My ex photography lecturer, Kevin Ballantine, has an exhibition on at my ex stomping ground, the PCP. Sounds exy. Photographs of Paris, taken with a toy camera. (If you would like to read a sensible review of the exhibition, go no further: instead visit the Art Refugee).
Perusing this exhibition i see that Ballantine, who once operated under the nom de plume Arno Blax, has worked through the issues with aplomb. The catering consists primarily of large, 1.5 litre bottles of red wine. To hell with the cheese and crackers, let's drink. This is my kind of photographer. I select a large beer glass and ask the caterer to fill it to the brim, to avoid me bothering him unduly for a while.
The Diana is a plastic toy camera with an aesthetic all its own. It uses 120 roll film, but the image size is 4x4cm, rather than the 6x6cm image you get with a grown-up camera like a Hasselblad or a Rolleiflex. So you get 16 images on a roll instead of 12. Woo hoo. In the age of the digital and the "shotgun" method of photography, one can bang off 16 frames just to get one image. The technological advance which has had the greatest impact on the art of photography is that little trash can icon on the back of digital cameras. Which should, of course, be used much more often!
Safari Bob is here, as is Catherine, and the legendary Phil England of Terrace Photographers. Phil must have grown up with camera in hand in the sixties: he is very "Blow Up" once he gets Safari Bob's digital camera in hand. Darting this way and that, getting in close, legs spreadeagled, he strikes unsuspecting punters like lightning. You learn a lot seeing how other photographers work. When i get a camera in hand i look like one of the junkies nodding on the freo train. Huh? What am i doing again? Where am i? Mr England has more zest than a bagful of lemons. Where Mr England is like a 007 on speed, Mr Demolition, once he gets his camera back, is more from the Austen Powers school of photographic thought:
Tell me, Mr. Powers. Do you swing?
Mr. Powers: Are you kidding, baby? I put the "grrrr" in swinger, baby! Yeah!
Being both plastic and a toy, the Diana images are soft, with vignetting, light leaks - but therein lies its appeal: a random, snapshot aesthetic is enhanced by this lo fi apparatus. Visit lomography.com and check out the fanaticism. My personal favourite is the cheap fisheye camera. It's cute, with a 180 degree field of view.
All photographers are collectors, and all photographers love their toys.
There are moves afoot to charge professional photographers who wish to photograph parts of Paris. (I believe this is true for the beautiful French city as well as the vacuous skank). Clearly, one advantage of shooting Paris with a toy camera is that nobody is likely believe you are a professional, even if you wanted them to.
Ballantine describes the trials and tribulations of the process. "A toy like camera, with a plastic lens, that leaks light, unevenly exposes film, overlaps frames and produces softly focussed, hazy, whimsical and unintended images ..." he writes. "The colours of the flowers in the garden at Musee de Montmartre were intense. The geraniums were so red they seemed to pulse. They looked full of blood. In rue Lepic, where the owner's body was crucified on the windmill's sails, the borrowed Diana smashed.
"Norm's [photographer and lecturer Norm Leslie's] mint condition, hardly used, vintage, part of the history of photography, Kodak Diana seemed to float through the air like a piece of confetti. When it hit the cobblestones, it shattered. The lens wasn't damaged and the shutter worked, but a chunk of plastic had sheared from the top and part of the viewfinder had come unglued and rattled around inside. It was still possible to take pictures but when looking through the viewfinder the world was a complete blur. Rather than Diana the huntress, Norm's Diana Camera was reduced to the Cyclops whose one eye was put out by Odysseus.
"... Place Vendome and Place Concorde were just minutes apart on foot. Place Vendome was where Lady Di left the Ritz and crashed and Place Concorde was where Marie-Antoinette was guillotined. Paris can be rough on royalty ..."
- Kevin Ballantine, from Diana Pictures, Perth Centre for Photography Nov 16 - 26, 2006.
... and the cobbled streets of Paris can be rough on cameras. Safari Bob buys an image of a headless mannequin in a red dress. I am tempted by a low-angle, off-kilter image of two pedestrians at the top of a flight of steps. Streetlamp. Building. Sky. But i am distracted from my intended purchase by an attractive woman in a red top. Mmmm, i think. But of course i am practising celibacy, in preparation for my upcoming stint at sea. Besides, i can't talk to women, not properly, after my heart was broken by Mili the Ex. Oh, and since my front teeth were broken by Murphy. Suddenly, Moriarty appears. "Hey dude," he says. "What the fuck happened to your teeth?" Oh, you should see the other guy, i say.
The woman in the red dress fronts up and introduces herself. Well this is unusual, i think. Woman. Within two metre radius. I begin to feel slightly panicky. She turns out to be none other than Donsta the Pink Minx of The Block fame. This really unnerves me. It's somewhat disquieting when i meet a woman for the first time, who then says she has met me before. No; that wasn't me. That was some fucked-up drug fiend slash alcoholic. I am a cleancut, hardworking photographer. (And Dr Jekyll was a good-natured physician who was out most nights). I bumble my way through a few sentences before escaping to the relative calm of a conversation with Moriarty.
Meanwhile, Justin, Catherine, Safari Bob, the Donstar and others are heading down to to Billy Lee's in Chinatown. Do i want to come? I politely decline. "Fuck off," i say. "It's a shithole." Moriarty and i order Stones Pizza then walk round the corner to his new pad in Brisbane Place. Its late, we're drunk, his wife is not too impressed. We talk about the old days. Moriarty breaks out his new Gibson Les Paul. It's beautiful. Hand made. Purple glitter top. It's almost enough to make one think about Putting The Band Back Together. He's got this Framus valve amplifier, like a Marshall, only about 11 times better. Bought it on eBay from the US. How did he get it out here? "US postal service," he shrugs. "I got a call and they said come pick it up from the airport." Instead of speaker cloth, it's got like a chrome-plated grille with slots in it. Matching head. If it were a car, Moriarty's rig would be straight out of Tom Wolfe's The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.
But wait, there's more. His wife says, "What about that camera." Oh yeah, says Moriarty. His father's Rolleiflex. He hands it to me, in its brown leather case. "Permanent loan," he says. "Put it to good use."
And the rest, as they say, is history.