An unlikely starting point

Occasionally people will ask where I started with photography. Assuming I took a course or some other structured path I "umm" and "errr" and end up settling on telling them I was self taught; it's true although of course I have been inspired by others along the way and had some tips here and there. The reason I hesitate is that it's hard to define a slow accumulation of skills (and kit) as years have gone by. When I think back to beginnings I have to give some credit to a humble device which played a big role in inspiring me to go further. The little red box pictured here is, on reflection, an important starting point in my adventures in photography. It wasn't my first camera and it certainly wasn't anything rare or special but it was a device that got me thinking and stimulated me creatively.

The memory is vague but I think I purchased it for around 20 pence at a car boot sale a good many years ago. Attracted by the promise of a Wide Pic using the Panoramic Lens (woo!) I put a film in it and got to shooting. With no batteries required or any means of focusing there isn't much to go wrong. On the back is a reminder to put the film in for processing labelled 'panoramic' to ensure it is processed correctly. The technology behind the magic is that it simply crops the top and bottom of the frame on 35mm film so the negatives appear as a strip of exposure in the middle of the cell. The lens is probably only around 24mm but the crop contributes to give the image that wide feel. What I got back from the chemist after putting them in for processing is a pretty poor quality 10"x4" print but I fell in love with the format and the washed out look of the prints.

I used this camera for a long while before I bought my first digital camera and always enjoyed the creative challenge although I never thought of it as that at the time. Composition is limited by the format and so it becomes an exercise to make a picture work within those restrictions. Photographers and other artists often talk about how getting back to basics; using equipment that reduces your options, is a good way to stimulate creativity and I realise now that using this little box was a good foundation for me in understanding composition and working with placing a subject within the frame. I often still crop at the same ratio and even now have greetings cards printed in this format so I guess the love has stayed with me.

A bit of googling and it turns out these cameras are available on ebay and in charity shops everywhere and even have quite a fan base! The dreamy nature of the prints is appealing to fans of the Lomo aesthetic. They were originally given away free to subscribers to the Readers Digest magazine. Get hold of one and run a film through if you like or, to recreate the shooting experience with your digital camera? You don't have to go as far as blocking off the top and bottom of the lens for the 'panoramic' effect but using a fixed focal length (prime) lens with nothing else in your bag is always a good place to start a creative journey.