ROOTS AND WALL, BERMUDA


This was shot in Bermuda in the mid to late 1960s with a Pentax SV SLR and 55/1.8 lens on outdated Ilford FP3. The original print was on Ilford grade 5 paper, but I never felt that even this was contrasty enough. Eventually I scanned the print and turned the contrast up as far as it would go. I liked it then, and I like it today, because it summarizes the perpetual struggle and mutual accommodation of what is built, and what is natural. It also seems to me to illustrate the way in which our lives evolve, branching, intertwining, sometimes turning back on themselves, and often too complex to trace fully. Part of this is explained by the tangled story of how photography came to be central to my life:


On May 16th, 1941, HMS Gloucester was sunk during the Battle of Crete. My father's father, George Hicks, was among the 722 lost. He had been a keen amateur photographer, though my father had never followed in his footsteps.

In 1966 or 1967, I was studying biology at A level, because I wanted to go to medical school: I wanted to be a psychiatrist. As part of my A levels, I was considering a project (which I never completed) photographing corals.

By then, my father was Base Engineer Officer, Bermuda: in the Royal Navy, officers are posted from one ship or base to another every two or three years. When I told my father about the idea, he said, "If you are going to be serious about photography, you need a darkroom so you can develop and print your own pictures." He thereupon bought me a second hand Pentax SV with a standard lens, an enlarger, and everything else I needed to develop and print my own pictures. In the naval stores, he found four 200 foot cans of outdated Ilford FP3 that were already written off but hadn't been thrown away yet, and this was the film with which I learned my photography.

At that point I didn't even know which side was the emulsion side, so several rolls were exposed through the film base. But when you have 800 feet of free film you can afford to make quite a few mistakes, so I did. Very roughly, 800 feet equates to 144 36-exposure rolls of film or well over 5000 pictures: the limiting factors were therefore the costs of chemicals and paper.

Pause and analyze just a few of the steps in this list of happenstance. My grandfather was a photographer, but lots of people's grandfathers are. His son, though,wanted to perpetuate his father's interests: not always the case. I was studying biology, which in the long run turned out to be a waste of time: I didn't get into medical school, but read law instead. We were in Bermuda, hence the idea for the corals. In the long run, after I'd done all kinds of things including teaching and accountancy, photography turned out to be more important than any of it.

The older I get, the more I suspect that the role of luck is grievously underplayed in our lives. Not just good luck and bad luck, but pure happenstance luck: what your grandfather's hobbies were, the subjects you chose to study without necessarily knowing how much use they'd be, where you were living, the generosity of a parent, finding 800 feet of film sculling about in Stores. Borrowing a girlfriend's Leica, meeting a friend who collected cameras and knew a publisher who needed a writer who understood photography... The list goes on and on. This is a picture about it.

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