“School’s out for summer” sang Alice Cooper a few years earlier in 1972. Well, in our case, school was out forever, entirely. We got our diplomas and summer was way back in our minds.

A friend and I wanted to do something different. I had gone to mandatory military service in September, but with the prospect of going to study anthropology at Leiden University. My friend Paul had two brothers who already had done their mandatory service, so he did not have to wear fatigues for a year or more; lucky b.st.rd !

It was time for a change.

We wanted to visit Paris, but at a time when there were hardly any tourists. And what season was particularly attractive for two young guys who wanted to savour the pure taste of Paris? Winter, of course.

But winter was the season of Christmas and New Year; yes, and so we chose the week just in the middle of it: Christmas was over, and New Year was still to come. I must confess, these were not the only reasons for choosing this period; money had a lot to do with it, for, hotels, particularly the cheap ones, were a lot cheaper.

We were 20 or 21 one, but we did not have a car, which was quite normal in those days, so we went by train: a 500 km journey, when departing, as we did, from The Hague. The train was at least 50 years old but not uncomfortable. It was the first time that we had traveled such a distance by train. I had quite some experience already, going to France, but that was with my parents by car. So it was more or less our maiden voyage.

As usual, I had my photo equipment with me. The same old Leica lllA, which I got from my father when he noticed he was tired of photography after years of shooting and thousands of hours in the darkroom. He was not a professional, but he rolled into it when he had taken some pictures of the new laboratory which was being built at the petrochemical factory where he worked, and had shown the pictures which he had made with his newly bought Balda 6×6 camera.

The director got wind of this and wanted my father to continue taking pictures of the entire company – in the end, his pictures went all over the world. The director recognized the Public Relations value of photography, and he wanted many pictures, and he wanted big pictures, though he was not an accomplished photographer himself, despite his quality equipment: a Leica llla, with a Summar 2/50 mm, and an Old Delft 3,5/35mm with separate viewfinder, also Old Delft.

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And with this very Leica — though I added a 3,5/50 Elmar to it — I was taking to Paris. Seeing that my father was a much better photographer than he was, his director had given the Leica to my father many years back. But even he did not use it very much because he preferred his Rolleicord with its outstanding Xenar 3,5/75mm by Schneider-Kreuznach (still almost unbeatable, IMHO). Getting sharp, brilliant B&W enlargements with that was a tad easier with the much larger negatives — though very much possible with a Leica, as well, of course.

My father gave me the Leica when I was 16 or so; I was so proud of it, and I loved to work with it too. It fitted snuggly in my self-made wooden felt padded camera case together with its accessories, the extra lenses, filters, sun shades, and the like, and we were on our way to Paris.

In hindsight, I wonder how I dared to take it along, seemingly sure of the fact that I would be able to show some decent pictures when we got back. For, the most humiliating and frustrating experience I ever had, was when I had suggested to make the school photos of our class, which would be the last ever, since everyone of my class was leaving school. To my utter despair, the pictures I had taken were not on the roll of film I developed a day or so after the shots had been taken. It was my unforgivable fault: I had not paid attention to the fact that sometimes it takes a couple of blind shots in order to really pick up the film and transport it properly. I had not felt it, whereas the Leica is built like a Swiss watch and anything that is out of the ordinary can be felt. But it must have been due to my nerves, for I had taken a very responsible task on my shouders. And god forbid, all my classmates had stood in awe when I opened the faux leather covered wooden camera case; it looked so professional. But I wanted to disappear in a sinkhole, when I had developed the film. It took me hours to recuperate. And I had to give some sort of explanation. So, I told my classmates that I had taken the wrong bottle of developer — knowing that it was a lousy excuse, for even in paper developer, some images would have appeared, but then, who would know that!

It had happened almost a year ago, even I had more or less forgotten it. And without any hesitations I took my hand-me-down Leica with a couple of Panatomic X films with me to Paris. And, look, I succeeded in bringing some pictures home, which appeared on the film as they should when developed in Microdol X, which I used frequently at the time.

So, not only the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs Elysëes, but also the tiny allies and busy crossroads, filled with primarily, by now pretty old-fashioned, French cars. Deserted wet streets, elegant policemen, and even a real fire, were all taken with the good-old Leica llla, which I still cherish and is still in full working order: almost 90 years old!

Isn’t the saying: Quality never goes out of style?

~ Gerard

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Share your knowledge, story or project

The transfer of knowledge across the film photography community is the heart of EMULSIVE. You can add your support by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.

If you like what you're reading you can also help this passion project by heading over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and contributing as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.

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5 Comments

 

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  1. Thanks Gerard, this a great story. Very cool to see the Parisian car fleet of the day amongst other things.

    And the level of detail in these photos is remarkable. I was scanning some negatives on the weekend and thinking about what exactly causes a lot of contemporary 35mm images to be so much softer versus ‘before digital’. Maybe it’s simply the difference in seeing mostly published work from the past taken with high end equipment (like yours) vs. today seeing mostly work taken with what used to be ‘domestic duties’ cameras and equivalent differences in processing.

  2. I was just in Paris a few months ago with my Nikon L35AF and Fujica GS645. What a romantic, intoxicating city!

    Fantastic pictures Gerard! Great story too! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes itis a special city, but IT changed a lot in 50 years. I also use 6×6 and 645 camdras, a Rolleicord and a Bronica etrsi; love roll film as well.