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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

What a Picture!


Over the years that I've been writing these articles, the constant refrain when submitting them to our local paper has been "Do you have any pictures to go with this?", to which the usual answer is either "No", or "Yes, but they're not up to much".  The reason for this being that taking a photograph in the 1950s and 1960s was a difficult and expensive task, not to be entered into lightly.  It seems hard to believe, when we now live in a time in which virtually everything you buy contains a camera of some sort. 

Delving back into the snaps that have survived over the years, it is apparent that the few pictures taken in the post-war period are the result of the ubiquitous Box Brownie.  I remember this camera, which still lurked in a wardrobe 'just in case' for years.  it was a black cube, about six inches or so square.  I seem to recall that the thing you looked through (note my command of the technical jargon) to see your intended subject, showed the image upside down.  The only other apparatus was a silver slider which, when depressed, exposed the film and took the picture.  The whole thing was encased in a tight fitting tan-brown canvas case.  As a child, I couldn't make head nor tail of it, and probably couldn't now, but it had clearly done sterling service in its day.

Our next technological leap forward came in the late 1950s when I won a fancy dress competition in All Saints Church Hall as Wee Willie Winkie.  I'm delighted to say that I have absolutely no recollection of this event.  I was probably too traumatised to remember.  My Auntie Vera was responsible for the costume, a white smock and an old fashioned nightcap with tassel, complete with a candle holder and candle.  You may recall that "Wee Willie Winkie ran through the town, upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown", with the express purpose of checking whether "all the children were in their beds as it was past eight-o-clock".  Nowadays he would probably be employed by Social Services, or facing criminal charges for indecent exposure.  Anyway, the costume won a prize (I doubt that it was down to my dramatic skills) and the prize was a Kodak camera.

This was another all black affair, but much smaller.  You could put this camera in your pocket without looking as if you had some hideous disfigurement.  It took rolls of film, and I was always terrified of inadvertently exposing the film by opening the back up.  You framed your subject in a little metal rectangle that folded up from the camera casing and pressed a silver shutter slider to take the picture.  Of course, in the absence of any flash apparatus or exposure settings, the only pictures you could take had to be in relatively bright conditions, out of doors.  Nevertheless, this camera served as the photographic recorder of all Whiteland family events for many years.



The limitations of the camera (and its operator) can probably be best illustrated via the picture above.   I had taken the camera with me on the first camping trip that our Anglesey class went on, to the Manifold Valley.  One of our expeditions took us up to Thor's Cave.  I had arrived at the cave entrance, exhausted and mildly terrified (I hate heights) but determined to have some photographic record of this event.  As we all settled in the cave for a talk on its history and formation, I edged my way to the mouth of the cave to try to get a picture that would capture the enormity of the height and the sweeping vistas. It was an image that you would really have needed a 3D, High Definition video camera to do it justice, but nevertheless I waited eagerly for the result to come back from the chemist when we returned home.  This was the outcome.  I remember my Mum laughing out loud when she saw it.  I guess I had probably raised her expectations a little too much.  Clearly Patrick Lichfield and Lord Snowdon had nothing to fear from me.

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format for just £0.99 at Amazon UK and Amazon USA and now read the new bumper collection of stories, Crutches For Ducks  also at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com , at the special price of just £1.99.