Re: What'd you guys grow up on? (Warning - a long'un)
- From: David Kilpatrick <iconmags3@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Thu, 01 Nov 2007 12:07:45 +0000
I took my first pictures at 11 years old, 1963, using the new Pentax S3 my father had bought, with its 105mm lens. Because I got the timing and framing right taking shots of my brothers diving off a high board, he was pleased he gave me his 1937 Zeiss Kolibri 16-on-127. This had a chrome extending tube instead of bellows; he bought it during the WWII to shoot aerials and air to air when he was posted to Kenya, where British pilots were trained, as an instructor.
Of course this was all b/w and only b/w, so I bought loads of accessories wherever I could find them - lens hood, filters, an exposure meter, a rangefinder etc. I think I liked the collection of add-ons as much as the camera. Then I wanted an enlarger, but could not afford one. I found the lens from the Kolibri could be detached with care, and made an enlarger from old parts and some metalwork, using the Novar (terrible as an enlarger lens!). Then I found that if you unscrewed the front element of the Novar, and pushed the chrome tube of the Kolibri back to collapsed position, the result was a 60 degree wide angle of very dodgy sharpness.
I wanted a real camera, and I had £50 left to me by a relative long before held in savings certificates. There were no SLRs under £50, and for one reason or another, I settled for an Olympus Pen D. This was actually a very well made camera with a very fast lens, but half-frame 35mm. An uncle thought he had an old Leica he could give me, but never found it. Instead he found a Leitz Valoy 1 enlarger in his attic. At first I developed film in the bathroom and did enlarging inside a wardrobe (more like a closet in shape, about 3ft square) and the prints began to look OK. My father cleared all the coal out of the coalhouse, put it outside, and built benches and put lights in, to make me a proper darkroom. It never had running water, so everything was washed in utility room sink.
I used the Pen D for about a year and it was an incredible learning curve because I was competing with a very wealthy kid who had a Rolleiflex and travelled all over the world - went on skiing holidays and stuff like that, coming back with red filter pictures of alps in snow, which won all the school photo contests. He got the prints made by a professional, 12 x 16s on rich Agfa Portriga etc. I did not go anywhere except riding around on my bike and I used to buy up any outdated 8 x 6 or 10 x 8 paper I could find. I also used out of date chemicals because those were always half price. Making any sort of print to compete with this guy was nearly impossible with the Pen D, but I managed it, and won the school photo prize with an 8 x 6 picture of tower block housing. He did alps again and I guess the judge was bored with them by now.
Because of that, my dad thought I could use a better camera, and when I was 17 we managed to trade the Pen D for a Honeywell Spotmatic body which could use his lenses. He bought himself an old 35mm f2.4 Auto Takumar too, because 'we' had no wide-angle at all. He gave me his old manual Hanimex 135mm f3.5 to go with my 55mm f1.8, and those two lenses were what I used all the time.
I entered a picture taken on the 135mm in Amateur Photographer's weekly contest and won it, getting a Zorki 4 camera with 50mm f2 Jupiter lens as a prize. This got me hooked on photo contests. I kept getting certificates (no more cameras...) from AP, points in the 'Photo News Weekly' contest table (this was literally weekly, with a subject set by the editor every week like an assignment - you had to be fast and meet the brief). My girlfriend (now wife, we have been together for 39 years from first meeting) Shirley got a Zeiss Werra and she started entering magazine contests too, doing better than me sometimes which was very annoying. I remember she somehow managed to buy me a brand new 35mm f3.5 SMC Takumar for Christmas when I was 18. It was one entire month's salary as a library assistant. She left the library and went to work for Dixons as a camera salesperson (one of their first female staff to do this) and of course was able to buy a Praktica MTL with 50mm Tessar soon enough. We got married the next year, bought a small house, and I turned the box-room sized third bedroom into a darkroom.
We had started sending prints to many publications by now and it was already earning more than our full time jobs. I got a small magazine column, then larger article series, then got to do test reports and was offered the freelance job as Technical Editor for 'Photography' magazine. 1974 was our first photokina - Carl Zeiss Jena invited us on their Rhine boat. We met the PR from Minolta's UK distributor. He first lent us some gear for testing, and when I really fell in love with the XE-1 and its new lenses, did a deal for a stack of photographs and a series of articles in return for a basic outfit. So I switched from Pentax to Minolta. Shirley really liked Olympus and got an OM-1 kit. In 1975 Photo Technique offered me Associate Editor on contract and I left my newspaper sub-editor job to be a full time freelance, and this is when I started using medium format, 5 x 4 etc. Because I could never afford new kit I ended up starting always with really old gear, which kind of gave me 20 years more history of photographic gear in my head than I should have.
76, first editor's job of a pro magazine and that put me right into the flow dealing with people who shot 10 x 8s with big studio flash, scientific, medical, forensic, advertising, industrial - seeing all of it, often going in and spending a day alongside the photographers I was covering. Reporting on every seminar and workshop, learning what they charged, how they ran their businesses, seeing behind the scenes.
At that time I still had not 'grown up' though - I just used some of the ideas with my Bronica S, tungsten floods, etc. I got to use almost every make and type of camera writing tests and reviews but I was still really into reportage/pictorial.
I grew up finally when a neighbour of ours dropped in in 1978 and said his employer was about to close the studio he worked in and he had been offerred it to buy the business (not the building). He needed a partner - did I want to buy into it?
So I did, and that is when we found ourselves in the same position as the big studios I had interviewed - Bowens Quad 2000, Cambo 5 x 4 monorail, Mamiya RB67s, big Durst enlarger, new Agfa C66 print processor, mounting presses, motorized roller backdrops, set building, artwork copystand work and all the stuff.
I put our Minolta kit (Shirley had abandoned Olympus by this time) to work in this context - my partner had never used 35mm commercially before - and in 1981, after selling out from the studio, Shirley and I were asked to run the UK Minolta club and magazine.
We've stuck with Minolta ever since, though I continue to write reviews and produce professional magazines, and right now there's a nice D300 waiting to be photographed in the studio before I load it up and start getting fingerprints all over it :-)
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