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The Loft

Over the years, our loft has become a dumping ground for a whole pile of stuff that, through nostalgia, laziness and lack of space, has reached tipping point. Its steady encroachment from the outer reaches of the eaves, subsequent invasion of the central area and onwards toward the loft hatch means that I can no longer climb into it. From the top of the ladder I peered in, surveying the landscape with the aid of a small torch, while cold air rushed down into the house, carrying with it the roof space’s signature smell of slightly damp wood, age and insulation. With Howard Carter like trepidation I scanned the shadows for spiders, mice and a plethora of other fictional creatures which exist only in horror films.

 The point of this incursion was to finally tackle, with ruthless abandon, a lifetime collection of dross stretching before me. Through boredom and backache, past rainy attempts had always beaten me back in favour of coffee and a good book. This time was different though…I had a plan. I was not going to attempt the whole job in one go. My aim was to coincide each campaign with a need to retrieve a required item; in this instance it was Christmas decorations.

Having thrown an embarrassing amount of boxes out from around the loft hatch area, I had cleared enough space to climb in and recover said decorations. With these out of the way, I turned my attention to a huge pile of crusty detritus that had been piled up against a gable. Beneath years of dusty National geographic magazines and Asterix books lay a set of draws, sealed shut by an incursion of tourist tat collected over decades and consigned to a life of darkness “just in case”. Allocating this to three piles downstairs (charity, junk and keep) I was finally at the stage of exploring the drawer contents.

What I found was a time capsule unintentionally created and added to throughout my photographic career. This was no treasure trove of lost and valuable equipment though, just a wistful stash of items once considered meaningful to me, to which time had eroded my affections for.

Here lay a collection of camera brochures and, as far as Olympus’ once mighty film OM system was concerned, quite a comprehensive one. 1980’s Zuiko lens and system brochures, and OM3Ti and 4Ti collateral embraced literature from the early digital age. A timeline of further brochures showcasing the E20, the E-System and its evolution into the Micro Four Thirds system were also here. Fanning these out in front of me, Olympus’s progression through the decades was clearly time-lined. And what I realised was how transient all of these products were… something that is difficult to see when caught up in their release.

The big question I faced was keep or recycle? The chimp in me, angry at all of the crap I had amassed, wanted nothing more than to throw the whole lot out of the hole in the ceiling and let it clatter down the stairs, toward the recycle bin. But it was tempered by a melancholic feel tugging at my emotions not to be so hasty, igniting old memories of how important they once were. Some information had acted as a catalyst for further research before saving hard to purchase various components. But where were these purchases now? Most had long since been sold on, so why hang on to the collateral? So the arguments went back and forth before reaching a compromise; I kept just the milestone information that resonated the most, amounting to a small amount of A4 keepsakes. 

Also discarded was a collection of Leica M system brochures, many years old, for which I have no memory of ever collecting them. What I found interesting was that they highlighted an interest in Leica decades before I made my first purchase. 

Gone also were those that provided ghostly evidence of my interest in Contax, Fuji and Ricoh products.

Happy with the purge so far, I moved on to a pile of OM System boxes and receipts, all of which headed to recycling except for my OM1n and 50mm Zuiko f1.8 lens boxes and receipts, both items of which I still have.

Beneath these was a couple of brown leather hard OM Camera cases, dating from the late 1970’s, and in pretty good condition. As I only have one OM camera body (already in a case), there seemed little point in keeping them, but their nostalgic value triumphed.

Several camera and case straps later (all of which were binned) I got to the bottom of the first drawer to find a pretty nice tripod head in perfect condition. I don’t know why or how it found its way into the photo tomb, but I decided to let it rest in peace, undisturbed.

Drawer two revealed a trove of metal biscuit tins, all of which were heavy with their contents. What they contained was no surprise, but the sheer amount was. Here was a collection of 35mm slides spanning the entire duration of my slide photography. From the very first roll to the last, all were present. But these were not my keepers, not the ones I use for slide shows. Here lay the outtakes, not quite good enough to make the final cut, and not bad enough to be thrown away. At some point the loft made an ideal choice of halfway house for these thousands of nonconformities. 

Not wishing sentimentality to get the upper hand, I asked myself two questions;

  • Have I ever viewed them?
  • Would I miss them?

The honest answer was ‘no’ to both, thus sealing their fate. 

But not before the spectre of guilt had intervened. I decided to go through all of them and save just those which contained fading family memories… those which provided a timeline of the Lane family… those truly personal moments. Whether they ever get their day on the big screen is anyone’s guess, but they were collected together and stowed away again. The result was a bag of thousands of general landscape, macro and holiday images which were marked for disposal.

Another smaller tin was particularly interesting. It contained a box, probably a century old that contained a bunch of equally old glass plates, their subject matter being Matlock Bath. Only a couple of them are particularly good - one of them was a personal restoration project I worked on a decade or so ago. Given their fragile nature I moved these to a more stable environment in the house.

Drawer two also contained every box Ethan had amassed when building his current Pentax system… a cardboard inventory that perfectly mirrored everything he owned, right down to filter and spare battery boxes. If it didn’t exist here, it didn’t exist in his camera bag. Not mine to dispose of, the sword of Damocles moved on, allowing me to close the draw.

Lurking in the shadows next to the draws was a thick opaque plastic bag. Collected in here were a similar collection of Leica boxes. I decided to round up and dispose of case, strap and battery boxes, leaving those for lenses and cameras alone, just in case I was to sell them. 

Underneath this bag was a very interesting collection of camera magazines going back to the mid 1980’s. What immediately caught my attention about some of these were the racy covers, very much a product of their time and not exactly tasteful today. I had retained these magazines with the purpose of having reference points back through the decades, of what was popular and their prices. Glancing through them again reminded me of technology’s steady progress. One from the early eighties was almost devoid of autofocus cameras, with Minolta appearing to lead the way. Of course, digital formats were way off in the future when this mag went to print, and no one would have guessed that, come the revolution, important game players such as Minolta would disappear.

With just a few exceptions, most of the magazines survived the cull and put away for safekeeping.

After further rummaging around, it appeared that the rich vein of photography tat had run out and I had hit a seam of detritus that was easy to dispose of. Consisting mostly of things broken and items no longer used, I had soon cleared an area that allowed me to unlock the puzzle like block of suitcases and boxes which layer further back.

This felt like a good point to end this clearance phase. And the results had given me a pile of stuff to take to charity shops and recycling centre. My excursion back through the relics of my photographic interest had not only served its intended purpose but proved cathartic along the way. So, it was lights out and with loft hatch secured, I dusted myself down and made a coffee. Phase two would likely coincide with the return of the Christmas decorations.