starting again

LeicaAround 1970, after a break of a few years, I decided to try to get back into photography in a more serious way, and joined my local club, Hertford & District Camera Club, in the hope that I might learn something. After all these years I'm still a member.

Did I learn anything? Well, you'll have to be the judge of that as you go through this site. The club is not a teaching organization – in common with most other clubs it survives on a diet of lectures, competitions and occasional practical evenings. It provides an environment in which to discuss photography, and an incentive to produce and show new work. People learn by discussing their photography with others, and by listening to the comments of judges on other people's pictures as well as their own. At least, that's how it's been for me.

Most of the visiting lecturers and judges are volunteers, of course. They do it because they enjoy looking at pictures, and because they want to give out their knowledge and experience to others.

Many of these visitors are experienced and knowledgeable photographers, most of them amateurs at a very high level, some of them professionals. For me they've been the key to giving my photography some sort of direction. Later I learned to disagree with them, but this in itself is a very creative stimulus because you have to work out the reason why, not just feel hurt that they didn't like the picture!

I'm actually quite proud to have been the only President (in 1975) and probably the only member in the club's history of 50 years, to have scored zero in a competition; no-one ever gets less than 5 out of 10! The print was technically quite OK, but it upset the judge, a good photographer for whom I had great respect, so much that she gave it zero marks – I felt I'd achieved something!

But all this came a bit later, after I'd learned about colour printing, and strictly belongs in The Seventies. Before that I had a little run-in with a judge (who shall remain nameless) who, it must be said, did not always achieve the highest standards of the judge's craft. I was in the Beginners section, and it was only my second or third competition...



The Saga of the Picture Suitable for a Charity Poster

In those days, two of the competitions each year were 'Set Subject'. In other words, we were asked to shoot pictures relating in some way to a specific subject (like pros do every day). The benefit is that it makes you think about the photos rather than rummaging though the holiday snaps and hoping to find a good one. The disadvantages are that whoever thinks up the subject has to pick a good one; it must not be too challenging or people won't bother to enter, but it must not be too broad or it will be too easy. Most important, the judge has to be switched on, prepared and capable of judging the thing sensibly.
Let Me Explain Her Fortune Depends on You
These were my two entries (click to open a larger image). The one above is called Let Me Explain – we didn't have to be specific about our charity, but I had in mind a children's or a handicapped charity. The picture on the right, an old lady's face superimposed (in the darkroom) on an image of a Victorian teacup containing some carefully placed tealeaves, is called Her Fortune Depends On You. But the judge didn't understand. I didn't mind that much, although I'd worked quite hard on the prints and looing at them now they weren't bad for the Beginners section. But the judge didn't understand the competition at all – towards the end of the evening he uttered the immortal line, "Help the Aged, isn't that some sort of charity?" And from that moment I was happy to ignore the comments of any judge who appeared to be living on a different planet.

An Unlikely Start in Colour Printing

Two of our members at that time – by coincidence both doctors, one of them retired – were producing colour prints, and I was very envious. We were told it was a tricky thing to do; it needed close temperature control, total darkness, and a special enlarger. And then one winter's evening the retired doctor gave a talk on how to make colour prints. Unfortunately the blackout in our school meeting room was not very good and some street light was shining through. And the good doctor, being a little absent minded, had forgotten his dish warmers. But by the end of the evening he had produced some very reasonable colour prints. I was hooked.
Vanity Fair Look
These two prints were not my first attempt at colour, but they come from that early period and later had some success in open exhibitions (shown by the symbols) – details are given with the full size images (click the thumbnails).
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