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A tale of one camera, one lens and a wet weekend in Dickens’ Rochester

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  Would you entrust your bar to this lot? Fagin would make a clean sweep
Would you entrust your bar to this lot? Fagin would make a clean sweep
  Hmmm…..can you guess? Is that Abel Magwitch on the back row? Answers on a postcard, please
Hmmm…..can you guess? Is that Abel Magwitch on the back row? Answers on a postcard, please

The Dickens weekend is a long-serving feature festival in the Rochester winter calendar. You find the high street, pubs, restaurants and Christmas market all packed with people from all over the country, and some from further corners of the world.

Few authors, I suspect, could inspire such an extraordinary festival as this. He created such a wonderful range of unforgettable characters, from Mr. Pickwick, to Fagin and his Artful Dodger, to Uriah Heep, Wilkins Micawber, Miss Haversham, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Betsy Trotwood, Amy Dorrit and Sarah Gamp. Not only did he provide graphic descriptions of his characters, he imbued all of them with distinctive accents and wery memorable foibles.

  Dickens in his gothic mood, I see. Could it be Sarah Gamp or, perhaps, old Peggotty or even Mrs. Gummidge? No doubt she knows who she is....
Dickens in his gothic mood, I see. Could it be Sarah Gamp or, perhaps, old Peggotty or even Mrs. Gummidge? No doubt she knows who she is….

Combine all this with the early Victorian period when Dickens was at his most prolific, and we have a sure recipe for role play and characterisation which turns any Dickens event into a true delight. Part of the attraction is trying to identify the characters. Some, such as Fagin and Miss Havisham, are easy to spot, but can you tell the difference between Messrs Pickwick and Micawber, or between Jeremiah Flintwinch and Uriah Heep. It takes a keen eye (and a player with a determined imagination). 

  And who is this fine looking gentleman. Perhaps Wilkins Micawber after spending only nineteen pounds, nineteen shillings and sixpence?
And who is this fine looking gentleman. Perhaps Wilkins Micawber after spending only nineteen pounds, nineteen shillings and sixpence?

Charles Dickens is well known for his connections with Rochester, Chatham and Higham at various stages of his life. He ended his years at Gads Hill Place, near Higham, only minutes away from Rochester and the general North Kent area featured in several of his novels.

In the garden of East Gate House in Rochester stands Dickens’ wooden Swiss chalet. It was was moved from Gads Hill Place and kept here for all of the years I have been in and around Rochester. 

  Not much doubt about this…. it’s Miss Havisham in all her finery
Not much doubt about this…. it’s Miss Havisham in all her finery

For those who are interested, there is another Dickens Festival in the summer months, but it tends to get overlooked as it follows the very popular Sweeps Festival where Morris dancers and chimney sweeps clutter the streets and ale houses for three days — mainly the ale houses, it has to be said. All of these events now have a smattering of steampunks, goths and comic book characters turning up. Oh, and have I mentioned The Grinch

  Little Dorrit with wings. Or is it?
Little Dorrit with wings. Or is it?

But back to the winter Dickens Festival. Its timing in early December ensures it has a Christmas theme. And, or course, Dickens is inextricably associated with this period because one of his best-known works, A Christmas Carol. No Christmas would be complete without a helping of Scrooge and Cratchit along with the pudding. So where better to point my newly acquired Nikon Df (which I purchased from Greys of Westminster). I took just the camera and one lens, the 50mm 1.8G. The reason for this was the god-awful weather on the Saturday, where the rain lashed down, soaking me to the skin, and my camera got a fairly decent wash too. I feared that in those conditions my Leica X wouldn’t stand up to the punishment, despite the attraction of having the 35mm focal length available, and it made sense to use kit that was likely to survive the experience. 

  This one is easy. The gent on the left has obligingly decided to wear a name badge. He’s Mr. Topper from A Christmas Carol. Don’t know who the other chap is, though.
This one is easy. The gent on the left has obligingly decided to wear a name badge. He’s Mr. Topper from A Christmas Carol. Don’t know who the other chap is, though.

The Df performed admirably in the rain-lashed Saturday, and was excellent during the better conditions of the Sunday. For a first time I am starting to feel a little love for the 50mm 1.8G lens, it still doesn’t kick like a 35mm Leica lens, but for street work and portraits, as mostly demanded by this event, it produces some really decent results, as I hope you can see. It has made me think about whether there is an opening for me to buy a manual focus Nikon 35mm lens from their F mount range. It is something I am considering. 

  A wet weekend in Rochester — such a pity for the cosplayers, but they all braved the worst a British winter could throw at them…..
A wet weekend in Rochester — such a pity for the cosplayers, but they all braved the worst a British winter could throw at them…..

I have to say that I owe a great amount of thanks to the people who posed, played along and discussed the weekends events with me. It didn’t matter how much rain fell, those in character kept up the act and played to their utmost. They even stopped to pose for the many photographers of all ages, sporting every conceivable type of modern camera. What more could we all ask for, cameras in the wild, in use, capturing their perspective and take on a wonderful event. 

As this will be my last article of 2018 I would like to thank the readership for their continued support, Mike for his never ending enthusiasm, words of wisdom, and his excellent eye for detail. Also, I thank The Aussie Mafia (you know who you are), for their community engaged spirit in helping a fellow photographer get the best out of his gear. I also have to thank Rebecca (Becky) in Grays’ marking department, who helps spread my Df word as far as it can go beyond Macfilos, and Tabitha who sold me the Df and 50mm 1.8G. 

Above: The ones that got away. The couple of the left are of about the right vintage for Dickens but Edward I and Queen Eleanor (if indeed they are meant to be such) are way off piste. But fun, anyway

The final thank you as always goes to my long suffering photography widow Liz, without whom the show would not go on. Here’s hoping you enjoy Christmas day, with your nearest and dearest. If the festivities go well, hopefully I will see you all in 2019, having enjoyed the festive food, frivolity, wine and also the New Year celebrations — if a few pounds heavier than when it all began. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year – Humbug from Rochester

 

16 COMMENTS

  1. Such a great post! Every character simply stunning, same with the photos, when I got to Miss Havisham I thought I was viewing another great English character from Wilkie Collins novel The Woman in White. I think Rochester should hire you to do their PR. Thanks for the early Christmas present!

    • Thank you John, and for sending Mike the link to the Df comments by a seasoned pro – The Df is a wonderful bit of kit, and can be set up to take you back to the simplest elements of image taking. It was the nearest thing to a Leica M I could find, and I wish other big manufacturers would produce this type of camera, as pretty sure there is a market for it.

  2. Lovely photos Dave. It reminds me of Bloomsday in Dublin. The chap in the first photo with a name vaguely like mine does not have an Irish background, of course.

    William

    • Cheers William, this guys turns up dressed like this at nearly every event in Rochester, not just the Dickens ones. I wouldn’t mind seeing images, and an article on Bloomsday, sounds interesting.

  3. Great images Dave. The crisp colours are special. Is it the Df or the lens or both that deliver them? I’m guessing that it’s those nice big pixels in the Df that are playing a significant role.
    Will be interesting to see the performance if you get that Nikon 35 as well.
    Have a great end of year, and looking forward to your posts in 2019.

    • Hi Wayne, I think it’s a combination of both, the camera is excellent, and the lens is so easy to work with. I remember reading your article about pixel size and density, and when I researched the Df against your article, it was one of the best out there regardless of its age.

      I am already researching which version to get, but my interest lies in getting an older manual focus one, then I can compare the experience to the Leica M10 and 35 cron.

      I hope you have an excellent Christmas and New Year, spare a thought for those of us who work through a lot of it. Although I have Christmas day off this year, and my daughters will be home.

      Cheers

  4. Fabulous photos from a fabulous event. Well done Dave. Can’t wait to see what you provide next year. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.

    • Cheers Richard, I already have a few ideas for new articles, and places to write about. So it could be fun, more so as I am finding out about how far I can push the Df.

      Have a great Christmas and New Year.

      Dave

  5. Thanks Dave,
    Nice illustrations of the characters. I’ll put in my list of places to visit. Looking forward to your posts in the New Year.
    Kevin

  6. Hello Dave,

    your website has become my favourite site for photo news and inspiration. you always manage to paar high quality images with eloquent writing. great work.

    • Thank you, there is more images that can be found in my Flickr account if you venture there. daveseargeant is my account name.

      Have a great Christmas and New Year.

      Dave

  7. Dave, I am glad you are enjoying your Df; it is a nostalgic gem and low-light beast! I really enjoyed shooting with my Df, the experience reminded me of my FM2 which I still have. I use it from a night time soccer match to a volcano hike in Japan, and it never failed me. For me, the Df is a camera with a soul instead of a "mini computer" that captures images. Nowadays, people are so hyped about technology that many of them forget photography is a form of art and expression. No wonder many of them never understand the idea and concept behind the Df. Sadly, my photographic journey with my Df ended abruptly when it was stolen along with my D-Lux 109 last year. As much as I have been enjoying my recently acquired CL, there are things which my CL just can’t do. I am still looking for a light weight full-frame camera for landscape and action, and hoping Nikon will make a Df2 or Zf next year. In fact, there is still a chance I will just get another Df, despite it being four years old. Wishing everyone here a wonderful Christmas and happy New Year!

    Yours Truly,
    Patrick

    • Hi Patrick,

      Thank you for dropping in and reading my article. I agree the Df is a true photographic gem and a camera that has many technological elements to it, but can be used in a way that feels intuitive to a photographer. Unfortunately it was a camera that seems to be lost amongst reviewers, and among many others – but has a fond heart and love from those who are true photographers.

      I am sorry to hear of the loss of your beloved Df, and the D-Lux too – thats a sad an painful experience for any of us, more so when the items lost where well loved.

      I tinkered with a CL last year when I wrote about M10 experience, but it just didnt feel like the camera for me, and I am truly unashamedly loving of my X Typ 113.

      If you do turn your attention to wanting another Df, from memory Grays of Westminster where mine came from did have two or three preowned ones with low shutter counts, (Mine was 3400 when I bought it). They also did have advertised a new one as well. I am not convinced that Nikon will make a Df2, or anything similar, while it is loved an army of people, I dont think it sold in the numbers that make another version likely to appear any time soon. Sadly.

      Enjoy the rest of the festive period, and have a Happy New Year.

      Dave

  8. Wonderful, Dave!

    Miss Havisham is my favourite, that lass seems to have put a lot of work into her getup.

    The DF and 50/1.8 has produced some lovely images there.

    Many thanks and happy new year!

    Jason

    • Hi Jason, Thank you for your kind comments, and I agree that the Df combined with the 50/1.8 is an excellent combination.

      I hope you have a happy New Year.

      Best Wishes

      Dave

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