As technology advances apace, spare a thought for the once-loved objects that are left behind. In a new series, we meet the people passionate about encouraging us to look again and be inspired by the beauty and inventiveness of life pre-digital. This mont
Isaiah wasn’t known by his biblical peers as “the prophet” for nothing. His pronouncement that ‘Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them’ ably describes the life of a man approximately three millennia his junior. Howard Parker has spent a considerable portion of his life living in a photographic darkroom, and considers the moment of revelation to be “the best thing ever. You’ve controlled everything from the start: composition, exposure, developing, printing. It’s the essence of the word photography – making something with light.”
When Howard discovered analogue cameras at university, they so rapidly took over his life that he dropped out and cofounded the land of infinite variety that is West Yorkshire Cameras – an analogue camera shop, now based in Leeds’ glorious Corn Exchange. “Digital cameras are all pretty much the same,” he says, “but with film there are twin-lens reflex cameras, folding cameras, large format cameras, medium format, miniature – an unendingly weird supply of stuff to try.
“It sounds pretentious, but there is also their tactile nature, especially if you get a nice mechanical camera without batteries; press the shutter and you can feel it doing something. Plus, build quality – I actually have an old Pentax at home that I use as a hammer; you can literally hammer nails with it.”
This puts your correspondent in mind of his old brick of a Praktica, a camera so untroubled by tech it required the wearing of an accompanying light meter. “That’s part of it as well,” says Howard. “If you want to learn photography, film is the one. It happens worryingly often that someone will come in with several thousand pounds-worth of digital camera round their neck, on full auto mode, and they have no clue. With film, it’s more important to get it right, so you’re more inclined to learn.
“Film grain has a certain depth. Not instantly being able to see a photo might not be a strength for some, but anticipation definitely has its appeal. With digital, you’ll take a load, then stop and go through them all – you remove yourself from where you are.” And, potentially, all for nothing; Howard surely speaks for us all when he says, “I’ve got a phone full of photos I’m never going to look at.”
While a few specialists still produce analogue cameras, Howard is largely unimpressed. “Why would you buy a thing cheap plasticky thing for almost £200 when you could buy a nice old camera that was professional grade?” Cameras like his trusty Hasselblad (above left), the classic Swedish maker charged with recording the Apollo moon missions. “It’s not too big, incredible quality, really versatile and looks good. I use it for landscapes, still life... when I say ‘still life’, I mean ‘pictures of cars’.”
Howard is far from alone in his analogue love. “Most customers are actual enthusiasts, but I get quite a few hipsters, for want of a better word – film cameras are very much in fashion. If you Google ‘Contax T2’ a bunch of celebrities use them – one of the Kardashians or someone – and people want to emulate them. I remember selling the gold version for £350, now it’s worth a grand. There’s a fixed supply because they don’t make them any more and if the demand goes up, the price goes up.
“If you asked ‘ What’s your demographic?’ I’d say ‘everyone’. It spans all ages, genders, income brackets, especially having cameras from £20. Everyone can take a nice picture.” Lots of people must be glad just to know these things are still sold? “Yeah. I’ve got a little board with sayings that get you banned. One is, ‘It’s a trip down memory lane’. I get that a lot...”
“With a nice mechanical camera, press the shutter and you can feel it doing something”
From build quality to the joy of developing film, camera shop owner Howard loves everything about old-fashioned cameras