Pre-Raphaelite Staines?

It was a brief moment and I managed to take a picture which was tolerably sharp and focussed as a young girl, balloon in one hand swung around from the fence overlooking the Thames in July 1980. I can’t recall what the event was, but it had a band playing in the bandstand (long demolished) behind the old Town Hall and lots of people in old-fashioned fancy dress, with free balloons being given away by the local newspaper.

The area where I took these pictures has now been redeveloped by the council and made into a larger but less interesting space. The bandstand has gone- though it wasn’t much used and the whole area made more open. And there has of course been a feeble effort to rename Staines.

My contact sheet – one complete film on the event, except of a first picture of my wife holding a shopping bag and one out-of-focus close-up of my fingers in front of the lens – gives no help, though it does tell me I was using Kodak Plus X and developed it in Kodak HC110, and that I was using my Minox 35EL.

The Minox 35EL was claimed to be the smallest full-frame 35mm camera, just tall enough to enclose a 35mm cassette and just wide enough for the casette and a similar space to hold film on the other side of the 1×1.5″ film gate. Made mainly of plastic with its 35mm lens on a lensboard that folded down for the lens to spring into place it was about as small and light as a 35mm camera could get, fitting easily in to a shirt or trouser pocket when folded back. The electro-mechanical shutter made a very discreet click and it was a great instrument for working without intruding. So good that many spies used it – and the USSR even made an almost perfect copy in Ukraine which doubtless supplied the KGB.

The 35mm f/2.8 Color-Minotar was supposed to be very sharp, though the first one I bought was decidedly not – after several months of argument and a visit to the Luton office of Leitz, who distributed it in the UK, they swapped my camera for one that worked properly – along with a slightly snooty reminder that there were no performance criteria for the lens – but they had actually tested this one! I still have my third or fourth Minox 35 camera – one jumped out my my pocket while cycling (and was replaced on insurance), another needed servicing and I was offered the GT at around half price when Leitz couldn’t get the parts.

It wasn’t an ideal camera. The viewfinder isn’t exactly precise, the simple auto-exposure was easily fooled (though all 36 on this film are reasonably exposed) and the two-stroke film lever had little leverage and could rip your thumb. Scale focus would be a problem for some people, though in good light the 35mm usually gave enough depth of field to cover my guesses. But it was a camera the size of a pack of twenty fags and as I’d long since given up smoking there was always room for it in my pocket.

But it had a 35mm lens. For years I worked almost entirely with that focal length, both on Leica and Olympus SLR, and it is a fine focal length. But sometimes it just isn’t wide enough and at others – like this – it is too wide. Fortunately on this occasion I was quick to seize the chance and take a picture without trying to move in, as I would then have missed it – as the next frame shows the back of her head. Though on the 35EL, the next frame would have been several seconds later at best.

Hers was a costume that suited her, and the unruly hair (a typical July day in Staines there was some wind and rain) made me think of those subjects pressed into submission by Julia Margaret Cameron.

I don’t like to crop pictures, and this is perhaps why I don’t think I’ve ever shown this one. Or perhaps I couldn’t decide on the crop. Here’s how I finally decided to make it.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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