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Friday, August 30

A couple of things I miss


Ken and Major. Butch was probably off looking for rabbits.

Raking through some papers in my old bedroom at my mother's house last week I came across a print I made when I could have been no older than about 20 or so. It was a Rolleiflex shot and I was struck by just how nice a print it was. The blacks are lovely and deep but not empty and the highlights are luminous although those qualities might not have survived the scan for this post.

It's a photograph I took high up in the Angus glens when I used to do a fair bit of hill-walking with my old pal, Ken. We'd take off on a Saturday or Sunday with our dogs in tow. Major was our family labrador cross whilst Ken was normally accompanied by his neighbour's dog, Butch, who was, in fact, Ken's constant companion.

Ken was as mad about photography as I was. If I remember correctly, he used to carry his dad's Ensign Selfix 16-20 into the hills - a lot lighter than his Nikon F2SB with it's almost permanently-attached MD2/MB1 five-frames-per-second motor drive. Ken never took any photographs that needed the motor drive but it looked cool. My Olympus OM1 and winder looked like toys in comparison.

On this particular jaunt up Jock's Road, an old drovers' route, it was bitterly cold and we'd hunkered down behind the rock you can see in the pic to escape the wind. I'm not sure why I decided to take the photo but I'm glad I did. I'd known Ken from the very first day of primary school and it was one of those friendships that would come and go in the early years. I was very sporty at secondary school and Ken was into music, bands and guitars. We'd see each other from time to time but had different sets of friends during our teenage years.

Another Rollei pic taken the same day.

After leaving school, we went to work for the same publishing firm. I was a reporter and Ken wrote scripts for comics such as The Beano and The Hotspur. We'd sometimes meet up after work and walk halfway across the Tay Road Bridge to photograph the sun setting over the river. Our love of photography, hill-walking and the outdoors brought us together again and we were best pals until Ken's untimely death ten years ago. He'd been suffering from a prolonged depression and was on a cocktail of pills to help him cope. He was also going through a rough patch in his marriage.

One day, a hospital doctor gave Ken a new drug without checking to see what his existing medication was. The resultant chemical trauma caused a massive shut-down of his body and he went into a coma before passing away. It took me a long time to get over that. It didn't help that I had to cover Ken's fatal accident inquiry for my paper. The female doctor who had committed the error was understandably distraught but I was able to assure her that Ken was a forgiving guy who wouldn't hold it against her.

Ken was a "character" being quite eccentric in many ways. A lot of people didn't get him and thought him a little weird - which he was, I suppose. But he was a good guy and a good friend. In our late 20s when we were both married, we'd take off on Saturdays on photo expeditions. I'd do the research and choose the location - this was before the internet so I used a Nigel Tranter guide to Scotland - and Ken would happily tag along. It's fair to say it was the most enjoyable time I've had in pursuit of a photograph - if only I'd known it at the time. We never went much farther than about 50 miles away but managed to take in just about everything of interest even tracking down a rock in a Perthshire field that was said to be the special stone where MacBeth met the three witches.

By this time, I had a darkroom at home. When we were about 20, though, we were still using a YMCA darkroom and that's where I made the prints above. Time for a confession here. They were made on stolen darkroom paper! I'd used up the paper I had with me on that occasion but there were lockers in the anteroom to the darkroom and a couple of them were open. I wanted to make two more prints so I had a quick look and found an open packet of Kodak Bromide white fine lustre. As far as I was aware, Ken and I were the only people who used the darkroom - we'd certainly never seen anyone else there - and I suspect the paper was a couple of years old at the time. I didn't think the owner would miss a few of sheets of 6x4. And that's how the prints here came to be made.

It's possible I still have the negative of Ken somewhere. I'm going to have a good look for it amongst my files. I doubt I'll be able to produce quite as nice a print, though, as the cool-toned bromide paper is just lovely and it's a shame that there's really no equivalent out there today. Having rediscovered the photograph, I think I'll get it framed as a reminder of things past and much-missed.

7 comments :

John Carter said...

I know what you mean by long lost products. I still wish I could have some fresh Verichrome. It wasn't the sharpest film, but the two or three different speeds of emulsions made it so you couldn't miss. Your shots above reminded me of the great latitude of Verichrome.

Kevin Mayo said...

I just found some old snap shots from my wedding and they included shots of my best friend Mark. Mark died about 15 years ago when he was sent home from the hospital with the wrong medicine. It's nice to find old pics of old friends thanks for sharing.

marty said...

Hello, Bruce. Very touching story... I think photographs keep us connected with our history, we look back through them and sometimes we see something we couldn't see, or appreciate, back then. I find this is particularly true for us photographers...

Cheers, M.

morris1800 said...

A sad personal tale Bruce but lightened by reflecting on fond memories of past adventures with photography. I wasn't suprised to see you both had motor drives for your SLR's ...something to impress the girls in the 1970's. I bought a mamiya C3 at the time because that model had the word 'Professional' on the front facing plate ....a misguided youth I think? Well I got the girl but still learning how to take pictures !

Herman Sheephouse said...

Hi Bruce - gosh - I think I recognise that rock ';0)
You were brave heading up Jock's Road in the snow - it can be a very unforgiving place.
Your photographs have captured the luminosity of the place beautifully - really stunning stuff. That's a cracking informal portrait of Ken too.
Hope you find the negatives.
Phil

Anonymous said...

A nice picture, and a lovely essay.

Unconventional people often get short shrift from society, but you speak of Ken with the warmness everyone deserves.

MorseBlog said...

Very touching post. I have come to film photography four year ago as a way of connecting with my brother who died 20 years ago. He was quite an enthusiast and did a bit commercial work. I have a lot of his old negatives some of which have made it into a Blurb book. Now am slowly printing his B+W work in my darkroom for a hand bound photo book I am working on.