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Soviet Start and Greenwich sunshine

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Greenwich Park as the sun begins to set…

Back in the Cold War days, the Soviet Union had a camera industry second only to that of Japan’s. Vast numbers of cameras were built, including many cheap and simple models sold at subsidised low cost to the west to raise hard currency, on a scale only an industrial superpower could produce.

It’s rare to find a camera shop shelf or second-hand store that doesn’t have at least one of these old Soviet shooters; the ubiquitous Zenit SLRs, the Zorki rangefinders, the Fed Leica clones and Kiev Contax copies.

But other Soviet designs – ones that weren’t made in the hundreds of thousands or millions – are also still available, though might have to have a little more patience tracking them down.

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A 1970s Morocco time capsule

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Somewhere on the road to Fes, on Kodak’s legendary Kodachrome

Peter Fordham was a British photographer best-known for his music work in the 1970s. If you own a copy of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, his second solo album, you’ll be familiar with his work. Fordham was the photographer who took the picture of Lennon, sat at his white piano with a pair of headphones on, at Lennon’s Tittenhurst Park home where the 1971 album was recorded. It’s a classic of rock music photography, Lennon singing into a hard black mic set against a stark white room, and was included as a fold-out poster in the album.

At some point recently, Fordham, who lived in south-east London, died. His death went unheralded; there’s no trace of an obituary on the internet, though I have found out he lived in East Dulwich, a few miles walk from my flat. I don’t know if he left family. But I do know he left piles of photographs and slides, a personal photographic history.

A few months after moving near Greenwich, I discovered an antique market called The Junk Shop. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of everything from old furniture to toys to all sorts of other knick-knacks. There, in a box next to an old dresser, I found a stack of old Kodak slide boxes, filled with old Kodachrome slides. On the side of several was Fordham’s name. And inside was a time capsule of the 1970s – not of London, but of Morocco.

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Impossible, Instagram and a Soviet Start in Soho

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A copy of The Sun in the sunshine

Who said photography needed to be a solitary pursuit? While I’m never happier than when combing city streets camera in hand, there’s something to be said for hitting them in like-minded company too.

Back in August I took part in a photo walk organised by Impossible and Instagram, held in conjunction with The Photographers’  Gallery in Soho. Instagram, of course, need no introduction, their analogue-apeing photo community has become one of the great successes of social media. (I’m resistant to its faux-analogue filters but you can’t knock it as a photo-sharing community).

Impossible, meanwhile, have done the seemingly impossible and rescued instant film from possible demise, buying the last Polaroid facility in Europe and making new emulsions for those old Land cameras that would otherwise gather dust. They also have created a quasi-camera that makes Polaroids from the pictures sitting on your smartphone – an analogue-meets-digital mash-up.

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Zenit Xpros – Greenwich and Whitstable

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Late evening sun in Greenwich Park, shot on a Zenit E and xross-processed Kodak Elite Chrome 100

November in London means preparing for the next six months of gloom and darkness, waking up and commuting home in pitch dark. And though the winter days can often be blessed with bright, low light, it’s a season of cold and monotones.

The difference between the endless evenings of summer and this gathering gloom are even more noticeable in London’s parks and open spaces, or in the seaside towns a short train ride away.

I read a tip from a photographer recently who said spring and summer were all about shooting, and the darker months for processing. Why waste all that light to be hunched over a computer?

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Xpro in Antwerp

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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.

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