I used to work in an office. It felt a lot like this. Taken in Dublin last Autumn.
It's been a while since I've used any really old cameras, but in the past few months I've put a few rolls of film through my 1920s Contessa-Nettel Cocarette and have been thinking a bit about where this camera fits in. Unlike modern do it all digital cameras, tools like this have a very limited range of applications, and of course, after almost 100 years of usage and neglect, most of them need to be handled with some care; most are less reliable than they might be. In the case of The Contessa, I've learned to be very careful in loading film to make sure it is flat in the transport system, and that the film door is closed precisely, to make sure the film is parallel with the back of the body.
With the practicalities dealt with, I'm also learning about the lens, and what it can and can't do. The negatives from this camera are 6x9cm in size, a format which on the face of it seems ideal for landscape photography. However, the limitations of the lens mean that's not as straightforward as it might be. In particular it tends towards low contrast, especially at long distance, giving images a washed out look. The picture above is a good example of this. Even allowing for the deep shade under the trees, the middle distance is a lot more contrasty than the background. Another factor is the film. This was taken with 400 ASA black and white film, a film speed unheard of in the 1920s, and I find that the camera produces better results with slower film and longer exposures. In any case, I've learned not to attempt landscape images without a foreground feature, or some sort of shade to shelter the lens.
Contessa-Nettel made cameras independently until 1926, when the company merged with Zeiss. A camera like mine--which has the top of the range F/6.3 Anastigmat lens--would have cost £3 17s 6d in 1924. To put that in context, in 1925 a railway engine driver earned around £4 a week. I imagine the Contessa would be in her element taking group portraits in shady gardens, perhaps in the hands of a twenty-something photographer visiting family in the summer vacation. Imagine the moustaches, waistcoats, and the elaborate hats. Even so, she's done alright with Rydal Water I think.
I'm going to be talking about my collaboration with Rebecca Goss on our Jupiter Project at an Ideas lab at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool on Wednesday 14 December 4pm – 7pm. It's a free event, but booking is required (see below). The aim of the event is to think about our practice as writers and photographers when we collaborate, and will talk about the experience of working with a poet, about the way Rebecca and I began our project. I will introduce The Jupiter Project and discuss the process of collaboration—what works for us and what doesn’t—and how it has changed the way I think about photography and writing; how they complement each other, but also their separate limitations and strengths.
I'm going to be joined by Robert Sheppard, Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill University, who will speak about the possibilities and potential of collaboration between photography and poetry.
Reserve your free place at Open Eye Gallery, call +44 (0)151 236 6768 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.