Ana­logue

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

The Simple Things - - THINK | CRAFTSMANSHIP - Pho­tog­ra­phy: JONATHAN CHERRY Words: JU­LIAN OWEN

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

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