My dad introduced me to photography when I was young in the best way possible: with a disposable camera. His advice was brief, warning me of covering the lens with a finger. I got a bit older and worked my way through a Canon AF-7 SureShot (which I still enjoy using) to his old Praktica MTL5, when I began a photography course at school.
But it wasn’t so much his photography that inspired me, although I love to look through those old slides of my mum in front of the Moulin Rouge, or at the ‘72 Monaco Grand Prix. No, it was always his attitude to life in general, a kind of "why-shouldn’t-I" feeling superimposed on his actions. Although on a low income, he took out a loan and used it learn to fly. Without a grand salary to keep his flying hours up, his license didn’t stay current for long, but that time is marked by a beautiful, fine-grained photo of our street, taken through the window from 1500 ft.
My Grandad told me a story that showed how early this trait presented itself. Aged around twelve, he challenged himself to learn how to drive the family car by driving it around a scrapyard whilst his Dad fished around for some sought-after bit for his motorbike. e returned to find his Wolsely seemingly driving itself round in circles, my Dad being to small to be seen through the windscreen by any onlooker.
He moved from Birmingham, where he grew up, to the east coast of England to be with my Mum, and took a job as a mechanic. He soon got a name as a determined worker. Sometimes, this got him into trouble. Determined to perform an roadworthiness test on the Mayor’s car to the best of his ability, he determined to fail it for a faulty windscreen washer. He was soon the go-to man for anything exotic and unusual that came into the garage, from E-type Jags to Lamborghinis. He vowed, one day, to build his own car.
I was lucky enough to be around to help him fullfil this dream, mostly by holding work lights, passing him tools and crawling into the tight spaces he couldn’t reach. And when we started flying together, this car that he’d built was the first I would drive (on a whim, of course) around the airfield with my feet barely reaching the pedals. I would drive this car behind his coffin at his funeral.
His determination to do things with his own hands, in his own way, influenced me most of all, and I feel this now with all my hobbies, and most of all with my photography. I love picking up my cameras, holding them, looking through their viewfinders, and thinking of him. And when it comes to the kind of problems (and often the random bursts of creative genius) us lomographers frequently come up against, I think back to his self-reliance and home-brewed “engineering solutions” and pull my socks up.
I found his old camera recently complete with a film loaded and partially used. At first I didn’t know what to do with it. Should I see what’s on the film? But Dad wouldn’t want me to waste what’s left of it…
I have decided that once a year, on his birthday (the winter solstice) I will take his camera, a tripod and a cable release (all his) to an airfield, and point the lens at the night sky. I will take just one long exposure on this day each year until the film runs out. And when it does, I know I’ll just reload another.
Photos by Keith Brown, Andy Brown, and Ethel Brown