At last the Nikon F3 practice was over and the day of the 2014 Cardiff Photomarathon had arrived, so I assembled with the other 400+ hardy souls at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. It was the 10th anniversary this year and, as a special treat, fifty people were allowed to use film to replicate the good old days when it first began. I’m not sure how many stuck their heads above the parapet for this offer or how many like me were fervently praying that the film would load and rewind correctly. This could also be viewed as a punishment to those who might have muttered over the digital years that film was the one true path…. not me you understand.
After a short anniversary speech and the customary group photograph, the first set of four topics was handed out. The first is always a topic linked to your number, this year it was ‘Me, Myself & I’. Because I shot film I won’t see them until June 20th and, of course, neither will you but as my wife mentioned the possibility of gardening this morning, I feel it important I describe my adventures in loving detail.
Taking sometime to relearn the controls of the F3 may have paid off as, heroically, I went for a triumph or disaster triple exposure for my first shot. Of course the beauty of film is I can imagine the fantastically clever shot with the three of me holding my number until the exhibition. If you see a morose figure slinking away on opening night, it may not have gone so well.
The correct spirit of the competition would be to wander the streets of Cardiff searching for images, but I leave that to the younger folk. I tend to work the more manageable Penarth where I can slip home for tea and cake on a regular basis. For the second topic ‘Street Level’, I had to take my camera on to the street, something I never do, but this is a competition and I had my game face on. The Big Issue seller turned me down which was unfortunate, so I was forced back on the rather obvious, putting the camera on the ground or more precisely in the gutter. It might have all ended there as it turns out fire engines need quite a bit of the road. It is as well that I’ve not completely lost the agility and speed that left many a lumpen full back sitting on the turf back in the day.
Mostly people ignored the strange man lying on the pavement but one lady did come up and ask ‘What on earth was I doing?’ When I explained and finished with ‘I expect it seems a bit insane?’, she replied ‘Well yes’. Still the traffic kindly stopped as I set the timer going and walked away from the camera until I heard it click. I’m thinking beautiful parallel yellow lines with my feet slightly out of focus…. we shall see.
I then spotted a couple of teenagers in full army gear with collecting buckets and, as the next topic was ‘Camouflage’, I couldn’t resist. They were brilliant, as not only did they say “yes” but they came up with the idea of being near a tree and one them slightly hiding behind it. Who are these people who speak disparagingly about young folk?
The fourth topic ‘Ten’ began my struggles, as being literal and photographing things is the creative danger of the flagging photo-marathoner. In the end I found a clump of ten daisies (OK there were eleven but that was soon sorted) and used coloured plastic numbers to collate them. I know, not a topic winner, but pretty colours have to count for something. This left me ahead on time and meant I could actually have lunch. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that film is quicker than digital because you can’t shoot a 100 shots for the best one or try ten different ideas. With film there is indeed a decisive moment, you look at the frame in the viewfinder, the crowd hush, in a moment of stillness you press the shutter, hear the click and then the moment is gone.
Collected the next four topics at two ‘o’clock the first being ‘We’re all in this Together’. As with all my photo-marathons, in the end I fall back on constructing images. I found a globe in my son’s room and set it up with some candles underneath and, boom, you have global warming. Usually I’m good with the ideas, it’s the turning them into decent photos that’s the problem. For the next topic ‘Attention to Detail’ it was another hour of ideas chosen and rejected until, in desperation, I wandered the streets of Penarth again. The best I could come up with was some ‘Keep Penarth Tidy’ stickers on a lamppost. I liked the shot but I suspect the judges might not concur. The seventh topic ‘Control’ I’d known what I wanted as soon as I’d seen a sail boat at Cardiff Bay. I grabbed a 300mm lens and went hunting somebody messing about in boats. From the barrage, I found two running together and this is when I started to miss digital. I suspect I should have shown more patience but, as soon as I got what I thought was a vaguely decent shot, I clicked. This left topic eight ‘Crossed Wires’ so I focus grouped some ideas with my family who stared back at me blankly. I mean a mouse chasing a cat, that’s comedy gold right there. In the end I took a roll of film and fed it in to a small digital camera. Well I thought it was funny.
Once more ahead of the curve I felt good until the ninth topic ‘The dying of the light’ presented itself. Here I hit ‘the wall’. I was tiring and the only two things in my head were the literal sun going down kind of shot or nipping up to the cemetery. I spent too long by the River Ely nearly clicking on the sun in the trees or the swans on the water in silhouette. With digital I’d have shot both as insurance and moved on but in the end it just seemed too literal. I lost 90 mins there searching for something else while it clouded over enough that the light didn’t just seem like it was dying but actually dead. In the end, just to move on, I shot an image across the bay. It was my Paula Radcliffe peeing by the side of the road moment; the thread was broken.
Number ten was ‘Stacked Up’ in which I came up with the highly original idea of supermarket trolleys. This did lead to more human interaction as a guy stopped his car and asked me ‘What kind of photography is that?’ Oh Lord, an art critic is all I need, I thought and began to mumble an explanation. He then explained he’d taken a picture of his daughter with his phone under the Penarth Pier and I knew immediately what he was getting at as I’ve taken that shot myself. All the legs and struts do indeed make a great pattern but as to what kind of photography it was, my mind was a sudden blank. We settled on abstract and this meeting of great photographic minds was at an end.
By this stage I was flagging badly, knackered and at the bottom of my barrel of ideas. Number eleven was ‘Join the Dots’ and went with the first thing that popped in my head, a guitar chord book and my fingers making the chord on show. I became subject and Art Director for this one as my wife had to push the shutter. I imagine that’ll be the best shot of the twelve.
For the last shot ‘It’s a wrap’ I cut off my photo-marathon armband and placed it next to a cup of coffee and a piece of strawberry cheese cake. Not a great finish, more of a whimper than a bang, but that’s the pattern with most of my marathons. I love doing it as it’s a fantastic challenge but I’m pretty much a zombie by those last few shots.
As I drove back across the Cogan Spur, having delivered my finished roll, the sky cleared to leave a majestic sunset with swirling patterns of clouds bathed in a beautiful red light. The dying of the light had never looked better and while the photographic gods chuckled, I vowed to be back next year for Cardiff Photomarathon 2015.
Thanks to the people who make this possible and here is a link to the Flickr feed showing how darn good people are at this event.