Lessons from a Lost Camel

A Journey into Photography


Peter Pickering

3/7/20243 min read

Once upon a time, in the sweltering summer of 1963, in the far-off lands of Aden, South Arabia, a young lad of just 12 years old was about to take his first major steps into the world of photography. That eager boy was yours truly. I’d been dabbling with an inexpensive Halina 35X camera, but it didn't really satisfy my growing fascination with the craft. I yearned for something more, something like the higher standard of equipment my dad had, and so began my saving mission.

My heart was set on a Rolleiflex, but its astronomical price tag was lightyears away from a 12-year-old's pocket money savings. I had to bring my dreams a little closer to earth, which is when I discovered the Yashica range. The YashicaMat, in particular, was a dream within reach, an affordable alternative that didn't compromise too much on quality. But alas, even that remained just a tad beyond my humble savings.

So, I did what any pragmatic budding photographer would do – I made a compromise within a compromise. For the princely sum of £13, I managed to purchase a Yashica 635 twin-lens reflex camera. It might not have been the high-end Rolleiflex or the more accessible YashicaMat that I had yearned for, but it was a real, sophisticated camera, and it was all mine. I was as proud as a peacock, ready to conquer the world, one frame at a time.

The seed of this newfound passion was sown by my old man, an unabashed shutterbug. Now, Dad's love for photography was undisputed, his talent, however, was up for debate. His pièce de résistance was usually a shot of a far-off seagull, centred perfectly in a vast ocean expanse. Not exactly a Cartier-Bresson, but bless him, he was keen. And when he got his hands on a Braun Paximat slide projector and took to colour slides, oh blimey, it was like Christmas had come early - for him, not so much for the rest of us. Between the sideways shots, upside-down landscapes, and back-to-front portraits, the slideshow nights became a running family joke, though the laughter was often out of shared dread rather than amusement.

Yet, despite his artistic shortcomings, it was my dad who kindled my interest in this art form. Every time I managed to sneak his Kowa 35mm SLR, I felt a connection with the world that was new and exciting. So, here I was, the proud owner of my own real camera, a roll of Adox film loaded, ready to take my first ever shot.

It was a sizzling hot day, and the "sunny 16" rule seemed a bit meek under the relentless Aden sun, so I opted for a daring f/22. I spotted my subject - a magnificent camel lounging about, minding his own business. Everything was set; 1/125th shutter speed, check. Shutter cocked, check. Viewfinder hood opened, check. All ready for that decisive moment.

And then, chaos! In my eagerness to capture the scene, I'd neglected one crucial aspect - understanding my equipment. The reversed image in my Yashica's viewfinder hood sent me into a tailspin. Left became right, up was down, and my patient camel subject? Lost in the labyrinth of my confused panning. By the time I regained my bearings, my camel, clearly not one for modelling, had scarpered.

Reflecting on this, I realise that it was this early, failed attempt at capturing a street photo, that actually sowed the seeds of my future endeavours. Although that one, chaotic shot of a camel wasn’t a success, it was indeed my first 'street photo', and it was this passion that would later provide the touchstone to inspire me to create my Facebook Group, 'Cartier-Bresson Inspired'.

My first photographic expedition ended in a rather humbling lesson: knowing your gear is as vital as the eye for the shot. This early mishap taught me the importance of preparation and the value of understanding one's equipment. It's a lesson that has stayed with me all these years, reminding me that, in photography, as in life, it's not just about the destination (or the perfect shot), but also the journey.

So to all you budding photographers out there, remember, take the time to know your kit as intimately as you would a companion. Don't let your camel walk away while you're still figuring out which way is up! Happy snapping!

© Peter Pickering 2024. www.peterpickering.com