Gaurav Vaz, bassplayer for Raghu Dixit, captured old-school 35mm style

I like photography, though I’m not especially good at it. I know lots of people who are amazing with a camera – and their skills appear to be a blend of raw talent, creative flair, scientific knowledge and some sort of black magic. I don’t have any of those things, but I still like doing photography.

Digital is brilliant for me, because I can take hundreds of photos and just show people the few good ones that happen to have worked through sheer luck.

Using Flickr is even better for me, especially with a pro account – because it means that I can upload EVERYTHING completely indiscriminately – and anyone interested enough can figure out what’s good or interesting on their own terms. Who am I to second guess what they’ll find significant?

On Flickr, my message is not “witness my photographic skills” but – “look what happened” (or in this case – “look how smiley my musician friends are”).

Recently, I uncovered my old Pentax K-1000 film camera and thought I’d have a play with it. It was strange to go back to everything being manual (let alone having to look through a viewfinder), but it was a lot of fun.

I got going with a black and white film, just to complete the retro feel – and started taking some snaps. That shot of Gaurav was taken on my first night out with the film camera. So far, so good… I quite like taking portraits – or at least, photos with people in them.


Jake – after The Haircut

Hamstrung in Helsinki
And then partway through the roll, I went to Finland… and something happened. Either the camera suddenly got very old, or, more likely, my suitcase was dropped – but either way, I could no longer focus. The ring that you turn was jammed – stuck solid.

So that meant that the only kind of photo I could take was one in which the subject was around 2 metres away, give or take a few centimeters.

“Cool,” I thought, searching for a silver lining. “An enforced stylistic decision. Portraits it is. I like those anyway – and for all the scenic stuff here in Helsinki, I have the digital camera on hand in fully working order.”

Of course, I was staying with a real, proper photographer – and a very good one at that, so Tomas was taking all the impressive shots – and he had some useful tips – though I didn’t want to tax him unnecessarily on the hints front. No matter what science he dropped, I’d still be missing the skill, flair and magic.

I’m a contented amateur when it comes to photography, and have no desire to upskill and upkit to anything like his level. But I did take his photo:

Tomas Whitehouse

And that was the end of the black and white roll.

Old film for old cameras
Next, I had a couple of rolls of expired colour film that Clutch had given me. This was Fujifilm that was several years past its use-by date.

One of two things was going to happen. Either the photos were going to look grainy and cool, or they were going to just be grainy and ruined. As it turns out, I got a mixed bag – but I was quite pleased with a couple that did come out.

These are a couple of the guys I’m working with on the European jazz project called Rhythm Changes. We were in Helsinki presenting at a conference, and international conferences mean relaxing in post-conference beer gardens.

Seemed like an opportunity for some focus-less, expired film snaps.

Tony Whyton in Helsinki
Tony Whyton, head of the research project team

Petter in Helsinki
Petter Frost Fadnes, Norwegian saxophonist and research colleague

I quite like these shots, but the low ratio of good to poor photos from that batch is enough to get me off the expired film and onto the current stock they have filling the shelf down the road at Poundland. I’d have quite liked for more of the shots that I took to have come out properly.

Making photos
There’s a turn of phrase I like – I don’t know if it’s specific to the Dutch, although it’s Dutch people I’ve noticed it with: they never say “take a photo” – they say “make a photo”.

I like that idea – that you have some tools and some raw material, and you’re creating something – not just capturing something that was already there. And it was interesting to work within some – shall we say – creative parameters: no focus, old film, a camera that’s more or less the same age as me – and the fact that I only had 24 shots on a roll.

It makes you make choices, and it imposes an aesthetic.

But perhaps I’ll “make photos” digitally for a while again – at least until I get a new lens with a working focus ring for the Pentax, and perhaps some new film too.