I have an ongoing fascination with the short section of the River Rothay near Rydal in the English Lake District, and spend quite a lot of time wandering through the surrounding trees and woodlands. These birches seem to step into the background during summer, when their weeping branches are an obscuring veil, but in winter their bright bark is set off against the russet leaves of beech saplings.
It's been a while since I've used any really old cameras, but in the past few months I've put a few rolls of film through my 1920s Contessa-Nettel Cocarette and have been thinking a bit about where this camera fits in. Unlike modern do it all digital cameras, tools like this have a very limited range of applications, and of course, after almost 100 years of usage and neglect, most of them need to be handled with some care; most are less reliable than they might be. In the case of The Contessa, I've learned to be very careful in loading film to make sure it is flat in the transport system, and that the film door is closed precisely, to make sure the film is parallel with the back of the body.
With the practicalities dealt with, I'm also learning about the lens, and what it can and can't do. The negatives from this camera are 6x9cm in size, a format which on the face of it seems ideal for landscape photography. However, the limitations of the lens mean that's not as straightforward as it might be. In particular it tends towards low contrast, especially at long distance, giving images a washed out look. The picture above is a good example of this. Even allowing for the deep shade under the trees, the middle distance is a lot more contrasty than the background. Another factor is the film. This was taken with 400 ASA black and white film, a film speed unheard of in the 1920s, and I find that the camera produces better results with slower film and longer exposures. In any case, I've learned not to attempt landscape images without a foreground feature, or some sort of shade to shelter the lens.
Contessa-Nettel made cameras independently until 1926, when the company merged with Zeiss. A camera like mine--which has the top of the range F/6.3 Anastigmat lens--would have cost £3 17s 6d in 1924. To put that in context, in 1925 a railway engine driver earned around £4 a week. I imagine the Contessa would be in her element taking group portraits in shady gardens, perhaps in the hands of a twenty-something photographer visiting family in the summer vacation. Imagine the moustaches, waistcoats, and the elaborate hats. Even so, she's done alright with Rydal Water I think.
I've managed to drag myself out of bed at dawn quite a few times over the past few months--it's not so easy in the summer--and it nearly always feels like it was worth it. Rydal Water is one of the busiest out-of-town places in the Lake District on a sunny summer day, but at this time in the morning it is usually deserted. There are more Lake District images on my Lake District portfolio page.
This image is available as a print at the following link, or by using the "Buy Prints" box below.
Buy a print of "Rydal Tree": https://art.tt/335y
Not long ago I had a tremendously productive dawn photo walk around Rydal Water in the Lake District. One of the great things about photographing at that time of day is that the light changes constantly. I began in near darkness in thick fog and arrived home for breakfast in sunshine. This image of birch trees just as the mist was lifting is a favourite from the morning.
Go over to my newly updated Lake District portfolio page to see more.