optical alternatives


If I am honest, my interest in photography is more cerebral than practical. As with my other main ‘hobby’ (a word which makes me sound as if I am about eight years old) – archaeology – I am far happier when gazing upon the work other people have produced/discovered, than I am scrabbling around trying to do it myself. Having said that, I did once go on a dig at Flag Fen and within about an hour of working a trench, dug up a Bronze Age flint dagger, which is about as exciting as it gets. Trust me.

However, I digress……..but suffice to say, generally I am more of an observer than a producer of the goods. So, I will happily trot along to any number of photography exhibitions and I spend a good deal of my time reading about, and looking at, the work of a range of talented ‘snappers’. However, it has been years since I last owned a half-way decent SLR and I have fallen victim to the lure of the phone camera as much as the next person. I did have a rather snazzy Polaroid camera back in the day, but that sadly ended up being lost during a house move, so I am now left with a couple of OK-ish P&S digital cameras and my ever-present phone. Not very impressive for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking and writing about the subject, is it?

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Tin Drum sessions at Manor studios – contact sheet.

Fortunately, Steve’s interest in photography led him to try out a whole range of cameras and techniques,the results of which we are now able to pore over at leisure. We all know that he favoured his trusty Canon A1 for the majority of the time but he has also recently published shots taken with some rather interesting pieces of kit. Last year I wrote about the Widelux self-panning camera which Steve had in the 1980s and the amazingly trippy shots he took on a trip across Europe – I loved the way the image blurs and the ‘Alice In Wonderland’ effect this creates. I had assumed the “softening” was all part of the appeal of the camera, but it is actually a fault – or at least a happy accident – possibly from being hand-held. Whatever the reason for the blurring of the image, I think it adds a beautifully surreal and almost sensual feel to the images.

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Recently Steve published these images (below) of his fellow band members in Hong Kong in 1980, taken using a Pentax Auto 110 miniature true SLR, which was the world’s smallest SLR, and is an incredibly cute looking piece of kit! However, as cute and record-breaking as it may have been, it was less than versatile as it required specific film. At the time though, it was the most impressive of the 110 cameras and it must have been interesting for Steve to have had the chance to play around with these new technologies. It also produced some lovely looking images……

Equally as interesting at the time – but equally as limiting – was the Polaroid camera. Oh, how I loved mine. It was so exciting to be able to take a photo and see it develop in front of your very eyes! I suppose anyone under the age of 25 will be slightly bemused at the sheer joy that could be gained from watching the colours start to seep onto the square of shiny white paper, but I loved it back in the day.  From the photos he has shared recently, it seems as if Steve was more likely to use his Polaroid for snapping away drunkenly with his friends, which has given us all a fabulous insight into how a night on the town with the various members of Japan and YMO could end up! Messy.

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When Steve released his photography book last year, he was kind enough to answer a whole glut of questions for the blog, but I didn’t actually ask him why he favoured the Canon A1 over other quality kit at the time. He did speak of his preference for Analogue via Digital cameras though, saying  “using a view finder is essential for me to feel engaged with photography; I can never fully appreciate framing up a shot on a display. You don’t feel as though you’re ‘in’ it. Camera obscura (Latin for ‘dark chamber’) is the place from which you, as the photographer, are observing; from the inside looking out. A display is like watching something already filmed and is playing back …. you’re on the outside looking in, and for me that takes away much of the magic.”

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Thankfully, he was once again more than happy to respond when I asked him more recently about his choice of camera, explaining that the options were pretty limited, unless you had vast amounts of money to spend – so it was basically Nikon or Canon. He had become used to using the Canon –  “the functions were really versatile and the fact that it was one of the first to have an LED readout in the viewfinder is probably what sold it for me…. and the operation modes were also very cleverly designed so it made switching between the four modes (fully manual/fully auto/auto shutter-manual aperture/auto aperture-manual shutter) very accessible.”

Steve still has his Canon A1 and has said that if he ever went back out on tour he would pack his camera with him for the trip….”it was fit for all purposes and has a great feel to it.”

 And fact fans, here’s something that I assume most of you won’t know but will have you dashing straight off to your stereo-gram to check out  – Steve’s camera can actually be heard on the downbeat at the end of the chorus of the song ‘Red Guitar’. It took me about 5 attempts before I could hear it, but then I do have rather old ears!

 All photographs  are © 2016 steve jansen all rights reserved unless otherwise stated.

Limited edition prints of images from ‘through a quiet window’ are available to order from Steve’s website: http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop

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6 thoughts on “optical alternatives

    1. No real reason as such, Steve said he just wanted to try it out and it seemed to work. There is all that footage from the RG sessions in Berlin, isn’t there? I guess if he was spending a lot of time photographing what was going on, maybe he just ‘heard’ something and it seemed to fit?

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  1. great blog Victoria. Also I heard you on radio 6 music the other evening.i was stuck in traffic and listening to the guy trying to guess your background. When you were mentioned I thought It that the lady from Steves tumblr.haha, small world eh. Cheers – Ross (aka capturedsaint)

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  2. Im still using analogue Olympus OM series… But my all time fave camera is still Canon F1… its like unbreakable heavy stone and sounding like shotgun! Great post Victoria…

    Liked by 1 person

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