This is the camera that started it all for me. The Zenit B, a Russian-made SLR built like a T-34 tank.
Or not quite. The first camera that belonged to me was a Kodak Instamatic my father bought me just before I headed off to France on a school exchange trip. And the first camera I ever used to take ‘serious’ photos – something more than a snap – was my father’s Halina 35X.
In fact, technically speaking, the Zenit B belonged to my dad, too. I’d spent weeks badgering him into buying it. It wasn’t an expense he could take lightly because, if memory serves, it cost close to £30. (This was 1974-ish, I think.) And he knew that as soon as he got it home there was little chance of him ever laying hands on it again. So it proved…
I was in my O Level year. Two friends and I had turned a cleaner’s storeroom at school into a darkroom, with an enlarger part-made from a cocoa tin and paper and chemicals scrounged from god-knows-where. (I suspect they were stolen from the local police station by Chris’ dad, a sergeant.) We would develop films and make prints every break. I have a strong memory of sitting in maths class with the smell of the chemicals still on my fingers. It was better than sex (especially as I still wasn’t getting any sex).
And so photography became my drug of choice. I saw everything as though through a lens – specifically a 58mm f/2 Helios.
This isn’t the actual camera – it’s one I picked up recently on eBay. I can’t remember what happened to mine. Maybe I let my dad keep it when I upgraded to a Canon FTb.
I worked all summer for the Canon. Or rather, I worked two weeks to pay the deposit on the hire purchase deal, and my father met all the remaining monthly payments. He drove me to Manchester twice to get that camera. (He’s coming out of this story pretty well, isn’t he? Deservedly so.) The Canon in the picture is mine. I gave it to my father when I switched to Olympus during my second year studying photography at college. He kept it for more than a decade in mint condition. When he died, it came back to me.
My father had always been a keen photographer – to the point of processing his own films and making his own prints – without it ever having grown into a proper hobby. That was probably because he couldn’t afford it.
When his interest turned into my addiction, he enthusiastically walled off one-third of my bedroom to make me a darkroom, complete with wall-mounted enlarger (the prints would be blurry if anyone walked up the stairs during the exposure). There were many days when he would drive me around the local Cheshire and Derbyshire countryside so that I could take pictures.
He always took an interest in my photography. He was thrilled when I got my place at college, and even more so when I graduated. In many ways, I think he was living vicariously through me. I was always pleased when he liked my pictures.
Over the years I’ve shot photographs for many reasons, often with a need to satisfy the demands of other people. These days, having withdrawn from stock agencies and with commissions being rarer than a constipated cow, I shoot to please myself. And my dad.