Lea Valley in the 80s

Clearing out accumulated junk from the loft on Friday I came across several box files containing mounted transparencies from the distant past when I used to shoot on colour transparency.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Bow Creek

Way back it was the only colour generally accepted for publication, and although very little of my work actually got published, like all photographers with aspirations of seeing their colour work in print I shot colour transparency. The boxes were a mixture of Kodachrome, Agfa and various E6 emulsions. In those days I was extremely short of cash, and worked quite a lot of the time from bulk film, loading 36 exposure cassettes of both black and white and colour transparency film from 100 ft rolls using a bulk loader.

Most of the E6 I saved even more money by processing myself. There were various processing kits on the market, differing in their ease of use and in the colour and quality of the results they produced. And you did need to maintain a fairly accurate temperature at least in the first development. Although I did have some failures, it perhaps surprising that much of what I processed came out well. (The first few films I processed in the 1970s were E4, but when E6 was introduced in 1975-7 both films and processing were considerably better.)

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Lee Navigation

What in particular caught my attention in the box files were half a dozen boxes labelled ‘R Lee’ and dated from 1982-3. The River Lee, for many years London’s forgotten river, has now become a fairly hot property as the main Olympic site straddles its various streams between Stratford and Hackney Wick.

Back in 1982-3, I hadn’t really worked out any proper filing and storage system for slides – and its a problem I only really solved by stopping shooting – at least for myself – on transparency film around 1985. I changed to using colour neg largely because of its greater latitude; shooting mainly in daylight, transparency gave dark empty shadows as soon as the sun came out, and I didn’t like the effect. But I was also influenced by seeing the work of other photographers who had discovered the benefits of colour negative, in particular it seemed possible to produce more natural and more subtle colour.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Lea Navigation

There were good systems for slide storage, but one thing they had in common was expense, and I was generally skint. Since I often used slides in slide shows at this time, all of my slides were mounted in slide mounts. The absolute failures were binned, those I might use immediately went into a slide album. The rest went back into boxes and eventually inside larger boxes into the loft.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Lee Navigation

Dark and relatively dust-free storage means most of them are still in decent condition, and I’ve now spent around 20 hours looking through them and scanning those of more interest to me.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Bow Back Rivers

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that many are variants on slides already in one of my few albums, though sometimes they are in better condition. A few really add to my record of the area at the time, but most reflect my absorption at the time with colour and form.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Stratford Marsh

Dating and pinpointing the locations on them is difficult – with little or nothing to go on expect possibly a month and year scrawled on the mount or on the box. Quite a few I recognise, and yet others I will be able to place from the contact sheets of my black and white work, generally rather more carefully marked up.

Kodachrome did at least come back in card mounts with a frame number on them, which can be useful, but unfortunately I didn’t add a film reference number or date.

I also curse the fact that I took so few pictures. Some days I perhaps walked ten miles around the area and only made a dozen exposures. Surely there was far more of interest.

Of course I was mainly photographing in black and white at the time, and you can see some of the pictures I took on my River Lea – Lea Valley web site, where there are already around 20 of my old colour pictures.  Looking at those I’m reminded of how tricky it is to get the colour correct from slides compared to digital – I hope some of the new scans are better. If I can find the slides I made the existing pictures from I’l try to do some new and better scans too.

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