It’s early summer 1979. In the United States, Jimmy Carter was president and Three Mile Island had just exploded. In the UK Margaret Thatcher had just become Prime Minister. Disco was still big, and at the cinema, you could be shocked at the Alien hurling itself from John Hurt’s abdomen.
Also in the UK, I’d just walked out of Logan Cameras in Walton-on-Thames with my first ever decent camera: a Pentax K1000. While Logan Cameras sadly closed sometime in the 1990s and the precinct in which it was situated was demolished in 2010s (to nobody’s sadness, not even fans of 60s brutalist architecture) that K1000 is still in my camera collection and still works as well as it did that day in 1979.
I’d never been that interested in photography really, my dad had been the archetypal ‘high days and holidays’ snapper of family events. I’ve still got the Kodak Brownie he bought just before I was born, presumably to record that; last time I could get some 127 film, that worked fine too.
I’d gone on holiday on my own for the first time a couple of years before buying the Pentax. I took the brownie and quite enjoyed shooting with it, so I bought myself a cheap Halina point and shoot. I’d love to say I still had that one too but once I got the Pentax I gave it to a friend who really enjoyed using it. Eighteen months of the Halina showed me that I quite enjoyed taking photos, but it had limitations so I decided to buy the Pentax after a lot of thinking and general indecisiveness.
This remember, was the days before the Internet so all I’d had to rely on pre-purchase were the articles in Amateur Photographer and the opinion of the chaps in Logan Cameras. Buying that Pentax cost me more than I’d spent on anything in my life. A bit of research shows they cost about £140 at the time and as I only eared about £35 a week this must have involved some saving up and some borrowing off my parents. It came with the 50mm f/2.0 lens and as was standard practice at the time, they gave me a roll of ILFORD FP4 (not plus!) to test it with. Nowadays you can spend a fortune on a new camera and still have to buy the memory card, generosity not being what it was in camera retailing.
Here are my first 5 photos ever taken with a decent camera, on one day in 1979.
This photo of the Irises in my parents’ back garden is frame one from that roll. So this is definitely the first photo taken with my K1000 and therefore also the first photo taken when I decided I wanted to “do photography”. It’s not great is it? Frankly I’m not convinced it’s ‘good’, or even ‘passable’. Though actually I like because not only is it my first frame but also because it takes me back to the garden in which I grew up.
Clearly I must have been impressed with the Irises, as I went and photographed them close up. These days I do a lot of flower and garden photography and would pretty much always say Irises do look better in colour though I suppose this does have a faint hint of Edward Weston about it, if I’m feeling seriously delusional.
Clearly the lure of my parents’ gardens must have been great as I went out and photographed the front too, including the street they lived in. If anybody wants to know what typical English suburban streets looked like in 1979 I think I’ve captured it perfectly. Car enthusiasts might also enjoy spotting the preponderance of chrome.
Time obviously to head into the garden shed and discover that handholding at low shutter speeds wasn’t a thing, something which I still sometimes forget. I’m annoyed about this one as, having rediscovered it I think that had it been sharp it could have been an interesting photo. The shed has gone, along with the bench and the chair, however I still have the vice (just no bench on which to put it)
My first thought on scanning this one was, “what was I thinking of?” and a suspicion that I’d pushed the shutter button by accident. However I think I might have been delusional enough to be trying to photograph the aeroplane in the sky. If nothing else, it has historic value as a study of the lost art of pebble dashing houses.
That camera went on to be the backbone of my photography for decades. I took the first of what would be many photos of my wife on it when we started going out in 1982 and a lot of photos of our life together until I bought used MX and ME Super bodies in the mid 90s on grounds size and weight. It went on holidays with us, photographed people we knew and was a fully dependable workhorse camera on which I knew I could count.
So here it is. While it does work fine and I enjoy putting a roll through it now and again, I’m finding that while it’s not wearing out, I am. That viewfinder is a little small and dim for my eyesight now in a way it wasn’t then and I have real problems focussing it. I still regularly put that original lens on my Pentax MX and shoot with it though. All this fuss about people discovering ‘vintage lenses’, hell I’ve been shooting one for decades.
Oh, and I did get better at photography, honest…
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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