My Techniques and Equipment

Since I often get asked about the methods I use to produce my work (mainly through customers coming into my gallery), I thought I’d write a few words for those of you out there in cyberland about the equipment and materials I use. It may be of interest to some of you.

For starters, EVERYTHING is shot on film (no damn digital tomfoolery here!), and hand processed by myself. Beginning with camera gear, most work is shot on medium format these days, using Mamiya 7 rangefinder equipment for the ‘normal’ stuff, with a full range of lenses, although I do tend to favour wide-angle optics. I do employ 35mm gear on occasion, anything from rangefinders to SLR, but almost all ancient, Leicas to the Nikon ‘F’ range of equipment, Hasselblad 500CM occasionally, and a Hasselblad X-Pan, also a favourite of mine, which produces stunningly sharp results. All prime lenses too. With the exception of the toy cameras (more of these later!), I always use red filters when shooting, preferring the contrast I achieve in this manner, and virtually everything is shot on Ilford Delta 400, rated at 50 ISO to take into account the red filter.

I tend to prefer rangefinders for their ability to be hand-held at pretty low shutter speeds, without running into camera shake territory, and I can’t be pestered to cart a tripod around with me. (My wife also insists that any shot of mine is taken very near to a road, as walking and carting loads of gear about isn’t my thing either..there might be some truth in that. In fact, I’m not too keen on walking at all!)

However, despite owning and occasionally using quite an armoury of decent, fairly expensive camera gear, in the last few years many of my pics have been taken on an array of toy cameras. In fact, so taken am I with the superb atmosphere that they can produce, I often wonder WHY I have an armory of expensive stuff, when many of my favourite images of recent years have been shot on toys. These include Dianas, (my absolute favourite for its image quality being an original 1960s model, taped up to the gunnels to avoid light leaks, which arenít my thing), Holgas, (for one of which I have a 35mm back, which exposes across the whole width of the film), a Fujipet, the image quality of which is amazing, and a Lubitel. I often only carry around a case with this collection in, leaving the fancy stuff at home. I have also added to this crowd, the recently re-introduced Diana, made by Lomography, and featuring many new innovations over the originals; interchangeable lenses for one, 35mm multi-format backs another, and a pinhole option too. I have all four lenses for this camera, and testing is underway!

I also purchased earlier this year a Speed Graphic with Kodak Aero Ektar, which is a second world war optic designed for use (as you might guess from its name!) aerial reconnaissance work, with an astonishing 7′ focal length but maximum aperture of

f2.5! This has yet to be used in anger, mainly because of opportunity, with the dire weather we’ve had in Britain this summer (2008), but I am very much looking forward to getting it fired up. This combination has gained the name the Burnett combo, as

it is used to great effect by the photojournalist David Burnett. You should check out some of his images too!

When it comes to the darkroom, I use Kodak HC110 as my soup, dilution ‘B’, which I have stuck with for years now. However paper, (all resin-coated, as it is faster and therefore can be sold for a more reasonable price than fibre-based, and gives excellent quality), has been a minor problem since the sad demise of Agfa (RIP), whose Multi-contrast Premium I used almost without exception, for its excellent high contrast and beautiful toning properties. Lately, I have been using Ilford (thanks for keeping going lads!) Multigrade Warmtone RC, either toned or developed in warmtone dev and left ‘as is’, for

B&W rather than thiocarbamide toned, and some Ilford Portfolio, although this also appears to be discontinued.

This covers most of the work I do. You will spot quite a few shots taken with infra-red film, which is another lamented item in the form of Kodak High Speed IR, but again recently discontinued. If anyone has questions they feel I may be able to answer/help with, I would be happy to do so, emailed via the site.

New york

My recent trip to New York was the culmination of a long-held desire to visit what is in my opinion one of THE most iconic places on the planet. For one thing, I think it has some of the greatest looking buildings on Earth, the beautiful Chrysler building being the most amazing structure, and the Flat Iron too, both being a gift for the photographer. We stayed on Lexington Avenue, in an hotel which is rather small by New York standards, being only sixteen floors high, but with the advantages of being roughly mid-way between the Chrysler and the Empire State buildings, both viewable from the rooftop bar. The staggeringly high drinks prices precluded me from visiting this too often however, but I did manage a few shots, one or two at night when there was very low cloud over the city, resulting in very atmospheric views.

I took a range of equipment with me on this trip; not having been before I wasnít really sure which gear I would be likely to use most, but one of the obvious pieces of kit to take there was my Hasselblad X-Pan, used of course vertically in panoramic mode! I only took with me the standard 45mm lens, as since I also had my Mamiya 7 with 43mm and 65mm lenses, a Yashica 124G TLR and an array of ‘toy’ cameras, I didn’t need any more weight!

The toy camera kit comprised an original 1960s Diana and two Holgas, one of which has a 35mm conversion (the latter bought off ebay from Hong Kong for the princely sum of 99p plus shipping!), which allows shooting across the full height of the film by about 60mm, the width of a standard 6x6cm neg. Although the kit includes rather more cameras than this, (it’s become something of an obsession, since I discovered quite a few years ago what great atmosphere and image qualities these cameras can give), it was a matter of space, and I also think that having TOO many cameras with you can be detrimental. Also, having found my bearings by travelling around on the open top buses for the first day, I walked almost everywhere, so weight definitely was an issue. (New York is approximately ten miles long!).

Film was exclusively Ilford Delta 400, used in the Mamiya and the Yashica with my usual red filters, and so effectively rated at 50 ISO to take account of the filter factor, but no filters used with the toy cameras.

Film was burned in all cameras I took, and in order of preference, I liked the images produced with the Diana most and the X-Pan ones next. As I have said, I love the atmosphere these cameras impart to an image and am particularly happy with the two images which are made up of two consecutive negs, the first being Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge (at least it was worth the walk across the bridge to the Brooklyn side in rather high temperatures! – I don’t do heat very well!), the second being The Manhattan Bridge, which was taken from underneath the high level road along the river.

Another unique characteristic of New York streets seems to me to be the high level street signs and overhanging traffic lights. I find these visually very striking, and incorporated them into many of my images, rendering the architecture as a backdrop to them. Again, although I shot these on both Mamiya and Yashica in addition to the Diana, I preferred those pictures made with the latter. Maybe I should just take the toy camera outfit next time and save myself the exertion!

I hope you like the results. I am in the process of preparing a book of my work taken with the toy cameras, which should be available

in the not too distant future.

Evolution of my Career

I guess my involvement with photography started when I was around ten years of age, with the gift of a Ross-Ensign Fulvueflex camera from my father, who was himself a keen amateur at the time. Suffering a prolonged hospitalisation at about that time, my earliest efforts were of a visiting circus troupe, many casual portraits of the nursing staff and a shot of the lad in the next bed to me, who at the precise moment that I pressed the shutter, mistakenly let his pyjama bottoms drop, so that I obtained a rather memorable image of his suddenly bare rear. The chemist who processed the latter warned my parents (in jest, I’m fairly sure, this being about 1958!) against my producing images of this rather saucy kind in future! Must look out the negs sometime! the circus ones, I mean.

Fast forward to around 1966, yes, I’m THAT old, and I started to shoot pics of the rapidly expanding rock music scene. I’d always been keen on guitar music, since I heard Bert Weedon playing ‘Apache’, (later covered by The Shadows, thankfully!), but didn’t have the grit and determination (and probably the talent) to learn to play myself, so my response to the music was to shoot pictures of the bands. Most of these were taken at the now long-defunct Redcar Jazz Club and inspired the production of a book in 1996. Sadly, many of the musicians I photographed are now dead, but both those and many of those who managed to survive the rigours of the rock music lifestyle are now music icons, and so the images are sought after, having been published worldwide and are in many private collections as original prints.

Late 1967 I enrolled on a professional photography course at Blackpool College of Art, studying Industrial and Commercial photography, and entered the world of professional photography early in 1971. It was the landscape which truly got me inspired though, and I eventually returned to my native North East England via a succession of jobs, and having taken a full-time post lecturing in professional photography, got to work building what has become my now fairly extensive folio of landscape work. These images too are in many private collections worldwide.

At the same time, I became involved with Montage Gallery in Castleton, North Yorkshire, selling my expanding range of landscape work from there to begin with, and after the original owner decided to retire, took it over as my own, from where I now work. The gallery has gained an excellent reputation over its sixteen years since foundation, for providing a high quality range of contemporary art, and latterly for my extensive collection of photographs for sale. If you’re ever in the area, look us up; you will be assured of a warm welcome, and photography chat if you wish!

By the way, my pastimes include collecting/restoring vintage Italian motorcycles, and as well as many other collections, (my wife says I have a collection of collections!), an ever growing army of pinball machines which I also enjoy restoring and playing, and of which I think I have around 25, so these topics are always open for discussion too!

The Redcar Jazz Club and my connection with it.

The Redcar Jazz Club began as one of many such clubs formed during the jazz boom between the end of the second world war and the 60s. Having started out in a local pub, after a succession of venues it found its final home in the shape of the ballroom at the Coatham Hotel in Redcar, where it stayed until its demise in 1973.

In the 60s, the music promoted gradually changed to what became known as ‘progressive rock’ and began to feature bands from the rapidly expanding rock genre. Many, many bands that were eventually to become rock music icons played there, and it was well known that bands WANTED to play the venue, as the audiences were so good. Since I had always fancied playing guitar, but distinctly didn’t have the drive to study nearly half enough to succeed at this, my obvious next step was to photograph the bands, which I started to do in the mid sixties, and continued to do whenever I was in the area. (In 1967 I began a professional photography course at Blackpool Art College, so wasn’t at home much of the time).

As my photographs eventually came to the notice of the club’s management committee, I was able to enter as a guest of one of the committee members and so get front row seats, and thus the opportunity for great close shots, before the doors opened to the queues of punters waiting patiently outside. In return I gave them prints for display in the foyer. This also led to print sales and thus began my fledgling career as a rock photographer! (I even have the distinction of being given ‘ten bob’ (50p!!) for one of my shots of David Coverdale by the man himself, who was at the time lead singer with local band ‘Government’, before he hit fame and fortune with Deep Purple, etc.

Over the years, I pictured many of the bands that are now household names. My only regret is that I couldn’t afford more films at the time, (I loaded all films from bulk rolls myself, head under the bedclothes, since that was the only darkroom I had!), as I was often allowed into the bands dressing rooms after the gigs to meet them, and could have had many candid images to complement the live shots.

After the club folded in 1973, due in the main to the rising costs of the bands and the onset of the disco boom, my negs languished in my files, only to resurface in the early nineties, for an exhibition I did with Montage Gallery, before I became involved more fully with the gallery. This led to a further exhibition at the local Kirkleatham Hall Museum, curated by Phil Philo, who saw the collection as an important document relating to the area’s social background. The museum also purchased a number of the images to add to their permanent collection, which they display from time to time. To coincide with the exhibition, a book ‘The Redcar Jazz Club and Popular Music 1959 – 1973’ was published, which proved very popular. Copies are still available from this website, but stocks are now extremely limited and it is doubtful it will be reprinted. There is also a range of ten of my rock music images produced as greeting cards, also available from here. (Trade enquiries welcome!!)