Race With The Devil

The South Downs Way is a 100 mile national trail that follows the old routes along the chalk ridges of the South Downs, many of which have been used for 8000 years. Jane’s lucky enough to live in this part of the country, and last Friday we took a nine mile walk that included several sections of the trail. It turned out to be a race against the weather. A race in which we lost. Massively.

All photos Fujifilm X100F


Through the wayward pines, and some early indications of the weather to come


Lambs! Hundreds of ’em…


Some serious rain starting to close in….


The Devil’s Jumps are a group of five large burial mounds on the South Downs Way, just outside the hamlet of Treyford. They’re around three to four thousand years old, and the main line of five barrows is aligned with sunset on Midsummer Day. We had our sandwiches on the top of one, and now I’m wondering if we’ve been a bit disrespectful. I mean, I’ve seen Poltergeist and Pet Semetary. Don’t mess with ancient burial sites.

The Devil's Jumps Fingerpost

The Devil's Jumps

These guys know something is going down


All along the watchtower


Just a few miles to go, but things ahead are not looking too good…


…but we’re also being chased from behind

That was the last snap before we were hit by just the type of end-of-times rainstorm you’d expect in 2020. Obviously I dealt with it in my usual stoical way1, but it’s always good to know: in the rain, no one can see your tears.

1. The original title of this post, ‘How I Survived a Hurricane’, was rejected by the fact-checkers.

Storm

In the alternative universe where a certain microbe didn’t leap from a bat, there’s a version of me holidaying in Barcelona right now. (NOTE: I am neither a virologist nor a quantum physicist). And even though my version of me is serval hundred quid lighter and stuck in England, it’s great to be able to do some of the simple things that make life feel normal. For the last couple of weekends, this has meant walking through the South Downs with the dogs, and spending time in the pub with friends. Just like people used to do back in Normal Times.

But it’s hard to know which way things are going, on all levels. Photos are a lot easier than words for me right now. There’s a sense of Autumn in the air, and it feels like there might be a storm coming.

Midhurst & the South Downs / All photos Fujifilm X100F


There’s a polo game going on over there in the fields. No spectators allowed these days due to Covid.


It’s not easy being this handsome


The dogs and the chickens co-exist relatively peacefully


Potato Wars!


And in the pub with friends. As it should be.


On the tipsy shuffle back home at sundown and past the ruins of Cowdray House, destroyed by fire in September 1793

In An Instant: Ella & Rosie On Polaroid 600

Previoulsy on Short Stories (I’ve always wanted to say that), I mentioned using Polaroid 600 colour film in the SX-70, with an ND filter to correct the exposure. After shooting the whole pack I feel it fairs poorly against the SX-70 film. All eight shots have a distinct magenta cast and a washed-out look. I’ll be sticking to the SX-70 film in future.

But I couldn’t pass up the chance to try the 600 black and white film, and in a rare moment of photographic cooperation Jane’s daughters helped me out. You can get in really close with the SX-70 Sonar, but you’ve got to nail the focus when the depth of field is that narrow. I always try to make the scans of my Polaroids match the prints as closely as possible, but in the case of these two shots I think the originals have a slighter warmer tone. It’s a nice feel, and I’m looking forward to shooting the remaining six shots in the pack.

Ella & Rosie / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid 600 Black and White Film with Polaroid ND filter

Polaroid 600 Black and White Film

Polaroid 600 Black and White Film

In An Instant: Coco & Bertie

When Polaroid stopped making SX-70 film in 2005, it seemed like a terrible blow. But all was not lost. The Polaroid 600 cartridges were the same size, and although they had a couple of extra ‘nubs’, with a little bit of jiggery-pokery they could play nicely with your SX-70.

That left the rather big issue of ISO. Polaroid cameras have no ISO dial. The meter is fixed at a single value that matches the sensitivity of the film. SX-70 film was rated at ISO160, 600 film at ISO 640. The cameras came out of the factory with meters permanently set accordingly. 600 film in an SX-70 is going to be over-exposed by around a couple of stops.

The film photography community is by its very nature creative. Soon enough you could buy SX-70 ND filters on Ebay. These were thin squares of semi-translucent plastic that you slid into the cartridge over the film, and stopped the excess light hitting your film. Perfect exposures, and you just needed to remember to retrieve the filter before disposing of the empty cartridge. Sadly, a couple of years later 600 film was also discontinued and I was left with nothing but a useless bit of plastic and a sense of loss.

Now that many years later I’m using the resurgent Polaroid1 SX-70 film, I’ve recently been wondering if the same thing is possible. With SX-70 film currently abundantly available, there’s absolutely no need for this, but one thing I’ve learnt is to always have a Plan B. I suspect 600 film sells considerably more than SX-70 film. And whilst I don’t expect them to discontinue it, it’s possible they may continue to develop the 600 but leave the SX-70 where it is. I was also curious to see if the two films looked any different. Interestingly, Polaroid now sell their own ND filters.

After extensive experimentation, based on me taking….one photograph….I can’t really see any difference. But hey, I put in the effort so you don’t have to even though nobody cares.

These are very difficult times for most, and life-changing for many. These two guys are my little golden chunks of happiness and joy that are helping me get through it. They live in the moment. Perhaps that’s something we all need to do more of.

1. In March this year, Polaroid Originals dropped the ‘Originals’ part of their name, and went back to simply Polaroid.

Coco & Bertie / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid 600 Color Film with Polaroid ND filter

Working Cocker Spaniels Polaroid Polaroid ND filter

In An Instant: Smiling Coco

The UK took a big step on Saturday. Most businesses were allowed to open up again, albeit with strict social distancing measures. Pubs reopening was undoubtedly a big thing for many people, although I’m sure half the people there were tabloid reporters waiting to take photos of the anticipated carnage. Whilst there were issues, it does seem like most people behaved sensibly and followed the rules. For myself, I’m not eager to rush back. I’m watching to see if infections rise again in the coming weeks. Besides, since lockdown, I’ve discovered you can drink at home ’til you fall over, for a fraction of the cost and without waking up next morning with a half-eaten kebab on your pillow. Why didn’t someone tell me this years ago?

Popping out for a sandwich today, I was surprised to find myself quite emotional at the sight of people in the cafes again. But for me, as the restrictions slowly loosen, the big thing is that I get to spend a lot more time with the dogs again. And Jane, of course. And I’m not just saying that because she sometimes reads this. Really.

Coco The Spaniel / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Black & White Film

polaroid spaniel