Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Small Wonder

Often affectionately known as the Bambino, the Fiat 500 was for many Italian families their first proper car, replacing the Vespa (or Lambretta for the families who liked to walk) as their primary transport. Craig from Scooterworks imports them into the UK. I'd love one, but with my anglo-saxon-nordic frame I'd be driving with my knees up by my ears. Despite not being made since 1975, there are still a surprising number of Cinquecenti gurgling about Rome. No matter what condition they are in (and often they are in better nick than nearby modern cars) they are so comically photogenic I half suspect that the Italian tourist board leaves them around the city to enchant visitors.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lazy blogging

OK - I put my hands up, this is a bit slack. But It could hardly be a Vespa-biased blog without a clip from Roman Holiday, could it? The bit where the scooter runs away with Audrey Hepburn must have happened to almost all Vespisti on their first attempt at riding - myself included. On every visit to Rome I've promised myself that I'd hire a scooter, just to ride round the Vittorio Emanuele memorial but the traffic looks so terrifying that I always chicken out. Ending up under a Fiat 126 isn't much fun if you're solo, let alone with a passenger. It's doubtful we'd look as cool as these two anyway, despite Gregory Peck's random pointing. Watch out for the police in their WW2 surplus jeep. I wonder where that 1953 faro basso is now?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ciao, Vespa

Geared Vespas are becoming a rare sight in Rome. With the exception of this chap on a Sprint Veloce zooming down the Via dei Fori Imperiali, I didn't see more than than a handful of classics. The Roman's favourite transport is the motorini, the ubiquitous automatic scooter parked on every square inch of pavement and in every nook and cranny of the Eternal City's alleyways. The canny Italians have long been selling off their geared scooters to British and American dealers, and since the demise of the P-range last year prices have shot up. It's perhaps significant that the scooter that I saw with the heaviest lock and chain was this Rally parked up near St Peter's Square.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Film's not dead


We were in Rome for the weekend, a city as beautiful as Paris but without the air of pristine-boulevard smugness. The Eternal City is a bit grimy, and all the better for it. It's a city for living in - care of the fabric of the place comes second to the serious business of being Italian. And Romans love being Italian. That bit of graffiti removal can wait until after dinner.

In St Peter's square I spotted this stylish gent with a Rolleiflex TLR. I assumed he was a visitor, but then I noticed there were four elderly men equipped with these vintage cameras - they were commercial photographers taking pictures of tourists on film for 6 euros a throw. This guy was very proud of his Rollei - "Made in Germany!" - and seemed a bit baffled by my DSLR - it's just conceivable that the so-called digital revolution has completely passed him by. I hope so. Film use today often has a post-modern element to it, so It's good to know that there are four old blokes in Italy who still make an irony-free living shooting tourists on antique cameras.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On the Waterfront

During my lunch break the other day I noticed this faded relic of a London of busy wharves and lightermen. It's painted onto the stonework of the northern end of London Bridge. There still are 'offices above', although the nearest boat these days is the London Regalia floating boozer. The sign's a long way above eye level - perhaps it was for the benefit of a crane driver? The modern London bridge was opened in 1973, although each end dates from the previous bridge that opened in 1831 - I suspect this nice bit of signwriting dates from the interwar period. It's not hard to imagine a desk-bound, pen-scratching clerk wincing every time a docker shouted to his mate or dropped a barrel, though I can't believe that this sign had the desired effect.

I've lost count of the times a tourist has asked me for directions to London bridge - I always ask them if they mean Tower Bridge (miming the road lifting with my arms) - and they always do.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Plastic, man

Dusty Seven's images of Briggs were taken on a Holga . This toy-like, medium format camera was originally produced in China so that even the very poorest members of society could take photographs. Gradually, it came to the notice of western photographers. They were charmed by the idiosyncratic images produced by the Holga's plastic lens and inherent light leaks. I first encountered these cameras when living in Munich about 10 years ago. I bought one from Foto Schaja on Sendlinger Strasse - perhaps the only photography shop where some of the staff wear lederhosen. From then on, the Holga never left my rucksack as I tramped around the Bavarian capital.

Recently, I bought a glass lensed Holga. What a difference 10 years of quality control make. On the old version, it was neccesary to shove a folded up bit of cardboard under the takeup spool to tension the film. The new holga has foam tensioners. It's not exactly Leica quality, but it works.



This picture of a bomb damaged tomb was taken in 1998 in Munich's Sudfriedhof cemetery . The soft, dreamy quality was produced by the plastic lens. I can't imagine getting the same effect with a digital camera without a lot of post-processing. That's the brilliant thing about the Holga - you become an art photographer without really trying.


Friday, July 4, 2008

Get A Haircut

Dusty Sevens has come up with the goods again with this set of superb images of Briggs Barbers, Piccadilly. I don't have much hair, but I love going to the barbers. If it's got Belmont chairs, styptic pencils, Duralon combs ("Unbreakable in Normal Use") and Cossack hairspray, i'm happy. Lots of gent's salons got tacky makeovers in the 80s, but Briggs is untouched. It's owned by a Cypriot called Phillip, who's been there since 1949. Apparently, he's not as scary as he looks.

More of Dusty Seven's pictures here