In praise of photo-walks

By Geoff Chaplin

Inage is everything

“The image is everything” they say – well I think not, at least not always. A ‘photo-walk’ can be one of many things: photographing objects or people in an unfamiliar place, looking for the unexpected or a play of light in familiar surroundings, a break from the office or home, an opportunity to test new film or camera, and so on. One may meet new people or greet familiar faces, perhaps hear some local news or find a new restaurant. At the end of the day the photographs may be brilliant, dead boring, a useful record, or something else, but there may have been a positive gain in other ways.

Tokyo

For this walk in an unfamiliar area in Tokyo I took a vintage camera and lens. For me such walks are an opportunity to unwind and play with some kit I greatly enjoy but is less practical than what I’d choose for ‘serious photography’ (whatever that is!).
The camera is the Leica iiig, admittedly less beautiful but more practical than the iiif or earlier Barnacks: the larger viewfinder being the main benefit.
The Barnack series is compact and light but another reason I like them is the focussing lever for the rangefinder, allowing me to focus whether I’m wearing reading glasses, distance glasses or no glasses at all. The lens is the Leitz Summar 50mm f2, an uncoated lens generally described as soft which I think is at least partly because of the lower contrast. On the other hand the results look more like images from the early days of 35mm photography. It’s not very often I choose this lens – generally preferring the Summitar (coated version) or Elmar f2.8, sometimes even the f3.5 just for its size.
To be consistent with the period of the lens metering is by Sunny 16, and I chose a favourite film of mine Fomapan 100 B&W, stand developed in Rodinal (an ancient developer) at 100:1.

Off the beaten track

I walked through the central area of the town, once upon a time it would have been an isolated village. Small town centres tend to be functional and often unattractive – traffic lights and power/communication cables, road and advertising signs – this is no exception. Despite being off the beaten track for tourists a group of Americans were chatting at the crossroads.

Continuing on, heading towards a small park, I passed an old sushi restaurant. At the time it was in the shade – I made a mental note to photograph again if it was in the sun on my return.

From this point streets and buildings were more recent, generally not of interest to me. There was a shrine – they are common, varying in size from doll’s house to giant buildings – this was typical for a local shrine.

Then …. a tree wearing clothes. This was unique, I’ve never seen anything similar in Japan or elsewhere, and have no idea of the purpose, and there were no nearby clues. If you know why, let me know!

Finally I got to the park. There were walks and play areas surrounding a fenced-off area where many of the trees appeared to be ancient. Near the entrance was a dilapidated sign (‘no vehicular entry and no parking’), the neatly kept bare ground between trees behind.

I walked on and walked past a father and child playing on the ground. Saturday morning, and a chance for salarymen to re-engage with their family. I rarely take people photographs but if I do I always ask for permission first. I walked back, the father was very relaxed and easy going, the child puzzled by a weird old guy with a strange toy in his hands. He/she stared at me the whole time but hopefully got back to serious play without any long lasting trauma.

I walked around for a while. There was an area with broken crockery embedded in the dry earth, I pulled up a few pieces for my grandson who thinks he’s an archaeologist and dates everything to a dynasty of the Pharoahs. Then it was time to go back, the path through the trees illuminated by dappled light.

Conclusion

So what did I get from this photo-walk? The unusual tree, interaction with father and child, finding ancient Egyptian pottery, a break from the noise and traffic of the city, joy from using my Leica, and some photographs I found hard to process to get to the standard I usually like. Compared to more modern lenses the Summar lacks the punch that the others give but, on the other hand, it is clear that even a nearly 90 year old lens can deliver quite decent results with a little contrast boost in post processing.

Thanks to Geoff Chaplin for this lovely change of pace. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

JCH