David Thorpe Photography

Personal Pix

Landmarks and Memories

Here I am in my early training days on the Kent and Sussex Courier in Tunbridge wells. The camera is a VN 9x12 cm with Ross Xpress 135mm lens.

The change in press cameras between this, 1961, and today's digital cameras is hard to comprehend. The VN had no rangefinder or exposure meter and just a wire fram viewfinder. You set exposure by turning knobs on the side to vary the shutter tension and thus the speed at which it traversed the film plane and the width of the shutter slit exposing the film as it did so. Aperture was marked on the lens, so for an exposure you'd normally use tension 9 and exposure would be denoted by two finger gesture, known as 'this by this'. One denoted the slit width, the other the aperture opening.

Distance setting were on the front of the camera, that metal arc you can see abobe the lenn. They were marked at 2, 3, 5 and 7 yards. With the 135mm lens at a 'two yarder', there was maybe 2 inches of depth. But constant use meant you could judge a distance easily to that precision, swaying the top half of your body back and forth to finesse the distance. Woe betide any of the photographers who came back with a dozen double dark slides from Saturday afternoon's diet of weddings, fetes and sports days if even one of them was a fuzzy. It was shameful and unprofessional.

When I first started, I used to have the unenviable job of loading all 7 staff photographer's double darks, 84 in all, of course. One Saturday I loaded them all backwards. Seven photogrpahers covering half a dozen jobs each on Saturday afternoon was the backbone of the paper's photo content for the week. That Saturday, thanks to me, none of those pictures were usable. I'll never forget the looks on the photographers faces as they saw their slides after I'd developed them. And when Neil Nevison, the chief photographer came back he waited until he'd calmed down before calling me into his office. Iwas 17 and the tears streaming down my face told him I was punishing myself more than he ever could. He put his arm round me and led me over the road to the pub where he bought me a pint. ~We'll get over this~, he said, "the important thoing is that you learn from this and it never happens again. Then he sent me home with "forget this now, have a good weekend - and next week is another week." By this time Ken Murphy and a few other of the photograhers had joined us in the pub.

As I left, miserable, Ken yelled "oh, by the way, David". I turned round "yes?" "If you do it again, you're fired!"
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