“It was only at the moment that I was pressed into the back of my seat that the finality of this day took its full effect upon me. I had had plenty of time already while sitting on the tarmac to contemplate the significance of the flight, and the enormity of the uncertainty ahead, but only now at the start of the take-off run was there a single moment to define the end of my travels.

What an extraordinary contrast of feelings compared to my last aeroplane trip, when the roaring engines signified my first step into the unknown. There was the usual intense, visceral pleasure of being forced into the seat and pressed downwards as the aircraft sprang from the runway in glorious defiance of its immense mass of aluminium: the culminating joyous moment of thousands of hours of engineering. And now, for the first time in my life, this thrill was totally lacking: reduced to a mere memory of the excitement and a rationalised appreciation of all that allowed the ‘plane to lift.

But even these thoughts were totally swamped by the anticipation of the last touch of foreign soil – maybe less foreign now than home – and of foreboding of what might lie ahead: a grieving family, a house filled with junk, an office job forever and who knows when – or whether – I would be back to finish the trip?”

The journal entry above was written on the train from London to Southampton after my flight home from Georgia. I had intended to write on the aircraft when my mood would have been yet more raw, but I had left my journal on the living room table of the soon-to-be hostel where I had been volunteering for the past two or three months.

I had five hours to sit and contemplate my future – and that wasn’t looking terribly bright.

On my outward leg to Prague, so long ago, I had opened a blank book of unlined paper and, after a long pause to think how to begin, boldly put down in my neatest hand: ‘4th February’. After a moment’s thought I underlined it; how else to begin? Then, for lack of any other ideas of propriety, I just dived in hoping that in starting somewhere arbitrarily, my thoughts would spill out onto the page and somehow incorporate the required descriptions of the lead up to this flight.

How poetic now it would have been to have filled in what, by coincidence, would have been the last page of that same travel-worn book on my flight home! Instead, I had five hours to sit and contemplate my future – and that wasn’t looking terribly bright.

Changing trains in London later that afternoon, I bought a new unlined notebook, and as I sat on my way down to Southampton, I pulled it out of my Carrefour (კარფური) shopping bag and peeled off the card sleeve.

This journal has been to, it invited. In the grips of mourning and nostalgia for my travelling days, so brutally cut short just as I had been about to make a start on my overland return journey, I filled it out on behalf of the book still in Georgia: ‘Czechia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, BiH, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France…’, I wrote, mentally retracing my steps, ‘… Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia (FYROM), Greece, Turkey, Georgia’, before remembering Austria and Moldova and adding them to the list.

‘Means of transport used’… Bus – yes; I struck a careless line through the pictogram. Train – check. I could cross off the hiker, and the car. Aeroplane: unfortunately two of those now. Boat… Hmm… Oh yes, on the Danube Delta back in Romania; I crossed that one through with satisfaction. Funny that I never rode a bike that whole time… Ah! Apart from the one lent to me by my Peruvian friend in Turin. Moped? In Genova with Adolfo. Only the motorbike and hot air balloon unaccounted for; it seemed a shame not to have collected the full set. A hot air balloon though – really…?

‘Days travelled’… This one took some maths. ‘365+28+24’, I scrawled on the front page. 417.

Four hundred and seventeen days since I had stood in my room with a Post-it note packing list and squeezed everything undramatically into my new rucksack. Four hundred and seventeen days since I had stood in front of my cameras and come to a tricky final decision: one Nikkormat FTn and one Nikkormat EL – one for back and white, one for colour – and a 35mm, 50mm, and my favourite 105mm lens (Vivitar, Nikkor and Nikkor respectively), plus the expensive bag of films I had been to London especially to buy: three rolls of Fujifulm Provia 100F, two of Velvia 50, two ILFORD HP5 PLUS and three FP4 PLUS. I would be able to average one frame per day and have a few spare for really special places.

It was also on that morning that my plan to walk all the way from Prague to Athens was put in doubt by a single phone call to the RAF recruitment office, which clarified that I would be too old to become a pilot if I took a full year off now; I had only six months.

A quick note before I go any further

I can’t write here about everywhere I went, what I saw and who I met in great detail; nor even much to convey the sensations of place. This is partly due to the lack of my all-important journal, but mostly because there is so much to include and I would rather keep that for a better-written and longer format, preferably in a printed form. I can’t already give the spoilers and punch-lines here, otherwise, the later version would just be this plus a few extra adjectives and some woollier description. Besides, even this boiled-down version is getting a bit lengthy! Hopefully, I can keep this account more to the photographic exploits without becoming as dry as the cracked leather of my tired, old walking boots.

Let’s continue…

To take you on this journey, I’m sharing with you my contact sheets and pulling out a few of the finished photographs from each. You might want to open the two contact sheets that follow in a new window. There are a few reasons for this:

Firstly, there’s been discussed before on this website about publishing mistakes: we don’t all have a magical stream of total success, and so I hope it is of interest to see everything I produced, entirely uncorrected even for exposure differences: just straight-forward Grade 3 prints straight from the negatives (or colour scans exactly as received from the lab – I didn’t have control over the scanning settings for these).

Secondly, a contact sheet presents its own concise narrative of a photographer’s time with a subject. In this case, a journey. I was overly conservative with my film at the beginning, so the subjects jump around a bit, but I’ll allow the images to stand on their own merit as you zoom around the proofs wondering what they were all about and which ones you would select to print, and how.

Thirdly, it’s the closest I can get to showing you a physical photographic artefact rather than just another image on your screen. I pulled out a Nikkormat FTn from the abandoned shelves of my father’s collection only a short time after I was starting to take photography seriously and over the next five years at secondary school, the proportion of digital and film I shot swung heavily over towards film. Many times, I even ended up locked into the art studio because no one had thought to look in the darkroom before going home for the night; I now have a stack of prints from postcards to posters, and a large ring binder of negatives to show for it.

Pack mule…

The physicality of the format always was a great draw for me, and it seems such a shame that I cannot show you the prints of my photographs in the flesh. That said, adjusting levels of scans is an awful lot faster for mass production than my rusty darkroom skills allow.

I will have to race through my little trip without pausing for the poetry or drama in the writing which is required to recreate even the meanest whiff of the depth of the experience within which I was fortunate enough to travel. This tale will probably seem to jump from place to place quite randomly at times: I passed through several countries and cities twice or more and often worried about overshooting my limited stocks of film.

it seems such a shame that I cannot show you the prints of my photographs in the flesh.

Even as I write now, I am waiting for most of my slide films to come back from a lab, and praying that they fill in some of the gaps in my photography that I only realised existed when I pulled my negatives from the fixer.

To help in following this journey, you can follow the blue pins which mark my route on this Gaia GPS map, though I admittedly hadn’t formed a habit of using it to its fullest until a bit later on than this instalment covers, so it’s a bit sparse until Bosnia and Hercegovina:

For those interested more in my thoughts and experiences on the way, there is an assortment of uncurated notes attached to some of these pins of varying levels of intelligibility through which you are welcome to browse.

Here are the contact sheets I’ll be referring to throughout this article:

I only discovered the FTn’s light leak when I had some films processed in Tbilisi. All of my black and white films were affected apart from my last. The Fujifilm Provia 100F scans are a touch more overexposed compared to the slides themselves – so numbers 4 and 5 actually appear well exposed in the real world.

Breaking the ice

My flight left in the afternoon. I had picked Prague as my starting point mainly because it was the cheapest flight to central Europe that was available at two weeks’ notice. Additionally, I didn’t want to spend a few months walking through western Europe which I thought would already be rather familiar, and this decision worked in my favour now that I had a reduced timescale. I would aim for Athens, walking the whole way and then take a flight home sometime around Christmas, or early July as it would now have to be.

As you will see, my plan to use my feet as my sole mode of transportation was not 100% successful (for reasons I’ll go into) but they managed most of the 417 days I document here.

Back to the story: why Athens? Everyone always wants to know the destination and I needed an answer: in truth, I didn’t care so much about where I ended up as about all that happened on the way there. I remembered hearing of Bosnia when I was young, and still remembered an image from the TV of a grey tank in a grey street and knew that that was Kosovo, but nothing more than that. Why do I know so many people who have been to the four corners of the Earth, and yet not one who has visited these places?

I was taken by a burning curiosity to colour-in this black hole of Europe in my mind and Athens was a place on the other side of Bosnia and Kosovo that everyone had heard of and couldn’t question its interestingness.

I didn’t care so much about where I ended up as about all that happened on the way there.

My first Airfix model was a Hawker Hurricane; I still have it and it is the only one that is still intact amongst my eclectic squadron of aircraft, damaged from the battles of childhood play, now languishing in a bed of snapped propeller blades and broken tailplanes. I built that Hurricane more than twenty years ago now – or more accurately, I watched as Danyal, a young architectural student at the time, built it for me.

Although that was my only memory of Danyal – and he had also not seen me since I was about four or five years old – we both instantly recognised each other when I appeared at Prague airport. He had married our Czech au pair, Dada, whom he met when they were both living and working with our family, and so it was that I could spend my first night away in the comfort of a sumptuous Prague apartment, reminiscing about the cheese on toast (or ‘melted rubber on warm bread’) that was served almost every day throughout my childhood.

In the end, I stayed with them and their two daughters for about a week. While they were out at work and at school, I roamed the streets of Prague/Praha, and at night often ended up out on the tiles with Danyal and his friends at their favourite watering holes and restaurants, or talking at length about life as it was on this side of the Iron Curtain with Dada.

The first two photographs on the HP5 PLUS contact sheet, frames 0 and 1, are from my wanders around Praha. Frame 0 is taken from an entrance to the castle – my first photograph of the trip (apart from some phone snapshots that became victims of a dodgy memory card: one-nil to film!)

This first photograph was very informative for me: I had loaded up the HP5 PLUS, safe in the knowledge that it is a film for all occasions, but now faced with a hazy, yet extremely bright, sunny day, I discovered that I had only the option of f/16 @ 1/500th, or f/11 @ 1/1000th. I had barely touched my cameras right through my five years at university, and although I had burned through a couple of bulk rolls of HP5 PLUS, my last several bulk rolls had been of FP4 PLUS and Pan F PLUS which had always given a bit more choice in the sun. Although the small aperture wasn’t a problem for these particular shots, I immediately foresaw problems ahead with the good weather, as I normally like to shoot wide open to achieve separation of a subject from its background.

To add to this, just as I fitted my 50mm lens and went to work the aperture back and forth to index the meter, the little ‘rabbit ears’ slipped straight past the indexing pin: the screws had decided to loosen themselves but fortunately I could drop them into a spare film pot for safekeeping after some scary fumbling of these tiny parts.

This had probably been my fault as I had pulled my fungus infested lenses apart the night before I left and given all the lens elements a scrubbing in alcohol and must have failed to do the screws up properly. Luckily it was a simple fix with a tiny flat-blade screwdriver when I got back to the flat.

An interlude for pre-AI Nikon camera users:

Indexing is a little routine that seems to be often misunderstood and incorrect instructions given all over the internet (even at least once on this site): always read the instruction manuals! The correct procedure is to always fit the lens at f/5.6 and everything will magically line up. Then work the aperture back and forth fully, first to the smallest aperture then to the widest; I normally whizz it both ways twice just to be sure. The window on the indexing ring should now show the correct maximum aperture of the lens.

To remove the lens, ensure you twist both lens and aperture ring; this way it will magically set itself to f/5.6 ready for next time, but if somehow it doesn’t, push the pin over in the lens-off direction until it stops and clicks; the instruction manual lists this as the first step, but it’s always nice to prepare things in advance. I’m no puritan about the procedure, but if you fit the lens at anything wider than f/5.6, the indexing mechanism probably won’t be reset (listen for the loud click). If smaller, it probably won’t line up, though with care and a particular manoeuvre you can slip it in at f/8 if you hook the indexing pin before feeding the lens into the mount, but take care.

EM: You can read more about Nikon’s pre-AI lens system in this guide by Brian Grossman.

On one of my days with the family, Danyal took me for a trip out of town via the factory of a boatbuilding friend, to a fortress not far away. This was a chunky Austro-Hungarian brick hulk now operating as a museum. Stretching along the path to the main entrance (ILFORD HP5 PLUS, frame 4) was a vast gravely cemetery around a large white star of David. This was Terazín: originally built to keep out the unstoppable advances of the Ottoman empire, it had served as a prison for Gavrilo Princip – the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – and later as a ghetto and concentration camp for Czech Jews under Nazi occupation.

I could never have guessed then that I would not only visit the bridge but also listen first-hand to the war testament of a member of the same Princip family.

We were shown around by a short, plump lady called Rose who spoke English quite rapidly with a curious Philippino-Czech accent which I understood gradually more of as we went. The place was as grim as you might expect a prison and concentration camp to be, but neither Danyal nor I felt the chill of the place that we had both anticipated. It occurred to me as we stepped into Princip’s cell that I would most probably see the very site of the assassination whenever I finally reached Sarajevo; I could never have guessed then that I would not only visit the bridge but also listen first-hand to the war testament of a member of the same Princip family.

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About a week after arriving in Prague, I stepped out onto the pavement with my 15 or so kilograms slung on my back, paused to gain my bearings, and started walking. I still had it in mind to walk the full way to Athens and so needed to average about 30 miles per day, which seemed a manageable target based on past experience. Not likely, I discovered, as I totted up the distance covered that day from the comfort of my tent after dark had fallen, which in February was around 5pm. I thought I took a couple more photographs on this first stretch, but there is just frame 1 of the Provia to show for this little hike – a grim little beach hut floating high above the dry edge of a grey lake onto which snow was starting to fall gently.

Two days in, I paused at a station to work out my onward route and, pulling out my paper maps, realised that I had bitten off more than I could chew with my July deadline. Depressed at giving in so soon, and yet committed to my rationalised decision, I boarded a train back to Prague (thus retracing my two-day walk in about an hour), and joined the next train to Budapest, from whence I had calculated the journey would be feasible again on foot.

I left the hostel the next morning to find a fog hanging over Budapest (pronounced with a “-pesht” in Hungary). It seemed silly to start trekking out without seeing anything of this city which my friends had so enthused about, so I allowed myself until 11am to wander the city before I would have to turn around and trudge out as fast as possible amidst the barely sensible alternating snow and spitting rain.

Standing outside the parliament building, I was too slow in swapping lenses to catch what could have been an excellent photograph: a group of tourists huddling for selfies under an orange umbrella which glowed against the grey backdrop of the city across the river. It was the first time of many that I wished for a better method of stowing my cameras as I hurriedly dismounted my rucksack to extract them and pulled the EL to my eye just in time to see the group break up and walk on.

I’ll reserve my descriptions of the city for another time, apart from saying that in the mist and lightly falling snow, the silhouettes of domes and spires were stacked in hundreds of distinct layers over their whitewashed background to form a monochromatic dreamscape (HP5 PLUS, frames 4 and 5). As I walked out ever further from the touristed centre of the city, more and more of the grand old buildings revealed their disrepair in the render that crumbled from their walls to leave exposed brickwork in ever-higher proportion.

I was too slow in swapping lenses to catch what could have been an excellent photograph…

Turning onto a path along a railway track, the city fell away abruptly at a disused station (HP5 PLUS, frame 6) and by late in the afternoon, had become a long smelly road populated entirely by tyre fitters and car mechanics as far the infinitely distant horizon. In the wooded roadsides that eventually followed, I started to notice makeshift shelters of plastic tarpaulins, bags and other materials. One was even fashioned from an orange oriental-style carpet hung over a frame of sticks a little wider and squatter than a telephone box, with a pathetically hanging flap cut out for a window.

I paused to take in this apparition against the dark green and brown woodland background but decided that I had already used my quota of film that day. I was aware that homelessness was already a significant political issue in Hungary, and I wondered whether this marginalised group of people might become a theme of my walk through the country; only shortly afterwards that it was officially made a criminal offence to be homeless in Hungary.

After another two days in the snowy countryside, and a night in a beekeeper’s hut (Provia 100F, frame 4; HP5 PLUS frame 7) that was abandoned for winter, I arrived at another village. It was there I discovered just how relieved I was to see signs of humanity after not seeing even a footprint for the whole of the previous day, and I paused at another railway station to look at my maps.

I again realised that my pace was inadequate on these short days, and with cold, damp socks and a loss of faith in the temperature ratings of my carefully chosen, very heavy sleeping bag, I boarded the train for Szolnok (HP5 PLUS, frames 8 and 9) which would then be on the line for Timişoara in Romania.

It was time for a new strategy.

Romanian comforts

Arriving in Timişoara late at night, I walked from the station to find the hostel that I had scouted online tucked into an unassuming sidestreet without any signs at eye level. Frame 9 of the HP5 PLUS is the magnificent Romanian Orthodox cathedral (Catedrala Mitripolitana Ortodoxa). My packing list had not included a tripod because I had reasoned that my bag was large enough to serve the purpose if I was careful.

There were some drawbacks that I now discovered with this weight-saving idea: firstly, it was very hard to keep the camera level, and it would not stand easily for a vertical photograph; secondly, composing the picture was a bit tricky as the bag limited access to the viewfinder. Thirdly (and most importantly), I had the most desperate and pressing need to answer a call of nature and was literally hopping and dancing to keep it in. The self-control required to hold the camera vaguely still while perched on top of my bag for an exposure of a few seconds was almost more than I could bear.

I spent that evening sending messages on Workaway, a volunteering exchange website, to just about everyone in western Romania and happily enough I had a rapid reply from one host whose page I had considered amongst the best I had browsed. After a strange meeting in the hostel kitchen, I loaded my bag into this lady’s car and arranged to meet up with her later that day. Frame 11 of the HP5 PLUS marks my change to a more settled life with a view towards the kitchen of the place that I would call home for the next three weeks as the snow passed by and three more weeks not long afterwards.

“If you and the animals are still alive on Friday, it will be a success. Any work you can manage as well is a bonus”

This ^^ was the gist of my instructions as Teodora left Stanciova for the working week in the city. This is another period that I will gloss over entirely, though it was one that was filled with the warmth of a wood burner and the fast-forged friendships with the other volunteers who arrived later that week. Weekends added meat, beer and the good humour  of Teo’s husband Tomas, as well as her own reminiscences and considered opinions on life under Ceausescu and her husband Tomas’s meat, beer and good humour.

Teo sent me onwards to a friend, Radu, in Braşov who wanted help at his countryside house. HP5 PLUS Frames 22-24 are views from Radu’s house in the city, which seemed more dramatic at the time than the contact sheets show. You can see in number 24 the edge of my 52mm orange filter, which I had to rather awkwardly hold over the larger 55mm diameter of my 35mm lens, and on this occasion failed to keep in place – luckily this is the only frame affected by this awkward arrangement as I later worked out a more reliable hold. Frames 26 to 28 are views from a hill on the edge of Transylvania in Radu’s little village of Şinca, where hills stacked in hazy layers into the far distance.

Radu was keen for me to see the magnificence of Romania and to fall in love with the country. He was horrified that I hadn’t been to Buchareşt yet and so I joined him when he was driving there anyway. We had to abandon the car not far from our starting point and hitchhike back to the city. Luckily Romania is a hitchhiker’s dream country, and soon we were on our way back to Braşov and on the train to Buchareşt instead. In the roadside portrait, the colours from the Provia are spectacularly accurate and are well preserved in the scan.

I shall cover the reason for visiting Iaşi (pronounced ‘Yash’) later when I take you with me to Gallipoli in a later part of this series, but on the way to Iaşi, I had it in mind to cover Bacău to Iaşi on foot through the thawing snow. I abandoned this plan on the third day when I was offered a lift with some scrap metal merchants to the town of Roman amidst heavy, wet snowfall, stopping on the way to pick up some old car parts and rotten fencing and to get stuck in the slippery snow.

Onwards from Iaşi, I nipped over the border to Chişinău after some Ukrainians in a hostel told me that they were on their way there for the celebrations of the centenary of the foundation of Greater Romania, and that it would have the most impressive marches. At the event, this lady with the flag was one of the very few people celebrating at the statue of Stefan cel Mare.

During the week in Chişinău, amongst other things, I had the pleasure to meet up with another film photography enthusiast moments after taking the overexposed shot of the pumpkin seller. I had messaged him earlier in the day to meet up somewhere and had not been able to connect to the internet to see his reply.

Dropping out of the bustling market crowd for a moment’s peace, I shared a tiny refuge by a pillar with a man who I only noticed after a moment – so tightly was I squeezed against the pillar and him, and whose beard and hair above me were as orange as the pumpkin he had just bought. He looked down at me and greeted me by name as though nothing unusual had happened; reading my messages from him later, it turned out that this had been the exact place and time that he had suggested we meet.

I hopped on the sleeper train to Buchareşti, coincidentally buying a ticket for the same compartment as two people with whom I’d shared a hostel room and a winery tour. This train is an extraordinary relic, still running on the old Soviet rolling stock because it has to swap between the Russian and European standards of railway gauges. This meant that not only were there little mounds of coal on the floor by every carriage door to feed the heating system but just after passports have been checked (at about 8pm), each carriage was hoisted into the air and the wheelsets swapped over beneath us.

We passed the time with wine and beer: my Mancunian friend and an Aussie whom we had met at the station (who, despite his intense accent, turned out actually to be from Brighton) literally bought out the entire train’s stock of beer to keep them, their girlfriends – German and Australian respectively – and me, busy late into the night. I caught a portrait of my compatriot and his girlfriend (whose names, I must apologise for forgetting) after we disembarked early the next morning.

It was the first of several frames where I have cursed and sworn at the split-image finder of my Nikkormat EL after I have had my film back from the lab: the floor tiles just in front of their feet are superbly focused. I much prefer the mottled types of microprism arrays as in my FTn; they are better for organic shapes in my opinion, while a split finder needs a continuous hard, vertical line to match up easily. This photograph does go to show just how shallow the depth of field of a 35mm lens can be at f/1.9.

Soon after this, via the Cimitirul Eroilor (Hero’s Cemetary) in Slobozia, the key to which has to be obtained from the funeral parlour next door – more on that project later – I went to volunteer up in the foothills of the Carpathians on a smallholding with a wonderful family and their cow.

My favourite photos of this roll of film are the two portraits of their children which sadly are going to be victims of the censor’s blur tool: I’m not particularly comfortable with exposing recognisable images of someone else’s children to the public on the internet, and I don’t think that the parents would approve either.

Their parenting style was really magnificent to see, balancing a little discipline with plenty of freedom which allowed these children to become wonderfully independent and confident even in helping to burn the grassland to allow the wildflowers and healthier hay meadow to develop later in the year, spreading the fire with flaming bunches of grass through the dry thatch. The overexposed image in this set is another that isn’t quite so extreme on the actual slide: I confess that this overexposure was the result of accidentally leaving the shutter speed selector turned to 1 second, but I held it still when I realised my mistake and I rather like the resulting impression.

Despite a three week stay, I didn’t take very many photographs here – there are a few more on my roll of FP4 PLUS that will be in the next instalment and which give a better sense of the drama and magnificence of the landscape and the sense of cosiness of the domesticity, but for that you will have to wait.

The final frames of the Provia are from my four-day hike out from this smallholding and are also a little overexposed in the scans here compared to the originals, where the skies are less washed out than appear here. This was something of an epic, not least because I planned to stop in a nearby village to buy some food for the journey, but predictably found only a couple of scattered houses along the dirt track. Consequently, I had only a little lump each of homebaked bread and homemade cheese and two satsumas for my first three days of walking, topped up at one point with two hot, slightly sweet, cheese-filled bread rolls (a version of pâina cu brânză) by a family after they realised that I really was a foreigner walking to the next major town across country and past their farmland.

This incident occurred just before the 5th from last frame, which shows an area clear-felled on the next hillside. These trees had been beeches, most of which were well over a metre in diameter, and it was possible to see in several other places on this walk where the bright youthful green of the ancient beech forests were interrupted by rectangular blue-green, dark blocks of softwood trees planted relatively recently, scarring this otherwise glorious landscape.

Several Romanians complained to me of the wealthier EU countries buying up the natural resources, including the forests (primarily Austrian now, by repute), and selling the higher value products, such as furniture in this case, back to the Romanians. To see the place, this view happens to be duplicated with a geotagged version on the map at the following link – it might even a better photograph with the inclusion of my rucksack:

At the bottom of this hill was the entrance to Ruşchiţa, a marble quarrying town. On my map, the road went past the quarry, around a mountain or two and joined up with some roads to Lugoj, my destination. On arriving at the town, the road ended at the quarry instead, so after taking in the magnificent abandonment of some of the buildings (4th frame from last) and topping up my water bottle at a spring while the local dogs woofed away at me, I turned towards the steep slope by the roadside and ascended into the woodland to cross over the mountains rather than to go around. As darkness fell, I managed to find a flat plateau on this hillside that was barely larger than my tent.

Just as I closed my eyes for the night, the sound of crunching leaves alerted me to someone or something nearby. I unzipped the tent and poked my head out in the direction of the noise and when I switched on my headtorch, the red light shone brightly to illuminate a bear delicately walking down the hill towards me, about 30 metres away. By the time I had switched to the white light, the bear was no longer there, replaced by the sound of its plodding footsteps which now moved over above my tent somewhere behind the ridge above me and continued for the next hour and a half.

After my day’s hike, I was so tired by midnight that I was falling asleep standing up, so while the footsteps continued out of sight and – I hoped – slightly fainter than before, I called it a night. I was very glad when I woke up the next morning with both myself and my tent in one piece and my small food ration still hanging in the tree where I had left it. This is probably why this little campsite deserved the last two frames of my precious colour film as the birds sang and the sounds of blasting drifted over through the mottled morning sunlight.

Coming up next time…

A visit to EMP Petrila (a Romanian coal mine), and then onwards for a tour of former Yugoslavia which is recorded quite sparsely on the contact sheets… For the sake of all of our sanities, there’ll probably be more focus on images and less on text in the future.

Thanks for reading!

~ Tom

About the author

Tom Pinnegar

Just had a break from photography for a bit... no time for the darkroom at university! About to head across Europe with a pair of Nikkormats... wait and see!

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  1. Not usually commented on in the film/digital debate is that film requires a different attention to logistics. How much film to carry? B&W and color? Send some home for processing? Restock somewhere? It can, especially for a backpacker, become a challenge. I usually over-estimate my needs and so end up carrying lots of extra rolls (and pounds) around. I have given up color and concentrate on monochrome so my companions lord it over me about the pretty sunset or rainbow that I have missed. But then that rainy day and that cemetery certainly look better in B&W.

  2. Hi! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I worried more about the film rationing before I set off: I soon found that there wasn’t something I wanted to photograph every day, especially when settled down for longer stints in some places. When I (accidentally) arrived in France, I found a shop that stocked FP4+ for a little top-up, and later on I picked up some C200 somewhere else and then some more from Ilford in Istanbul and Tbilisi. Knowing where to find more film allowed me to became a little more free with the shutter, though I would always ask myself ‘will I print it?’ before squeezing the button and probably passed up a few reasonable photographs that failed the test in the moment.

    I have to confess that on my current trip, I’ve finally got hold of a really nice pocketable digital camera and I’m starting to rediscover the joys of digital. On the other hand, using film leaves spare time spare instead of for editing photos on the road, so I don’t think there’s any danger of become a total convert!

    1. The ‘will I print’ question seems to be a good question to ask before taking a photo 🙂 But I can imagine it would have stopped you from taking some shots. Sometimes it’s about the memories more than the perfect shot. And that’s more tricky to know sometimes.

      Have fun with your digital camera 🙂
      Editing can definitely take a good chunk of time. But I can see how digital makes far more sense when traveling on foot/places where there isn’t much film available.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story.
    I’ve really enjoyed reading this account and can’t wait for the next one.
    Did you often worry about your one shot a day and not wasting any? Or were the decisions on what to photograph more organic?