Shooting with the past

by David Collyer.

David Collyer on shooting with a 1940’s Zeiss Ikon 9×6 Prontor-S.

Last Sunday night as I was settling down to enjoy my dinner and a glass of wine, the infamously inept UK government Track and Trace app pinged, telling me I had been in contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19, and that I must self-isolate immediately. Immediately! So, that was me off work for a week.

As much as it made me feel like a burden on my colleagues, who would ultimately have to fill the gap, I left in an already stretched anaesthetic department in the small hospital where I earn my daily bread.

It did give me a chance to catch up with some work around the house, and to push some photography projects; sending work out to papers and magazines. I also had a good virtual meeting with a cancer charity about launching a project that’s close to my heart.

One thing I did, however, that inspired this column was to sit down and re-watch the beautiful “Shooting the Past”, Stephen Poliakoff’s masterful three part drama about preserving a photo library in the face of redevelopment.

Ultimately, I guess, photography is largely about saving the past for future posterity. My partner’s family own some land in the beautiful Llanthony Valley in the Black Mountains in South Wales. Since the 1950s a hill with three cottages on it has been used constantly by all members of the extended family. We stay there every now and again.

A couple of years ago I discovered a 1940’s Zeiss Ikon 9×6 Prontor-S nestled between books on a shelf, and decided that I would use this to create a record of the times we visit the property. I believe the camera belonged to my partner’s grandparents, and I know that at some point in its life it visited Syria with a cousin.

It’s a beautiful piece of engineering with a superb lens. The detail in the negatives is sublime. What better way to weave a thread through time than by using something that has been in a family for four generations, to record an area so beloved and special, and save a snapshot of my time there, for those who take over as custodians for the future. Shooting with the past, recording the present, and shaping the future.

Images © David Collyer 2021.

To read about our test of Kosmo Foto’s “Agent Shadow” new 400 ISO film see here

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