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Photo essay: Blackpool’s South Promenade

As anyone who’s read my articles will know, I am a fan of retro-photographic equipment and materials and a stalwart of film-based monochrome photography. I’d fancied another 35mm camera that was, well, more expendable, for a while. On a trip to Manchester to buy film and art materials, I returned with a Soviet made Zorki 4 rangefinder camera.

This camera is based on the Leica series with a focal plane shutter and is very simple. It does have a split image focusing, but no exposure metre; I have a hand-held metre to contend with that. The camera weighs a ton, which feels reassuring. It has a Jupiter lens; I have one of those for another camera and know them to be super lenses.

Bearing my prize home on the train, I couldn’t wait to try it out, but the next day had poor weather. However, the 24th March 2023 dawned bright; I gathered my kit and caught the service 18 down to South Shore to capture Blackpool Promenade on black and white film.

The bus took me past Starr Gate leading me to walk back there and against the sun, so there’s a bit of an overlap in the sequence of shots. I had picked up in the shop that the Zorki’s viewfinder is crude, having no bright line to frame the shot or allow for parallax. The viewfinder aperture is close to the lens barrel, so the latter shouldn’t be too much of a problem. So as I shot the frames it felt like a bit of a lottery what I was going to get.

One advantage of shooting in a touristy area is that few people will challenge what you’re doing and so you can focus on the photography. On the other hand, the pics will rarely be original. Still – soldier on! One advantage of using a crude looking camera, is that people will tend not to take you seriously. Rangefinders are good for this, and the lenses tend to be excellent, especially for the money.

The 36 frames soon seemed to be exhausted. Before this I’d decided I need coffee and a cakey sugar boost and having reached the Solaris Centre, I ventured inside to find it packed.

I thought I wasn’t going to get a seat, but then a friend waved at me from the corner and I was able to join his little party. It was only when they had to go I realised I’d crashed their reserved table.

After the walk in the fresh air and the cold sun, the coffee and cake tasted particularly delicious.

I checked the bus app and clocked the service 18 to get me home. The service is only one an hour, so missing it is not good. I realised I just had time to clear the camera before it arrived and nipped back over the prom to grab the final shots, making the bus in good time.

Back home, the film was rapidly extracted from the Zorki and packed with another and off to the processors. The film is developed and the pictures scanned before being e-mailed back, good because the transfer file link appears before the negatives return by post. I miss hand printing my own stuff, but this is all very convenient and the results are very good.

So the results! A few shots were lost to mysterious masking and it looks like one blind of the shutter had hung. Given the crude viewfinder, the composition held up quite well, but a little more time editing was required than with other cameras. As 35mm frames are too ‘long’ anyway and have to be cropped, this task is not too onerous and is quite creative. I’m hoping some of these issues are teething troubles; the camera has clearly not been used for some time.

Despite it being basic to the point of crude, I love using this camera. Any piece of kit needs getting used to, so I’m hoping for better results as I shoot more rolls.

For those interested, I used Kentmere 400 iso monochrome film, shot through a yellow filter at a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec. This gave apertures generally between f8 and f11. A bright day. It’s a 50mm focal length lens. Say what you like about the Soviets, there wasn’t much wrong with their optics.

So, here are results. I’m pleased with them for a first roll and I think they show some of the best of Blackpool. It’s lovely to have a stroll down there on a nice day, the soughing sea and wind in your ears. Refreshments to hand in the Solaris. I hope you like these little pics.

 

 

 

 

 

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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