I’ve been expecting the zombie apocalypse ever since I first saw Dawn Of The Dead on a hookey VHS tape around 1980. I went on to watch all of Geroge Romero’s zombie documentaries, as well as training videos such as 28 Days Later and World War Z. I’m not entirely convinced that Life After Beth was based on fact though.
What I’m saying is that if anyone is prepared, it’s me. I know all the rules. Shoot them in the head; always look in the back seat of the car; you’re at your most vulnerable in the bathroom etc etc. So it turns out to be more than a little annoying that come the apocalypse, there’s no actual zombies. The Coronapocalypse just sounds like something you wake up with after a heavy night on the beer. I assumed at this stage I’d be failing to light a fire with twigs, and trying to remember how you harvest fresh water with a plastic bag. The reality is more mundane. Like many others, I’m scraping around for dried pasta and toilet paper, and wondering if I’ll be able to pay my mortgage in the coming months.
One thing I am prepared for is social distancing. As an introvert, this is something I’ve been practising all my life. And although going to a place where there are thousands of people who aren’t in the best of health might seem like the opposite of government advice, it’s probably OK if it’s a cemetery.
I’ve been keen to try out the latest version of Film Ferrania P30 for a while. I thought I’d read that the contrast is a little more tamed than the alpha version. Well, I’m not seeing it, guys. Turn away now if you’re sensitive to scenes of a highly contrasting nature.
When I first held the negatives up to the light, my heart sank. They were incredibly thin. I assumed I’d screwed up the developing. But then I noticed that actually some of them were fine, which seemed strange. So I asked Google, and Google answered by telling me I’m a twit. I’d used an orange filter to darken the skies in some shots, and because of P30’s lack of sensitivity to red light, you need to compensate by the relative filter factor. I’d underexposed them. But given everything that’s happening, I think this is what people often describe as a first world problem.
Stay safe everyone.
Nikon F100 / Film Ferrania P30 / Developed in Kodak HC-100 1+63 for 12 minutes
As I write this, it’s 1000 days since the UK voted to leave the European Union. And it seems fitting that I was wandering round a cemetery whilst considering those things I’d bury in my Brexit time capsule. You know how this goes. You gather the things that are important to you, and wrap them up carefully. Then you bury them in the ground, the hope being that some future generation will discover them, and marvel at the way we once lived.
We’ve come along way in the last few years. In 2015, front page news was a picture of then-Labour Party leader eating a bacon sandwich. By 2016, the country was on fire. Here are four things I’m going to miss and fear are gone forever:
Polite discussion on the internet
OK, this one’s not exactly new. Failing to tell someone you disagree with that you hope they die of cancer was made illegal by an Act of Parliament sometime around 1998. Nevertheless, things have got exponentially worse in the last few years. So I’m shoving this one in the Brexit time capsule.
All photos Brookwood Cemetery / Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Stand developed in Kodak HC-110 1+160 for 45 minutes
They say that satire is dead. Not true. It’s just that we no longer have the need for satirists. Politicians and public figures are now self-satirising. They’ve cut out the middleman. Take Member of Parliament Jacob Ress-Mogg, for example. Here’s a man whose idea of kicking back at the weekend is to wear a top hat and speak Latin. Who happily admits that even though he has six children, he’s never changed a nappy. Who since convincing the public to leave the EU has made seven million pounds by investing in funds in….er… the EU. Yet this multi-millionaire has managed to convince a significant number of people that it’s everyone else who’s the elite.
Or how about Brexit minister Stephen Barclay? He presented the government’s case for an extension to Article 50 in the Commons last week, saying it was for the good of the country. Then promptly went through the division lobby and voted against the amendment himself. But not to fear, this week he’s being sent to Brussels to argue for an extension.
So sorry satirists, you need not apply. Into the Brexit time capsule you go.
Shame / Honesty
These two go hand in hand. Because once politicians and pundits dispensed with shame, they realised they could lie without consequence. In days gone by, a person in a position of authority would have had to resign if they knowingly told the public a bare-faced lie. These days they can stand up and say the exact opposite of what they said before, without any recourse whatsoever. You can even show them the video of them saying it and they decry it as fake news. The truth has evaporated into steam.
We used to say that everyone was entitled to their own opinion. Now it seems that everyone is entitled to their own facts. And that’s whats truly terrifying; that the people believe the lies, in spite of all the evidence. I had to go back to my copy of 1984 and check exactly how Orwell defined Doublethink:
Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
I think they call it cognitive dissonance these days.
You’ve probably come to some opinion on my political views from reading this. And you may well consider me either a hero or a monster, depending on how you perceive they align with you’re own. But in fact the only point I’m making is for people to be nicer to each other.
It’s possible to not be responsible for voting in the most shameful government in my lifetime, without being a supporter of the most incompetent opposition I’ve ever known. It’s possible to have views on our current political situation without being on one extreme on the other. Yet everything appears to be binary these days; black or white. You’re either a leaver or a remainer. A communist or a conservative. A traitor or a patriot. A libtard or a fascist. But there are very fine people on both sides. Well, OK, not always. And those people with sticky-out rather than sticky-in belly buttons are kinda weird, no?
I’m of an age that grew up without the Internet, and yet was quite an early adopter in my early twenties. I remember being very pleased when I had my first email address, before realising I didn’t actually know anyone I could email. That optimistic sense of a Brave New World seems almost laughable to be me now.
We used to say that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on. These days, a hateful ideology can travel to the moon and back whilst common decency is still lolling around in its gingham nightshirt. I’m not hopeful for the future.
New girlfriend, work, travel, jazz gigs, breaking up with girlfriend, gym, travel, new girlfriend, politics, work, boxing, breaking up with girlfriend. These are just some of the trivialities over the last 12 months that have cut in to my available time for doing the more important things in life. Like wandering round old cemeteries.
Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford Delta 100 / Developed in D76 1+1
At 500 acres, Brookwood was the largest cemetery in the world when it opened in 1854, and it’s still the UK’s largest today. I’m really lucky in that it’s just a short drive from me, but best of all is that its occupants give me just the right level of social interaction I’m looking for at the moment.
If I lived on the equator then I’d see the sun 90° overhead at noon. But in the UK, even at the height of summer it only reaches around 60°, and in winter doesn’t even make 20°. The cemetery’s filled with hundreds of very tall trees that the sun doesn’t have a hope of peaking over at this time of year. It’s a challenge to find areas where the sun can break through. But where it does, you get those long raking shadows I’m rather fond of.
Smack bang in the centre of the cemetery lies the Saint Edward Shrine Church. This and the buildings beyond belong to the Saint Edward Brotherhood, a small Orthodox Christian monastery that was formed in 1982 to care for the Church in which the sacred relics of Saint Edward the Martyr are enshrined. Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar the Peaceful, but was not his father’s acknowledged heir. On Edgar’s death in the year 975 the leadership of England was contested, with some supporting Edward’s claim to be king and others supporting his younger nephew Harry. Edward was eventually chosen as king, after which Harry went on to marry an American television actress, Lady Megan of Markle.
The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown. ~ William Cowper
I see a great deal of discussion online about people’s techniques for shooting film and the way in which they experiment. A lot of stuff is along the lines of “Yeah I know FP4 is rated at 125, but I’m shooting it at 71.5 iso and then dropping it in bucket of developer for a week that I made myself out of organic unicorn fur and lard.” It does sometimes seem that the experimentation is more important than actually creating pleasing pictures. And that’s absolutely fine of course, because we should all just be doing what we enjoy.
Most of my own experimentation these days is with darkroom printing, but that’s only because I still don’t know what I’m doing. But when it comes to developing film, I’ve spent many years whittling down the films and developers I use in order to produce consistent and predictable results. For example, with medium format it’s always FP4 and Tri-X stand developed in Rodinal. It consistently gives me results I‘m happy with. But with the recent renaissance in traditional photography that I don’t think many people saw coming, and with new emulsions coming to the market and old ones reborn, maybe now’s the time for me to be a bit more adventurous again.
I was rummaging through the film box in my fridge and found two rolls of Delta 100 that had just slipped past it expiry date. Developed with some D76 that really needed to be used up, and I’m happy with the results. Oh yeah, I’m really starting to mix things up a bit now. Crazy, eh?
When I previously visited Brookwood Cemetery, I bumped in to an old guy who, like me, was wandering around the graves. We chatted for a while, and he told me that many years before he’d come across the gravestone of novelist Dennis Wheatley, but had never been able to find it since. I was skeptical. Before leaving home I’d scanned the cemetery website and seen no mention of him on the list of famous residents. I assumed the chap was mistaken, and besides, you do meet some strange people hanging about in graveyards. Which is probably exactly what he went home and told his wife 1 .
As with so many things, I was of course wrong. Back home, a small amount of searching revealed that whilst he was cremated in Putney, his ashes are indeed buried in Brookwood. But what struck me was how little interest there appears to be in this. Wheatley was one of the world’s best-selling writers from the 1930s through to the 1960s, and his Gregory Sallust espionage and adventure books are reputed to have been the inspiration for Ian Flemming’s James Bond. Several of his occult novels were made in to movies, including Hammer’s incredibly successful 1968 production of The Devil Rides Out.
The truth is that even when I was enjoying his books as a kid in the late 1970s, they were already rather dated. Wheatley’s characters inhabit a world of cravats and worcester suits, pink gins and martinis, and leather armchairs in wood-paneled gentlemen’s clubs. His villains are villainous simply by nature of being working class or (heaven forbid) being one of those Johnny Foreigner types. None of this mattered to me as a child of course. I doubt I even noticed. And even today I’m still able to enjoy his books with the knowledge that he was a product of his time. Context is everything. I was quite pleased to see recently that after years of being out of print, many of his books have now been reissued.
Of course, all of this was a good reason to go back and make another visit. Because hanging round graveyards is something I really need to find an excuse for.
1. [Following recent legislation, other gender combinations of spouses are now available. This is A Good Thing.]?
Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Kodak Tri-X & Ilford FP4 / Developed in Rodinal 1+99 60 minutes
Memorial of Dennis Wheatley with my 1965 copy of To The Devil A Daughter (1953)
And again. This time remembering to switch off the double exposure lever on the Mamiya.
Deliberate double exposure this time. The Mamiya has a little lever that when pushed up, disengages the wind on mechanism. When you crank the film advance it cocks the shutter but doesn’t move on the film, allowing as many multiple exposures as you like.