Chris knows his cameras
IT is a strange place for a life-time obsession to begin but Chris Fenn can pinpoint the exact location to a jumble sale in Hunter’s Bar almost 40 years ago.
He saw two old cameras on sale for half a crown each, and bought them on a whim – “just because they looked nice”.
Today, the 64-year-old is standing in his spare room showing off those two cameras. Surrounding him, in carefully packed boxes, are exactly 626 more.
“I’ve been collecting them ever since,” says the retired university technician of Brinsworth, Rotherham.
“Occasionally I’ll buy a brand new one that costs a few hundred pounds but mainly I pick them up from flea markets or car boot sales. I don’t know why as such, I just think there’s real beauty in how they’re made, real craftsmanship.
“I studied photography at college years and years ago and I’ve done some amateur and wedding photography but nothing really serious. I don’t buy them to use. It’s just for how they look.”
And how they look, when he lays them out on display, as he occasionally does for gob-smacked guests, is astonishing.
They are old and new, big and small, cheap and valuable.
Some are digital, some use film, some date back to the days of plates when those being pictured would have to stand holding their pose waiting for the exposure to catch.
“I estimate my oldest is from about 1890,” says the married granddad-of-one. “It uses dry plates and it’s basically just a black box with a handle on. It’s not the most impressive one to look at but it’s what it represents that is important. It’s from those early days when photography was still being perfected, when it was new and exciting.”
And the newest one?
“I have an Olympus and a Kodak Easyshare,” he says.
And does he take pictures with those? “I do take a few although probably not as many as I should.”
Indeed, the most some of these cameras get used is as stage props.
Chris is a member of both the Greasbrough Operatic Society and the Rotherham Teachers Operatic Society, and there’s regular calls for a period camera in the period plays both groups do. “They’ll say ‘We need a camera, have you got anything?’ And I normally have,” he says.
“The sad thing is my son isn’t really into them as much as I am. I’m getting older so you think about what you want to happen with them. I’m still not sure yet but I do know it’s taken me 40 years to build this collection and I’d like them to stay together – I think that’s important.”