B.B King on a Canon AE1 – By Ron Duda

Blues legend B. B. King came to my town, Hamilton, Canada  in 1983 to play at what was then called Hamilton Place. What that venue lacked in architectural character it more than made up for in its excellent acoustics. Being a medium sized city, we didn’t attract many big acts. B. B. playing in our town was a pretty big deal. He was at the height of his talent and popularity. He’d recorded his famous “The Thrill Is Gone” about 14 years prior. It became his signature tune and a Blues classic. (B. B. was still in fine form when I saw him 20 years later in the same venue.)

In 1983 I was 27 years old and had owned my own cameras for 7 or 8 years. My first was a Canon TX. It was fully manual, had a built in light meter and shutter speed up to 1/500 sec. I learned film photography on that one and carried it with me nearly everywhere. In the late 70’s I moved up to a new Canon AE1. I see them today in the used market for around $200 with a 50mm lens. It’s a marvellous camera that features Shutter Speed Priority; counter to the more prevalent Aperture Priority models of most other manufacturers.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, SLR cameras seemed to be everywhere. People brought them to concerts, festivals, private parties or anywhere something photo worthy might occur. It seemed like every second or third person had a Pentax, Minolta, Olympus or Canon slug around their neck. If you had a bit of money you could afford a Nikon. So in the context of going to hear and see Mr. King live, it was nothing unusual to bring along my camera. No questions at the door. It was the norm.

I recall having very good seats in the orchestra section, perhaps 15 rows from the stage. Great seats but not close enough for a good photograph. Without creating too much fuss I was able to slip out of my seat and into the isle along the exterior wall of the hall. Resting against the wall for stability, I was able to capture on film, these few images of one of the finest Blues performers of all time.

These were taken on my Canon AE1 and a Vivitar 70-150 f3.8 Macro Zoom lens. As liberal as rules were then, a flash certainly would have proved a disruption to the concert, so these were exposed with available light only.

For a short time in the early 80’s 1 was developing my own negatives and making my own prints. I had a makeshift darkroom in the basement of my home. These 5 frames then are entirely my own work. Whatever film I used, I must have pushed a stop or two to get these results.

The Blues is about emotion. Look at BB’s expressions as he searched and found exactly the right note. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to capture those moments.

By the late 1980’s my interest in photography waned. The cameras came out infrequently.  About 2 years years ago I dusted off the TX and AE1 and the various lenses I had acquired over the years. I loaded them up with film and started shooting again. Happily the cameras were stored well and needed nothing but fresh batteries to get them going. I reacquired all the necessary darkroom equipment and am now once again fully immersed in film photography, development and printing. I’ve never been more engaged in the hobby and am still trying to be a better photographer.

I rediscovered the images quite recently while consolidating several old photo albums. I’ve always had an 8 x10 framed enlargement of B. B. on display in my home but I had forgot about this stash of extra prints. What a pleasant surprise! I get to enjoy them all over again and I hope that you enjoy them too. Thanks to my brother-in-law Les for scanning these images from the original prints I made in 1983.

B. B., the thrill is certainly NOT gone!

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13 thoughts on “B.B King on a Canon AE1 – By Ron Duda”

  1. Excellent shots of one of my favorite artists! I was hooked from the first time seeing and hearing B.B. King, star struck, walked up and stood right in front of the stage while he performed warming up for the Rolling Stones in 1969 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. Your shots jolt me to that time and all the others I was lucky enough to see and hear him perform. Well done and thank you!

  2. Amazing shots! That Vivitar was my first tele zoom! In the second half of the 90s I was fortunate to learn photography on my dad’s old 1971 Nikon F2 Photomic. He had the Vivitar 70-150/3.8 Macro and Nikkor pre-AI 200/4! I got more shots than a dumb teenager manually focusing had any business getting with both of them. ????

  3. Your photos are magnificent! Maybe not perfect, but you captured a Legend. Magnificent! Bravo.
    These days no camera allowed in. The phone can record, forward and generally mess one’s appreciation of a Live show.
    You didn’t do that Look forward to more photos and images (digital).

  4. Excellent shots Ron, thanks for sharing! I love concert photos on film, and in most cases if I’m shooting a show, I make sure I’m shooting with both a film body and digital. Cheers- brian

  5. Amazing story & thanks so much for sharing! My name also Ron am very motivated and inspired by you story! Great pics of a legendary artist and musician!!

  6. Very cool shots. I’m sure they evoke poignant memories of the event when you see them. I saw B.B. King perform in October 2013, only about 18 months before his death, and it was a fantastic show. Such a talented performer. Those 75-150mm lenses offer a very useful zoom range in a (usually) quite compact package too. I was able to get around the photography/camera restrictions of TD Garden in Boston this past Spring by taking my Minolta X-570 with Tokina 75-150mm f/3.8 as it was quite compact. I got some halfway decent photos of the hockey game.

  7. John Catterall

    I have read this through a few times now and have been pouring over these images. Can I please give you a massive ovation for these… I have been a life long BB fan, with photography playing second fiddle to my love of playing music. These are so evocative of BB’s performances! You certainly did well to capture these in concert lighting and the b&w film stock gives such emotion to the picture. Honestly, hands down the best images I have seen! Can I ask for the digital files just for my own personal viewing!?

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