The weather was comfortably cooler this visit, at around 25°C. The famous Baku wind helped keep things fresh. Baku is known as The City Of Winds, and in fact the name comes from the Original Persian for Bādkube, meaning ‘pounding winds’.
Baku sits on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, and although it was once a former soviet state, it has a distinctly European atmosphere. The city really comes alive at night, with bustling crowds, open-air cafes and restaurants, opera houses, singers, buskers, and groups of men drinking coffee and playing games.
This was the first time I’ve put the Fuji X100T through its paces at night. I think it acquitted itself quite well.
Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan, the largest city on the Caspian Sea, topped and tailed by Russia and Iran. The name Baku is derived from the original Persian name, Bād-kube. This broadly translates to the rather catchy ‘Place Where Wind Is Strong And Pounding’. Which is fortunate, as when I was there it was consistently above 35℃. The breeze definitely kept things bearable. In the winter it can get quite severe.
Baku was part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. Russian is still spoken by a proportion of the population, and there’s definitely a slight soviet flavour. But the city also has both a European and a middle-eastern feel. If Paris and Dubai had an illicit fling, and the love child was shipped off to a Russian Uncle, then that’s Baku.
Baku / Fujifilm X100T
In spite of what the title says, I actually spent five days in Baku. But most of the daylight hours were spent working at the airport, and consequently I had just a single afternoon to look around. Ideally, I would’ve liked to take my Nikon F100, but I knew there’d be few chances to use it. And I didn’t want to put my film through at least two x-ray scans without even having used any. Instead, I took my compact and perfectly formed Fujifilm X100T.
The X100T was given to me as compensation a reward for 10 years service with the company. I don’t normally get on with digital cameras, especially compacts. I don’t even like using my smartphone for pictures. I assume they chose it based on its vintage styling. But Fuji’s camera has many of the things you normally don’t get in a compact. A viewfinder, for one thing. And ‘real’ controls; an aperture ring and a shutter speed dial. Best of all for me, it shoots natively in black and white, and crucially, the photos rarely need any editing. I shoot it much the same way I would any film camera and don’t need to spend hours editing in front of a computer. Just like film, all the choices are made before and not after I press the shutter. Oh, and it also features a fixed 35mm (35m equivalent) lens, the same focal length I use on my Nikon F100. I feel right at home.
I see that some sources refer to it as the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, but my visa just said the Republic of Azerbaijan. Democratic in a country’s name is always a bit of a warning sign. Yep, I’m looking at you Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Anyway, I’m not going to make any comment on the state of Azerbaijan’s democracy. But it’s worth mentioning the 2013 election, where the incumbent Government won with 72% of the votes. The one problem? The results were accidentally released via a mobile app the day before voting started. In the words of one of our greatest philosophers: “Doh!”
Go and visit Baku. It’s warm (in the summer), the food’s great, the people are lovely, the city is safe, and the atmosphere is relaxed. And even though the driving’s vaguely disconcerting, it still only scores about 5/10 on the Cairo Brown Trousers scale.
Experimenting with different films, chemicals, and developing techniques is great fun. And over the years I’ve probably tried most things. But I’ve come to appreciate consistency and the ability to predict the results I’ll get. These days I’ve whittled down the films I use to just a handful. The flip side of this is that I can’t always remember why I might have rejected one film in favour of another. So I thought it was time I let Ilford Delta 100 have another crack at the whip.
As the so-called Saharan Bubble heat wave drifted across Europe this week, France recorded it highest ever temperature of 45.8℃. In England we generally prefer to be a little more understated, but the temperature did top out at 34℃ on Saturday. And as things heated up on Friday, we took our team meeting out of the office and into the park.
It’s not particularly sensible to make any judgement based on one roll of film shot under one set of conditions. That’s not going to stop me though. These photos clearly have a different look than the photos I shot last week of Brompton Cemetery on Kodak Tmax 100. Both films are incredibly fine-grained, but Delta 100 doesn’t have the biting sharpness and contrast of Tmax 100. Delta has a more traditional look, by which I think I mean more old-fashioned. But I like it, and I’ll be keeping a few rolls in the fridge from now on.
There are changes happening in my country and others at the moment. Attitudes that I thought were history are now resurfacing. I work for a company that has offices in over 190 different countries. Looking at these photos of my colleagues and friends, I’m very happy that I’m surrounded by people who speak Italian, French, Tamil, Spanish, Punjabi, and Portuguese, amongst others. There are 500 people in my office, representing 36 different nationalities. I feel very proud that all of these intelligent and highly educated people have chosen to come and work in London.
Nikon F100 / Ilford Delta 100 / Developed in D76 1+1
47 – Number of hours between leaving and returning to Heathrow
35 – Number of hours in Azerbaijan
19 – Number of hours in meetings
12 – Number of hours in the air
07 – Number of hours sleeping
06 – Number of (stupidly large) glasses of vodka
01 – Number of photographs taken
This month marks my 13th year with The Company. Thirteen years. 1.33 decades. I find the idea of still being here after all that time somewhere between surprising and terrifying.
During that time I’ve seen the country grow to 14,000 employees in 195 different countries, although I’ve remained based in same office. And after having started to outgrow that office in recent years, and failing to find a decent alternative nearby, it was eventually decided to just build a new one. Next door. Well, they did tell me they’d be travel in this job.
We’ve now moved in to the new place, and having to walk by the old one each day I can’t help but reflect on some of the things that have happened during those 13 years:
A period doing night shifts that mainly involved me sleeping under the desk. At 3 o’clock every morning I’d get woken up by a chap phoning from Yerevan, and every time the phone went I’d whack my head on the underside of the desk. I feel this explains quite a lot.
Being ‘kidnapped’ by a customer in the Middle East who refused to give me my plane ticket home until I sorted out all the mess.
Working at an unnamed airport in Kazakhstan, where the main method of communication between the ground crew and the flight deck involved screwing the official documents into a ball and lobbing them out the ops office window.
The former Soviet state where women at the airport kept wanting to have their photo taken with me because apparently I looked like a Russian soap opera star. And not a good looking one, by all accounts.
A month working at Baltimore airport, where it seems half the population are terrified of flying and insist on travelling with their emotional support dog/hamster/aardvark/ferret.
I am of course unable to put the really good stories out there…