Life wasn’t always digital, of course. I still shoot film occasionally, but I have a large filing system at home of (mostly) 35mm colour slides that reminds me how it once was.
For many years I used a Nikon F3/T and a mottley collection of lenses. There are times when I wish I’d learned sooner that it’s the quality of the lens that really counts, but I loved that camera. The “T” in the name stands for “titanium”. Mine wasn’t one of the common black versions so beloved of press photographers, it was the pinky-grey model known as a “Champagne T”. Very collectable if mint and with the original wooden box it was sold in. Mine failed on both counts, but it was a fabulous tool, and something I really regret selling to fund a move into medium format film after about 15 years. Even my beloved (and also much-missed) Bronica RF645 and I never had as much fun together.
My F3/T was pretty much the only camera I took with me on trips to the Dolomites between 1986 and around 2003, by which time, notwithstanding the reduced practicality for mountain work, I’d largely been seduced into medium format film work. The Nikon never broke down on me, nothing on it ever wore out. It seemed equally as happy on a winter traverse of the Ivano Dibona via ferrata, in -15C and suffocating spindrift at times as it did in the 35C heat of the crags on Col Rosa. Actually, thinking about it, that camera probably went out in temperatures nearer -25C on a couple of long hut-to-hut ski tours I did in Norway during that time. Those were days when you could be pretty sure that if you needed to change a film while outside, you risked it snapping in the cold. Photo of one such:
That slide filing system at home is the best legacy I have of those days, and helps keep the memories fresh – and honest – as the years go by. I reorganised my home office a few months back, which meant, for the first time in just about forever, dismantling much of the slide storage in order to move it. I recently began the job of putting it all back together. To date, that has been a very long job, as I slipped down Memory Lane all too frequently by taking a peek at old photos of my younger life. Grief, that sounds an “old bloke” thing to say!
My slide filing system was always pretty good, and I could usually lay my hands on what I wanted. However, just occasionally, it went awry. For my exhibition last February, there was a shot of me with two old friends I wanted, from a batch of slides dating from a long summer I spent in the Dolomites through 1989. I remembered clearly the photo being taken, but sadly, that batch of slides had been missing, seemingly totally without trace, for at least 10 years, if not slightly more. My efforts to find it for the exhibition failed.
I’d actually been back to the UK for short while, but had arranged to meet up with Butch and Brian at Cortina bus station in mid September. Memory had always told me that the ensuing fortnight we shared was one of long sunny days, superb sunsets and, when we could manage the effort, brilliant sunrises. We spent the whole time touring the exquisite mountain huts of the central Dolomites, and getting to know the big mountains like the Tofana group, Cristallo and Sorapis.
Well, I think by now you can guess what’s coming. Yes, stuck away in one of many drawers that I thought were filled only with spare slide mounts and miscellaneous dross, I found ten Kodak boxes that were for some reason marked “Misc”. The missing material. To those brought up on digital, spare a thought for how I might have lasted three months of 1989 on just 360 frames of film? I regularly shoot more than that a day sometimes now! Having to carry all those rolls in an already bulging rucksack had a lot to do with it, as did cost. I was very happy indeed to discover that time hadn’t put a false gloss on those memories. Well, at very least, the camera had only recorded the good stuff! The photo I really wanted to find is the colour shot below. That’s me in blue on the right! The black and white panorama at the start of this blog is also based on an early morning shot from that trip.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience like this, finding old, “lost” photos, but for me it was joy unbounded as soon as a quick flick through confirmed this was indeed the fabled “Summer of ’89” set. It was shot during one of the happiest periods of my life. I’d just about recovered from a severe back injury a number of years earlier, I was granted sabbatical leave for a big chunk of the year, ostensibly to learn Italian, and I was in love with the Italian Dolomites. Those mountains were very new to me then. Several have become old friends since.
A nice aspect of September is that Dolomites sunrise and sunset times are at very accessible times of day, although waiting around for sunrise could be bloody freezing! I would love to repeat the whole trip, at the same time of year, if only I could guarantee that weather. I couldn’t have the same company, though. Brian’s still hale and hearty, but Butch died a few years ago. I blogged about him here, not long afterwards.So, it was really a bittersweet joy to find those photos. Of course, it’s harder, or more probably permanent when you lose a batch of digital images.
I knew the title I wanted for this blog. All mine are musical references, as you probably realise. This ones to a well known Simon & Garfunkel song. While writing, though, I remembered the short, touching, closing track also on the S&Gs album “Bookends” from which my title comes. It’s called “Bookends” too, and its few words match this blog perfectly. It closes with the reminder to “Preserve your memories. They’re all that’s left you.” Do listen.