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 Normal meetings have resumed at the hall, but we continue with some precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Please register in advance whenever possible. 
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Retro Photography and Realising the Image
By Michael Kingston
Posted on 10/19/2021 11:00 PM
Two of our more seasoned members provided an entertaining evening in one of our hybrid-style meetings with members present both in the hall and participating on Zoom.

Geoffrey Rivett and Des Hill between them have more than 125 years of experience not only wielding any number of cameras over that time but also in developing and processing, mounting and presenting an impressive range and variety of images. Geoffrey remains a staunch proponent of the dark arts of film photography and home developing and printing. Des embraces both film and more recent technology in the way he realises and presents his images.

Geoffrey brought to the hall twelve of his film cameras, three Kodak Retinas, three Canons, three Nikons and three Leica rangefinders. They proved to be a popular diversion from tea and biscuits during the interval as members present found themselves handling decades old cameras and lenses all of which Geoffrey was quick and proud to point out are in perfect working order still.


As Geoffrey explained, what is now known as “Retro Photography” covers a vast field not only of equipment but also of styles that have evolved over time. The first part of his presentation chronicled his own photographic saga from his beginnings aged 14 in 1946 with a Box Brownie and his mother’s 120mm folding camera (above left) with two speeds through his discovery of 35mm with a German-built Kodak Retina and on to a Leica rangefinder in 1966 (above right). It was an interesting insight into not only how important it was to “getting everything right in the camera” but also how that entire process depended on the individual photographer from loading his own film cassettes to setting the focus and exposure. This was emphasised in Geoffrey’s second part when he explained how he started and continues to do his own developing and processing at home, aided by a changing bag, stainless steel developing tanks, plastic trays, a 1950s enlarger and the odd Gin and Tonic or two in his darkroom which has also been known to double up as his kitchen.


The third part was a presentation of black and white images Geoffrey had taken, developed and printed including from 1946 as a Boy Scout (above left), his ARPS panel of 50 years ago (above centre), his portraits including various personalities visiting John Dankworth and Cleo Laine (above right) who lived nearby, classic landscapes and street scenes taken and processed as recently as three weeks ago (Salford Bus Garage 1948 below left, Whitecross Street 2021 below right). Geoffrey had brought many of those prints to show during the meeting. Finally, Geoffrey then spent a short while introducing us to the workings of the various cameras he had brought for the members to be able to handle, finishing with the declaration that “Digital cameras take photographs. Film cameras teach you photography”.


After the interval, Des Hill described his photographic journey over the last 50 years with a range of interesting images taken and printed at the time and, in a number of cases, revisited as processing and digital technology has evolved. Mentored by a teacher who was an RAF photographer during WWII, Des started making his own developers and doing his own developing and printing while still at school, taking images on his first camera, a Corfield Periflex. A sign of the times, Des had access to darkrooms as an architectural student in college, and whilst subsequently working both at British Rail and the BBC. He bought his first enlarger, a second-hand Chromega, for £200 in 1984, which he used to print over 100 black and white prints in his kitchen for his first exhibition at the Actors’ Institute in Clerkenwell in 1990 (below). This was eventually disposed of and replaced by a Kaiser enlarger.  It was hardly a surprise to hear that the first room to be completed when he refurbished a house in 1997 was the darkroom.

Explaining his preference for the physical print, Des feels very much more connected with the image and that there is no second chance, unlike when dealing with digital although he admits that digital has the edge at times with its wider contrast range. That said, he puts down the quality of his prints to his consistent film developing technique which rarely results in the need for dodging and burning at the printing stage. As technology advances, Des likes to use it to revisit, re-invent and manipulate images taken many years before. He compares the original traditional prints with those produced by scanning negatives, first on a flatbed scanner and subsequently using a Nikon scanner, and then using Photoshop to correct any blemishes such as scratches and dust marks and to lift shadows and darken highlights. Des talked through his established digital workflow explaining how he likes digital technology for its ability to convert to black and white (example of colour original with B&W final print below) and adjust relative tonal relationships, illustrated by some of his prints which he has brought to the meeting comparing the original wet processed ones with their digital counterparts produced some years later.


In the final part of his presentation, Des showed how he presents his work on the walls in his house by theme, often combining his framed images with works by other photographers and artists, on subjects as diverse as family, Japan, and staircases (below centre, with two of the images included on either side) and mixing his three passions of music, photography and art. He also used to make calendars and post cards for many years from scanned negatives and, more recently, displays his work on Flickr where he has more than 9,000 images and has had over a million hits but which he modestly says is not that much compared with some.  Des believes that some decades of analogue photography is an ideal introduction before embarking on digital photography!


An excellent evening with insights and encouragement from two members with different approaches to retro photography but who share a common interest and desire to produce and hold a finished print in their hand.

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