My first photographs

Some time in 1969, when I was only a little over 7 years old, my Dad allowed me to borrow the family camera for the day. I took it with me on a school trip to London Zoo.  These pictures below are the only surviving photos from my first solo use of a camera.

Emperor Penguins (1968)

Emperor Penguins at London Zoo in 1969 – they look so colourful!

Penguins (1968)a

I believe this is another photo from that visit to London Zoo, this time of the African Penguins.

Both photos were taken with an Ilford Sporti camera on Kodak 120 roll film, that only allowed 12 pictures to be taken per roll.  The original photos had the usual white border, but after scanning them I removed the border by cropping the picture.  I also sharpened the picture and reduced the back-light a little, using the free software Photoscape.  Not exactly enhanced, just cleaned up a little for the modern digital age.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what happened to any other photos of other animals I took that day.  I seem to remember seeing giraffes, elephants, camels, chimps, kangaroos and a whole range of birds.  Maybe they didn’t come out for some reason, or perhaps I just liked the penguins more than the other animals!

My view of zoos has changed much over the years.  Whilst I am in no way an animal rights campaigner, I am now opposed to  housing wild animals in restricted environments far from their natural homes.

I am persuaded that there may be some limited and specific good reasons for keeping some endangered species safe from harm.  So long as the aim is to breed a small group to establish a wild population again.  Otherwise I cannot now support the keeping of animals in zoos or even wildlife parks, although I am sure many people do find some educational value and enjoyment visiting those sorts of places.  To me they seem more like animal prisons or detention camps, with a commercial reason for continuing, so I cannot go there any more.

To show Emperor Penguins in their natural environment and to illustrate how much more can be learned by intrepid camera men observing them in the wild I posted two two videos from YouTube in the previous post.  They are only short but I hope they are enjoyable to see.

My next post will be an article about the camera I used and how cameras, film and photography for the amateur has changed for everyone in the last 40 years.

Emperor Penguins in the wild

As I was writing my next post about my first solo photography, aged 7, I reflected on how my views of zoos has changed over the years.  I added some closing thoughts about animals in zoos and wildlife parks and I thought it would be good to illustrate how much more we can learn about animals from observing them in their natural habitat.  With Emperor Penguins that is a very harsh environment for us humans, but some intrepid cameramen and their supporting crews have suffered the cold and other hazards to bring back some incredible film.  Here are just two short clips.

Richmond Park – learning to take photos

On a beautiful sunny day, late in the summer of 1969, we took a family trip to Richmond Park.  By that time we had moved twice since 1968 and lived in a small flat in West Hampstead.  It wasn’t too far to travel to Richmond, but I have no memory of the journey, or if we went by bus, train or both.

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Richmond Park, so close to the tower blocks, yet full of rural beauty.  Photo nathan-harrison.com

My new little sister, Suzy, was about 18 few months old, so it was probably a bit of a hassle for our Mum & Dad, needing to take all the things a young child needs during the day.  We also took a large blanket to lay on the grass and a picnic lunch – there weren’t any McDonalds or Burger King take-away outlets until the mid 1970s – so it was sandwiches and a flash of tea, and Ribeana or something similar for me.  It turned into a very memorable day out, partly  because we have photos of the day that reinforce the memories, but for me I will always remember it as the day I learned to take photographs.

Richmond Park, the largest walled park in the UK, is one of the 8 Royal Parks of London, with its origins dating back to 1625, when the King, Charles I, brought the Royal Court to Richmond palace when plague was spreading through London.  The park grew out of an area set aside for hunting deer.  Charles I upset locals by enclosing the area with a wall, that is still standing today.  Public right of way was allowed and that has continued for most of its history, but was established by Act of Parliament in 1872.  It has been a popular recreational area for many years, a place to escape the city and enjoy a picnic, walking and cycling, with cycle ways around the park.  During the 2012 Olympics in London the road race cycle courses passed through the park.

It is remains home to over 600 deer, both Red Deer and Fallow Deer.  The deer are free to roam large parts of park and due to the high number of daily visitors they are fairly tame, although they still need to be treated with care and caution, and people are discouraged from feeding them or getting too close.  Sometime during that summer afternoon, back in 1969, when the sun was high in the sky, my Dad did a quick scout out of the area around where we had settled, leaving Mum, me and little Suzy laying on the blanket in the sun.  He came back all excited, saying that he had discovered we were fairly close to the lake at the centre of the park, where the deer came to cool down and drink.

He quickly rummaged in a bag for his trusty camera, an Ilford Sporti he had bought in 1959 and invited me to come with him and see the deer.  We walked a short distance through some fairly long grass and small bushes and trees, before we approached the lake.  Dad encouraged me to be quiet and we followed the edge of the lake for  a few more yards as he found some bushes to help hide us from the deer.  Not much happened for a while and I was soon bored of looking at the sun glinting off the water and became restless, wanting to run around and explore.  But Dad kept me calm for a little longer and we were suddenly rewarded with the approach of a group of around 20 Red Deer.

As they waded into the water Dad pointed out that we were downwind from them, so if we were quiet and moved slowly they wouldn’t be disturbed by our presence.  Then he took the first photograph of the group of deer.  Looking at the photos now I can’t be certain of the order in which they were taken but I know that the second two pictures I had a hand in taking.  Dad showed me how to use the viewfinder to aim the camera and how to press the shutter release button carefully so as not to shake the camera.  With that simple lesson I was introduced to the world of photography and have remained fascinated with it ever since.

The following three pictures are the photos from that encounter with the Red Deer of Richmond Park, on a summers day in 1969.  I scanned the originals some years ago and used the free software Photoscape to sharpen and very lightly enhance the tone.  Two of them also had small marks on the cloud and sky which I was able to remove with some careful restoration, again using Photoscape.  For more information on how to scan and restore old photos see my earlier ‘how to guides‘.

Deer - Richmond 1968 - 3

Deer - Richmond (1968) - 2a

Deer - Richmond (1968) - 1b

Whilst my encounter with the deer that day went very calmly and without incident, this was largely due to my Dad’s experience with the deer of Richmond Park.  Mum and Dad used to visit the park regularly and even photographed the odd deer close up, as can be seen in the black and white photo below, from around 1960.

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Not everyone has such a calm relaxing experience, especially if they take a disobedient dog with them.  I am of course referring to Fenton and his outraged owner who together became a huge internet sensation in late 2011.

I have shared two videos in the previous post, to keep the videos separate from this post.  The first one is a clip of the news reports about the web viral status that the second clip received.  The second clip is the full uncensored version by the original uploader.

Richmond Park and Fenton!

Whilst preparing the next post, about my introduction to photographry I researched for some info on Richmond Park and came across the now famous video of Fenton the dog and his owner.  The incident was captured by one very lucky YouTube user, who found that when they shared it they had a viral video!  The first video is a news report from BBC news and the second is the full uncensored original.

Televisions in the 1960s

Here is a little reminder of what televisions looked like around the mid-1960s.  For those who like me are old enough to remember those wood boxed televisions I hope this is a nostalgic treat, and helps to recall the few hours a week that we used to spend watching TV back then.  For younger readers I hope you enjoy discovering how much technology has moved on in the last 40 or so years.  TV shows of all kinds are now available on all sorts of devices, from flat thin LED TVs to portable devices like smartphones and laptops – life hasn’t always been that exciting or overwhelming!

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EKCO T434. 19″. Introduced  c.1963/4.  Photo found at 405 TV – Gallery 1

The photo of an EKCO 19 inch Black & White TV is of a very similar TV to one I watched around 1967.  I seem to recall my Dad bringing a TV home one evening, probably by getting a lift with a friend from work.  He set it up on top of a old cupboard or sideboard in the living room.  It wasn’t the instant switch on and watch I was expecting.  There was the small matter of tuning the TV to a station and catching the signal first.

In 1967 there were only 3 TV channels in the UK – BBC1, BBC2 and ITV – all only broadcast in black & white, with a gradual introduction of colour transmissions, region by region, from 1969 with a whole new network of transmitters being built into the early 70s.  Many TV sets, like the one pictured, had a dial that turned to find the channel.  Pre-set channel buttons were available on some models, but I mostly recall dial tuning on TVs that I saw.  Finding a station, even if the picture was snowy and faint was an achievement that could take many minutes, sometimes longer if the TV aerial wasn’t positioned correctly to begin with.

Like many homes of that era there was no TV aerial installed on the building, so an indoor antenna had to be used.  That was a very hit and miss game, with a lot of time spent holding the antenna and moving it up and down and around in every possible direction, like some sort of strange incantation of the TV picture in ritual dance, attempting to catch the signal.  The picture below shows a few examples of antenna similar to ones my Dad used.

50s rabbit ear antenna

A few ‘rabbits ear’ TV antenna from the USA in the 1950s, that were still commonplace in the 60s and very similar to those available in the UK.  Photo from the Vintage Television Antenna page of GodarUSA.

Once the signal of a station had been found, and the antenna contorted and positioned in just the right place, we would settle down to enjoy a favourite show, like Pinky & Perky or Tarzan.  However, the show was often interrupted by the need to correct the signal, either with the TV dial or by repositioning the antenna.  Interference from atmospheric disturbance and other electrical devices was common. Even moving around in the room, like dancing and singing along with a song tended to disturb the signal and spoil the show.  Changing channels was likely to mean starting the whole performance over again!

TV sets in the 1960s also had another painfully frustrating problem – valves!  The picture could suddenly be lost, with just the sound of the show continuing to come from the set, when the valve ‘blew’.  With the sort of set we had, a blown valve was a fairly common event, possibly due to another fault with the electrics in the back of the box, or poor quality replacement valves.  For an idea of what the inside of the TV looked like with the back off see the photo below.  All TV’s had a sticker on the cardboard back cover, warning that removing the screws and opening the back risked the danger of electrocution!  That wasn’t an empty threat just to deter DIY repairs, there really was a danger of a severe or even fatal electric shock – not that such warnings stopped my Dad, although he was wary of electrics and kept us kids well away from the TV when it was opened up.

MURPHY V849U 19

An example of the inside the back of a TV from the 1960s.  For the technology buffs this is an MURPHY V849U 19″, but most TVs from that era looked fairly similar to this.  Photo from 405 TV – Gallery 4.

typical valveAn example of a typical replacement valve common for the efficient working of various parts of the circuits in the back of all TVs in the 1950 and 60s.  Photo from The National Valve MuseumValves and their habits.

Although I can remember watching TV several times a week back in the mid-1960s, I can also recall disappointments of blown valves when favourite shows were due on.  We didn’t always have a TV until as late as 1980, as we simply couldn’t afford to buy a new one and second-hand TVs were not all that reliable.  We had a few fairly long lasting TVs in the 1970s, but there were also gaps of many months in my regular TV viewing too.  Now, with an overwhelming array of channels and ways to watch it, I find myself enjoying reading blogs and watching home made videos on YouTube, instead of viewing regular TV.  I do make an exception for Doctor Who, a show from 1963, that has been enjoying a popular revival in the last few years – I still enjoy watching it, as it is broadcast, on a standard TV.  See the video in the previous post for a sample of what Doctor Who is about!