Come early July, there’s a little corner of London that makes flesh all the best – or worst, depending on your point of view – stereotypes of English eccentricity.
A leafy London garden square plays host to a cavalcade of cravats, a tidal wave of tweed and a mountain of moustachery; and that’s not always the preserve of the gentlemen, either.
The Chap Olympiad – a celebration of style over skill and sartorial elegance over sports kit – is one of the highlights of the alternative London season. And it’s a brilliant hunting ground for photographers.
I’ve blogged about the Chap Olympiad before; the last time I attended was back in 2012, back when another, much more physical Olympics was about to take place a few miles eastwards. On a grey, rain-spattered Saturday, a cohort of characters, dressed in a range of finery, Edwardian or otherwise, in the traditional umbrellas-aloft British summertime. It was my fifth time visiting the Chaps, and my fifth time lugging cameras and film along with me to capture the events – events such as umbrella jousting and cucumber sandwich discus, obviously.
(All taken on a Minolta XE-1 and Fomapan 100 film)
Three years later, I was back, in a thick, 50s-style woollen suit rather more stifling in 2015’s brighter summer weather. The event began a decade ago in Regent’s Park, a celebration of the anarcho-dandy worldview of The Chap magazine harking back to the days of trouser creases, proper suits and a rakish tilt of one’s hat towards the ladies. The crowd mustered only a few dozen.
Ten Chaps Olympiads on, and there are hundreds of people gathered a stone’s throw from bustling Tottenham Court Road; dressed in everything from tweed plus fours to armoured trousers and naval uniforms. There are picnic tables and fizzy gin drinks. The atmosphere is one of unbridled enthusiasm.
(All taken on a Minolta XE-1 and Kodak Elite Chrome 100/200)
Even if I haven’t crossed the Chap’s threshold for a few years, it still remains one of my favourite events to photograph. Everything is dressed up, cheering the competitors and, as the day progresses, often more than sociably tipsy. And if ever an event cries out to be shot on film, it’s the Chap Olympiad. Snapping away on your iPhone really is letting the side down.
I’ve bought a bunch of different films and cameras to each Chap I’ve attended; this year I kept the set-up pretty simple; a Minolta XE-1 SLR with 50mm lens, a Cosina CX-2 compact (the camera that the Soviets copied to create the Lomo cult) and a KMZ Iskra 6×6 folding camera. The Iskra is one of my favourite cameras; based on the old Agfa Isolette folding rangefinders made in West Germany in the 1950s and 60s. The Iskra has a beautiful lens and was designed and built when the Soviet camera industry was trying to build a reputation for quality, rather than just churning out Zenits and Zorkis by the million.
(All shot on a KMZ Iskra)
With a few hundred rolls of discontinued film cooling their heels in my freezer, an event like The Chaps is a great excuse to load up on discontinued film; sometimes the faded colours and extra graininess really adds to the mood.
(All shot on a Minolta XE-1 and Agfa Optima 100)
I had one of my last rolls of Agfa Optima 100, Agfa’s long-discontinued pro-level film, as well as handful of old Kodak Elite Chrome for the XE-1; either the camera’s meter is slightly underexposing or the Elite Chrome is just expired enough that it’s lost some of its sensitivity (note to self for next time); a little bit of tweaking on the scanner managed to bring out the detail.
But the revelation was the Iskra; tack sharp, and capable of capturing fantastic colours. The Iskra is a joy to use, especially with old Kodak Ektachrome cross-processed slide film, boosting blues and greens, grains and contrast. Even though I was at the Chap without pipe, shooting stick, monogrammed handkerchief or straw boater, at least my camera looked the part.
Check out more pics from the Chap Olympiad on Flickr