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Pile of newspapers and figures on street (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
(Pic: Stephen Dowling)

My dad began his career working in newspapers in New Zealand in the 1940s, and I followed him into “the trade” nearly five decades later. This was pre-internet; I missed the era of hot metal printing by only a few years. Journalism school still involved typing tests on clattering Imperials and desperate attempts to hit the minimum words-per-minute shorthand (which, more than 30 years later, I can still just about do.)

Much of the architecture of newspapers must seem archaic to younger people, as relevant as Roman columns and Tudor beams. But for those above 35, they are reminders of what life was like before notifications and breaking news alerts.

The single screaming page outside a newspaper seller’s kiosk was often the first inkling a major story was going down if your office or school didn’t have a TV or a radio. Generations will have memories of hugely important events first glimpsed on the boards outside a train station or metro entrance.

When I moved to London in the mid-1990s, the Evening Standard newspaper was still in somewhat rude health, buoyed where so many other evenings newspapers weren’t by a daily surge of commuters heading back to the stockbroker towns and bumblebee-land suburbs at the end of the Tube line. Pre smartphone, there was a huge captive audience among that evening exit back home.

The Evening Standard once cost you small change; as the internet chomped into advertising and attention spans, it became a freesheet. In the late 2000s it launched a Friday magazine which eventually became ES, a kind of self-obsessed how-to-spend-it for the city’s 1%. My colleagues and I used to devour it on the Tube into town after work, drinking in the party pages showing various aristos, celebs and hangers-on hoovering up the canapes at invite-only parties.

On a three-month sabbatical from work, more than 18 months after the first Covid stories screamed from the newspaper headlines, I found myself wandering one of London’s grander avenues on a day taking pictures. I hadn’t set foot in my office more than twice in the last year-and-a-half, and had missed – like all those millions of other Londoners – the daily dose of news the Evening Standard deemed fit to print and the parties ES deemed worthy of inclusion. (Sometimes it’s the very things you roll your eyes at that you miss the most.) The angel eyes peering above the piles of paper on a backlit street seemed to capture a mood. The figures behind are almost discernible, but not quite – like something froma. fever dream.

I shot this on a Mamiya 135 EE, one of a number of compact fixed-lens rangefinders made by the major camera companies during the 1980s and 70s. Before SLRs truly achieved domination, the compact rangefinder market was a competitive one, aimed at photographers who wanted something more refined than the likes of the Olympus Trip 35.

I’m not pretending I’m a name-to-watch in street photography, but these cameras are an absolute joy to use when you’re stamping the streets looking for pics. Like some of its class the Mamiya has an aperture-priority mode which essentially turns this into a point-and-shoot rangefinder – you focus, but the camera takes care of both the shutter speed and the aperture. Your focus is then just on composition, on capturing what you see. It’s impossible not to take good pictures, as long as your rangefinder eye is working.

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Stephen Dowling
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