A Very Unusual Photograph from my Traffic Police Days

Back in 1978-79, as a keen amateur photographer during the Traffic Patrol years of my police career, I was encouraged to take one of my cameras to work with me by the man who was then my Chief Superintendent.  I’m not certain, however, that he and I had quite the same end results in mind. 🙂

Having worked out a shot I would really like to achieve, I found a blacksmith in the village of Blencow, near Penrith, and gave him the drawing of a bracket that I needed — one that would hold my camera at a lateral angle of 45°, down beside the back wheel of my police BMW R80 motorcycle, so that when I was leaning to the right, the camera would come level and allow a dramatic, ultra wide-angle view along the side of the bike.

Never mind Daniel Day Lewis and his famous “Left Foot,” this is my own *right* foot! It was taken at Slapestones Roundabout, at the junction of the A66 and the A592, near Penrith, where Rheged is now located. I took it myself, in 1978 or 79, on my police BMW R80 motorcycle, using a Contax RTS MkII camera body with a 21mm lens and a motordrive, mounted on a bracket of my own design and triggered by a long, electronic, cable release. Copyright: Eddie Wren

With a motordrive fitted to my rather expensive Contax RTS MkII 35mm camera, to wind the film forward after every shot, a 21mm lens, and a 10′ electronic cable release that came up onto the saddle, up the back of my leather jacket and down the left sleeve to my hand, I took three rolls of film in one afternoon.  Many of the images were spoiled, either by vibration or by inaccurate exposure (which needed to be critically accurate on professional transparency film) but a handful of the images were very pleasing.

The best one of all was one I took as I was heading towards Kirkstone Pass, around the very sharp bend at Hartsop, at the south end of Ullswater.  I later submitted it in a photography competition and was delighted when it won top place and a national trophy that was subsequently presented to me at the London School of Economics.  In the photo in question, the chairman of the judges questioned my use of the title ‘Foot Down’, and assured me that if I had asked the motorcyclist, he would have assured me that the ‘accelerator’ on a motorbike is operated by hand and not by foot.   The judge was astonished when I told him that the police officer’s leg shown in the photo was actually my own and he was baffled as to how I’d taken the photo.  (Using brackets to hold cameras in position on  — for example — the side of vehicles was effectively unknown back then so this was apparently my one act of innovation!)

Anyway, I told him that my title referred primarily to the fact that the outer edge of the sole of my boot was actually rubbing along the road because I was banked over so far — it was a very sharp bend — but it also was intended to imply the speed involved, which was much less than appearances suggested, again due to the sharpness of the bend.

The picture shown here was taken slightly further north of Ullswater, at Slapestones Roundabout at the junction of the A66 with the A592, where the Rheged centre has since been built, and did not involve the edge of my boot being scraped along the road!  Once my three rolls of film were used up, I decided that my camera had faced enough jeopardy — primarily from vibration but flying gravel was also a concern — and that was the only time I ever did this.

Finally, the copyright notice on the attached photograph of necessity uses my real name rather than my author’s pen-name, so please don’t be confused by that.

Author: Steve

Steve Shearwater, the author of this series of books and admin of this website and blog.

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