Think of Europe and you think of its cities, many of them boasting hundreds upon hundreds of years of history. You could spend a lifetime travelling and not see them all: Alesund to Zagreb, Aalborg to Zaragoza, Aberdeen to Zurich.
At some point in my life I would love to spend six months cross-crossing Europe; finding out the connections and the differences in these cities separated by borders and languages, standing on a hundred different street corners and watching life float by. Sifting through a few hundred rolls of film at the end of it.
But until then, it’s city breaks, snatching those days and long weekends when you can. But my recent stopover in Antwerp in Belgium showed me that you don’t need a lot of time at all to capture some of its photographic flavour.
The digital revolution has made a lot of classic cameras much cheaper (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)
In the last decade, digital photography has taken over, converting many former film shooters to trade in their analogue gear for the convenience of digital (no more fiddly film loading, scratches on their negs, waiting for prints to come back). What this has meant is that there’s an awful lot of second-hand film cameras on the market.
The high-end stuff – Leicas, Alpas, Hasselblads and Contaxs – may still go for a pretty penny, but elsewhere there are some serious bargains to be had.
I’ve been shooting on second-hand cameras since 2000, after I ditched my auto-focus Canon to learn the very basics of photography on an old Praktica – it cost me £50 (probably far too much for an East German SLR built in the hundreds of thousands) and worked like a charm. It gave me a taste for hunting out and using old cameras, which continues to this day.
If anything, old film cameras have become even cheaper. I’ve paid more for rolls of film than I have the cameras to load them into, and got some fantastic results. The following are five film cameras you should be able to find for as little as £10 and no more than £50. You might pay more if you buy them from a camera shop with a full guarantee, but that’s the price you pay for proper peace of mind.
Ed White walking in space over New Mexico, Gemini, 4 June 1965 (Nasa)
Anyone who learned to take photographs back in the days of film will remember how frustrating it could be. Quite apart from the trickiness of loading the film, budding photographers couldn’t be sure whether they had a potential cover of National Geographic or a pile of prints fit for the litter bin until the negatives came back from the lab.
Now imagine you had to deal with these difficulties hundreds of miles above a glittering blue Earth, tethered to the space capsule that is your only link between home and the endless gulf of space. Your movements are constricted by the clumsy spacesuit that allows you to survive out here. And you can’t even hold the camera up to your face to compose your pictures properly, thanks to your ungainly helmet. Finding out whether you’ve shot a masterpiece or a mistake has to wait until you’re safely back on Earth – where you might discover that all that cosmic radiation has fogged your film completely.
It’s a wonder Nasa’s astronauts managed to capture anything at all, let alone the astonishing images they did. A new exhibition, containing some of the most striking, opened last month in London at the Breese Little gallery. ‘Encountering the Astronomical Sublime: Vintage Nasa Photographs 1961 – 1980’ includes many images snapped by astronauts, back in those pioneering days of space exploration
Buffalo Tom’s Chris Colbourn, shot on tour in Holland in 2007
Back in April 2004, I travelled to Zagreb, Croatia, to take pictures of Nashville country-soul outfit Lambchop. I’d interviewed their genial frontman Kurt Wagner back in 2000 and seen them play a number of concerts in London. This was the period after their breakthrough album ‘Nixon’ and its delicate follow-up ‘Is a Woman’.
It was a few years after I’d really got into photography. I was looking for a project that I could return to year after year. Backstage at a Lambchop show in London, I suggested to Kurt that I would catch up with the band at various shows, shooting the cities they played in, and their concerts, and crucially the stuff the audience don’t see – especially the soundchecks. The band’s concert, at SC on the Croatian capital, was the first of a range of shows I covered, from London to Moscow, New York to Istanbul.
But that project also changed focus. Itching to practice more using the limited light at soundchecks, I began shooting other bands.
Only two hours drive from Morocco’s chaotic port city of Tangiers, Chefchaouen feels like it’s in a different world. Home to some 45,000 people, this historic city clusters along the slopes of the Rif Mountains in northern Morocco, its houses washed in shades of blue that catch the bright, mountain light.
It’s no surprise that Chefchaouen is known to Moroccans as The Blue City. Just like the white-washed houses of Greece’s Santorini, Chefchaouen is a city described in the shades of a single colour, especially the houses surrounding the Medina and the city’s main square, Plaza Uta-el Hammam. It has none of Fez Medina’s bewildering confusion, and lacks the touristic overload of Marrakech – well, at least for now.