Photography: Memories of a now vanished era
My first cameras
As a child I went through several camera. My first was an Ilford Sprite, a Kodak Brownie 127 clone which took 127 film – 12 photos on a black and white film; colour was far too expensive in those days. You’d take the film to a chemist and a week or more later your prints would come back.
My next camera was a Balda – from web searches, a Baldixette. It had a retractable lens – ironically something that went out of fashion with the move to 35mm film, then has made a reappearance on many digital camera – and a flash shoe. This gave me the ability to use a flashgun – back in those days you used flashbulbs, each one filled with magnesium ribbon which was ignited by a small element. For schoolboys like me who couldn’t afford a whole packet, the local chemist sold them individually, four pence each if I remember rightly, probably 50p (75c) in today’s money. Back then the cost of film and any flashbulbs meant that each photo was carefully considered, unlike today’s digital cameras which let you take hundreds of pictures and pick the best.
My next camera didn’t stay with me for too long – I lost it on a school trip. It was secondhand, bought from the Friths camera shop in Fife Road, Kingston, a Ferrania twin lens camera. Friths would clear slow moving used stock using a dutch auction – each day the price of such items would be reduced by (say) 5/- until sold. At that time Andrews had a camera shop in Broad Street, Teddington and as a teenager I would look longingly through the window at exotica like the Pentax Spotmatic ES, something like £100 then, when a new small car cost £500.
After this my photographic interest switched to cine films. A Dixons salesman persuaded my mum to buy a Bauer Mini Super 8 cine camera – fixed focus, manual exposure and no scope for anything beyond point and shoot family films.
At that time my bike route home from school passed a wonderful secondhand shop called The Den, on the corner of Stanley and Fulwell Roads, Teddington. From there came my second and last cine camera, a Bell & Howell Optronic Eye 431. It was beautifully made – the body and film door were alloy. It had automatic exposure (the ‘Optronic Eye’) and power zoom. The only downsides were no manual lever for the zoom and the lens would only take hard-to-obtain push-on filters. I didn’t shoot anything much worth preserving, but for years subscribed to Movie Maker magazine, and also belonged to a cine club, Foxy Films, which met in Hartfield Road, Wimbledon.
Working at Dixons
During the school summer holiday of 1969 (or perhaps 1970) I got a holiday job working at Dixons, George Street, Richmond – about five pounds a week IIRC plus a generous staff discount on a nice tripod and a few other things I bought whilst working there. It did give me some insights into the other side of retail. We had a list of products that carried ‘spiff’ payments – if you sold one of them you got a bonus of a few shillings – most of these were products being discontinued or cheap and nasty high-profit own-brand gear – I remember the cheap and nasty Instamatic 126 cameras made in Macau.
By way of compensation we also sold better quality cameras too, lots of Praktica SLRs, some with the nasty Meritar preset lens, f2.8 Domiplan lens for the main market and the f1.8 Oreston lens for those who wanted something better. My interest and knowledge of photography was appreciated (I remember using a changing bag to free a few jammed films), but what Dixons really valued was an ability to relieve punters of their money, whether they left with what they really needed or not.
The picture above is from the Boots 1968 photography catalogue. The cameras are Polaroid Swinger, £10.19.6; Olympus Trip, £29.0.0; Praktica Nova (Domiplan lens), £39.10.6; Praktica Super TL, £69.19.0; Canon Canomatic, 19gns [guineas] (£19.19.0); Kodak Instamatic 25 colour outfit 90/6 (£4.10.6); Kodak Instamatic 104 colour outfit, £7.7.6; Kodak Instamatic 204 colour outfit £11.2.6; Kodak Instamatic 304 colour outfit £19.12.6; Yashica Minster 3, £33.12.0 + case £3.19.6 (unquestionably one of the finest cameras in the £25 to £30 price bracket … but it isn’t!). For comparison at this time as a teenage shop assistant in the holdays I earned around £6 a week
Back to still photography
Eventually I returned to still photography. For my 21st birthday my parents gave me a secondhand Pentax Spotmatic which was to be my camera for the best part of 30 years. When I emigrated I brought around a thousand colour slides with me (discarding many more), the best of which have been scanned. My key but vague memory of those days (1970s) was a wonderful place called the Euro Foto Centre in Hayes, Middlesex, a large retail warehouse which sold all sorts of equipment which I might have bought had I been into producing prints rather than slides.
My last film camera was a Minolta 500si bought around 1998. Just before I emigrated in 2008 I took the last film to Boots for processing and reflected that I would never do this again. It was nearly 50 years since I’d taken my first 127 film to the chemist and my parents and grandparents had done the same. But now the era of film is all but over.
I don’t claim to be much of a photographer, just a snapper, but you can see some of my best photos (mainly digital) on Flickr
You might like to check out Matt’s Classic Cameras