“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
The problem with these things is never knowing where to start. We are only ever where we are because of what came before. What I’m trying to say is that there isn’t one defining moment that got me shooting street rather that it was a gradual transition.
So I guess the start would be as good a place as any to begin.
My earliest memories of photography go back to sun-filled family holidays by the sea or short trips to the zoo during school break with my dad bringing out his Yashica Electro 35GTN. His film of choice was always Kodak Gold.
Often he’d let me watch him load the camera never understanding why I was so enthralled. It seemed magical at the time. It feels magical even now as I let my daughter help me load my film cameras.
As I grew older, family trips reduced in their frequency and photography took a step back while everything else came to the fore.
Then in my very early twenties while at University, a close friend was studying Photography and I would often help him out when he went on location for projects. This reignited my passion which went full force when my brother bought me a Pentax MZ-7 as a birthday present. I still have the camera though sadly it no longer functions.
Soon after, digital became affordable and I bought a few forgettable digital cameras. They would often be point and shoot or bridge cameras as anything more serious always cost more than I had. But that was fine because they were always with me and I used them until they perished.
There was a time when I didn’t like people I didn’t know appearing in my photos. Living and shooting in London meant a lot of photos were ‘wasted’. It also showed how blind I was.
There came a time in the mid-2000s when I gave up on trying to avoid people and just have them at least add to the image compositionally. From there, I soon transitioned into people taking priority over the scene. There wasn’t a defining moment or image that shows this, it just sort of happened.
Then came 2012 and my wife hinted that we should consider the next big step in our lives. My thoughts immediately raced towards purchasing a Leica. I’ve coveted owning one for many years but they always seemed out of reach.
Turns out she meant something completely different.
I managed to quickly recompose myself and we agreed that she was right. But also, that if I was ever going to own a Leica, now would be the perfect time. I would use it to document our expanding family and then when our future child grew up, I would hand it over to them.
I managed to find a Leica M3 (body only) in good condition at an affordable (at a stretch) price being sold by Aperture UK based in Central London. They had and still have a good reputation and so I took the plunge, got in touch with them and bought the camera on the 7th of September 2012.
The images you see here are from a roll of Fuji Superia 200, my first ever roll of film shooting street in September 2012, a week after receiving the camera, to be precise.
Having been shooting digital with auto-everything and aperture priority, this did come as a bit of a shock. I now had to do everything, metering, focussing, etc.
I knew a little about zone focussing but not enough to be particularly good at it so I watched a few videos and read a few articles and managed to get the hang of it pretty quickly.
Reading light proved to be the trickiest part of the endeavour but I genuinely relished it. I’m a lazy person by nature. Often I want the shot without having to do too much work. But for some reason, with this camera, with shooting street, I no longer minded putting the effort in. And to read light successfully requires a lot of effort.
I have been using an app called Lightmeter on my phone for a long time. Nowadays, it’s there more as a comfort blanket than anything else.
A few things have changed over time. I rarely ever shoot colour film anymore and if I do, it’s normally with my Pentax K1000 or my smartphone at the behest of my nearest and dearest. I have also pretty much given myself over to ILFORD, shooting their HP5 PLUS @ EI 1600. Processing the negs in Rodinal provides me with plenty of mood and grain: exactly what I am after.
One thing that hasn’t changed is my love of shooting film. There are a lot of arguments for and against film, some have merit and others not so much. But what I can say in no uncertain terms, is that I find shooting film and using the M3 in particular, an incredible joy. From handling and processing film, to the sound the M3 makes when pressing the shutter release button and the feel of winding the film on, the whole process inspires me to keep shooting.
I was and still am pretty pleased with the shots that were taken all those years ago on my first roll of street photos. There are of course a few duds but that was always going to be the case considering the nature of the subject matter. Thankfully there were enough images that I was pleased with to keep me going.
To conclude then, the Fuji Superia 200 showed that black and white was the way forward for me and that it was more than feasible to shoot street photography with a film camera.
Want to share your first roll or sheet of film?
Poorly exposed, badly framed and blurry photos? No-one is perfect, especially when shooting their first roll of film...but that's ok and I'd like to spread that message. Submit as many frames from your first roll as you're able to with an accompanying text of at least 500 words using this Google form. If you would prefer to submit another way, please use the contact link at the top of the page.
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