Photographic memories

THERE IS PHOTOGRAPHY IN MY GENES. My great-grandfather, Senator Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) left his native Prussia to migrate to South Africa in 1880. He arrived in King Williams Town where he and his future bother-in-law Jakob Rindl established a photography studio, one of the first in southern Africa.

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I became keen on photography as soon as an uncle, a keen amateur photographer who was closely related to Jakob Rindl and also Franz Ginsberg, had presented me with a simple Kodak Brownie camera when I was about seven years old. It was exciting taking photographs, waiting for the film to be developed at chemist or photography shops, and then opening the packet to discover whether the prints bore any decent looking images. In those early days, there were plenty of dud shots, but also a few decent ones. I graduated from the Brownie to another Kodak model, which had two lens and a viewfinder on top of the device. It was probably a version of the Brownie Reflex camera. It pleased me because it had a few things that could be adjusted whilst taking a picture.

As I got older, maybe over twelve years old, I began buying photography magazines. I soon realised that to achieve interesting results in photography, using a 35mm film camera was essential. I leafed through the issues, reading the reviews of cameras that sounded wonderful but were way beyond my budget. I was so fascinated by these sophisticated devices that I used to draw pictures, fantasising what I would have liked to have owned.

Eventually, there was a review of a camera that almost suited my pocket money budget, and which was likely to satisfy my desire to own a more complicated camera. The camera, which was given an excellent review was made by the Halina company and cost around £12.The Halina models were manufactured in Hong Kong by the Hakin Company. I cannot recall exactly which model was reviewed but it looked similar to the Halina 35x. I do remember that it did not have a built-in exposure meter.

Twelve pounds was a lot of money for me to find in the mid-1960s. I did not expect my parents to donate this sum to me for something they considered unnecessary because they never showed any interest in taking photographs. However, they did offer me a solution: I could earn the money by helping them. The task I was given was to mow the lawn in our garden once a fortnight. Please note that we only possessed a non-motorised human-powered mower. So, the £1 that I received for each quite arduous mowing was not easy money.

Eventually, I amassed the required sum to buy my Halina camera and it leather-like case. Then, I was faced with the problem of determining the appropriate shutter speed and diaphragm settings for my shots. My uncle, the one who had started off my interest in photography, gave me a circular plastic exposure calculator. By twisting the dial to three settings (weather condition, subject matter, film speed), the device produced a recommended combination of exposure time and diaphragm setting (‘f number’). At first, this was quite difficult to use. After a little practice, I became very adept. For example, I could use the calculator to work out the correct exposure settings when taking pictures of landscape from a moving car or bus, and the results were often more than acceptable.

A little more money saving allowed me to have sufficient to buy a highly recommended low-cost electronic exposure meter made by the Boots Company (the famous British pharmaceutical retailer). The meter was far easier to use, and much quicker than, the plastic calculator.

I used the Halina happily for several years until 1967. That year, my parents paid a visit to Japan, where they were hosted by various Japanese people and organizations. Moments before they were about to board the jet that would fly them back to London, their hosts handed them several generous gifts. One of these was a top of the range Canon Rangefinder camera. As mentioned already my parents had no interest in using cameras.

When my parents landed in London, they declared their gifts to a customs officer. Handing the camera to him, my mother said:

“We don’t want this. Take it so that we need not pay duty.”

The officer looked at the fine camera and said:

“The duty is only £3. Anyway, I can’t take it.”

As my parents paid the duty, the officer leant over and whispered to them:

“You’ll get at least £300 for this if you sell it to someone on Oxford Street.”

Fortunately, they did not follow the officer’s advice. Instead, they gave me the superb camera, which I used for many years until I decided to buy a Pentax single lens reflex (‘SLR’) camera. Its excellent lens and accurate built in exposure meter never let me down.

The Pentax was a disaster. I bought it to use during my first visit to what was then Czechoslovakia. A critical part of it broke two or three days into the trip. No one in Prague could fix the thing. So, I purchased another SLR camera. It was an Exacta, which had been made in Eastern Germany shortly before the Berlin Wall was demolished. The Exacta was heavy but solidly built; it was probably indestructible and produced lovely photographs.

That was all long ago. My interest in photography has continued, but it has been several years since I abandoned film cameras for digital devices, both ‘phones and actual cameras. The advent of digital photography and the editing software that can be employed to modify the images captured have eliminated the need for film developing and darkrooms. Modern digital software allows anyone to be able to do what was only possible in darkrooms and much more.

Spare time

Now that many of us are being encouraged not to leave our homes unless it is strictly necessary, we have more time to enjoy our immediate surroundings and, maybe, do a little sorting out.

I have been looking through numerous photographs, scattered around our residence in albums or packets provided by the photographic shops that used to develop films and print the images on them. It is a fulfilling armchair journey of discovery.

Gradually, I am posting some of these photos, many of which were taken 20 plus years ago, on the internet. My only regret is that many of them are unlabelled, so that I am not always sure when and where I took them.

The photo attached to this short piece was taken somewhere in Hungary, probably in the late 1990s.

DINNER WITH THE NIZAM

During a recent visit to the Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad (India), I saw a sepia photograph taken at a dinner party held by the ruling Nizam during the era when India was part of the British Empire.

Some of diners were Indian and others sitting beside them at the table were Europeans, most probably British. All of them have their faces turned towards the camera, but what was going through their minds?

The British at the table, who were probably high ranking colonial officials, and their wives probably believed, as many Europeans did in the past, that they were superior to the Indians. They were most probably outwardly polite to their Indian hosts and fellow diners, but inwardly contemptuous.

The Indians at the table were probably also outwardly civil to their fellow European diners because not only are Indians hospitable by nature but also they knew that the high positions they held in the State of Hyderabad were dependent on being respectful and loyal to the British. However, inwardly I am sure that they regarded the British as inferiors, worthy only of contempt. They felt, I imagine, an innate sense of superiority over their European guests, who unlike them were not members of a royal house.

I wonder whether, apart from the superior British military ability, it was this mutual contempt that ensured an albeit uneasy harmony between the British imperialists and the royal families that ruled the princely states that made up a sizeable portion of the British Indian Empire.

Approaching infinity?

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Have you ever wondered how many photographs are being, or have been, taken on digital cameras?

Apparently, to date over 50 billion photos have been posted on Instagram, well over 250 billion on Facebook, about 30 to 40 million images PER DAY on Twitter (that is  at least 10,950,000,000 per year), over 175 billion on Pinterest.  On New Years Eve 2017,  Whatsapp users posted 13 billion images plus 5 billion videos. This adds up to a huge number of pictures. But, not everyone uploads their digital pictures and videos to social media, or at least not every picture they have taken. So, this means that in addition to those which are uploaded, many, many digital images are being created every microsecond.

If they are not shared via the internet, what happens to the galaxy of photos and videos being created? Some are briefly looked at and then deleted. Others are kept to show selected acquaintances. A few are used to illustrate books and articles and some are printed on photographic paper.

One of the joys of old-fashioned film photography was the excitement of waiting to see how your photos or videos looked after the film was developed. Digital photography reduces the delay between snapping and seeing the result from several hours to a week (as it used to be) to a very few seconds. Yet, even with this almost instantaneous result, there is excitement to see what the image looks like. 

The ease of use of cameras installed in mobile ‘phones has resulted in the huge numbers of pictures and videos being made. The numbers of images taken already and those yet to be taken must surely reaching that impossible to reach number, namely infinity!

Sharing photos

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I was given my first camera, a Kodak Brownie’, when I was about 7 years old. Since that time I have owned a variety of cameras and camera ‘phones and I have taken many thousands of pictures. 

In the early days, I used to have prints made from negatives. Later, I became converted to colour slide (‘diapositive’) film and produced many colour slides. With the arrival of computers and the Internet into my life, I reverted to film that produced prints and when it became available, I had digital images of my photographs put on compact discs. Nowadays, I hardly ever have prints made from my digital images.

Ever since I first began taking photos, I have enjoyed showing them to other people: relatives, friends, colleagues, and whoever else showed even the tiniest bit of interest. However, when you present people with an album full of photographs or arrange a slide projection session, most folk begin to lose interest fairly fast. Many of them have agreed to look at someone’s pictures mainly out of politeness, rather than genuine interest.

All of that has changed with the advent of social media and Internet sites for displaying photographs. People need only look at pictures when they are interested and for as long as they want without risking offence to the photographer. Often, if they want to, viewers can express their approval and/or make comments. What is more, the viewers need no longer be confined to the friends and acquaintances of the creator of the images. It is possible to make images available to everyone, who uses the Internet. Some may not be happy with that, but I am. My desire to ‘show off’ my pictures to as many people as possible has been fulfilled!

I find that apart from sites like Facebook, the website ipernity.com is a superb place to post pictures. Other users of the site are often both appreciative and helpful with their comments and suggestions. My Ipernity page is http://www.ipernity.com/home/adam 

PLEASE TAKE A LOOK!