The Length of the Bay

Penzance, Newlyn and Mousehole, Cornwall, UK 50°6'N 5°32'W

I have a fascination with the water. The Cornish coastline can be serene and it can be dangerous, but it never ceases to draw my photographic eye. The coastal towns are built into the hillside with roads that rise and fall with the natural formations. The roads are chaotic in their dips and elevations, their twists and turns. The seaside towns have art galleries, breweries, tourist hotspots and fish markets.

Penzance is the final stop in the south west on the train. My path took me from the center of town, through the fringes and to the outskirts. Heading west around the bay and passing through Newlyn takes you to Mousehole, pronounced ‘maos-ul’.

I didn’t mean to go to Mousehole. My original plan was to make my way to the nearby reservoir through the rural paths and fields, but I got lost. I also underestimated how far and how high I would have to climb to reach my destination. Fearing that I was trespassing on a farmer’s property I turned back towards Newlyn. I found another path canopied by trees leading west, farther away from Penzance, which ended in the drive of a family home. I knew I was trespassing this time, but thankfully the only witness to my faux pas was the family dog who looked at me with confusion and intrigue as I fled.

I walked through streets built on steep inclines and saw how far my path had taken me. I was closer to the lifeboat station at the edge of the bay than I was Penzance town center. I had come this far, so I thought I might as well go all the way.

My trek back to Penzance train station followed the roads that skirt the coastline. There were kids heading home from school, couples on benches, and a trio of friends in wetsuits jumping from the sea defense wall of the town’s promenade into the cold water below.

Camera: Rank Aldis rangefinder
Lens: Fixed 40mm f/2.8
Film: Svema 125, 24 exposures (colour)

My Rank Aldis rangefinder is always reliable. I bought it from eBay three years ago for £13, post and packaging included. It’s over 50 years old, but all of the mechanics still function perfectly. The 40mm focal length in full frame 35mm is equally suited for landscapes and portraits — the ideal blend of depth and naturalistic perspective. The camera settings are all fully manual, but there is an integrated reflective meter that I have used on occasion that can assist in determining exposure.

The Svema colour film has several striking characteristics. I overexposed the 125-speed film by 2/3rds stop, rating the film at 80 ISO on my light meter. The scanned images were desaturated and high contrast with cool, pastel colours. I was reminded of silver retention processes and the flashing techniques used by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond in John Boorman’s Deliverance. The overcast sky was rendered as pure white and the toe had ink-black density. In my next excursion shooting with this film I plan to underexpose by 1/3rd stop, rating at 160 ISO, to see how the colour and grain will be affected. How much of the look from those shots was determined by the film and how I chose to expose it?

The development and scanning was done by DS Colour Labs Ltd. Only minor adjustments in cropping were made — no changes have been made to the exposure or colour of the original scans.

When I have a smartphone that can capture thousands of shots, onto a Micro SD card the size of a fingernail, the idea of limiting myself to 24 shots may sound ridiculous. What I find is that restricting my photography to such a finite number of shots leads me to become more discerning, more focused, about my subjects. Freeing myself from the reckless abandon and instant gratification of my phone’s camera forces me to step up my game. Using a camera dedicated to being solely a camera sharpens my concentration. Shaping an image using my judgment and understanding of photography is such a rewarding and enriching experience.

Shooting on a decades-old rangefinder provides me with that experience, and the result is that I shoot better.

Coming soon: The Strong Woman, the Vulnerable Woman, the Woman