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Shooting London's Chap Olympiad on Film

What's the best way to shoot a gathering of retro-dressed revellers taking part in an array of eccentric 'Olympic' events? On film, of course.

For the past few years, I’ve made a habit of going to the Chap Olympiad, a retro gathering organised by the good… errr… chaps at The Chap magazine.

My old BBC workmate Phil Coomes did a fantastic gallery when he went in 2006 – after seeing that I made sure to to dig my 30s-style suit out of the wardrobe, set my hat at a rakish angle and attend the next event. Aside from a one-year break in 2011 I’ve been there every year since.

The Chap Olympiad is a perfect excuse to get snap happy. Not just to shoot the competitors taking part in events such as Umbrella Jousting, Cucumber Sandwich Discus and Shouting At Foreigners, but for the chaps and chapesses donning their finery for a day of gin, moustache-twirling and frivolity.

On a bright day, the Chap Olympiad cries out for colour film – as this shot here of a dapper gent in 2007 hopefully proves. But this year – just a few weeks before the Olympics proper got under way a few miles across town – the Chaps were a decidedly more overcast affair. With that in mind, I headed down with a half-dozen rolls of black and white film, and a pair of old SLRS – a Pentax ESII and a Chinon Memotron.

Both these cameras date from the 1970s, both take the old M42 screw mount, and both are aperture priority – meaning that you choose the aperture and the camera looks after the shutter speed – something worth hooting about in the mid 1970s. Neither are what you’d call on the small side, but the Memotron is definitely on the chunky side. Drop this on your spats and you’ll know about it.

Though there were a bunch of photographers shooting in digital – kind of incongruous with the retro feel of it all – there were a number of film cameras amid the several-hundred-strong crowd.

Suited, booted, frocked or fascinated, the Chaps’s attendees never turn away from the opportunity to have their pic taken – a pretty refreshing change in London. In fact, it’s difficult not to get people putting forth their posing face – there were several times I was trying to take a candid and got clocked, and rewarded with a smile or a raised eyebrow.

I’ve been shooting a black and white film project with bands at soundcheck for the last few years, using the same two cameras, lenses and one film stock – Fuji Neopan. This was an opporunity to shoot a little bit of everything, including Fomapan 400, a gritty and grainy film from the Czech Republic, and Holga 400, which seems to be a rebranded Ilford film.

While getting decent shots with a colour film would have been a struggle, the overcast weather was perfect for black and white. And the those looks of the 30s and before suit the mono treatment. Carefully filtering out the background to get rid of anything modern, and you could be looking at people your grandparent’s age, enjoying watching gentlemen whisper sweet nothings in a lady’s ear and getting a slap in the chops for their efforts (another Chap event, know simply as ‘Bounders’).

Check out the pictures below, or the Flickr set here. Pip pip!

written by stephen73

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