I’ve now shot two packs of Polaroid Originals colour film in my SX-70, and I’m starting to get a feel for what works for me: simple compositions, muted or restricted colour palettes. Yellows and blues tend to look nice.
Now it’s time to try some black and white, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I went down by the river on this morning’s walk and shot this. Based on my extensive experience of one shot, the black and white film seems to be a very different beast. A touch more ethereal, a bit more flaky. I’m quite excited to get out and shoot some more. I guess that’s what house arrest does to you.
Pylon, Chertsey Meads / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Black & White Film
Prior to this pandemic, thanks to Brexit and the ensuing culture war, Britain has been engulfed in political turmoil for three years. Each day seemed to bring a new political calamity, which was then promptly forgotten when the next one happened 24 hours later. Weeks felt like months, months felt like years. I really regret not keeping a simple note of events as they happened, just so I could look back and try and make some sense of it all.
So during this period I’ve decided to sum up the weekly events that have struck me the most, from the deadly serious to the absurdly ridiculous. If my tone seems flippant at times…well, we all have our own way of getting through this horor.
UK officially in lockdown for minimum of three weeks
Nation celebrates Mother’s Day by not visiting mothers
Most vulnerable told to isolate for 12 weeks
Prince Charles tests positive
More than 700,000 heed the call and volunteer to help the National Health Service
PM Boris Johnson leads by example and tests positive
Oh, and the Health Secretary. Oops.
Clap For Carers: households across the UK stand on doorsteps & balconies to applaud efforts of NHS. Grown men weep get something in their eye.
Situation stabalising in China….
….whilst situation in New York and Spain looks ever more grim
Government declines invitation to participate in EU scheme to get desperately needed ventilators because ‘We are no longer in the EU’…
….and then following national backlash ‘clarifies’ by saying ‘We didn’t see the email’. Yep, the grown ups charged with getting us through this crisis basically used the Dog Ate My Homework excuse. Lordy.
Off-licences declared ‘essential’ and allowed to stay open. Draw your own conclusions about us Brits.
Self-employed to be paid 80% of previous year’s profit.
Gatherings of more than two people outlawed. The Nation’s introverts cheer.
US now country with most cases
Britsh Summer Time starts and clocks go forward one hour, meaning nation has one less hour of weekend to enjoy / endure (delete as appropriate) with family members before…
…spending every waking hour of forthcoming weeks with family members…
Worldwide cases: 664,891
Worldwide deaths: 30,893
UK cases: 17,089
UK deaths: 1,019
When these guys started up about six or seven years ago, they started sending out flyers proclaiming to be ‘The Best Hand Job In Town’. They soon stopped that once they realised they were attracting the wrong kind of customers.
The Best Hand Job In Town / Chertsey Car Wash / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Color Film
I took this photo on my exercise stroll this morning. The car wash is just by my apartment, and in the old days at weekends when I’d wake up a bit later and the traffic was light, I could hear the gentle sloshing of the water from their hoses. It’s a surprisingly comforting sound. Of course, now it’s silent, abandoned, and its absence just adds to that dislocating sense of 28 Days Later desolation. The streets are empty, with just an occasional car, and if you do pass a pedestrian coming the other way, both of you give each other a wide berth. This is the new normal. I can’t help wondering if future generations will wonder how it become traditional to sing Happy Birthday whilst washing your hands.
Time for September’s round-up of photographic odds and ends…
It’s been an extraordinary summer, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that this has officially been England’s hottest since records began in 1910. That’s troubling for those of us that believe global warming is a reality. The human race is on the road to extinction, and the planet will soon become uninhabitable for all life. Except perhaps for a few mindless creatures, such as cockroaches and Nicotine Fromage. On the other hand, I’ve had some cracking weekends this year, so it’s swings and roundabouts really.
It’s probably been obvious from previous photos that there have been dogs in my life this summer. That’s made me very happy. And they love it when we take them to the pond. Even Daisy, who’s 15 and a bit unsteady on her legs, still enjoys a bit of a paddle.
Pentax KM / Kosmo Foto Mono / Semi-Stand developed in HC-100 1:160 for 45 mins
It’s not entirely accurate to say this is only the second roll of Kosmo Foto Mono that I’ve shot. It’s a re-badged rather than a new film, and as the website says, it’s an “existing emulsion made by a European film producer”. That might be all the clue you need to tell you where it comes from, but if you look at the development chart you’ll see that Arisata chemicals are predominately mentioned. And Arista film is also known to be repackaged from a well-known East European manufacturer….
Kosmo Foto Mono doesn’t quite have the biting sharpness and fine grain of something like Tmax 100, but that probably contributes to its somewhat vintage look. These shots were taken in the South Downs, where Coco The Cocker and Daisy The Springer live.
I’ve read that having dogs can have a positive effect on your health and well-being, and increase your longevity. I totally buy this and always feel incredibly happy and relaxed when I spend time with these guys. Apparently being married can have a similar effect, although that’s something I wouldn’t know. Nevertheless, it’s probably just a case of life just feeling like it’s going on longer. (I’m joking; I’m not quite that cynical. Yet.)
I live in Chertsey, right by the River Thames, which is great to cycle alongside. Upstream is Hampton Court and central London, but I usually head the other way, towards Windsor.
I finished up this roll as I walked back home one sunny afternoon. This was another opportunity for me to try out the Miranda 24mm Lens on the Pentax KM.
My Five Favourite Facts About Chertsey:
Chertsey was destroyed by Martian fighting machines in the afternoon of 8 June 1902. According to HG Wells’s novel War Of The Worlds, that is.
Chertsey is home to The Great Cockcrow Railway. This is a miniature railway with over 30 steam – yes, steam – locomotives. These operate in exactly the same way as the full sized, pre-war steam engines they’re modelled on. The drivers stoke up the hot coals on these eighth-scale locos.
Charles Dickens visited Chertsey whilst writing Oliver Twist. He evidently thought so highly of the town that he used it as the location for where Oliver is forced by Bill Sykes to take part in an attempted burglary.
After my successful experiments stand developing 35mm film in HDC-110, I thought I’d try some medium format. FP4 is my go-to medium speed film in 120, and I usually stand develop it in Rodinal. HC-110 gives similarly pleasing results.
Mamiya 645 pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Semi-Stand developed in HC-100 1:160 for 45 mins
Finally, if there’s one thing that being on the internet for 25 years has taught me, you can never have enough cute dog pictures. Cheers, Coco.
Nikon F90X / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1
You could say the story of Silverlands Orphanage started nearly two hundred years ago, but for me the beginning was just a few weeks back, round about the start of August. That was when my new neighbour invited me round for a drink.
The evening was heading towards its conclusion and conversation was starting to get a bit thin on the ground. We’d both done the whole life story thing and encouraged by the wine, I’d started on and then exhausted my supply of disastrous relationship anecdotes. It was at the point when I was thinking about calling it a night that she asked me. She’d heard there was an abandoned orphanage up in the woods on the edge of town, and did I know anything about it? I didn’t, and to be honest I was sceptical. Whilst it’s true that technically we do live in a town, to me it has always seemed more like a large village. In the four years since I first moved here I thought I’d pretty much explored most of it, either on foot or by bike, and I’d never come across anything remotely like that.
At school I was always marked out as being a bit of a daydreamer. If somewhere out there any of my school reports still exist, and if you should come across one of them, you’d find it filled with comments about being ‘present in body but not in mind’ and ‘has his head in the clouds’ etc etc. One comment from a crusty old maths teacher I still remember to this day: ‘Lessons are just a minor inconvenience in Gerald’s day’. I was particularly aggrieved by that one, not only because it got me grounded for a month, but because I’d always considered lessons to be more like a major inconvenience.
But getting back to the orphanage, my next move was to ask around one of the local pubs. As I entered The Slaughtered Lamb the rain was lashing down and the sky ripped apart with frequent jabs of lightning. I stepped across the threshold, shaking the rain from my hair, and the pub that two seconds before had been filled with noisy chatter suddenly went silent, everybody stopping dead as if a pause button had been stabbed. The middle-aged guy at the dartboard turned to glare at me, dart still poised in hand. The four old boys playing dominoes round the corner table stopped their game and looked round at me with stony faces, hard as granite. The barmaid, a large no-nonsense woman in her early sixties, stood stock still, her hand still inside the glass that she’d been drying with a cloth
‘Er, good evening,’ I stammered. ‘Mind if I come in?’
Everyone remained frozen stiff for a few more seconds, and then gradually turned back to what they’d been doing. Relieved, I approached the bar and realising that ordering a Manhattan in place like this would probably get me beaten up, I asked for one of whatever the locals drink.
‘A pint of Old Dog’s Scrotum it is then,’ she said in a generic non-specific country accent, filling a none too clean pint pot with several swift tugs on a hand pump. She slammed the glass down on the bar and the brown liquid slopped over the top and on to my hands.
‘Listen,’ I said in a low voice, not quite sure why I was whispering, ‘I’m after some information. About the location of the old orphanage. I-’
There was a loud thump as a dart missed the board completely and stuck in the wall next to it. I could feel the force of 20 hostile glares upon me. Once again, dead silence, only to be broken a few moments later by a sort of blowing noise and a thick wet thwack as a wadge of slimy tabacco landed at my feet.
The barmaid grabbed my arm urgently, pulling me close. ‘Folk round ‘ere,’ she hissed, ‘they don’t like talking about the orphanage. Nobody’s been up there for years. At sunset it’s shadow touches the church and you can feel the evil, even after all this time.’
‘But what happened up there?’ I hissed back. ‘There must be someone who’ll talk to me about it?’
She leaned in conspiratorially, ‘Old Bert Fry, ‘e were the last one to go up there. That were many years since, and he were nowt but a lad.’
‘Well, can I talk to him? Can I see him?’
She laughed, a dry humourless cackle that chilled my bones
‘Oh, you can see him my boy. Over there, in the corner. Oh yes, you can see him. But he can’t see you.’
She gestured with a nod of her head, and I turned round. There, in the corner, seated at a small wooden table, alone and with a beer in hand, was a man. That’s all I could say for sure. He was shrouded in the shadows and all I could make out was the dark indistinct shape of his outline. I stared intently, willing my eyes to adjust. Suddenly there was a huge crash of thunder and a crack of lightning lit up the whole room.
It could have only been for a split second that I saw him, saw his face. But it’s etched in my brain forever, scorched in to my retinas. He was old. How old I couldn’t tell, but his skin was wrinkled like the texture of old brown paper. Beneath the swollen drinker’s nose was a shapeless, empty mouth with a manic toothless grin. But it was the eyes I couldn’t look away from. Oh God, the eyes. Two, dark, black gaping empty sockets, sightless yet seeming to fix right on to my own. I was dimly aware that the barmaid was saying something.
“He were found stumbling along the road. Don’t know what it were that ‘e saw up there; he ain’t never spoken a word since. But whatever it was, it were too much for him to bear. When they found him, he’d pulled out his eyes. Pulled out his own eyes with his own bare hands.’ She gave that laugh again. ‘Oh yes, you can see him. Her laugh seemed to ratchet up several pitches, and then they were all joining in. Crazy, insane laughter that felt like it was reverberating round the inside of my head rather than round the pub, drowning out the scream that took me several seconds to realise was coming from my own throat.
All of this happened exactly as I have described, albeit in my own head.
The reality of today’s world is that things are a lot easier, although easier isn’t necessarily better. We have the Internet and Google Earth, and using these I was surprised to learn that it was true; there is an abandoned orphanage up there in the woods. Moreover, it’s a grade II listed building that was built sometime around the 1820s. There’s surprisingly little history available out there on the net, and what there is seems to all come from a single source that I haven’t been able to trace. Below is the only non-contemporary photograph I could find, dated circa 1914.
Originally, the manor house that became Silverlands orphanage was built for Vice-Admiral the Rt. Hon Sir Frederick Hotham, sometime around 1820. It changed hands several times over the years before becoming the new home for the Actors Orphanage in 1938. The children in the Orphanage wern’t always technically orphans. Often it was the case that their parents were unable to care for them given the demand from their careers in the stage and film industries.
In 1947 the St. Peter’s Training School for Nurses was formed. This opened with three student nurses and ran alongside the buildings used by the Orphanage, before finally in 1958 the Orphanage ceased to exist. The building remained a nursing school up until it closed in the late 1990s.
A few years later in 2001, Silverlands Orphanage was in the news when plans were put in place for it to house the relocated Wolvercote Clinic for convicted paedophiles. The locals weren’t happy and there followed a series of candlelit vigils, the first of which took place on October 26th 2001. BBC News covered the event as 300 protesters remained there in the rain. This was repeated every Friday evening and whilst this was going on, the former orphanage was enjoying a refit to the tune of around £3million.
In response to a Parliamentary Question tabled 4th July, 2002, it was confirmed by Home Office Minister, Hilary Benn, that Silverlands Orphanage would NOT become the new home of the Wolvercote paedophile clinic. It has been empty ever since.
A further bit of research suggested that although it’s currently well guarded by CCTV and motion detectors, with a bit of stealth and creativity it might be possible to get inside and take a look round – if you’re prepared to take the risk of getting kicked out by security.
I’ve previously written about growing up watching cheesy haunted house and horror movies. And as a kid in the ’70s I watched all those documentaries, the ones with the great dane and the hippie who were always hungry. Going in to old buildings never seemed to work out too well for them. So the chances of going on my own into some old abandoned orphanage – an orphanage for God’s sake! – seemed absurdly unlikely.
Nevertheless I was curious, and like the hapless victims in so many horror films, that curiosity got the better of me.
Silverlands Orphanage / Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford FP4 (external shots) & Kodak Tri-X (internal shots) / Developed in Rodinal 1+99 for 60 minutes
I took all these photos of Silverlands Orphanage with my Mamiya 645 Pro TL. Want to see other photos I’ve taken with my Mamiya 645? Here you go….