It’s summer 1992 and four of my friends are in a band and have just secured a support slot at a local venue, they need someone to come along and photograph their set. Naturally, I volunteered myself, not knowing at the time how much of an influence it would have on my work nearly thirty years later.
The band was called Wholesome Crack, a successful local band that managed to get late-night radio airtime a few times nationally here in the UK. My weapon of choice for the gig was my trusty Canon A1, paired with a 50mm f1.4 and an 85mm f1.8. The film stock was two rolls of Ilford HP5+. One roll I shot using flash (odd to think that was acceptable at local gigs back then), the other was pushed to 1600ASA and shot using available light, and it’s this second roll that became so important to me.
At that point I’d never shot in such low light, to complicate matters the stage lights were ever-changing, focusing was already a challenge and now I was shooting wide open, upping the ante in that area as well. I knew from experience that HP5+ had enough latitude that if I took a reading when the stage lights were on the band I should get something I could at least work with in the darkroom. So that was exposure sorted, I hoped!
The next challenge was focusing, drummers and bass players tend to be nice and static, so not too much of a problem in that regard, but for guitarists and singers, not a hope of them staying still. So pre-focusing on a set point and watching for patterns of movement was the only option, and then hope I at least got some keepers.
Gig over it was time to head home and contemplate what the results looked like. I was working in photographic retail at the time and I had access to and free use of the shop’s darkroom. The first step, of course, was to develop the negatives and then print off the contact sheets. The roll taken with flash held no surprises, but examining the pushed roll a moment of panic set in. They looked so thin I could barely tell where one frame ended and the next began. Would I have anything workable from them at all?
Hurrying to get the contact sheet produced and looking at it I started to feel better. Under the loupe the degree of grain was obvious, but it was well distributed and added to the atmosphere, and the backgrounds were stuffed full of wonderful dark tones, a low-key and high-contrast look that I immediately fell in love with. Were they perfect? No, far from it in many cases, but I had already learned a lot. More importantly, that was me hooked and I needed to replicate this
I photographed Wholesome Crack many more times and went on to shoot more local bands in the early ’90s, expanding my kit along the way (culminating in a pairing of a T90 and F1n New), but I stuck with pushed HP5+ as film.
I would love to say that this led to a blooming career in music and concert photography, but another path was my destination, and I’m not sure my mental health would have survived the lifestyle that would have likely gone with it. Fast forward nearly 30 years, married, grown-up children, and grandchildren, and photography had mainly fallen by the wayside. However a late diagnosis of ASD and the need for a focus to help process this led me to once again pick up a camera.
I now have a growing collection of film and digital cameras from across the years. I’m attempting to recollect all the cameras I once owned and foolishly sold. Most importantly I’m once again shooting gigs and have found that many of the skills that started with that single roll of pushed HP5+ are still applicable. Transferring perfectly well to digital cameras. I’ve even bought an A1, and am looking forward to giving Delta 3200 a go with a band in the future, but that will be a story for another time…
This piece contains selected images from that roll, alongside some of my recent work. If you would like to see every image from that roll, the good, bad, and outright terrible, a video of them, with more of my thoughts can be found using this link.
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