I have now gone an entire year without buying a camera – impressive. My last purchase, almost a year ago to the day, was something of an impulse buy. We had visitors in town at the time and I and some of my colleagues were assigned as their minders. On the agenda was a courtesy call with some VIPs. Naturally, we were not in the room and as time passed it became clear that the VIPs and and our guests were getting along nicely. We drank coffee and played with our phones. I happened to take a look at the Used Photo Pro website, something I do most days.
From time to time a camera shows up there that I’m convinced I must have. I’m sure I’ve hit the ‘buy’ button and started filling in my details half a dozen times before talking myself back from the edge. This time I jumped. A Nikon F2A, black, and in great condition. Who could resist?
Nico van Dijk’s F2 serial number matrix dates my camera to 1974, between August and October. This would imply that the head that came with the camera is not the original, since the DP-11 head that makes this an F2A was designed to work with AI lenses which only appeared in 1977. The DP-11 uses CdS cells for metering and has a simple swinging needle display. I had read, while waiting impatiently for the camera to arrive, that the needle in these heads can sometimes be quite jumpy but on mine it moves very smoothly. I also noticed that the light seals, while not perfect, are in better condition than I would have expected for a 45 year old camera. I suspect that either the camera has been very well looked after or has been serviced at some point. I didn’t need another camera but sitting next to my FM2n and collection of Nikkor lenses it looks rather well.
Unfortunately the dark nights, work and then COVID-19 conspired to keep the camera on the shelf most of the time, but here are some shots from the first roll I put through it back in March last year. I happened to have a couple of rolls of Kodak Ultramax 400, a film I had never previously used, so it was also an opportunity to try it out. I brought my 24 and 105 Nikkors, starting with the former and swapping half way through.
With limited time and a primary goal of ensuring that my F2 was in full working order I chose to visit familiar and favourite sites in downtown Sofia. First, the former Royal Palace, now the National Gallery. I managed to forget that I was shooting with a manual camera, so put the camera to my eye, framed and pressed the button. Once it dawned on my what I had done and I finished cursing my own stupidity I reframed, adjusted exposure and took another shot.
Just past the National Gallery is the Russian Orthodox Church, properly known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker. It’s highly photogenic but I have yet to get a picture of it that I think does it justice. The first one below was taken with the 24mm lens, the second one with the 105mm.
Next up is the spectacular Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This is another building I photograph a lot with out ever being entirely happy with the results, but I keep trying. I used around one third of the roll shooting the cathedral. Here is a wide shot of the whole building and some detail from the beautifully elaborate roof.
This sculpture below commemorates Stefan Stambolov who fought for Bulgarian independence from the Ottoman Empire and went on to become the country’s ninth Prime Minister. The cleavage in the upper part of the sculpture references Stambolov’s assassination when his killers, knowing that Stambolov wore an armoured vest, struck his head repeatedly with knives and fractured his skull. Stambolov died a few days later.
Probably my favourite building in the city is the Ivan Vazov National Theatre which stands in a pedestrianised square by a small park known as the City Garden – a beautiful building in a beautiful setting. I took six pictures of the theatre. Here they are.
On to the City Museum, formerly the public baths, and the nearby mineral springs. This is the point at which I switched from the 24 to the 105 with the first two shots taken with the former. I used the 105 for a closer look at the beautiful detail on the exterior of the building and for the two candid shots.
And finally, this is the head of a large sculpture of a lion at the Memorial to the Unknown Soldier which is visible in the background. This is quite a tricky shot to get because normally Sofia’s kids are clambering all over the lion. I think I waited about fifteen minutes before there was a brief lull. I wasn’t convinced at the time that it was worth the wait but I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out.
The F2 performed perfectly throughout and the results suggest the metering and shutter speeds are accurate. While it is a big, heavy camera I did not find it to be uncomfortable to carry or handle. I appreciated the large, clear viewfinder and the simple but functional and uncluttered display – shutter speed, aperture and simple swinging needle.
As for Kodak Ultramax, this film was a very pleasant surprise. It’s not nearly as grainy as I expected and the colours are nicely saturated without being excessive. It does have a tendency towards a certain ‘creaminess’, particularly with white tones, but it’s not unpleasant. I tend to view white balance as an aesthetic rather than a technical criterion being primarily a matter of taste. My own personal taste tends towards a more neutral rendering so the only real adjustments I made to these images in Lightroom was to tweak the white balance. Most of the images above got a minus adjustment on temperature (mostly in the -4 to -8 range) and a plus adjustment on tint (between +6 and +12). Overall, though, for a consumer grade and very affordable film it delivered impressive results. This is definitely one I will use again.
For more on the F2 here are a few reviews from Casual Photophile, Emulsive, Dan Schneider and Jim Grey. And here is a video walk through with Travis Mortz. Finally, here is Nikon’s own brief history of the F2’s development and launch.
Harrison Street is named for former Governor General of the Philippines and advisor to four of the country’s presidents following Independence Francis Burton Harrison. Harrison Street was home for a year when I lived in the Philippines and I walked it many times. It was once known as Calle Real – Royal Street – during the Spanish period but these days it is a typically slow moving, busy and congested Manila street. I say Manila but the street starts at the edge of Manila City and the greater part runs through Pasay before briefly entering Paranaque where it becomes Quirino Avenue.
This is a random selection of pictures taken at various times and locations along the street. A couple of them were taken from the pedestrian walkway over EDSA but since the walkway connects Harrison Street on either side of EDSA I include them in the Harrison Street collection.
My one regret is that I did not take more pictures. In fact this is my one regret about Manila in general. There were many days when I could have gone out shooting but didn’t because the thought of spending hours in the humid 35C environment put me off. Yet I know that many of these streets with their distinctive local stores and local people will disappear over time to be replaced by the same generic nondescript blocks found all over the world.
I had to relearn photography when I lived in Manila. My practice over the years on the streets was to linger discreetly and look for opportunities for candid shots. Often I ignored the people and focused instead on the design, architecture and infrastructure of the city.
None of this was possible in Manila. With my pasty white Irish skin and ginger hair, blending in wasn’t an option and in a densely packed city of 13 million people candid shots were a challenge. One of the reasons for trying to be unobtrusive and take candid shots is that people often don’t like having their picture taken but in Manila many of the people I met were delighted to be photographed, often thanking me for taking the picture before I had opportunity to thank them for letting me.
So I had to learn to work in a much more crowded environment, close up and with people who were fully aware that I was photographing them. I switched to a wider lens and started taking portrait shots. In honour of the people who were kind enough to pose for me and out of respect for them I’m going to post the fifty or so street portraits I took while there. They are not all great pictures but I still recall every one of the people in them and the context in which I came across them and took their pictures. So here is the first set.
I came across this guy shortly after arriving in the city on one of my first walks along Arnaiz Avenue. I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He called out to me and I went over to say hello. When he saw the camera he asked me to take his picture and started dancing. I love this picture, partly because it was an early introduction to the neighbourhood and its people, partly because it sums up the friendliness, openness and spontaneity that is evident in so many of the people I met. I also liked the bloke to the left, who my subject had been chatting to before he saw me, who is managing to look supremely uninterested in his friend’s performance.
The guy on the left was hanging out on Arnaiz Avenue, at the corner with Orion Street at a point where the street crossed a stream. The stream was filthy and choked with garbage and there was a cluster of tiny roughly built houses on the corner. People were always hanging out on the street at this spot and I saw this guy just sitting there taking in the world and asked if I could take his picture. People in Manila don’t do ‘deadpan’ and so I got this huge beaming smile. I always found it humbling that people in such challenging circumstances were so quick to smile.
The older man on the right is one of the city’s may pedicab drivers – or riders? The pedicabs are pedal bikes with a sidecar and are a cheap way to get around the city. I watched them go by sometimes laden down with two or three passengers and bags of shopping. I was amazed that this skinny little guy could get this thing moving. This is no sports bike; these are heavy machines to get moving even without passengers and luggage. Bear in mind also that the temperature averages 32C year round with humidity ranging from 70 percent to 85 percent. I was exhausted after a couple of hours walking in the city.
This is one of the portraits that I have posted previously and printed. This little flower stall – I think it is ‘Creative Petals Flower Shop’ – is at the corner of Arnaiz Avenue and Taft Avenue. I was looking at the flowers and asked for a picture. This was the result. I liked the framing of the guy with the flowers in the foreground and the backdrop with the display of bouquets. Most of all I liked his pose and expression, which to me conveys a real sense of confidence and dignity. With the cross tattoo on his arm, sometimes I can imagine him taking the role of Jesus in a passion play.
Here’s another shot from Arnaiz Avenue at the junction with Wilson Street where I lived. All of these blokes are trike drivers. The trikes are like the pedicabs but motorized – essentially a motorbike and sidecar. I’ve seen these trikes with six people on board and they are everywhere in the city. These guys parked up at this junction waiting for customers and sat around chatting, smoking, drinking, playing cards or sometimes just dozing in the sun. I saw them regularly on my way home and on this particular day they were all there together so I took the opportunity to get a shot of them all. As so often there is a great range of expressions on very expressive faces.
So that’s the first set. More to come later.
Here is a second set of pictures taken on the streets of Manila.
The junction of Taft Avenue and EDSA is a busy spot even by Manila standards and the streets are lined with small shops and stallholders selling everything you can imagine. This guy sold bananas. Nothing else, just bananas. I bought a few from time to time as an energy booster. I assume once his stock for the day was sold he went home.
Further along Taft avenue there is a fruit and vegetable market and this guy as well as bananas is selling calamansi. This fruit, sometimes referred to as a Philippine Lime, is a hybrid of a kumquat and something like a mandarin orange. It’s widely used in Philippine cuisine and you buy calamansi juice everywhere. It’s not as sweet as orange juice and has a bit of a tang to it, a little like lemonade. On a hot day it’s wonderfully refreshing.
Both of these were take on Quirino Avenue in Paranaque. This district is known as Baclaran and is the site of a major church, The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help which always brought to mind Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility from Garison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone. Behind and around the church was an Aladdin’s cave of little stores, street stalls and markets. I spent many hours just wandering these streets. The lady in the first picture worked in a shoe store or rather a flip-flop store. There were thousands upon thousands of pairs stacked up reaching into the depths of the store and covering three floors. I tried them once but couldn’t keep them on my feet.
The little guy in the second picture was a one man hardware store. He stood in the middle of the very busy Quirino Avenue wearing his stock. I saw him there regularly so I suppose he must have sold enough to make it worth his while.
This was taken in the Pasay City Market at the corner of Taft Avenue and Arnaiz Avenue. This was a food market with one part for fruits and vegetables, another for fish and a third for meat. It was a covered market and on a hot day the smell in here was quite something. These women worked on a stall selling chicken. Every part of the chicken was on sale including parts I didn’t recognize but which they assured me were definitely chicken bits. Nothing was wasted. I tried to support local businesses when I was out and about but I drew the line at meat. Chicken sitting in the open all day in that heat was a risk too far.
Still on Quirino Avenue the little guy in the first picture was just hanging out at this furniture and hardware store. The guy in the second picture was a pedicab driver taking a break or waiting for a customer. These hand gestures were a constant when I was photographing particularly among young people.
Arnaiz Avenue, Makati, Metro Manila
I had heard of the Paranaque Fish Port and market and seen photographs of it but never made it there myself until the 2016 Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk when this was the venue for one of a dozen or more photowalks around Metro Manila. Local street photographer Joel Mataro was leading this one and he invited me to join. So at 6AM a group of around forty photographers descended on the good people of Paranaque.
Walking to the port though the streets of Paranaque took us past the city jail which is built right on the street front. Some of the inmates were gathered around the barred windows on the second floor just watching the world go by. I’m guessing they hadn’t seen too many ginger haired, pale skinned Irishmen in that particular neighbourhood and I did wonder what they made of me and our large group of camera toting locals.
Traders and buyers at the fish port itself displayed an admirable spirit of tolerance, given how many of us were poking cameras in their faces and generally getting in the way, remaining welcoming and willing to pose throughout our time there. At 6AM the market had already been open for a couple of hours and though it was still busy it started to slow down a little shortly afterwards. By 7AM the customers were thin on the ground and the traders were cleaning up. Here are a few of my favourite shots from the day.
Central Railway Station, Bangkok
I spent a couple of hours wandering around Bangkok Railways Station taking photographs. No-one followed me around, no-one told me not to take photographs. It’s sad to think that there are fewer and fewer places like this in the world where photographers are, if not welcomed, at least accepted. Most of the platforms at the station are under a translucent canopy which does a wonderful job of softening the harsh light. I focused on the floor and waited for the cleaner to walk into the frame. It’s not perfect but I was quite pleased with the result.
Maha Bandula, Yangon
This picture always makes me hungry. I took it from an overhead pedestrian walkway on a busy junction in downtown Yangon. This is one of those rare images where I think I like everything about it. This entire feast, better by far than what is on offer in most restaurants, was prepared on the pavement by the side of a busy road.
The Seven Rila Lakes are a two hour drive from Sofia in the Rila Mountains and one of the most popular tourist spots in the country. I’m told that in the summer months there are hour long waits for a seat on the chair lift that takes you up to the starting point for the trails that lead to the lakes. So we decided to do it in February instead.
At first it seemed like a bad idea. The sky was grey, the air was damp and it was cold. Sitting in the open chair lift gently shivering we did wonder if we had made a mistake. But after fifteen cold minutes or so we broke through the clouds to find a perfect blue sky and bright sunshine with snow on the ground and a nip in the air.
The lakes lie between 7,000 and just over 8,000 feet and a couple of hours of good hiking takes you past them and up to the higher elevations where there are good views over the lakes and beyond.
From the highest viewpoint it’s possible to see all the lakes but you can’t get them all in one photograph. This early in the year most of them were still frozen with only Babreka – the Kidney, for obvious reasons – having melted. Amazingly we had the whole place almost to ourselves. I think we saw no more than half a dozen other people while we were up there. Later in the day back at our cars under a grey sky it seemed like we had been in another world.