The Czech Republic has not escaped pandemic-related restrictions, with the country entering a state of emergency and national lockdown fairly early in the crisis. Outings for daily exercise were permitted, and while Prague’s parks were busy, the city centre – usually thronged with tourists – was all but deserted for several weekends.
ILFORD FP4 PLUS has always been one of my favourite films, but in recent years I have shot little of it, preferring the higher speeds and grain of HP5 PLUS and Kodak Tri-X 400. I found a good excuse to load a roll recently though, when I had two new purchases to try out: a Nikkormat FT2 camera and a Nikkor 35mm f/2 AI-S lens.
I rarely shoot more than a few frames a day, but on this occasion, I used nearly a whole roll. Prague is an extremely photogenic city, not just for its obvious historic attractions and diversity of architecture, from baroque to brutalist, but also for its patterned cobbled pavements. ILFORD FP4 PLUS proved perfect for capturing the grey tones of the cobblestones in the old town, and the light was sufficient that I was not troubled by the lack of speed.
35mm is not a focal length I have used before, outside of compact cameras. I usually stick to a 50mm lens or sometimes 24mm. I found the 35mm to open up more scenes: narrow enough to present a neutral image, but with enough stretching of perspective to provide depth. As for the Nikkormat FT2, I bought it on a whim but quickly realised that I will use it often. My first camera, 25 years ago, was a Nikkormat FTN, and the FT2 shows the same solidity with a little more refinement.
In Wenceslas Square I was reminded of Josef Koudelka’s famous photograph during the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion. Like many beautiful cities Prague suffers from over-tourism, but the eeriness of a city devoid of people was distinctly unnerving.
With care and good luck, life will soon return to our streets.
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