50 years Through A Lens - Frame 37a
I was 7 years old when I first started my love affair with photography after spending much time in the summer holidays with my grandfather, who loved to take photographs but had no interest in their development or printing. I saw this as the very best and most magical part of the process at that time and it was not too long before I was balancing on an old wooden stool in the garden shed so that he could reach the bench where I would develop and print my grandfather’s films.
My grandmother used to go bananas when she used to come out to see what I was up to in the shed, believing that if I fell into the chemicals I would no doubt be dissolved! For me photography has not so much been a career but an obsession over my lifetime, its the foundation of who I am and all that has driven me over the many years that I have been shooting. It is no secret to many that I still love to shoot film even now and for me that is a joy that I can immerse myself into away from my normal day to day commercial work which is firmly grounded within the modern digital era that we can now enjoy.
Film photography for me is almost like getting back to basics, its about the process of thought to work and achieve what you want to create through your lens and record that image into a piece of exposed film within the camera.
Squeezing out that last precious frame - 37a
When I was young I would do my level best to load my film as close into the initial sprocket holes on the leader as I could, all so that I could hopefully get 1 extra frame out at the end of the roll, frame 37a...
Later in life I became fascinated with the realm of what lay within 'frame 37a', after my dad died I had to go through all his personal effects and I found hundreds of print envelopes, the kind that we all saw land on our doorsteps as kids a few weeks after you would get back from the family holiday. It was almost a tradition that if there was a spare frame left on that 'holiday roll' that somebody would want to get that 'used up' and this would normally mean that one of use kids or my mum would be told to stand somewhere and smile. It always seemed to me that some of the most interesting images were those captured using that last frame up on the film before popping it to the shops to get developed, all those images were everyone was busy doing their own thing so the camera was just pointed at anything that was going on. I have often thought that it would be great to get a collection of images together of that final frame and do an exhibition entitled 'Life in Frame 37a'
At the ripe age of 11 years old I met a man who worked in photography for the Air Force and he used to load up the camera's in the planes that patrolled airspace, I became good friends with him and he made a deal with me that if I would teach him how to print black and white better then he would supply me with as many bulk tins of film as I wanted. This was amazing for me, previous to that I had been saving and doing any odd jobs for people that I could to save up money to buy rolls of the precious stuff, now all I needed to do was beg as many empty canisters from labs as I could before they binned them. I soon had my own little production line going to load up 25ft of Ilford HP5, this was what the RAF were using so that was my new film of choice, or rather necessity. All of this of course was done under strictly controlled conditions, which basically meant sitting in my sisters’ wardrobe for long 2-hour sessions with a sign hanging on the door saying 'Loading in progress, GO AWAY!' I would have my scissors, little straps of sticky tape and a bag of cans all ready to go. I would often come out of the wardrobe after a major 'loading session' with the resemblance of a startled mole, but it got the film loaded and that meant that I was able to shoot more and process more.
It was during this time as a teenager with an annoying habit of locking myself away in wardrobes that I began to have an equal interest in actually lighting and shooting rather than just the developing and printing. I guess in many ways I came to photography the wrong way around to most people, I think it was normal for people who developed, excuse the pun, a passion for photography to then go on and teach themselves how to dev and print, but for me it was the other way around. Looking back now I think it served me well because even today when I shoot a scene and light I still look at it in terms of contrast and tone, working out in my head how much or how little contrast an area needs and the creating that using position and light. This is just the way I think that I wired my head back then when I was young and I think I am lucky that I did that because it has served me very well through my years of shooting. All these experiences early on have all impacted greatly on what happens in my brain when I shoot these days, yes there is a brain in there, somewhere...
My photography these days of course is very commercial and 99% of the time I am shooting high end digital and then doing the editing work digitally and that’s all great and I am very happy because times change and those are the best tools for what needs to be captured and created. The camera's themselves have changed but in many ways the approach that we have to the work that we create has not, sure we may feel more these days that we can 'rescue' or manipulate our images digitally, and indeed this is a huge benefit within the modern commercial world of photography but for me I have always loved the thought and practice of trying to really get as a close as I can to my final image in camera, film drives this passion and allows me to shoot from my heart and in many ways teaches me still to be a better photographer.
I have kept every single camera that I ever shot on over the years, each has their little quirks and joys, each has in many ways a personality and as such they bring their own dimension to a photograph, the lens properties of older cameras are different to the more perfectly engineered lenses that we enjoy today but, in many ways, that’s something that I really love. The older 50mm f4 Carl Zeiss lens that I shoot with sometimes on the Hasselblad film bodies is a lens that has a softness to its edges, a pleasing effect when used wide open.
I can still remember my very first picture that I ever took, it was a scene from a roof top looking across to a dockyard across the roof tops and aerials of the houses in front of me. I shot it on a Nikon F that belonged to my grandfather and was not too sure on the exposure so when I developed the film I decided to heat that up slightly and extend the development time. I remember the negative being very 'thin' (under exposed) and the grain was significant but I spent an few hours in the darkroom printing various copies at different sizes and variants and from then on, I was hooked totally. I was in love with the fact that I was able to capture the world, or at least a brief moment of it and keep that forever.
Many times when I was younger I was shooting on Nikons and even today I still use Nikon camera's in my commercial work alongside my Hasselblad medium format digital, back then my trusty Nikon F was without a light meter that worked so I used to have to guess the exposure on many occasions, this taught me to appreciate the changes in light and how that impacts not only on a scene from an exposure point of view but also how that mixture of exposure and light intensity from the direction of the light in relation to the camera can impact so greatly on the contrast and tonality of a image captured.
It was not long before I was really trying to teach myself who i could mix the light properties in the everyday world with techniques I was discovering with the development stage of the film process. The possibilities seemed endless and it was then I think that I started to gain an understanding of light and how we can use this to create the images that we aim for in our minds when shooting.
I remember agreeing to meet up with a mate of mine after work for a drink and he told me to meet him at a center where he worked. When I got there I noticed that there was a dance and movement class on for disabled people, the atmosphere was amazing and I asked if it was okay to take a few pictures while I was there. I shot some film off on an old Nikon FM that I often carried around with a 24mm lens on. I distinctly remember the 24mm because I was only young at that time and I really wanted this lens so I sold my small portable TV from my flat to raise the remaining money I needed to buy it, fair to say that I had it with me always and if fact I still have that lens today sat next to me in the office where I work on today’s commercial work. Anyway, I shot about 4 frames off at the dance session and my light meter was not working because the battery had gone and I had not had the time to get it replaced. I pushed the film to 3200iso and pretty much guessed the exposure, I knew that it would be pretty close and the beauty of film meant that at long as I didn't cook it to death in the development I could work with the images in the darkroom. It was you see all about 'capturing' a moment, capturing the faces of the disabled people and their amazing joy and happiness, that was the key and that is what I loved to do, seeking out that 'moment'.
A very famous picture editor from years ago once told me two things, you are only as good as your last photograph, and if you see the perfect moment through the lens then you have probably missed it because the mirror is down! Watch what is going on around you, learn to adapt to what is happening and know your camera like it was a part of you so that you can do whatever you need to with the controls without really taking your mind off the 'moment'. Some people these days ramble on about auto focus and how one matrix is better than another or 2 milliseconds faster, back then there was no auto focus, you used the twisty thing on the grip lol, of course there were times when you could not be quick enough so you played it safe and went in for 24mm f8 with your film pushed up to 1600iso hoping that you could get the action inside that distance area.
Today of course we have lots of tech to help us and that great news because it means that we can do even more things and be even more creative, I am 100% totally in favor of all these improvements but it is nice from time to time to 'go back home' and pick up one manual camera and a single lens and just look at what is happening in front of my eyes, look beyond what you first see and look for the 'moments'. You don't need to shoot film to do this, but hey the reassuring 'clunk' is always nice to hear if only for the nostalgia. A few years ago I shot a series of images on a single rangefinder camera fitted only with a standard wide after coming across an old abandoned town in the middle of Death Valley, Darwin. I was there for about 2 hours and I used just that one camera an lens, later I processed the files as black and whites. It was about 2 years later that I was asked to do an exhibition of the set, which comprised of about 30 images. It was actually my very first exhibition and ended up being one of the most popular exhibitions that the sponsor had put on in their history. Sometimes I guess the magic really is on the light around us and what we do to transpose that into what we see through our eyes and in our hearts.
Over the years I have not only kept all the camera's that I have shot on but also actively searched for camera's that both inspire me and that fascinate me. Sometimes these have been camera's that as a younger man I aspired to shoot, camera's that have 'experienced' life, that have seen things in their own lifetime and have some history to their very presence in this world, such as a particular old and weathered Nikon F2's that served time with a correspondent in war torn areas of the world. For me these hold a fascination in themselves in that they were the very tools used to show the world some of the most important images of that time in our history. It is for me an honor and a privilege to be able to take these and restore them back to full use and once again breathe live back into them by shooting film through then once more.
Photography for me a journey rather than a destination and my love of film affair with film will carry on for the rest of my life along with my passion for some of the iconic camera's that act as the gateways between that we see in front of us and what we capture with the light through our lens. For many years my personal statement towards photography has always been that 'out there shooting is where things happen', and this will always be how I view my life, my future, the world, and how I can represent my view of that world through my lens.
I've just turned 50 this year, but apparently 50 is the new 40 so things are always good and I have never felt better! Photography has played a central role in my life and was a huge part of my childhood, as I grew older I simply watched the world grow through my own lens.
People say I have a wicked sense of humor, wicked, twisted, something like that! I would say that you'd probably remember me if we met and that’s good in my book. I have the most amazing lady in my life, Angela, who has always been there for me no matter what, she is my rock when I need the World to stop the spinning for a little while and in our house we use the term 'Team Wallace' a lot which always makes me laugh especially when our youngest son reminds us at the most unexpected times that "Team work makes the dream work…!
We look out for each other and we pull together through the laughs as well as the not so funny stuff. Our two amazing boys are Ben And Charlie, the latter being the youngest but he's most definitely not a push over even if he is the 'little legs' of the family. Lastly there is 'Eddie' our faithful if not slightly eccentric dog, and that makes up the gang and all that is important in my World. We work hard and we know that life is for living, I enjoy living mine and do everything I possibly can so that they can do the same.
"I plan to live forever, so far so good..."
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