My photographic journey: a retrospective

by Michael Hopcroft

After much consideration I recently purchased a new camera, and I thought this would be a good time to write something of a restrospective of my "photographic journey" to date. While never transgressing in to a truly serious hobby photography has long been an interest of mine and one which has always been intimately connected with my passion for historical research.

My interest in photography started in 2003, when I, as a 20 year old undergraduate, bought my first digital camera: a Kodak LS443. This small "point-and-shoot", with a 4 megapixels sensor, had specifications that are woeful by today's standards, but it's worth remembering that this was the very early days of digital photography. Most people, and I think I could safely say ALL professional photographers, were still at that time using film. Digital was a novelty.

It's difficult to remember exactly what prompted me to buy this camera but I guess I was in part attracted by the novelty: an interesting new technology that had some creative potential. My earliest photos were primarily domestic: family, friends, my room, what may now be called "lifesytle photography" (a term that I as a rather ascetic youth would have baulked at!). Within a year, however, my subject interest had expanded.

I can remember it vividly. It was at the tail end of 2003, during a period of beautiful winter weather. I had finished university earlier than normal that day and my homeward commute coincided with a spectacular sunset the beauty of which attracted me to take my camera out in to the fields for the first time.

The river Gryffe at Craigends, from my first photography "field trip". Michael Hopcroft, 2003

Looking back now the photos are intolerably noisy and soft but in my naivety I was impressed by the images that I was able to capture. Focusing on the natural beauty of the local area I became exhilirated by the process of "re-seeing" the place where I had grown up, and this new found interest in the local landscape almost immediately triggered a desire to learn more of its history.

At this early stage my "research" (if it may be termed so) was limited to reading what could be found on the Internet: a far more limited resource than it is today. I was, however, engrossed by what I was able to discover. And I was particularly captivated by images and stories of a "lost" country house which had once stood less than 500 metres from where I grew up, but which I hitherto had only had the vaguest knowledge of: Craigends House.

Being in my late adolescencence, a time of life when I was moving away from childhood and (in short time) my childhood home, this historical discovery connected with something deep inside of me. No doubt partly driven by a youthful idealism and dissatisfaction with the modern world, history seemed to offer the opportunity of other worlds to explore. And the more I learned of "old Craigends" the more my fascination grew. I became interested in almost any detail no matter how small, and it was then that I first experienced that feeling of exhiliration, which remains with me to this day, when discovering more about the past: when pushing back the fog, and seeing more clearly a glimpse of something of what came before.

Photography, then, is what, in a sense, got me "in to" history. But it also remained an important part of my process of historical research. Over the following year, as my interest in Craigends developed, I explored the old estate on foot, my little camera in hand, delighting in uncovering any tangible connection to the past that I could find: be it old walls, wells or ditches. And photography was always essential for me in helping to crystalise those connections.

At some point in the course of that year, however, the little camera developed a fault and stopped working. Although frustrating to me at the time this misfortune was also a blessing: it allowed me the opportunity to buy a better replacement.

[To be continued.]