Tuesday, 17 June 2014

It's Alcester Jim, but not as we know it.

Alcester. Again.   Or not............. A tale from many moons past.

Did I tell you about the gentlemans meeting in Stratford Upon Avon, nearly 40 years ago?   I think I did actually.  No?
Ok, a quick story leading to another story..........

One of my first photographic assignments was as the lamp stand..... That is, one of my first shoots simply required me to hold a flashgun while the photographer took the pictures. Stop me if you've heard this, as I know I've written it before......

It's a very posh gents evening event in a rather dark hall, I don't know what exactly, and I'm not sure where, (it's too long ago). My friend the photographer has some social or family connection to someone in this group, hence our arrival as the designated camera crew.
My photographer friend, (I'll call him Ralph), starts to organise the wealthy and much respected gents into groups.  "Excuse me sir, you go here, you here, and you here."  As Ralph gets more into the photography spirit he becomes quite controlling..... "Here, there, stand aside, get in, get out!!"   Oh dear...................

Since I have a car, AND I have a darkroom, I'm now expected to drive Ralph to Alcester, set up the darkroom, develop the film, print the pictures, dry them, and get back to Stratford before close of play. Can I do it? Yes I can.
Driving to Alcester at breakneck speed with Ralph explaining that when he distributes the prints to the important gents, he wants me out of the way, I start to wonder why I'm doing this. Setting up in my darkroom in Alcester, measuring chemicals, checking the temperature and generally preparing, I realise the costs I'm incurring. Petrol, 70p, chemicals £3, paper £2, etc etc.(1970's prices, remember),  Ralphs costs? ZERO.
Lights out! Film threaded, chemicals measured and warmed, here we go. This is stage one: A process of developing, washing and stabilising the film strip, followed by drying. We reach the end of the stabilising phase, another wash now and the film can come out to be dried. This is where we get our first glimpse of Ralphs masterpiece........

There's an empty film strip. No images, nothing!   Ralph glares at me in anger and alarm. "What have you done?" he barks.
Me? Nothing. Nothing that is, except spend 5 hours and about £7 on your job. Nothing but drive like a lunatic to get pictures to the gents in Stratford.
Ralph is beside himself. He's angry, embarrassed, perplexed and just a little frightened. He picks up his camera and flashgun and glares at it. Testing shutter and lens, he angrily tells me that "there's nothing wrong with my camera!"  Implication? IT'S ALL MY FAULT.
I'm pretty confident that I've made no mistake. I've developed and printed hundreds of images before and this is no different to usual.

I pick up his camera..............................

The flashgun, an old Sunpak or Metz connected to a 6 pound, (in weight), lead-acid battery looks intimidating, the camera, professional and heavy. A cable winds it's way from flashgun to camera. It plugs in to a coaxial socket.  There are two sockets, one marked "X" and one marked "Y"  This is a standard fitting and designation, "X" means it's a synchronisation socket for electronic flash, "Y" means its a socket for flash bulbs. Since electronic and bulb flashes peak at different times, decay at different rates, and maintain output at very different durations, it's ESSENTIAL to use the correct socket.
Can you guess the rest?
I sat in the car whilst he explained to the gents that there were no pictures. Maybe he blamed me, I don't know. Testament to the stress, emotion and cost of this episode is the fact that I remember it. It reminds me to always check, and to never assume that someone else actually knows what they're doing in photography, (including me).