ICONIC FOR A REASON

Jane Bown more than deserves her status as an iconic photographer.

When I took up photography in the late 1970s, I was obsessed with owning as much photographic gear as possible in the belief it would help make me a better photographer. I struggled for a couple of years shooting duff landscapes, even duffer street photographs and the one area of photography I still love to this day - portraits.

Armed with flash brollies, a flash meter, my Olympus OM - 1n and a couple of lenses, I thought I was the bees knees. I then read an interview with Jane Bown in a now defunct photo magazine, and I loved her beautifully crisp, naturally lit mono portraits. Despite my obsession with equipment, I discovered Janes simple approach was her Olympus OM - 1 set to 1/60sec at f/2.8 using Kodak Tri - X. So I too turned to Tri - X and the 1/60sec at f/2.8 rule.

Using the same equipment as Jane, I thought my future as a portrait photographer was assured. It didnt take long to work out that I didnt possess an ounce of the talent Jane was blessed with. Thats why shes an iconic photographer and Im not. But thats the beauty of the medium. You dont have to be a great photographer so long as you love shooting pictures. Even average ones are fun to take. Jimmy Anderson, Tyne & Wear

A TRUE CLASSIC

In these days of instant review on our digital cameras, its easy to forget that the introduction of the Polaroid camera - and its near - instant results - seemed like witchcraft. How nice, then, to see the Polaroid SX - 70 at number 12 in APs 100

Greatest Cameras of All Time My parents bought one as a 21st birthday present for my brother. He soon lost interest in it and I traded him three of my Black Sabbath albums for it.

I was so stunned at having a finished print in my hand so soon after taking the shot that, initially at least, I took pictures of anything or anyone around me. I asked the late Rory Gallagher - the brilliant Irish guitarist - to pose for me at the now defunct Newcastle Mayfair Ballroom. I can still recall the thrill of staring at the photo of my rock hero totally unable to believe it had been taken only minutes beforehand.

I also bought a Polaroid Swinger, which produced only mono prints but it totally lacked the futuristic design of the SX - 70. Its nice that the camera hasnt been forgotten and that reconditioned models are available from the aptly named Impossible Project. The time was when a camera that produced an instant colour print must have seemed like an impossible project. At the time the SX - 70 was launched, digital cameras like we use now would have been viewed as beyond impossible. Isnt technology utterly amazing Dave Swann, Tyne & Wear

The SX - 70 is indeed a beautiful camera, Dave. I have a very broken model myself, which fortunately is a pleasure just to look at - Damien Demolder, Editor

NO HARM DONE

I cannot let Raymond Hills letter go unchallenged. The assertion that a permanent protective filter can do more harm than good is simply untrue. First, if Mr Hill is a spectacle wearer, he will know that the amount of dust and dirt picked up during a day can be such that vision is impaired. I prefer to clean a relatively simple filter than repeatedly clean the lens itself

I have had a filter shatter only once in more than 40 years, and far from shards of glass being driven into the lens, a quick blast with compressed air cleaned out the dust and debris perfectly. Buying a replacement filter is far less painful than a replacement lens: the cost of a high - quality filter - spread over some years - really is nothing compared to replacing a damaged lens. Oh, and in the real world, the effect on colour really is of no consequence. Des Hill, London SE21

FILTER FAN

In response to Raymond Hills letter in AP 5 November, I would not use a lens without having a filter on the front. Ive had three instances so far of lenses dropping onto a floor. One lens, taken off a body, rolled off a chair and fell onto a carpeted floor. The other two lenses were in soft lens cases in a bag whose shoulder strap broke, with the result that the bag dropped around a metre onto a hard floor.

All the lenses had filters on them. The two lenses in the bag also had each manufacturers plastic lens cap fitted. In every case, the glass in the filter was cracked or broken and the ring of the filter was deformed. Two of the lenses escaped with no damage, but the third needed a new aperture module. I found negligible damage to the coatings on the lenses. I understand that the lens coating is quite tough, and I have memories of a Canon or Minolta stand at a camera show where the coatings toughness was demonstrated by the stand staff wiping the lens with their tie.

Its true that filters cant be fitted and forgotten. I used a 1 Omm lens with a circular polarising filter on the front of the protection filter and vignetting occurred. Yes, I should have mounted the circular polarising filter in the place of the protection filter. Ian Brothwell, Nottinghamshire

IN PRAISE OF BRIDGE CAMERAS

On reading Joe Birds Backchat in AP 15 October, extolling the advantages of his Panasonic Lumix DMC - FZ38,1 was gratified to see at long last an article in a photo magazine commenting favourably on bridge cameras. After many years of toting my Praktica film cameras about, I abandoned them in favour of a little Yashica compact film camera, simply because of the 14lb weight.

On venturing into the digital era, therefore, I deliberately eschewed the much - vaunted DSLRs in favour of the ubiquitous bridge camera. My first in this format was a Fujifilm FinePix SI900 with 12 million pixels and a hefty 18x zoom that gave excellent results with prints up to A4 size, all without chopping and changing lenses. Since then, I have progressed to a Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR, with 16 million pixels and a mighty 30x zoom, which is the 35mm equivalent of24 - 720mm Imagine the number and weight of all those supplementary lenses necessary to cover this range, not to mention the cost Of course, like Joe, I have no doubt that DSLR users will disparage my choice on the grounds of quality, but does an amateur really need those expensive cameras and lenses for the type of work they produce? I recently joined my local camera club, where most members use DSLRs, but it seems that the quality of their work depends very much on the editing and enhancement they achieve through Photoshop and the like, which I do not use. This, to my mind, nullifies the claim that one can only achieve excellence by using the more expensive equipment. Tony Granados, Essex

GOLD - PLATED PROTEST

I thought photographers may find the irony of this shot amusing. This lady was at anti - capitalism demonstration in front of St Pauls Cathedral in London recently, photographing demonstrators with her gold - plated Hasselblad C503. Only 50 of these cameras were built to celebrate Hasselblads 50th anniversary, all individually numbered, limited - edition models. I can only guess at the value I doubt that a more elitist camera exists, and here it is being used to document an anti - capitalist demo! Bill Gilliam, via email

BACK CHAT

AP reader David Askham considers the popularity and contrasting styles of street photography in an era of suspicion in our cities

STREET photography is a highly popular genre, particularly among city dwellers, commuters and travel photographers, where brilliant examples stimulate others to try their hand at this challenging form of photography. Those seeking inspiration may think of the late Henri Cartier - Bresson, whose photographs possess a timeless appeal. His go beyond being snapshots: they capture the very essence of life, those unrepeatable and unrehearsed expressions.

Cartier - Bresson was an elusive man, rarely filmed in action. Perhaps it was this very elusiveness that explains his success. He was seldom seen when busy at work. Many have tried to emulate his style, but few have succeeded to master his ability to capture the decisive moment.

In contrast to the discreet approach of Cartier - Bresson, there is a controversial school that believes that, instead of pre - planning and stalking street subjects with care, you should be boldly brazen, even confrontational. The American photographer Bruce Gilden exemplifies this approach. Armed with a camera in one hand and a tethered flash in the other, he suddenly pounces in front of his prey, shoots and moves on, expressing disappointment if they smile or react to his aggressive gesture. His startled subjects are left wondering who has just invaded their private space!

I confess that I couldnt behave like Gilden. It is simply not my style. I dont want or need pictures of startled citizens. I believe there is a more discreet approach, but it does require patience, practice, acute observation and an ability to blend into the scene, much like Cartier - Bresson did when in his prime.

First, I would dress down with calm colours and style. Second, I would carry the absolute minimum of kit. One small camera with one lens, acting just like any other citizen on the street. Scaling down is one of the principal reasons why many owners of bulky DSLRs have switched to compact cameras. The mere sight of a DSLR suggests serious photographer, possibly even paparazzi - they attract the attention of security guards or celebrities eager to remain incognito.

I have noticed this trend towards less conspicuous cameras for street photography in photo forums. The launch of the successful Leica M9 digital rangefinder camera has been seen as an ideal solution for street and travel photography. It is compact, precise, rugged and can produce top - class results for many applications. The M9 does not try to compete in macro and sports fields, but for much else it excels.

Compactness and lower weight are welcome attributes for globe - trotting photographers, with many who have changed reporting that travel photography has become a pleasure again. No more burdensome backpacks! So the advent of compact system cameras has encouraged a resurgent interest in street photography and makes possible a discreet approach.

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