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All things must pass

Stan C. Reade Photo here in London has gone out of business. I spent many hours there, and many dollars also. But the film business isn’t what it used to be, people buy their cameras at Future Shop, and e-Bay killed the used market and its economics of scarcity.

Let me say to Progress the same words with which I intend to greet the Apocalypse: fuck you, and the horses you rode in on.

Rows of lenses beneath the glass top of a display cabinet: a couple of well-used 50/1.8s for less than nothing, two slow midrange zooms, an old 24 mm f/2 going cheap, a battered 300 mm f/4.5, an 85, a 20-35 zoom, some crappy third-party teleconverters. In short, nothing exciting. No good lens going cheap, no cheapie worth using as a beater, nothing worth playing with for its own sake. Nothing holds its value anymore. Returning from El Salvador, you sold those two battered F3s for three times what a mint F3 high-eyepoint will fetch now. Photography today is nothing but a game of technology. In the computer age, the philosopher’s stone is merely a serviceable paperweight.

Poring over the used gear cabinet became unpleasantly like looking at Lucas Zane preserved in a museum. He had gone down to the ROM that summer, wanted to see the dinosaurs, felt he could deal with all those bones. But the place was closed for renovation. You want to see a dinosaur, look for your reflection in the glass.

Charlie, run-down, slightly stooped, thinning grey hair, asked if he wanted to take a closer look at anything. Charlie had worked there as long as Zane could remember. Longer than that, in fact. Charlie had worked there since the Nikon F, knew every good camera made since 1959. Tell him you needed to rig a remote trigger for an arcane motor drive that hadn’t been made since 1983, and he’d drag a dusty box up from the basement and find the connector you needed. With a wink: you can have that free because I’m pissed off at the boss today. Charlie liked anyone who wanted things obscure and obsolete.

“Those prices are breaking my heart,” said Zane.

“Used prices are way down. Great deals in there.”

“That’s what’s breaking my heart.”

Zane wandered away from the used cabinets to the back corner  of the shop. On the back wall he found a shelf where assorted used developing tanks lay jumbled. Yard sale junk; no-one uses this stuff anymore. The shelf bore three lonely bottles of liquid black-and-white developer, Kodak HC-110. Zane picked one up and inspected it, taking note of the colour change at the top of the bottle, where the developer had reacted to the air. Easy to work with, has a long shelf life, but like any liquid developer it’s heavy to carry. It was Zane’s favourite, in the days when he still shot a lot of black and white. In El Salvador.

He set the bottle aside. The chemicals on the shelf were jumbled together in no particular order but he found bottles of rapid fixer and glacial acetic acid without difficulty. He still had his old tanks back at the apartment, in one of the boxes. He had all he needed. He deposited the chemicals on the counter and Charlie looked at him dubiously. He rarely used Zane’s name, probably couldn’t remember it without reading it off his credit card. But he could tell you that the difference between an AI-S Nikkor and an AI Nikkor only matters if you own the Nikon FA. And who owns a Nikon FA, anyway?

“I always preferred D-76.”

Which was exactly what Zane might have expected from Charlie.

“That’s what Saint Ansel used?”

“It is indeed.”

“Europe is in flames, and Ansel Adams is photographing rocks and trees. Cartier-Bresson said that.”

“Did he?”

“But no doubt, someplace else was in flames when Cartier-Bresson was shooting guys jumping over puddles.”

“No doubt.”

Charlie put the chemicals in a plastic bag. Zane knew he was far more interested in the merits of HC-110 as compared to D-76, and could cheerfully have discussed contrast curves and push processing characteristics all afternoon. What a dead Frenchman had once said about a dead American, he couldn’t have cared less.

“Thing is, someplace or other is always in flames,” said Zane.Now that he had the chemicals, he felt no real desire to take any pictures worth developing.

“And there are always rocks and trees.”

“True, that.”

Rocks and trees. Who cares? No doubt Charlie will shake his head sadly after you leave: what a pity that Zane guy hit the bottle. Used to be good, you know, a real pro. In any case, Cartier-Bresson had taken to painting by the time Capa got himself killed in Indochina. Zane was more or less sure of that. If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough. Then Capa stepped on a mine. Cartier-Bresson was better off painting.

from Combat Camera

Categories: combat camera, photography
  1. Stephen
    January 5, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks A.J.for making note of Stan C. Reads closing. I know that its been awhile since the sign went down but your comments are the first that I have come across. Sad to see him close his doors. I am a hater of change (progress?!). I suppose the Reade, and Linden photography stores are obsolete now in this electronic society. Hard to compete with the big box boys. Yes the Henry Stores and Future Shops are among us but they are all glitz and toys and more mega pix the better pushers. Sorry folks (kids) but you are just sales people with the only knowledge of how to press the shutter release button (the little button on top) and direct me to the cash register. And do not forget the extended warranty in case it fails next week. I miss walking into a store and seeing the glass cases of well used but gorgeous Nikons and Canons or maybe a Leica or some wonderful Carl Zeiss lenses, (GLASS lenses) Seeing shelves of film and mechanical SLRs and developing trays. That was real photography, yep, showing my age there. Finished an AV Technician course at Fanshawe in 86, AV…what the is hell that?. Lots of B&W photography and developing , slide shows, story boards etc. Within a year of my graduation, everything I had learned in 2 years was obsolete. Boom, goodbye chemicals and film and slide shows, and cart in the computers and digital this and digital that…phew…I can’t keep up. Everything is changing too fast for me. Yes I have small digital camera, can’t afford the pricey SLRs, but this technology was forced on me because the manufactures call the shots. Oh well, I can always take a picture with my……phone!! WTF What next, a camera built into my bottom lip?


  2. January 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for commenting. No kid in FutureShop can ever replace the expertise of the folks behind the counter in a place like Reade’s.

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