Above is my well-used Billingham something or other. It’s one of the original 1973 bags, made at the Halesowen Billingham site where the first bags were sewn between 1973 and 1978. It’s a collector’s item apparently, not that I care, but it is nice to have an authentic vintage bag. Irrespective of how it looks in the photo, it’s still in great shape – all the leather is intact and functional, zippers all work, no rips or tears in the fabric. The guy who had it before me covered it in obscure sewn patches, literally everywhere, which I eventually removed. I’m left with a well-used Billingham…that I haven’t used much…until now. Now it goes out with me on my morning walks, slung over my shoulder, carrying a camera or two just in case in run into something interesting. All I need is some Doc Martens, skinny jeans and a man bun and I’m set.
Not seeing anything to shoot this morning, I hopped in my car, with Sigma SD15 in said bag, and headed to the skeevy part of town. There’s always good subjects in economically depressed areas, there to be exploited by ‘socially conscious’ liberal minded chroniclers of general human misfortune. Plus, you don’t even need to get out of your car, which limits potential interaction with the often unsympathetic locals. Below are a few gems from my morning ride, all of them shot with my Sigma SD15 and given the grungy B&W treatment in Silver Efex. Given my renewed interest in film, I would have chosen the F5 and some Fomapan, but my bulk loader hasn’t shown up yet so I’m limited to digital. Given a desire for a gritty, grainy, film look, I choose the SD15 over the Monochrom. Surprisingly, it just does the B&W film look better than the dedicated B&W Monchrom, which I’ve tried to explain elsewhere. [As an aside, the Foveons are technically monochrome cameras, having 3 discreet monchrome sensor stacks for each pixel – RGB – which means you can isolate any of them and have a native B&W Tiff file. As a practical matter if you just use the blue filter, which sits on top the the 3 stacked sensor, you get almost noise free B&W at ISOs up to 3200. This is one of the great little secrets about the Foveon that Sigma should be, but aren’t exploiting to the hilt; just build in a RAW Monchrome option that uses the top blue sensor layer, and voila!, you have a dedicated authentic monochrome capture option in a camera that also allows you to shoot color via its regular RAW file.]
Here are the results of my ride:
Camera bags: we all use them, most of the time out of necessity given the amount of stuff a photography assignment requires. They are not, however, one of my favorite photographic accoutrements. Mostly, they’re a pain in the ass, bulky and unwieldy in use, limiting your mobility, constantly needing to be repositioned against your body as you move about. If I’m able to access their awkwardly zippered interiors, I’m constantly digging in various sub-pockets, usually unsuccessfully, to find that last roll of HP5, or that LensPen, or that 21mm viewfinder I’m needing right now. Typically if I do succeed in finding something nestled away, it’s an exposed roll of film, an auxilliarry 28mm viewfinder I’d thought I’d lost forever a few years back, a ticket stub to the Vatican Museum or something similar.
Everything about them seems designed to limit whatever enjoyment you might otherwise be experiencing being out and about with your minty new Leica M6. And then there’s the issue of aesthetics and its interplay with practical concerns. A mint Sage Chocolate Leather Billingham Hadley One hanging around one’s neck at the Paris Clichy Metro stop is going to make you a lot of friends on your subway ride. It just screams “expensive things inside” and, based on prior unfortunate experiences with Paris Metro thieves, there’s a good possibility you’ll be exiting your Metro car without your bag, probably not even knowing it (Parisian Metro thieves have nicked me more than once, even when I’m fully aware they are in fact thieves. Among other things, they’ve gotten a Tag Heuer watch off my arm and numerous Euros out of my front pocket. My last unfortunate experience involved actually announcing to the guy lurking next to me that I knew he was a thief and he shouldn’t bother followed shortly thereafter by finding my wallet gone after I’d gotten off and tried to buy a bottle of wine for the dinner I was heading to. They’re good. Really good.)
My response to all this has been to use non-camera specific canvas bags, the rattier the better, something that looks like it’s carrying a few quarts of motor oil you’ve just purchased. Plus, they’re easy to get into, which of course cuts two ways – they’re also easy for other people to get into too, but, given the aesthetics, they usually don’t bother.
Not needing the Billingham, I sold it on Ebay for $175. It fetched that amount because of its vintage status. Seems excessive to me, but things are worth what people are willing to pay. I’m now back to my old ratty bag below.
Speaking of bags, a reader sent me a picture of his bag. He’s obviously been around a bit: