Something my sister said last weekend got my goat. We were hosting a combined celebration, our mothers 80th birthday and our father’s memorial. We were talking about our parental legacy. Amongst other things, the list included home made meringues, mayonnaise, marmalade and strawberry jam, long distance walking and, here we go, photography.
I got my first camera in 1972 for my eighth birthday. To my shame, I cannot recall what make it was, but my father picked it up second hand from a shop on Tottenham Court Road. It had a fixed lens and came in a leather case that had a lovely smell. I still have the black and white prints somewhere. I am intrigued to find them and see what caught my 8 year old eye.
That first camera was relatively short lived; it broke. I don’t think I was irresponsible with it. It was an old apparatus and my father was cautious not buy a more expensive piece of kit that I might lose interest in. However, I did not and it was quickly replaced. He next got me a second hand AGFA Silette, which had an orange shooting button. With this camera I moved to colour. It came with me on a family trip to my mothers birthplace in Madagascar, in 1976 (note to self – scan the prints!)
When I was 16 my father took my sister and I to Tecno’s on Tottenham Court Road and bought us both AV1s, semi automatics. He had been invited to attend a scientific conference in Hawaii. He planned to take us with him and walk Kalalau Cliff path. For that we needed cameras (note to self, find these shots). She got a zoom, I got a 50mm and a couple of years later, a 24mm.
The 24mm was a particularly special present. I had been sailing on the fated square riggers, Marques and Inca. We were due to sail through Tower Bridge at the beginning of a circumnavigation of the British Isles and my father had planned to cycle over to see me before we set sail.
Time and tide wait for no man and this unfortunately was the case that day. We were already mid Thames by the time my father arrived and our chance of a farewell or bon voyage was dashed. What I did not know was that he was carrying the gift of a wide angle lens. Having missed the boat, he packaged it up and sent it to me c/o The Harbour Master, Portsmouth. We docked there a few days later and the parcel was duly delivered.
Below is a selection of photos I took on that voyage. I used Kodak slide film and enlarged and printed (using Cibachrome) in the down stairs loo at home which doubled as a dark room.
It took a little while but I got quite used to being aloft. We did not use harnesses. One of my tasks was to paint the button, the very top most part of the mast, without spilling a drop. It was another kind of recklessness that destroyed the dream that these boats engendered. The sad story of the demise of these two extraordinary vessels can be found in Tall Ships Down, The last Voyages of the Pamir, Albatross, Marques, Pride of Baltimore, and Maria Asumpta by Daniel Sargent Parrott.