Friday, June 01, 2012

Infamy, Infamy . . They've All Got It In For Me

A-har me beauties. The teapot of life is overflowing and there's fresh scones on the gridle.
This weekend's tickling of the trout of memory be such a wide-reaching article that it could well change your life, or maybe even your point of view.
Come and join us and get some folk down by the docks as the Goode Shippe FB wends its way into port! 
Hang up some bunting. 
Dress up yer babes in their Sunday best, because when this comes into town, you don't want to be seen to be wanting!
And as for your Your Majesty . . if you fancy comin' and havin' a chat with the Cap'n then feel free, though in truth, the lack of an invitation to the Goode Shippe FogBlog for the flotilla on Sunday was a bit of a let-down.
Never mind . . I've got rigging to mend anyway.


A few months ago, I discovered something very interesting about myself.
It was something I genuinely didn't know and it took me by surprise because the thing I discovered was quite big.
Well it seemed quite big to my mind.
Apparently, I was part of a movement.
And it wasn't just any movement like 'moaning old gits vs. society in general', no, I was part of a movement that was named with a rather important word:
Not only that, but it was preceded by a weighty word from the 1960's and also hyphenated:
Counter -.
Not only that (as if it wasn't enough) but that world-weary and heavy word was preceded by something even weightier from a far earlier time. A word smelling of cloth and sweat and the adoption of violence for the simple reason that your livelihood was being threatened by change:
But just to make sure that I (and the likes of me) weren't going to smash the servers and chain ourselves to the ping-pong tables at Google, they preceded that with a hyphenated disclaimer:
Neo -.
So there you have it, I, to my surprise, was a member of a 'Neo-Luddite Counter-Culture'!

By this I am being defined as a person who eschews modern gadgetalia in favour of good old fashioned methods. And to an extent this is true, but to an extent (and just because I hate being pigeonholed) I'll beg to differ.
This hankering after a golden age of LED's, and Selenium Light Meters and Gramaphones and Valve [Tube] (and Transistor) driven technology can, as far as I can tell, be traced back to a certain musical movement, that for all its down-at-the-heel appeal and dark thoughts of a future devoid of joy (ok . . nihilism . . . to an extent) still has echoes ringing down towards us - namely: grunge.
If you've never heard of it, then fine - here's a potted history:
Checky shirts; making music for the sake of it rather than for chart powerplays; old and often cheap guitars because that was what you could afford; a feeling for melody and the power of a guitar amplifier; turning your back on the traditional music industry (a bit of anathema that one, because it became an enormous multi-billion dollar behemoth); Seattle.
There, a potted history for you.
The most famous band being Nirvana who you will probably have heard of, but prior to, and alongside them, there were a ton of bands. Here's one of the earlier ones - Mudhoney. Their 'Touch Me, I'm Sick' single predated Nirvana's first SubPop singles club release (Love Buzz) by a number of months.

(You've got to love the look. They could be anyone, and that was the beauty of grunge!)

If I remember rightly from my reading of Guitar Player magazine at the time, there was a word that started to appear like an infestation of fleas. It was quoted with regard to guitar design, and these days  has become so far reaching it is now a by-word for anything that looks or feels old (and by old I mean 1960's and nowdays that has transgressed into the 1970's too) . . careful though, it's dangerous and over-used . . . so dangerous and over-used that I am not sure I should tell you about it . . . oh go on then:
 . . . RETRO.
The savvy guitar companies of the time (ever the drivers of taste believe it or not) were so incredibly sussed that they realised quite quickly that all these kids with dollars to spend, were actively turning their backs on the generic Floyd Rose Tremolo equipped guitar with pointy bouts and spangly colours and were buying instead the likes of Naguahyde covered 1960's surf specials!
It really was something else.
A world packed to the gunnels with cheap and ugly, (sometimes) awful playing and sounding instruments had opened up, and more importantly was being actively sought. Guitars that had languished in the back of pawn shops and cupboards were suddenly dusted down because they harkened back to a golden age of finger-clicking, goatee-ridden, Chelsea-boot-wearing hipster, Way to go Daddio!
Ever wonder why the key films that slopped a massive splurge of homogenised 60's 'cool (Austen Powers) into society at large were made? I can't prove it, but I have to draw a conclusion somewhere . . . it has to be down to guitar design and the search for all things older than the 1980's.
So, thank you Mr.Cobain*, for Kurt's far-seeing use of a Fender Jaguars and Mustangs and old-ish effects pedals started the fairly large moss-covered boulder (that had been sitting at the top of a mountainside) rolling, and checky shirted youths everywhere went in search of something 'retro' to prove how cool they were.
Well-read and intelligent older guitar collectors realised that there was a pretty penny to be made from this yearning for something from rock and roll's golden ages . . . and thus a grasping, lucrative sub-section of guitar collecting was born.**
Actually, you have to admire the guitar makers, because they managed to turn around designs pretty damn quickly, and before you knew it, designers worldwide were using it - 'retro' was being applied to everything from toasters to TVs, haircuts to watches. 
Here's some de-evolution . . .


(To the left a Hamer Scepter from the late 1980's (actually a very well made instrument and typical of the sort of instrument yer average pre-grunge player lusted after) and to the right a collection of Vintage Silvertone guitars from the 1960's . . .David and Goliath anyone?)

But all this is rather drawing aside from my main theme, which is me being a member of a counter-culture. Well, in the same way that the back-turning, and head shaking happened in the field of guitars, slowly, it is happening in photography.
For the general everyday photographer digital and all that that involves rules the day.
Camera manufacturers are selling incredibly high powered computers with bits of glass on the front and whilst that is fine, you only have to look at the rise of 'Lomography' as a by-word for anything made with film to realise that there is a pretty serious depth of feeling in the world for all things of a pre-digital age.
And having  poked away at old and crumby cameras for quite a while now, I kind of feel like one of a semi-elite group of elder statesmen of Neo-Luddite Counter-Culturalists.
I love that actually - it makes me feel important (which I am not in the slightest).
It makes me feel that in using film and old cameras I am somehow bracing up the old world (where people did things with the help of machines) against the new world (where machines seem to do everything for you)!
I can wear my cloth cap with pride Mother.
But tell me lad, is there Trouble at t'Mill? You betcha. Trouble down t'Pit too? Och Aye.
You see, we . . that is you and I dear reader, if you like using film, are dinosaurs.
We are perceived as eccentric.
Pursuers of art in an old-fashioned way.
Upholders of the faith.
Defenders of the realm.
And despite our obvious (ahem) charms, we are now being priced way beyond any sense of reason out of our passionate vocation. It is quickly coming to the point where every roll of film is a definite consideration, and where every frame is a financial burden.
I could happily shoot 2 rolls of 120 film of a weekend . . and that'll be £10 please (unless you hunt around) plus the processing costs. It's a lot of money. 35mm is approx a fiver a roll on average; 5x4" sheet film can vary wildly between 60p a sheet and an eye-watering £1.40-odd for Black and White film . . colour is even more expensive in sheet film. At those prices you are being driven into the arms of the digital behemoths. A point of fact of this is that in 2008 a box of 25 sheets of Ilford Delta 100 5x4" sheet film was £15-£18 on average .  . that self same product in 2012 is now roughly £30-£35 on average. 100% in 4 years is pretty shocking. Certainly my wages haven't risen 100%
Ilford started the ball rolling a couple of years back with claims about the rising price of silver (which it did do, however as everyone who studies the markets knows, commodities prices have a habit of rising and falling faster than a bride's nightie) and what with Kodak's financial troubles and now Fuji following suite, your average Neo-Luddite Counter-Cultural-ist (NLCC-ist for short) is finding the ability to keep the golden age going a real pain in the wallet.
It makes sense doesn't it really.
As a manufacturer, your users of film have dropped to a point where they don't make any money, so what do you do? You increase prices to the point where those that are still left stop using your products altogether!
So why do us NLCC-ists keep going?
It is hard to say really, but could it be (to paraphrase a quote from 'Moonstruck') because we are afraid of death and want to leave a legacy of permanence to the world?
Certainly a few years ago it was realised that there was no guarantee that your digital files of today would become nothing more than tomorrow's anachronism.
At least with a photograph and a negative, you have something tangible which can get chucked in a skip when you have popped your clogs.
It is hard this art stuff.
In my case, a self-financed struggle to make sure you can leave a massive pile of creativity that can get dumped in the landfill of life.
I suppose what I am trying to say is, film manufacturers, please, in the name of all that is good, think of the people who actually use your film. Don't price us out of what we love doing.

I like this photograph. It reminds me of childhood.
A very young Alec Turnips was chucking something in the Kyme Eau on a Summer's day in 2003, and I just happened to catch it at the right moment.
This was made in the days when you could get Ilford SFX for next to nothing.
These days it is nearly £7 a roll and I would never use it again even if I had the money. Sorry Ilford - your films are wonderful and I have used them for years, but they have now entered the realm of ridiculous pricing and I can afford to use them no more.
The camera was an Agfa Synchro-Box *** made between 1949 and 1958 - it has two apertures (one landscape, one portrait) and I like its simplicity. The film was developed in Rodinal.
It has all the attributes of retro which will delight the NLCC-ist:
It is a 6x9cm negative.
The really gnarly lens flare is like Sauron's Eye from the dreaded Lord Of The Rings films
The rollers have imparted heavy scratches to the emulsion.
There is a gradation of tones in the foliage which is nothing short of beautiful.
You feel better for this little tootle into art and culture don't you!
If you are about to head out with an ancient piece of technology, good luck to you and make every image count  -I don't know how long they will let us continue.
I hope the light is with you.
God bless you.

* I have to add to this a that a certain columnist for Guitar Player magazine, a Mr. Tiesco Del Ray was also responsible, but of course not many people will know that, as he didn't have the looks, though he did have the skills, the knowledge and the collection.

** These days it has gone beyond any sense of normalacy as your younger guitar buyer who was but a gleam in a parent's eye when a lot of these monstrosities were created, generally doesn't realise what a bucket of dingo's kidneys they are buying at a massively inflated price when they get enthused about a '1978 Hondo Les Paul - MIJ Retro Cool!' guitar.


No comments: