We all have to start somewhere. For me, my first camera was a little red plastic thing, that took square photos. I took it on outings to Battersea Park and Crystal Palace, and took lots of blurry photos of pigeons and concrete dinosaurs. My mum diligently took them to Boots to be developed and printed, and then I was hooked.
When I got to college (Camberwell in South London, an old crumbling building, with spiral iron staircases and old brick archways, always cold, great cafe over the road) to explore a foundation course in Illustration, I also took a short course in photography and darkroom developing. I wish I’d changed my focus there and then, as I didn’t get much out of the Illustration course, but I caught the photography bug again. Armed with my £30 eBay purchase of a Praktica MTL5 and some cheap black and white film, I was ready to go.
This East German tank of a camera is a staple for new shooters – easy controls, chunky build and no bells or whistles to confuse you. The meter needle is clear and easy to understand, it’s fully manual (ideal for learning the basics). The only “features” are a depth-of-field preview and a little indicator in the viewfinder to tell you if you’ve not wound your film on. The lenses are screw-fit M42, cheap and plentiful. I’m pretty sure that after the imminent apocalypse, Praktica MTL5 cameras will survive, along with cockroaches.
The photos I took with mine were mostly quite pedestrian, but the seeds were set for future experimentation for me. These black and white shots were along the theme “shapes” and were the first I developed and printed myself.
Printing was what got me hooked on photography at first – experimenting with timing, focusing the image on the paper, the magic of it all appearing at the end. It’s a shame I’ve not had the chance to print anything since.
I carried on taking photos along themes I’d chosen, through the rest of my college year – a little plastic goldfish provided some focus and turned up in the rest of my shots.
Next year I’m going to carry on setting myself themes for shooting – it focuses the mind and brings a sense of continuity to projects. I’m also going to stop chasing perfection in images – framing, feel and atmosphere have shown time and time again, to be more important. Leave image perfection to the digital lot.