St James’ Place – Bauhaus of the Cotswolds

Okay, I win the award for Clickbait of the Day on wordpress if such a think exists for that title, but hey we’re all allowed a bit of clickbaiting now and again. Though frankly my readership isn’t the sort to fall for clickbait.

Last year, year before maybe, the financial company St James’ Place (not a sponsored post) demolished an old garage and car dealership and built themselves a swanky new office block in the ultra modern style. I was very exited by this because, well frankly I thought you’d never get to build anything in the Cotswolds if it wasnt’ made of stone effect blocks and somehow resembled something from a remake of a costume drama. I blame ‘A Vision of Britain‘ by HRH, a book which probably has a huge readership in these parts. But build it they did. Well the other day I was out and about with my new Olympus Trip looking for something to photograph with it, and the sun was shining on the SJP building and I thought “It’s like Dessau…” Full disclosure, I’ve never been to Dessau (though I’m hoping to go later this year) but I’ve seen the pictures and something about the SJP building in cirencester made me think of them. So I used up half a roll on it.

I don’t normally do posts with multiple photos, but I’m really pleased with these and wanted to share them. I’m coming to the idea that I’m an urban landscape photographer if I’m going to have a label. I don’t really do well photographing the great outdoors, the majestic views and so forth. I like some sign of human occuapation for my images and I think I produce better work when there is some.

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Who do I think I am, David Bailey?

If you’re British, and of a certain age, you’ll remember the commercials for the Olympus Trip with Brian Pringle as the wedding photographer and David Bailey as, well, himself. If you don’t remember them, or just want a rip down nostalgia lane, you can see it on here on youtube. I never owned one in the 70s mind you, way out of my price range.

But a while back I found myself thinking of getting a nice film compact camera, something I could put in my pocket. There was also an element of the fact that we’re going to Berlin later this year and I rather liked the idea of shooting film in that most creative of cities, on a vintage camera. Sort of get in touch with Bowie changing popular music, that sort of thing. So when I found myself thinking ‘vintage point and shoot’, well there really was only one camera springing to mind. An Olympus Trip. I checked on eBay and they were consistently available, and I read some online reviews by people who said that a good one really held up well and produced some great photos, almost certainly due to that bit of Zuiko glass at the front. So I started following them and set myself a ceiling price of forty quid and it had to be a decent one. I missed several as they were going for forty plus, and I’m in no time pressure, when somebody advertised one going with a Yashica 35 (for which I also found postive stuff online), so I set a celing of fifty five on the grounds there were two of them and got them for fifty one. The whole thing being made even better by the fact that while they weren’t tested the seller said if they didn’t work he’d take them back for a refund.

Well the box arrived, and the trip wasn’t in good condition, it was pretty much factory new! Not a mark on it, no scuffs, dents, none of that stuff cameras pick up in the process of being used. It felt mechanically okay so I stuck a roll of hp5 in it and saw what it could do. I was blown away, the results were great. The selenium light meter coped admirably with snow, which is a challenge for anything and I got crisp and clean images well on a par with those I get from film SLRs. There wasn’t any flaring, but I checked and the light seals are shot and will need to be replaced. I even went out and got a genunine original skylight filter and a lens cap for it to protect the glass.

Fairford in Snow
Fairford in Snow – taken with the Olympus Trip on HP5 (you really need to leave the edge of the frame when scanning :-))

Okay, so Bailey really used a Rolleiflex for most of his stuff, but he didn’t really care much about the hardware so I can believe he might well have shot with one…well I want to believe he did anyway.

The Go Players

Another photo from my youth this one, I’ve got lots of negatives in thef file, I just need to remember to scan one now and again!

Back in the late 70s or early 80s, at Olympia in London, there used to be held the festival of Mind, Body and Spirit, which was a deeply alternative, or at least tried to be deeply alternative, event for a whole raft of faintly alternative activities. It was never really Alternative with a capital A, the people exhibiting were always rather clean cut (the same could not always be said for those attending), and there was never a hint you were going to be munching a nut burger one minute and on the minibus to Los Angeles the next as somebody I once worked with used to say. But you could go there and find out about lots of and lots of interesting things, eat interesting vegetarian food, and nobody minded you taking photos; none of this ‘you can’t photograph me because my aura will be damaged’ stuff.

It was never all just spiritual practices, as this photo of some people playing Go illustrates. At this time it was really quite unknown in the UK, remember before t’Internet pretty much all this stuff was pretty much unknown in the UK unless you could make it in to London for the bookshops or were lucky enough to have a genunine grow your own sandles wholefood shop in your town. Those were great of course, pity they’re dying out. It’s going to be taken on my Pentax K100 using Ilford HP5, scanned using VueScan and cleaned up in Photoshop. I love their expressions, it’s as though they’re okay but not okay with being photographed, and sort of don’t really know what to do so they’ve just opted to look at the camera, apart from the beared guy who is either contemplating his next move or definitely NOT being photographed.

Nick, with grain. 1980

Nick Smoking

 

Doing another one of the ‘photos from my past’ posts here. If you think these are somewhat self indulgent well, you’d be right. But they’re quite fun to do; most of these early ones come from rolls of film where I no longer have the prints and there isn’t a contact sheet for the negatives, so it’s a bit of rediscovery for me too. Sometimes a long forgotten negative turns up something a bit nice, and this photo is one of them.

This negative sheet at least has a date on it, June 1980, and as we’re into the Pentax years now I’m guessing it’s taken on my K1000.  I’ll do a proper post on this in due course as I’ve got an image from the test roll of film so it would make sense to do that one. But I definitely hadn’t had the camera long. It’s taken on Iford HP5 film, hence the rather nice contrast and grain.

The chap in the photo is Nick Harvey, who was my best friend at the time and with whom I spent a reasonable amount of time doing, well, nothing very much really. He had three great loves in life, home electronics, Genesis and Status Quo, and I’m not entirely certain which order they came in. Of the three his enthusiasm for bodging audio equipment was more likely to lead to his death than the others were (I once saw him pushed over backwards on his chair in an unfortunate incident involving a valve amplifier and a badly earthed soldering iron…  As one did, perhaps more than now, in the days before social networking we lost touch. He trained as an avionics apprentice for British Airways, but then after he finished his apprenticeship they decided they didn’t have a job for him. No idea what he went on to do after that. It’s taken in my bedroom, I remember having this prints…

My original plan was to scan the adjacent negative to this one, and that probably will turn up in due course as there’s a story behind it. But when I looked at this one I thought that it really isn’t a half bad candid portrait. I think I’ve rather captured his character in it (you’ll need to take my word for that), and the grain and contrast gives it a rather nice gritty mood. I don’t remember taking the photo, but the photo does bring back many enjoyable memories of circumstances in which it and similar photos could have been taken.

Dipping a toe into medium format

I’ve spent the last year or so trying to not express an interest in buying a Mamiya 645 a friend of mine wasn’t using. Eventually I bowed to the inevitable and asked if I could borrow it for a while to find out if I liked it. Not only do people still rave about the image quality to be had from the old medium format film cameras, but also let’s face it the 645 was the type of camera I could never have afforded back in the 70s and 80s, so the chance to own one now is pretty damn attractive.

The thing is a beast. The concept of medium is, once you think about it, based around the idea that it’s going to be midway between 35mm and 10″ by 8″, and that’s pretty massive when all is said and done. The lenses are huge (yes, it has a range of lenses) and hand holding it one realises early on requires a steady hand. Automation comes down to a light meter, none of this auto-focus malarky. I spent a fun afternoon putting new batteries in and and reading the manual to work out how to load the 120 roll of HP5 I’d decided would make a good test roll of film (another roll of HP5 and a Portrait 400 are in the fridge). It’s been ages since I had to read the manual to learn how to do something basic on a camera, the entire thing was a voyage into the unknown and was great fun.

So I shot off the roll of film around the garden, using either the onboard light meter, the one on my phone or my Sekonic hand held meter, so I could see how accurate the onboard one was. I realised early on that it needed good light to get the shutter speeds up enough for confident hand holding; the tripod adapter being large enough to dry dock a ship I decided it would be something for another day. So once I’d got to frame 15 it was back to the manual to unload it and off to A.G. Photolab (who are my processors of choice) for developing and scanning.

The image quality is stunning. It’s everything you love about film (I’m assuming that you do love film? everybody loves film! it’s like vinyl for your eyes..). It has the feel of 35mm with crispness and detail. But, people say the depth of field on medium format is small at large apertures, yes it is, it really really really is. No place for sloppy focussing with this puppy I can tell you.

Take a look at this one of our new patio and you’ll see what I mean.

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That’s f/11 at a 250th focussed on the seat. On my cropped frame 450d at f/11 I can pretty much get sharp from here to Timbuktu. In this the fountain is blurred, but just look at how crisp the leaves on the maple are.

And at f3.5 this sunflower photo redefines bokeh

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So the medium format experiment will continue, I’ll be loading up the next roll of HP5 and, equipped with my discoveries from this first roll, I’ll be attempting to make some images I’m pleased with. I think I’ll be breaking out that tripod adapter though.