Strabanzer. It’s a German word meaning loafer or a guy who wanders around somewhat aimlessly and when I was looking for a name for my photography site this word rapidly made its way to the top of the list. I felt that it adequately reflected how I approached the hobby – dabbling sometimes in landscapes, sometimes in patterns and colors, occasionally trying my eye at portraits, and recording my love of aeroplanes and trains. Strabanzer conveyed a happy-go-lucky approach and also my readiness to eschew the expected norms and do something different.
My introduction to photography had been the Kodak Brownie 127 back in 1955. That procurement had been the result of a bargain with my Folks that if I came up with half of the, if I remember correctly, twenty-one or so quid they’d throw in the remainder. Back in the day that meant a lot of helping wash the car and drying dishes, tidying my room, and other irksome work. But the toil was oh, so worth it when I got my first envelope, prints on one side negatives on the other, of scenes I had snapped. The Brownie was a sterling camera and stood me in good stead through family get-togethers, holiday trips and air shows. Its very simplicity and the accompanying lack of versatility engendered in me the stubbornness to overcome problems, to capture something, tell MY story the way I wanted to. The acme was the action surrounding the aborted landing of a Lockheed Electra. The scene revolved around a plastic Revel model, some Matchbox vehicles, and strands of cotton-wool on my bedroom carpet. Thirty years later I came across the print and showed it to a work colleague. I set him up by telling him the picture's quality was poor as I had captured it through the window of an over-flying DC-4, and he was totally taken by the scene and marveled at my supposed luck at capturing it! It also recorded real-life scenes from the cockpit of Pan American’s new DC-6B Clipper John Alden when I was allowed to visit the sanctum sanctorum on a flight from Johannesburg to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) in 1956.
The Brownie's demise began with a disastrous blow when it got caught in the closing door of a DKW car and its body cracked. For a year or so it struggled on, stray light being kept out by the application of the black tape that enclosed the cartridges of my Dad’s cine films.
Salvation appeared in the form of a gift at a Christmas party at my Dad’s work when I was 12. I can’t remember the make or model, but the camera that the Santa gave me had a choice of three apertures and three-or-so shutter speeds. Most notably it had a hot shoe for a flash. That flash unit opened up a plethora of new solutions for me. No longer was low light a barrier that couldn’t be crossed. The one-time-only flash bulbs had an air of danger in that they could burst with the heat. This was partially mitigated by a plastic coating that melted into an opaque Dali-esque coating after use.
This camera, if I remember correctly, used a 120 film which for my meagre pocket money was a bit of a stretch. Having proved I had the basic knowledge of camera handling I managed to finagle my Dad’s old Baldi Prontor II. It took the 127 film, but exposed only half a frame at a time, thus doubling the number of photos albeit producing prints of half the size. Hey, it fitted my budget admirably!
The parental hand-me-down continued a couple of years later when I got my Dad's Voigtlander: an archetypical box camera which hung from the neck on straps and one looked down into a periscope viewfinder. But even that had its advantages: one could hold it inverted at arm's length overhead and take pictures over the heads of the surrounding crowd.
That was my weapon of choice through high school and I gained the reputation of being one of the guys that was known to hang out in the red light district. Naah, not the pleasures of Soho, but the environment of the dark room. I became adept at working with chemicals at a very precise temperature, loading the unexposed film onto a reel in total darkness, smacking the tank to dislodge bubbles, and gambling on under- or over-agitation. Every step was timed to the second.
The Voigtlander lost some appeal when I went to university, but my machoism was saved when I was given a slightly damaged 35mm point-and-shoot camera by a work colleague of my Mom's. With this I became hooked on slides. On return from each trip I’d set up a slide show and entertain my audience of friends and their parents with my pre-recorded commentary and music off the left hand channel of my Sony reel-to-reel, while I’d respond to the commands “Change now” coming into my headset from the right channel. Adolescent satisfaction doesn’t get much better than this!
Eventually the point-and-shoot gave up the ghost and, financed by working on car and motorbike engines for guys in search of automotive performance, I bought my first SLR with detachable lenses and I entered the world of wide-angles and zooms, of filters and rings to change focal length.
When I finally got a “real” job I splurged on a 600mm telephoto. I got some good game shots with that, but (almost more importantly) with that lens slung over my shoulder I could go almost anywhere. There was an evening where a local match factory caught fire. I swung past my bud’s house to pick him up and we headed for the fire. The police had cordoned the area off, but with the 600 on my shoulder and camera and tripod in hand they didn’t even ask a question: we were ushered into no-man’s land. Pretty dumb actually. At some time in the evening I was setting up for a shoot when a storage tank burst, throwing firemen off their ladders and hurling burning goop a hundred metres or more. Forgetting the imagined professional photographer status my bud and I hauled ass out of there!
Then followed the era of marriage and photography became the recording of all the important events of life: honeymoon in Saville where I discovered that my wife wasn’t all that keen on standing around while I moved tripod and camera for the perfect shot -- or for helping me haul the euipment around. The first baby, blinking in the bright light, then crawling, and first steps; The second baby interacting with a sibling; Images of the new homeland after immigrating to a country 6,000 miles away; Bath time with shampooed hair sculpted into punk-rocker styles; The Kids riding with training wheels; Holiday hikes; Grandparents' visits; Thanksgivings and Christmases. All recorded.
Midlife came with the inevitable crisis and a shiny red Kawasaki Rice Rocket vied for my time and money. My photography took a hit as I spent weekends and afternoons riding fast on the strightways or leaned over and dragging everything in the corners of the North Georgia mountains.
A Kodak Z812 IS marked the return of this prodigal to the photography family. I had a lot of fun with that camera and it recorded graduations and holidays, weddings and funerals. If asked I could not tell you of any fault with that camera and it still sits in my bag as a run-and-gun and for use in the hostile environments of blustery beaches and the like.
But in 2015 I took it to the UK for a couple of air shows and that highlighted some of the Kodak’s shortcomings. The biggest was that its viewfinder had no diopter and, as I needed reading glasses, focusing became a huge issue. The second was it would not record RAW and in the all-grey low overcast of English rainy days or in the lower light of museums having the added detail of RAW would have helped.
And thus, once again, I upgraded.
My current camera is a Canon Rebel T6s which does pretty much everything I want. I started using it at the beginning of 2016. Pride of the herd is my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Zoom Lens which really comes into its own at airports when I’m plane spotting. Bang for buck is definitely my Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM zoom. It’s pretty much my all-the-time attachment.
I don’t think of myself as a proficient photographer – I’d say I’m an advanced-beginner. I get a good deal of likes on photos I submit and some nice compliments, but have yet to win a competition.
The photos on this site are ones I like, ones that tell the story I want them to tell. They’re not all from the Rebel: I still use my Kodak, and my iPhone has the advantage of being ever-present. It’s not the camera that makes the good photographer, it’s his eye.
Browse around and enjoy.
(header photo by Audrey Williams)