The changing face of photography and how once a trip to Boots was a key part to getting your pictures developed

The changing face of photography and how once a trip to Boots was a key part to getting your pictures developed

By (Chris Britcher)

© Kent Online

Taking a look back on my mobile phone, I can chart the pictorial history of my children’s growth from their childhood through to the fine adults they have become today.

Looking back on my own youth, photographs charting my teenage years are – and this is by no means a bad thing – few and far between.

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You didn’t really see this then…you certainly don’t now

I have had a fundamentally flawed, life-long, fashion sense and some ludicrous haircuts I sported are best remembered by no-one. Least of all me.

Mind you, with so little hair left now, it would be nice to reflect on what a thatch I once had.

But in terms of pictures of nights out with my friends? Almost none. Ditto trips to music festivals or the such like. Granted, family occasions would catch my metamorphosis from boy to man occasionally, but otherwise the tail end of my teens and early 20s made previous few appearances on film.

However, today’s generation are awash with images of themselves, their friends and their surroundings.

The advent of top-notch cameras on today’s smartphones means images are snapped left, right and centre. No longer do we have to pick and choose our moments. No longer are we restricted in the sheer number of shots we can take.

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Today we are all armed with top notch cameras in our pockets courtesy of the smartphone

I will not be alone in recalling the days when you got 24 pictures to a roll of film (or 36 if you wanted to push the boat out).

It was an era where a shot taken in poor light, too close, or slightly blurred, was not worth the risk. You had 24 shots and if you mucked one of them up, well it hurt you in the pocket.

It wasn’t as though the process was particularly expensive. A roll of film in 1990 would set you back about £2.50 and developing anywhere between £3-6 depending on how quickly you wanted the prints back.

Photo developers were a staple of the high street back then. Many trips to the upstairs of Boots in Ashford town centre (at the opposite end to where they used to sell records) were taken to drop off a film and collect it a few days later. Often only to bemoan some poorly framed shots or ones where my finger somehow managed to infringe over the lens.

Then, the good ones would make it to the photo album – to be forever stored on a dusty bookshelf.

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Once upon a time, we relied on photo albums for our most precious pictorial memories

Talking of which, it reminds me of the darkrooms of the first newsrooms I worked in. A secret world of red lights, trays of fluid and pictures hanging up to dry – developing those shots was an art in many ways. Enter at the wrong time and expect an expensive Nikon to be thrown hard at your head (as light exposed all the film and thus ruined them…hence the phrase darkroom). None of this instant image on the screen business to check the quality was good and then emailing it on. Press photographers had to trust their instinct, hope for the best and use roll upon roll of film in pursuit of the right image.

But back to my youth, taking a camera around with you wasn’t really an option. It was something of a faff. Even the ‘pocket’ ones were lumpy affairs. And if you’d spent some money on a decent one, what you didn’t then want was it being bashed about on a night out in your coat pocket.

So we didn’t bother.

Nor, for that matter, did anyone at the time bemoan the lack of anything to capture the moment. We just enjoyed each others companies and chatted. In fact, on a trip to the Glastonbury Festival almost 30 years ago, we took a camera to capture the experience – only for someone to break into our tent and swipe it. Lesson learned.

Better just consign everything to the old memory bank. Which, of course, starts to erode when you get older. Which makes the loss of those photograph opportunities something to regret.

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Granted, pictures from my youth wouldn’t look THIS old…at least they were (mostly) in colour

Mind you, I was also woefully lazy. I know I took rolls of film of a tour around the old Wembley Stadium and a trip around the Millennium Dome in its first inglorious weeks of being open at the dawn on the century. I meant to get the films developed, of course I did, but life got in the way and they got lost. Little bits of personal and cultural history forever gone. Clearly it left a mark as 25 years on, I still kick myself.

But not any more.

Now we have quality cameras literally in our pockets at all times. At any given moment our friends and family are capturing us on camera and we them. Along with the sights and scenes around us.

And so often it is the backdrop of those images which will enthral folk in the years to come. How often does a local village or town Facebook page show an old picture of how the high street looked 20 or 30 years ago and everyone chimes in with memories of the shops or buildings that once stood but are there no longer.

Chances are, if we’d have more than 24 shots on a roll of film, we might have taken some images of town centres had we known their popularity a generation or so later.

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We rely on the ‘cloud’ to keep our precious digital images safe

For today’s youngsters. having such a wealth of pictures provides them with a permanent record of their lives. All the highs and lows which make up the tapestry of their lives.

I often hear the complaint that we don’t look at pictures anymore – that we snap them and never look at them. Nonsense. They’re all on your phone which, I’m reliably informed, we’re all glued to in this day and age.

Of course we look at the pictures – and certainly more often than we do those dusty old volumes of yesteryear. Or we splash out and get them turned into professional looking photo books.

Would I have liked more pictures of me in my youth? Hair style, complexion and fashion not withstanding, then yes, I think I would. As much for the places captured in the frame as for my ugly mug. Would I have liked an iPhone quality camera on a night out in the 1980s and 90s? Again, yes. There are friends, faces and places which my memory is losing its grip on.

As long, of course, as the ‘clouds’ we are all relying on storing our images don’t just go pop overnight.