LOCKDOWN PHOTOGRAPHY 1 by John Patton

Occasionally, I remind myself that my website is a photography website and that posting something relevant might be a positive idea. It has long been a neglected intention to digitise slides that I made in Zambia and in 60s Ireland. Lockdown provided an opportunity because setting time aside has always been the major impediment to tackling the project. Scanning and processing slides is slow work; I have an Epson flatbed scanner which was adequate for the task. YouTube and a camera club colleague were helpful with reminders about preparation of transparencies and placement in the template. Most were shot on a Pentax Spotmatic and I have been pleasantly reminded of the dynamic range that was achievable with that sturdy camera. I did some colour and shadow enhancement in Photoshop.

African skies, the rhythms of the pupils, their villages and celebrations were glimpsed and relived as old images appeared on the screen. Zambia will always be precious to us; our first child was born there. Newly independent, its people were welcoming and optimistic about their country’s future. President Kaunda led the government from independence in 1964 until 1991 and is now a hearty 96 year old; I still have black and white images from an impressive visit he made to our school when he was touring the region. The myth was peddled by some during the Brexit Campaign that the British Empire was a benign structure whose primary purpose was the equalisation of all nations. Life expectancy for Zambians was 42 years when we lived there and has increased little in the intervening years.

Film purchase was impossible where we lived in Zambia; there was no mains electricity and on the school campus where we lived, we made do with a diesel generator for about four hours a day. I bought film in bulk from Britain and stored it in the gas-powered fridge. I generally bought Ektachrome and forwarded the slides to my in-laws from the processing lab. For black and white, I bought 5m rolls of Tri X and FP4 to process and print in a home darkroom. Water quality and even sometimes availability, added to high ambient temperatures in the hot season, were challenges to overcome.

Zambians generally loved having their picture taken and treasured the copies which I always tried to supply. Kafue National Park (Zambia’s largest – approximates in size to Wales) was on our doorstep and we regularly camped there at weekends. Big game, various species of antelope, including kudu and wildebeest ,birds , elephant, lions, leopards crocodiles and  hippos were plentiful.

I generally used black and white in game parks and I appreciate that colour would have made sense in many ways. However, colour transparencies were an expensive medium and exposures could be tricky in some situations. It was particularly unforgiving in strong sunlight where both highlight and shadow detail could easily be lost. Black and white was not without problems but, at least, I had the opportunity to dodge and burn areas in the darkroom.

I can only imagine the opportunities afforded by digital systems to photographers on safari today.

To be continued………
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