The Olympus OM-1 was my first real camera, I bought it as-new in 1981, when I was a student, for £95. That was a lot of money in those days, and my bank account didn’t recover for many years (in today’s money, that’s £350). That it was fully manual was all-important. My photography was going to be all down to me – forcing myself up the learning curve of understanding the relationship between aperture and shutter speed.
Growing up in the 70s, I was captivated by the monochrome documentary photography in the Sunday newspaper supplements. Horrified and educated too. With only three TV channels and no media other than print, newspapers were the only way you saw stuff and learned what was going on in the world – and the glossy supplements were full of high-quality reportage photography. It’s where you saw work by people like Don McCullin. Work that I wanted to emulate, albeit in London, and not a war zone.
I took the OM-1 everywhere and documented the lives of my student/social cohort. As I digitise that archive, I realise now that I took a fairly cavalier attitude to exposure and focusing when shooting people (they moved around a lot).
I loved the fact that the shutter speed dial was around the lens. And how small it and solid the camera was. For many years I only had the Zuiko 50/1.8, which in itself was great – I never had to think about which lens to use: even more simplicity.
I used a lot of bulk-loaded Ilford film. While I knew that not all films were the same, I did have the attitude that “film is cheap” and that taking (lots of) photographs was the main thing. Again, I now realise that that bulk Ilford film was not brilliant (overly contrasty). I don’t know what it was as it’s not indicated on the film. Most of my work in those days was on Tri-X or AgfaPan 100 though.
I did all my film developing at home, having been taught how to do it by a babysitter when I was 12. In the early 80s I used to use the darkroom at the Photographer’s Gallery until I got my own darkroom going, which, when living in rented accommodation, was quite a challenge. An interesting thing I’ve realised as I digitise my archive is just how few of my negs were printed back then. It was an expensive business, printing. Most of the images you see here were never printed so have been rediscovered this year. If only I’d known what was lurking on all those contact sheets.
Sadly the camera is sort of no more. I think the light meter has lost all its sensitivity as adding fresh batteries with the relevant adapter is a bit of a dead loss in terms of exposure metering. The metering needle moves from rest a bit but only when the aperture is wide open and the shutter speed is cranked up to long exposure times. I had such high hopes of using it again as I dived headlong back into film photography a couple of years ago. I ended up having to replace it with an FM2, which I love.
All the images have been digitised with a Sony A7r and Nikkor 55/2.8 Macro with extension tube for 1:1 reproduction. As an aside, this is a process I’m loving as I revisit 40 years’ worth of 35mm negs.