I’ll be using it a lot more in 2015.
3) A Sunday in New York
Anyone who loves taking street photographs needs to visit New York; quite simply, if you can’t find inspiration on the streets of Manhattan, you might as look for a new hobby. I spent a week here in October for work, much of the week was rainy, but my one free afternoon coincided with beautiful, bright autumn sunshine.
New York is one of the most photographed cities in the world; for New Yorkers, the street is their front and back yard. There’s life and vitality here that you just don’t find in many cities.
This is one of the first times I’ve used Lomography’s own-brand 100 print film; rich and saturated, it’s one of the best print films I’ve used. If you can find it, grab it.
In March I visited Istanbul for the fifth time; it’s my favourite city to photograph. But it’s not world famous mosques, churches and palaces, impressive as they are. It’s for the streets; Istanbul is a city of some 18 million people, and its streets are a constant hive of activity. More than any other city I know – and that includes New York – Istanbul is the best place to take street photographs.
Each time I visit the city I try and go somewhere I’ve not been before. This time I visited Balat, a working class neighbourhood on the edges of the Golden Horn in the European part of the city. Unlike many of the nearby neighbourhoods, Balat has t to be gentrified, though there are signs this is slowly happening. Traditional wooden houses, which have been torn down in many of the city’s districts, still line the streets, towering over the gangs of curious kids playing football. I wasn’t the only photographer there on this sunny Saturday morning; lots of local photographers were visiting too. If you find yourself in Istanbul, make sure you visit.
I loved shooting the city’s famous Spice Bazaar too; instead of capturing all that bright colour, I tried black and white. This pic above of a stallholder staring into the distance as throngs of shoppers passed by is one of my favourite photographs of the year.
5) Steve McQueen Memorial Rally 2014
The Steve McQueen Memorial Rally is a true one-off; a classic car rally held every July somewhere in Denmark. There are only three rules for those taking part – your car has to have been built in the years Hollywood legend Steve McQueen was alive (1929 to 1980), you have to do the event in fancy address, and you have to get involved in the rally’s sociable side.
I first took part in the rally back in 2006 (my friends Henrik and Peter set it up in the early 2000s). In keeping with the McQueen-era stipulation, I shot only on cameras made during the great man’s lifetime – mostly on a Pentax ESII SLR and an Olympus 35RC rangefinder, one of the most under-rated film cameras ever made.
A big thanks to everyone who made the rally such a fantastic experience – here’s hoping I can make it back in 2015.
6) A day in Paris
One of the plus points of living in London is that Europe is on your doorstep; you can step put your front door and be in Paris little more than hours later. It’s not something I do often enough, but this summer I zipped under the Channel on the Eurostar with some of my workmates for the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the Pompidou Centre.
Grey sullen clouds gave way to summery sunshine; a roll of black and white and some colour slide for xproing made the most of both. The xpro shots were taken on expired rolls of Agfa CT100 Precisa, a sadly discontinued slide film that creates eye-popping colours when it’s cross-processed. Those fantastic, lurid pics that made such a craze of Lomography back in the 1980s were mostly taken on precisa; it’s worth tracking down if you can; just beware that the film currently being sold as “Agfaphoto CT100 Precisa” is a Fuji slide film repackaged; when it’s cross-processed it turns a revolting green. You have been warned.
7) Expired film experiments
Every year, more and more film types bite the durst. This year much-loved emulsions such as Kodak’s BW400CN chromogenic film slip away. Every film that disappears suddenly becomes gold dust. Film has a limited shelf life before colours start to fade and the chemistry unravels. But sticking it in cold storage can extend that useable life by years, if not decades. I have a freezer full of film, much of it expired; once this stuff is gone, it’s gone forever. Expired films are like time capsules, capturing the world in their own unique way.
One of my discoveries this year was Agfa’s Optima 100 print film – I found a stash a few years ago of 35mm rolls that had expired in 1999 but had clearly been kept cold; the tones have shifted somewhat, but it’s still capable of beautiful results. Just as I was reaching the last few rolls, I found some more – just the ticket for the reddish winter light on the cards.
8) Xpro extremes
It was the humble Lomo LC-A that first got me hooked on film photography back in 2000; that Soviet-era Lomo still sits in the camera cabinet, along with a newer model, the wide-angle Lomo LC-Wide that Lomography. Lomography is all about saturated colours, vignetting, unusual angles and spontaneity. And much of that Lomo look is down to the qualities of cross-processed slide film.
I’ve tried to shoot as much cross-processed slide as possible this year; not just on my Lomo cameras, but on all the other myriad film cameras I use. Cross-processed slide cries out for bright light – sunny summer days or bright night-time lighting. It’s perfect for pairing with older lenses, too. My old Zenit E, a £4 bargain from a Greenwich market a decade ago, has delivered some of my favourite images of the year on old Agfa Precisa and Kodak Elite Chrome.
9) My first exhibition
Earlier this year, I discovered there was a café in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, with the same name as this blog; run by photographer Raul Stef, it exhibits local art and photography and there’s cases of old Soviet cameras on the wall. Raul offered space for an exhibition – the perfect opportunity to showcase some of the soundcheck photography I’ve been working on for the last decade.
My first exhibition took place at the Zorki Photo Café in September – a fantastic opportunity, and one that has me planning several more for 2015. And if you ever find yourself in Cluj-Napoca – a charming city in the heart of Transylvania – you know where to head for your first drink. Pass on my regards.
Many thanks to everyone who has visited out the blog this year, and to all those who have commented, re-blogged like and followed. Happy 2015, film-shooters.
Check out more of my pics from 2014 on Flickr, or click on the pics below.