Thursday, 29 October 2009

Blame It On Jet Lag

Right, so I'm back from Berlin with a grand total of zero photographs taken with Ricoh. In my haste, I packed one of Stephen's used films rather than the fresh one I'd bought and my German is ok but doesn't stretch to: "Can I have a 36-exposure, 400 ISO, black & white film please, Mr Pharmacist?"

So rather than taking Ricoh on an adventure, I've managed to take some unpublished film for a lovely 1,160 mile round trip. (There are plenty of Berlin pics going up on Art of the City though - check them out here.) Still, I'm going to get Stephen's two films published this weekend if I can and get to work on taking some snaps in drizzly old London instead.

And if anyone London-based is interested in taking Ricoh for the next step of his adventure (and wants to receive an undeveloped 35mm surprise too), do please drop me a line at:

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Concept

Right, here's the idea... I've been thinking about what really tickled me the most about last Sunday and it wasn't the chance element of it all or the winning itself but the whole idea of receiving an undeveloped film. There's a mystery element to this which I think I've been missing from my digital SLR.

Anyway, in the hopes of carrying this on, I've decided to shoot a new 36 exposure film with Ricoh and then pass the film and the camera onto another willing photographer. In the meantime, I will also develop Stephen's original film and post the results here on the blog. The hope is that the next photographer will then shoot another new film, develop and keep my shots, send me a copy to post on the blog and then pass the camera on again.

So at each step, you won't know how your own photographs have turned out until they are safely in the hands of a new photographer - you'll have to keep an eye out on here for the results. The new photographer will also end up with a random person's artwork to keep for themselves, all for the price of developing a film. And when we've reached a nice round number (20? 50?) I'd like someone to pass a film on to Stephen, to complete the full circle. Then we could maybe think about seeing if a gallery might take the collected "unseen" photographs and exhibit them. It's a pipe dream, but why not hey?

So now I need people to volunteer to take Ricoh on the next step of his adventure. For the sake of cost, logistics and our striking postal service, it might be easiest to restrict it to London-based photographers. I'm happy to be the go-to guy to pick up and pass on Ricoh as we go. All I need is for anyone interested to register their interest with a comment or else help me promote this further by linking to Ricoh's Adventure from your own blog or site.

For now, I must love you and leave you. I'm off to Berlin in the morning, with a film bought and Ricoh ready to go. Kreuzberg here we come...

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Nelson's Column

I just opened my inbox and found the following reply from Stephen Nelson:

Dear Steve
Sorry to disappoint you that i am not the celebrated American photographer
i think your idea is great and perhaps you could keep doing it and have an exhibition somewhere with all the photographs shown randomly side by side or perhaps a website,
I was hoping that it might foster a love of 35 mm photography in a young kid but your idea is equally as thrilling if people just have the expectation or surprise of waiting for the film to be processed not really knowing what the results are, part detective story, part revelation.
Keep in touch

What a lovely man. He's definitely helped rekindle a love of 35 mm photography in a big kid, if nothing else. And I like his last phrase too - sounds like a tagline from a cinema poster. In fact, Ricoh is a good movie villain's name if ever I heard one. Anyway, with Stephen's blessing in the bag, I'll post the finalised format for Ricoh's adventure tomorrow...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Finding Stephen Nelson

Before I went any further with this idea, I wanted to find out a little bit more about the artist who donated Ricoh to the Free Art Fair. After all, if I'm to pass on this camera to people I eventually want him to know exactly what his generosity has inspired. I'm also privately concerned that he's the type of artist who is only concerned with his privates. I'm no prude, but I've spent much of the last few days imagining what fantastical prints might be contained on the two rolls of film and none of them involve a close-up of a random stranger's willy.

In my tired state yesterday, I turned on my laptop and Google the artist's name. Within seconds I realised that I'd hit gold dust: an American photographer's website with page after page of stunning landscapes, from California's Great Central Valley to the icy wastelands of Antarctica. Original prints are selling on there for upwards of $1,000. Forget the art project, I'm selling these bad boys and moving to Hawaii!

I kissed the two 35mm cases repeatedly, so much so that some of the black felt tip writing came off on my lip. Staring at the smudged, hand-written "Nelson 09" label on each of them, I couldn't believe my continued luck! Looking back at the screen displaying the website of American landscape photographer Stephen Johnson, I couldn't believe how stupid I am capable of being. 

Crock of shit. With the retirement plan on hold and the mild dyslexia corrected, it was back to the internet. The FAF website offered few clues. The page listing all the participating artists shows weblinks to all except a handful of them, Nelson included. The online catalogue offered a little more insight though:

Now we were getting somewhere. Nature and football, sounds like a fairly grounded fella. It got me to thinking about what kind of pictures there might be on those two rolls of film? The camera didn't look hi-tech enough to have been taken 20,000 leagues under so maybe it was a rapturous reel of Stevie Gerrard celebrating in front of the Kop? 

In the meantime, I've written the following email to him:
Dear Stephen

Thank you so much for taking part in the Barbican's Free Art Fair. My entry form was drawn 17th on the afternoon and your work had been my first choice. While I am itching to develop your films and discover their contents, I've decided not to simply keep the camera for myself. Inspired by your initial generosity and tickled by the idea of receiving undeveloped film, I have decided to pass the camera to other photographers with a roll of free film - the only direction being that they return the film to me undeveloped. 

I'm not sure how I will determine where the camera heads yet, but I have set up a blog dedicated to the camera's travels - see - and will document how the project develops. Hopefully within a year or two I will have accrued enough returned films to stage an unseen exhibition. 

This project is still obviously in its earliest stages so any input or advice would be greatly received.

Best wishes, Steve

Here's hoping he doesn't think I'm some kind of stalker. I'll keep you posted when - or if - I get a reply...

Monday, 19 October 2009

Meet Ricoh...

Ricoh is an XR-10 35mm SLR camera. Up until yesterday, Ricoh didn't belong to me - he belonged to the artist Stephen Nelson. But now I want to give Ricoh away too.

Let me explain. Yesterday, the third annual Free Art Fair took place at London's Barbican Centre. My girlfriend had wanted us to drop by, in the hopes that she might win something to hang in the front room. The idea was that you perused 52 artworks, filled in a form and then hoped that your name was drawn. The 52 winners would then choose a favourite work, in numerical order.

A rail replacement bus service meant that we had arrived late to the Fair and missed seeing most of the artworks on display. There was only time to see a handful of works before they were returned to storage. The paintings were mostly brash and slapdash, the conceptual sculptures were difficult to love and Bob & Roberta Smith's sperm-infested marmalade wasn't really right for the mantelpiece. Things weren't looking promising.

Just as I was walking out to grab lunch in the hour before the draw, I chanced upon a work called Blow Up by Stephen Nelson. The title was a tease as Nelson had shot two rolls of 35mm film on a Ricoh SLR camera and included them, undeveloped, in the glass cabinet along with a spare lens and a rusty old carry case. The mystery of it all appealed to me. 

The crowds had been so huge, we figured our odds were small so took our time over lunch. We walked back in to the Barbican foyer when the draw was already under way. Literally, the next name called was mine. Number 17. I figured the larger works or pieces by bigger name artists would have gone first so Blow Up was a safe bet (you only had two chances and no idea what the previous people had picked). The guy on the door of the storage room ticked his clipboard and handed me the camera.

On the bus home, it all seemed a little surreal. I knew I could have simply developed the films, pocketed the camera and forgotten about the whole thing, but the generosity of the artist and the serendipity of the whole process left me thinking that the story shouldn't end there.

I'm going to shoot a roll of film with Ricoh over the next week or two. Afterwards, I was thinking it would be interesting to add my roll to Stephen's undeveloped rolls and then pass Ricoh on to another photographer, on the proviso that they repeat the process and pass it on again. I'm not sure about the logistics of it all - do we post the camera back and forth or onwards like a chain letter? Will we have enough interest to do a draw each time? - but I'll work all of this out, via this blog, over the next few weeks. 

I'm really intrigued by everyone else's input here too. Any ideas, insight or even interest in taking Ricoh for a week would be really appreciated. My vague ambition is to end up with a bunch of great photos, taken in isolation by photographers across the country (the world?) on this same old SLR camera. Welcome to the first tentative step of Ricoh's Adventure.