Hosting the Analogue Wonderland Big Film Photowalk, 29th June 2024 – Birmingham

l have a habit of accidentally getting myself into things and this was definitely the case with the Big Film Photowalk. I saw the advert on an Instagram story and thought “that’d be a nice excuse to shoot a roll of film” and off I went to the website only to find that Birmingham apparently doesn’t exist. Considering it’s Englands second biggest city that came as quite a surprise, so I filled in the form to “suggest another location” and within an hour or so discovered that I’d just volunteered to lead the whole thing.


I’ve always been a rather solitary photographer, I generally find that being observed puts me off what I’m doing or what I’m thinking about so the idea of having a group of people follow me round was going to take some getting used to. Besides that, I’ve never been on a photo walk let alone hosted one, I had absolutely zero idea what I was doing nor what was expected of me. As you can probably work out for yourself by now, socially speaking, I’m fairly useless.

Fortunately, a lot of decisions about the day were easy to make – we were going to be in Birmingham which isn’t exactly the most rural place in the world, so street and architectural photography was the order of the day. The next thing to do was decide on a route. To keep things as easy as possible I decided to just walk a route I’ve done a thousand times before when testing out various cameras in a street setting. The thing about Birmingham is that it is an absolute street photography paradise – there are vibrant, bustling open markets, street performances, protests, political activists, dancers practising their routines… you name it, on a typical Saturday almost anything can happen. I was reasonably confident we’d not be short of opportunities.

Canon AE-1, FD 70-210mm, Kodak Gold 200 – Photo by @emilymarisa_

I felt like I was doing a half decent job of planning things until Analogue Wonderland set up a WhatsApp group for the walk leaders up and down the country. It is then that you realise other people are more enthusiastic, creative, full of energy and thoughtful than you are. Bugger. People were organising developing classes after the walk, trips to exotic cafe’s where they’d meet their film photography communities and chat over posh coffee. Others were planning to take so much kit with them to help other attendees that I’m convinced they would need a shopping trolley to wheel it all around in. I, on the other hand, was offering a 2 hour mingle about the place with someone who had no idea what they were doing.

It’s an attractive proposition.

The week before the walk we were sent a list of people who had signed up. To my complete surprise, 19 other people had paid real, actual money to come and spend their Saturday afternoon with me, what utter madness. AW then sent out boxes of film to us all, the WhatsApp group lighting up with “I’ve got mine!” On the other hand, what I had was a collection of red rectangles of card from Royal Mail who were hell bent on ignoring the delivery instructions I repeatedly gave them. In the end, they ignored me one more time for good measure but to spice things up their enterprising employee noticed an open window (on the one day of sun we actually had so far this summer) and threw it through there. Still, it arrived at least. The alternative was spending about £300 on film so as to not let people down…

It sounds absurd but one difficult decision to make was which camera to use (and also to bring along as a backup for others just in case). I settled on going right back to where it all started for me and film – the Canon AE-1 Program. I hadn’t used this camera for many, many months and I cannot tell you how glad I am that I took it out with me. Every single time I use the AE-1 in earnest I am reminded of just what a wonderful machine it is, it never fails to reignite my love of film photography and there is just something about it – despite being manual focus I didn’t miss a single shot, compared to some autofocus bodies I’ve been testing recently that was something of a revelation. Why does this happen? No idea, but manual focus has a lot going for it.

“That’s Jimmy Carr, isn’t it?!” – Sadly, this was my one blurry shot of the day. Canon AE-1 Program, FD 50mm F1.4, Kodak Gold 200

To calm my nerves and stress, on the day of the walk the trains were mostly cancelled due to driver shortages. That’s a bit of a sod as many of the people coming were definitely going to arrive by train. After making my way down to the meeting point I stood there with a Pentax 17 shirt on (you know, to make it obvious) and casually waved around a film camera to anyone who might notice. No one noticed. After starting to think no one was turning up I saw a small group of people who looked suspiciously like they were holding film cameras and tentatively went over for a chat.

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t what I got. The people that turned up were genuinely the nicest mix of friendly, welcoming people I could’ve hoped for. Everyone was so talkative. If you’ve ever done some kind of training or team building with adults in a work environment, you’ll know that’s one of the toughest gigs going. Adults are naturally miserable buggers – children bounce around the place, eagerly wanting to know what happens next. Adults normally just stare at you and wonder when lunch is. This was not how these people were – quite the opposite. I guess this is the difference between doing something you’re paid to do and something you love to do!

Canon 300X, 50mm F1.8 STM, Kodak Ultra 400 (20 years expired) – By Evan

What is weird, is meeting a group of people for all of five minutes and suddenly you’re responsible for them – it’s a very odd feeling. Anyway, with films handed out, cameras loaded and the worlds most absurd disclaimer read out (please don’t die, it’s not our fault if your camera causes your wrist to fall off etc) off we went.

Walking along I had all the “what if this is rubbish? What if no one finds anything to shoot? What if town is dead and nothing interesting happens?” thoughts. I cannot tell you the relief when the first few frames were fired off and I shouldn’t have worried because by about a quarter of the way round the route some people had nearly finished their films. I’d bought with me some 20 year out of date Kodak film as an emergency backup for anyone who rattled through their roll prematurely and both of these were handed out and used. Incidentally, I cannot believe how well those expired pictures came out, especially after the local lab I sent it to managed to fold (as in crease) and get some quite nasty drying marks on the negatives. I’m beginning to lose faith in them which isn’t great because I like to support local business, I especially like to support film photography and I’m too British to complain…

Colour film? The markets are full of colour! Canon AE-1 Program, 50mm F1.4, Kodak Gold 200

As it happened, town was bustling with activity. The markets were such a great starting point and the local stall holders are so used to people like us turning up that they were posing willingly for shots and were really open and friendly. This definitely helped to relax some of the photographers who’d never done any street before. Street photography isn’t easy if you’re new to it – everyone carries those reservations about whether it is ok to take a picture, what the reaction might be if someone notices what you’re doing and the worry of confrontation. To get over those fears is one thing, to get good shots as well is another entirely. Credit where it’s due, I saw a whole world of enthusiasm out there and the best part – I learned a lot by observing the different approaches people took to the same situation. It’s really easy to get into a rut or routine with photography, but when you see other people approaching your well trodden paths, you learn that there is always another angle, another shot.

As we moved about I tried my best to talk to as many different people as I could, despite being terrible at conversation making and small talk. We then stumbled across a local Christian group having the party of their lives in the street. Whatever you think of religion, you can’t help but admire how happy these people are and how utterly fearless they are in conveying their passion to others. They make passers by smile, or at least give them something to talk about. A lot of film was used on these people.

Canon AE-1 Program, FD 50mm F1.4, Kodak Gold 200

Afterwards we strolled through the main high street and down to the fountains by the council buildings. A quick impromptu stop at Greggs sorted out the fact that I’d not planned obvious things like… eating… We rested for a while and used this as opportunity to do some classic stop and wait to see what passes you by shots. During that time we were captured by at least two other street photographers who were out and about doing their thing. I spotted this couple below who were totally engrossed in each others company, unfortunately I missed “the shot” where just seconds earlier their poses were pretty much mirrored.

Canon AE-1 Program, FD 50mm F1.4, Kodak Gold 200

Despite being only half way through the walk at this point, most people were way over half way through their films – still, I’d not lost anyone, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and I’d not run out of ideas. Things were going well!

We then headed through the heavily renovated Chamberlain Square which is always good for street scenes – children seem to be attracted to the wide open space and water feature like moths to a light bulb, plus there’s always people relaxing on the huge steps that surround it. It was at this point in the walk that things swung more towards those who liked city architecture rather than trying to shoot street portraits. The area has seen huge sums of money poured into it over the last twenty years or so and work continues today to rid the area of some of the more awful concrete construction that took place in the 1960’s and 70’s. Not all of it is wonderful, however, one new sky scraper that has popped up is the ugliest lump of black steel beams I’ve ever seen and wins hands down the “we couldn’t be bothered” architecture award.

Birmingham Reference Library – Canon AE-1, FD 70-210mm, Kodak Gold 200 – Photo by @emilymarisa_

Our penultimate stop of the day was Centenary Square and I’d really hoped for an event to be taking place but it wasn’t to be. One week previously was Windrush day and that had provided some really brilliant street scenes and would’ve been a great way to finish off a roll of film however it wasn’t to be. Still, there were some really obvious architecture opportunities with the beautiful library building and the square itself (sadly without the fountains on which create some great reflections). We hung around here until everyone was either out of film or nearly finished and used the time to take some group photos, some took portraits of each other, it was just a really nice moment to reflect and take a few frames.

Our final destination was a quick walk down Colmore Row to the St Phillip’s Cathedral. I’ve written about the history of some of these places previously when I re-traced my grandads footsteps, so if you’re interested in some of these locations and especially what they looked like in the 1960’s it’s well worth a look here.

Birmingham City Council Buildings – Canon AE-1, FD 70-210mm, Kodak Gold 200 – Photo by @emilymarisa_

At the Cathedral it seemed like the walk reached its natural conclusion. We’d covered a fair bit of ground, talked the talk, and been on the go for around two hours. By that point your roll is usually full and your legs ready for a rest on the train home. We were once again approached by a guy sporting a Sony DSLR who genuinely couldn’t understand why anyone would use a film camera. We all felt sorry for him for a while and he went on his way no more enlightened than he’d arrived.

The time had then come for the admin side of things, I collected many bags of films with labels in that were written by my six year old daughter – yes, her handwriting is more legible than mine. No, I’m not ashamed. Then, before long and one by one everyone went on their way and I was left with a bag full of film, a headache and a sense of relief that I’d actually managed to run an event, let alone a successful one.

More than one foot in the grave. Canon AE-1 Program, 50mm F1.4, Kodak Gold 200

So what have I learned from this experience? The answer is quite a lot. Firstly, my organisation skills are poor. People need to know what they’re doing in slightly more detail than “we’re going on a walk, see you there.” More than that, however, I think there’s a real need for this community of film photographers to come together socially in this way. The day showed that lots of people have huge enthusiasm for shooting film but each are at different levels of ability and confidence. Some were fully automatic, knew exactly what they were doing and felt totally at home. Others would’ve really benefitted from some form of guidance and tuition that I wasn’t in the position to provide when buzzing around trying not to panic that I might’ve lost someone on the way.

I think in future I’d definitely like to run another walk, certainly to plan some different routes to give people options and a bit more variation but ultimately, smaller groups will work better for both me and the others involved. There’s a time for large group outings, certainly, but for more regular or constructive meets I think that around ten people is probably the sweet spot where you can be social with everyone, keep a group together easily and also provide a bit more tuition and guidance in a more relaxed manner.

Still, you live and learn. I liked being out of my comfort zone and it was a confidence inspiring event (not just for me). I’m really grateful to Analogue Wonderland for setting the day up and the speedy turn around of films and scans – they had over 800 rolls of film rained down on their lab from this event, that’s no joke. I’m most grateful, however, to the friendly, wonderful people who turned up and willingly followed me around for a day and seemed relatively happy at the end! A success all round… I think…!

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