D-I-Y Shop glue display, UK. [Alamy image ref. B64JBP]

For years I never went into a supermarket to shop… always preferring to support local traders for everything from salads to sandpaper. When I did start to venture into the aircraft-hanger sized operations in the early 1980s I was lost… the choice and range of goods being so huge compared to the local village corner shop. I must have been impressed, though, because amongst the more than 25,000 35mm colour transparencies I ended up with when I gave up film and went digital were a few dozen shots of lines, racks and arrays of assorted products on supermarket shelves.

Of those 25,000 trannies – probably resulting from more than 1,000 films (including immediate rejects) hand-processed four at a time on a Jobo CPE-2 processor in E-6 chemicals – I eventually scanned about 1,500 frames on a Nikon Coolscan V for eventual uploading to Alamy. The rest have been largely junked… too much duplication… too much dust… too much grain… too much colour degradation… digital seems so much easier nowadays despite the amount of time I spend correcting and manipulating files in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop!

However, of the 35mm transparencies I have scanned, a surprising number have started to sell and continue to be zoomed regularly… although that may be because the subject matter is obviously more than a decade or three in age and the “vintage” look could be what the researchers are looking for… who knows!

This shot, for example, was taken in a superstore in Swindon, Wiltshire around 1982 and may have been chosen because the trade names, or packaging designs, have changed enough so as not to promote specific current products in the textbook the image was licensed for, for a period of ten years.

Just after this sale came through, I started to shoot supermarket shelves with much more interest… and in one French supermarket in the next town counted 44 different boxes of breakfast cereals… that’s 54 different types, not 44 boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes! At first I only took my fast standard lens for the generally less-than-daylight lighting arrangements… but now I only go armed with a wide-angle lens to get as much as possible into the frame.

Licensed as Rights Managed by Alamy for up to a 1-page reproduction in a textbook with a 100,000 print-run under my “Fabricate” pseudonym – which includes all building and D-I-Y materials, work and sites, interior and exterior, private and public.

“Golden Lion Bridge” Swindon, UK [Alamy image ref: ATJPJT]

I think that an essential part of any photographer’s training is to work behind the counter of a camera shop. I did just that for a whole year in Swindon back in the early ‘80s… enjoyed every day, learned a lot about equipment quality – as well as people’s unnecessary desires for the latest (and how to instantly satisfy them and the manager with a sale) – and I got to borrow and use some very nice cameras and lenses.

The ‘other’ Swindon I remember was a town of large wall murals… painted by local artist Ken White. He started covering ends of rows of terraced houses back in the 1970s, though sadly nearly all the paintings have now disappeared through rebuilding work (I have recorded five which no longer exist). But his 1976  “Golden Lion Bridge” mural overlooking the Fleming Way thoroughfare remains… although with a difference because it has been repainted in brighter colors.

And there lies a problem – my image taken in 1980 (incorrectly inscribed © 2010) looks different to the original because it is slightly weathered… and is certainly different to the later version intentionally repainted in brighter colors… which is again different to how it looks today with more weathering effects. A publisher will undoubtedly be looking for the ‘contemporary’ view for any new publication… but may be offered a brighter, fresher looking image from three or four decades ago.

The recent Alamy licensing was for a 3-year use in a textbook… but it had sold several times previously through my own efforts when living in the UK for use in travel and regional magazines. The original transparency would never have survived to be scanned and retouched for Alamy – which was not a disaster because I shot so many duplicates ‘in camera’ when using 120 roll-film in those days.

I remember David Kilpatrick once writing about using both monochrome and colour tranny films with a single Pentax 6×7 medium-format camera which did not have interchangeable backs… he shot half a roll of transparency film of the first subject at 1/2 over, correct, 1/2 and 1-stop under, then moved on to a second subject for a repeated bracketed exposure sequence, thus finishing the film. Then he loaded a black-and-white film and did the same sequence with that second subject… the remainder of that roll being used for a third subject. When the mono film had been finished he reloaded with tranny film, half of which was used on that third subject before moving to a fourth. And so the shooting, changing films, moving to the next subject sequence would go on… phew!

35mm Pentax LX with Pentax 35mm and 6×7 format ‘Shift” lenses.

The original image was taken on 120-size Fuji 100D transparency roll-film using a clunky hand-held Pentax 67 plus 75mm Pentax Shift lens (I borrowed that lens so often from the shop I eventually had to purchase it!). I recently scanned the cleanest tranny (and many others) on a highly recommended Epson V700 flatbed scanner and retouched it in Photoshop for about an hour! To those who complain about tiny specks of dust on their DSLR sensors… you ain’t seen nothing folks!

Just out of interest, most people around the world will have actually know Ken White’s work without having seen one of his murals… his most recognized painting is the “Scarlet Lady” featured on the nose of every Virgin aircraft.

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