Rome was everything I thought it would be – magnificent in its ruins, churches, history and people. I’ll go again, maybe in autumn when the heat isn’t as crazy. The sites, streets, piazzas are all undeniably photogenic and maybe in less tourist-heavy seasons, I’d take a more measured photowalk round the numerous easily walked. Here’s some random shots of Rome. Shots taken on the Ricoh KR5 and Lomography Earl grey 100 film.
That’s Latin for Vatican City, the Catholic Church’s city state in downtown Rome. Now I’m not one for religion of any shape nor of certain religions’ supra-earthly claim of superiority over actually-very-earthly things. The Catholic Church in particular has been on dodgy ground over many things in the last two millennia yet it still has unfathomable status in the lives of people and nations around the world. And at the Vatican, it has established an undeniably photogenic tourist trap.
St. Peters Basilica – and the Square – is magnificent. From every angle.
It’s not all Catholic mysticism, history and solemnity. Vatican as a city state has to function like cities. There’s a post office.
And everything for the Tourists, of course.
Now – a bit of a personal beef. The security at the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica wouldn’t let me in. Why? I was wearing the wrong shorts. Now they were waving by all sorts of folks in summer attire – male/female, shorts, skirts all at several levels of skimipness. My pale, inoffensive yet atheist legs however were banned. I tried discussing the logic of this in light of the appearance of numerous others, I channelled a bit of Wallace and Gromit referencing The Wrong Trousers but to no avail. So I hung around for a few minutes and mingled in with a tour group to gain access. There’s also a ban on photography which is almost univerally ignored. Including myself with the phone.
There is of course the other side of the Catholic Church and its history that isn’t on full view. A rather innocuous looking building is the Palace of the Holy Office. Or.. The Inquisition.
And of course there is the history of the highly dodgy Popes. I’m thinking the Borgias and in particular Pope Alexander VI, a gent who made Tony Soprano look like Winnie the Pooh. But his tomb is not on view in St Peter’s with the numerous other Popes’. He can however be found about 15 minutes away, in the Spanish national church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli. But I tracked him down, and there was no issue with the legs. Maybe he wasn’t that bad a Pope.
The Vatican and Catholic presence in Rome is great to visit and is visually and historically fascinating. But I find the overblown sense of self-aggrandizement a bit grating given the mixed history and lust for power that the Vatican represents.
A few practicalities – don’t go early, everyone does this to beat the crowds so there are very large crowds. Mid afternoon is a bit less frenetic. And make sure leg-wear goes to below the knees.
Camera – Ricoh KR-5 / Oriental Seagull 100 and the Huawei P9
Most of us call it The Colosseum or Coliseum, Colosseo if you’re Italian or if you really want to push the boat out – Anfiteatro Flavio. We all know what it is when we see it – the big round ruined stadium in Rome, a classical Hampden Park but probably having seen less violence. It’s instantly recognisable yet still a must-see when in Rome.
As mentioned in a previous post, there are big long queues with no shortage of touts offering beat-the-line offers at inflated prices. Or you can book online to beat-the-line and still pay over the odds. So worth saying again – go to the ticket office at the Forum and get a combo ticket, go to the Forum first and then walk straight by the queues into the Flavian Amp.. Colosseum.
So a hot day, A Ricoh KR-5 with a dud battery and a roll of Oriental Seagull 100 (possibly Kentere 100 or Ilford Pan 100) guessing at Sunny 16.
Inside it gets no cooler, and you get an idea of the scale of the arena.
Like many places in Rome there’s free drinking water from fountains. In a queue, an Enlgish couple were behind me discussing the visit. She was disappointed and underwhelmed – it was, she said ‘a bit ruin-y’. Can’t argue with that though I would add ‘magnificent’
The resurgence in film photography, especially with younger photographers has led to a sharp increase in the price of old film cameras. In 2008 I bought a mint Nikon L35AF for a measly £3 . With the ascendancy of DSLRs and Mirrorless systems, people couldn’t get rid of their film gear quickly enough.
10 years on and classic compacts, SLRs, rangefinders and medium format cameras go for premium prices, although only for certain cameras with a certain cachet. Cameras like the Canon AE1, Olympus MjuII, Pentax 67, Mamiya 7, anything Contax or Leica all seem to be a costly camera of choice for the affluent young blogger or YouTuber.
I however grew up on a Praktica MTL3 and whatever cheap M42 lenses I could get, and even though I progressed to the heights of Praktica B mount and aperture priority exposure, I still have a fondness for a more budget approach to film photography.
So while looking on the EBay for a 28mm lens to go with a battered but working Pentax K1000 rescued from impending landfill, I managed to obtain for the princely sum of a tenner:
A mint Ricoh KR-5 with 50mm f2 Riconar lens
A Sirius 28mm lens
A Sirius 135mm lens
An olive green Miranda bag
A wee sync cable
A blower brush (essential for negative scanning) I don’t think I’ve ever felt as pleased with myself.
The KR5 it should be said is a basic beginners camera of the most utilitarian order. But my god it’s beautiful. A solid mix of metal body and plastic casing – the name and model is cut into the plastic, none of your sticker nonsense here – it has a solid, unfussy design.
It’s jet black – front, back and top with minimal controls. You get a shutter dial, film speed dial, lever advance and shutter release button (threaded for cable release). A self-timer on the front and that’s your lot. Even the shutter speed dial keeps it basic. No wide range of speeds either..
A modest fastest speed of 1/500th is complemented by a slowest of 1/8th with B the only setting below this. So any milky water shots, you’re on B and counting. In reality of course if you’re street shooting or doing a photo-walk, this is going to cover most situations unless you’re using Ilford Delta 3200 on a bright summer day. Equally in the studio under flash – sync of 1/60th, lens at f8 and set the lights accordingly.
Exposure is measured through a simple CdS exposure meter powered by two G13/SR44 batteries. A useful feature is that the meter only works when the lever is half-cocked to show the red dot as seen above. Unlike the Pentax K1000 whose meter is always on and needs a lens cap on to stop battery drain, the exposure is only read when the lever is in this position.
Simplicity is extended through to the viewfinder screen.
It’s big, bright and has a needle that moves up and down. No LED’s or even +/- indicators. When it’s in the middle you’re good to go. Even the focussing circle in the centre is unfussy and is clear to see when you’re in focus.
And that’s the KR-5. Next step is to load film and shoot.
And that’s the Ricoh KR-5 in all its wonderful simplicity. You may ask what’s the difference between it and any of the numerous other manual SLR’s of the 1970’s and 80’s and there’s undoubtedly more sophisticated, desirable cameras out there, cameras with greater versatility and even ones with more than 7 shutter speeds.
It’s strength is in the simplicity of use and its limited options and functionality which puts the onus on the photographer. It combines Eastern Bloc utilitarianism with a bit of Japanese reliability and sleeker design. It’s not too heavy, the shutter’s not too loud and the solid black look and stripped back functionality make it the Johnny Cash of cameras.