The Ilford Moment

Written in biro and underlined on the first page of this album is the heading: ‘First film taken by Iford Sporti 4. Aug 1962.

The German-built Iford Sporti 4 camera was produced from 1960. It was made almost entirely out of plastic, apart from a thin metal ring around the lens area. It had two aperture settings: SUNNY and CLOUDY, took 127 film, and had auto-focus from six feet to infinity. It also offered synchronised flash. In recent years, the Sporti 4 became cool on the Lomography scene. The Ilford company started life in 1879 as the Britannia Works Company, manufacturing photographic plates. Despite objections from the council, the company name was changed to Ilford in 1902, due to its location. In the UK, if Kodak had a rival during its heyday, it was probably Ilford.

This is an album photographed and compiled by a teenage boy when he was between 15 and 18 years old. It is fair to say, he was an admirable enthusiast but not a great practitioner. Many of the shots are out of focus, badly framed and poorly lit, and his subject matter can be puzzling – the album is also cack-handedly arranged. For all these reasons, this is a fascinating album.

A number of the photos show someone who thinks about light, and culture. There is a photo shoot in the back garden where he uses his sister, Janis, as muse. One shot is composed so that Janis’s silhouette forms neatly on the white shed door. Another photo taken on the same day, entitled ‘Janis in Backdoor’, betrays the influence of  ‘Continental’ cinema beloved by proto-Mods of era – he is wearing two-tone Mod shoes in the Hawaiian/Mexican-themed Butlins’ souvenir photo, a shot in which ‘Ma and Pa’ can be seen smoking. There are several shots of  ‘Dozy Dave’. Dave may have been the photographer’s brother, or perhaps the family lodger. Dave is no muse – his attitude throughout is one of grudging forbearance. Or perhaps there was a little Mod/Rocker needle. There is one shot that could only have been taken by a 15-year-old boy, entitled ‘Mum and Nan coming out of the ladies’ and sadly out of focus.

Some of the internal flash shots of the ‘Boozy party’ have a kitchen-sink, fly-on-the-wall feel to them. These photos seem to portray a family which is poor; no pictures on the wall, no table for the glasses and booze, everyone perched on a 1930s couch. But their back garden is manicured to perfection, replete with lily pond, gnomes and fake stalks. It is at this ‘Boozy party’ that the photographer can finally be identified in the shot entitled ‘Gary and I’. ‘Cousin Gary’ is a five-year-old boy; the chubby-cheeked lad peering around his right shoulder is our photographer, hungry for the camera.

Four photos on one page depict the ‘Cold cruel winter of 62’. The winter of 1962-63 is known as ‘The Big Freeze’. In Hearn Bay, the sea froze for a mile out; one would have to go back to 1739 to find a colder winter. This bitter winter was relieved by a summer holiday at Butlins, where our photographer enjoyed crabbing excursions, attending wrestling matches and especially the dining hall. 

Nigel Shephard

Published by The Family Museum

We are an archival project about amateur family photography, based in London and set up by filmmaker Nigel Shephard and editor Rachael Moloney.

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