In 1983, I got my dream camera, a 1977 Nikon F2SB with a 55mm f/1.2 Nikkor [reviewed here]. This replaced a Nikon EL-2. I also had an Olympus OM-1 that I bought new in 1976, which I still own.
I loved that F2, and it is still my all-time favourite camera to use, but it was heavy! It got left at home all too often, and my Olympus XA came with me instead. Good as the XA is, its image quality is nowhere near a Nikon or Olympus SLR.
So, in 1987 I decided that the time had come for the F2 to go. I struck a deal with London Camera Exchange in Bath, where I was living at the time, to swap the F2 and 55mm for an Olympus OM-2n and 50mm Zuiko and 28mm Zuiko lenses. It was a straight swap; no money changed hands and I was happy. I used that OM-2 extensively before going digital in the 2000s, though I still use those lenses and OM cameras to this day.
On May 11, 1987, on my way to complete the swap, I still had some film in the F2, so as I walked through Bath I took a few frames more or less at random to finish the roll. Walking down Great King Street, I saw this beautiful ginger cat sitting on a window sill, perfectly framed by the window and with the shabby lace curtain behind. I took two pictures, and that was the film finished.
Bath Cat is the last photograph that I took with my F2, and it is one of my favourite pieces of work I have ever made. I love the balance of shape, tone and texture. I have made a lovely A2 digital print on Hahnemühle Barita in my studio, but it is best seen in a traditional selenium toned silver gelatin print. Sadly, I no longer have any of the darkroom prints I made – they are all sold. I must get back into the darkroom and make more.
In the ‘80s, Bath was still quite scruffy in places, although it was all just about to change, become gentrified and suffer from rocketing property prices. The cat looked immaculate, but the house it occupied still bore the black staining from a couple of centuries of domestic coal burning. These houses are now all clean, honey-coloured Bath stone.
Many thanks to Alistair for his contribution to Single Shot Stories!
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