A few days ago I passed something of a fairly major personal milestone on my Flickr site, uploading image number ten thousand. Yep, the Woolamaloo Flickr, which I started back in March 2007, has now passed the ten thousand photographs line. I may have a bit of a camera addiction… Here is the picture that was number ten thousand, a shot taken at night on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, by the City Chambers where a bronze plaque stands as memorial to where the last home used to stand that Mary Queen of Scots, that most unfortunate of ladies, stayed in during her very final night in her capital city, in 1567:
Over the years I’ve posted all sorts of photos – architecture, modern and ancient, memorials, street scenes, Fringe performers, family, friends, cats, dogs, jellyfish, shots of villages, shots of cities, panoramas taking in swathes of cityscape from tall structures like the Scott Monument of Eiffel Tower, or detailed close ups of a fascinating little corner that took my eye, photos of famous authors, photos of pubs, shots taken in the bright light of day, or in the swirl of snow, shots taken at night, in colour or luminous, silvery black and white. The camera lives in my bag and so goes everywhere with me, pretty much, many of those thousands of pics are opportunistic shots, taken as I saw something interesting on the walk home from work, and Edinburgh offers up many potential subjects for my camera, be it the Castle silhouetted by the setting sun, snow covering the Royal Mile, the moon over the Old Town or performers from the Fringe performing on the street or something as simple as the wonderful colour the old stone buildings turn as the setting sun bathes them. And one of the nice things about being in this habit is that part of my brain is always looking at the city and the people around me with an eye to something that makes an interesting shot. And I say interesting rather than good, as I make no claim to be a great photographer, I simply like catching moments and sharing them online, and sometimes I get lucky with those shots and they come out fairly well.
I’ve had a camera since I was a very young boy – my Uncle Jim, my dad’s big brother, was a keen amateur photographer and as a primary school kid he got me my first real camera (other than getting to use one of dad’s, I mean, my own actual camera), one of those very 1970s, oh so neat Kodak 110 cameras. Remember those? Tiny little oblongs, the small 110 film dropped into the back onto the sprockets easily, unlike the hassle of unwinding a bit of 35MM film then trying to attach it to one reel and sprocket and wind on properly. Perfect for a kid to use. A few years later he got me my first 35MM, a Ricoh compact. Not like the ones that became popular in the late 80s and early 90s which were all automatic and self contained, this was a proper compact where you had built in light meter and used your F stop settings and so on, basically almost everything you would do with a full scale 35MM SLR camera, except for being able to change lenses – a training camera. After that proper 35MM SLRs, of which we had several at home – nothing fancy, just good, solid workhorses like the old Praktica. Came in damned handy at college, I didn’t have to borrow one from the department, I used my own and I knew what I was doing so could spend more time doing work at the processing end in the dark room (always loved that part – semi gloom, quiet, you never knew what you had till developed, was it good, was it blurred, too dark? And then that magical moment when onto a blank piece of paper an image would fade into reality).
First digital camera was the rather basic but cute looking Fuji Q1 – very simple, tiny memory (even with the added memory card – a whole 64 megabytes! Nothing by modern standards, what a difference even a few years makes) so that I had to ‘empty out’ the memory card frequently to keep space in it. I think the first card was actually only something like 16MB, but to be honest to someone who came from a film background this wasn’t a problem, I was used to having maximum of 36 exposures then time to change film, so being able to take a hundred wasn’t a restriction (these days it would be, so used to having huge amounts of memory cheap and accessible). I think, as my dad has observed sometimes at his camera club, those who never learned on film have a blaze away and hope something works approach. And while I will use the bags of memory you get today to take some extra shots of something if I have time, in order to cover myself (in case one or two don’t work), most of the time I line up a shot and take it. Sniper, not spray it around Tommy Gun approach. And unlike a lot at my dad’s camera club, I don’t spend hours in PhotoShop then tweaking and changing that image until it is as they want – I do most of my editing actually in camera, lining up and framing the shot, subject and angle I want so afterwards in processing all I really do is the odd bit of cropping, maybe fine tune contrast, brightness or colour balance, nothing I wouldn’t have done in the dark room in the film days.
I don’t monkey around altering my photos, I want to get as close to showing what I saw as I can, no fakery or touch ups. To my mind that is photography. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against digital imagery and manipulation, I see some great pics that way and like them, but to my mind that is digital imagery, not photography. Photography is a discipline as well as art and medium, and my version of it involves not reworking images in the computer later until I have something that wasn’t what I saw. Like I said I like capturing moments, be it someone laughing at the Fringe or the play of sun on an old building. I’ve moved through a couple more digital cameras since that first basic one (which cost more back then than a good compact would now). My previous camera reminded me of that advanced compact Uncle Jim got me as a boy, bit chunkier than most compacts because it had more features – like being able to do decent night shots and long exposures on the tripod, and I think I worked the poor thing to death, it actually packed in. Replaced with bigger, more advanced kit, what they call a bridge camera, much like a digital SLR but slightly smaller and you can’t change lenses, but other than that very similar. Full SLR and various lenses would not be as handy for me as I like to keep this in my bag so even during regular day I can just whip it out and get a shot if one presents itself, but also have it be advanced enough that I can work it. Of course as always there’s a newer, better, fancier one, and after several years with this very good one I have an eye on the new version of the same range, but due to advanced EPS (Empty Pockets Syndrome) it will be quiet a while before I can afford it, which is okay as the one I have is absolutely fine and certainly does me well.
So as I pass ten thousand pics and hundreds of thousands of views of my photos online I find myself looking back at it. Some of those pics I’ve allowed to be re-used – some charities have used them, some teaching projects have borrowed them, as have some graduate students for their work, couple got borrowed for a community arts project, some have appeared on the BBC and BoingBoing sites, even the New Yorker’s book blog, one was used for the poster for a science conference, a few have even appeared in books – one for a charity publication, couple of author pics I took were loaned to creators I know to use (the most recent one just appeared a couple of weeks ago, author using my pic as his headshot). Maybe one of these days someone will actually license on for real money! I doubt it, but you never know…
But every time I think of all those pics, the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of views of them I’ve had so far I think about Uncle Jim, wonder what he would have made of the digital age of photography, what he might have done with some of this kit (or would he rather have stuck to film?). And I also mentally thank him for those first cameras and and encouragement, and my dad too for his or maybe I wouldn’t be doing more than the odd holiday snap today. I also find myself looking back over it and it forms a kind of visual diary for me, preserving moments and places, and I often look through the archives and tweet pics that were shot on this day in previous years. Feels nice to be able to capture these scenes and even better to be able to share them online, and with that many views I must be doing something right…