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As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot of time scanning old pictures recently as I try to (finally) get my collection of rail, travel and social issues pictures taken over the past 30 plus years onto my Zenfolio website.

In the past, when I did this for my old Fotopic website (remember them?) my approach was more scattergun. Nowadays I’m much more methodical, scanning whole albums rather than selective shots. Recently I’ve been covering the years 1990 and now 1991, which was when there was an interesting transition.

I was very much an amateur photographer in those days. I never dreamt that one day it would become my profession. I was happy being a Housing Officer in East London – a job I really enjoyed. The money was good, I had no commitments and so I had a large disposable income and could afford to buy decent cameras. Nothing too flash mind, I wasn’t getting into medium format (too bulky) or expensive kit like Leica, just good mid-range auto-focus Nikons like the F801s which came out that year. Yep, back in those days auto-focus was a new thing. It was still a bit clunky compared to what we use today but it was a great advance on manual focus as it was one less thing to worry about and concentrate on.

What also came out then and really changed the game was a new slide film. Fuji Velvia.

Having taken the old advice I’d been using Kodachrome the standard slide film of the day since 1989 when I ditched print film. The problem was that Kodachrome was slow speed, grainy and difficult to get processed. It didn’t like dull days either.

Then Fuji Velvia arrived. I’d read about it in camera magazines but didn’t try it until a few months later, in February 1991. I’m now scanning the first roll I used. Wow, what a difference! Rated at ISO 50 it wasn’t much of a change in speed but the lack of grain and vividness of colour compared to Kodak was brilliant. Here’s a sample.

On the 17th February 1991. 4-EPB unit 5467 stands at Dartford before working the 13.30 to Charing Cross via Sidcup.

As I scan more slides I can see the transition I made from Kodak to the ‘upstart’ Fuji. Velvia became my standard film, even though it wasn’t ideal for everything as it was a high-contrast film with vivid colours (not great for indoor shots of people for example). But then Fuji soon introduced Provia and Reala.

I realise that to many modern photographers brought up in the digital age when all you do is flick a few dials and go through a few menus all this is gibberish. But in the early 1990s the world was very different. As I scan my old pictures I’m reliving those times. Would I go back? No. Do I regret not having gone digital before I did in 2004? Yes. But isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

Here’s another sample that also shows just how much the railways have changed since 1991. This is Gillingham (Kent) on a quiet Sunday when spare locos used to be stabled just outside the station. All these are ex-Southern classes which have now (mostly) disappeared, although the later versions of the Class 73 electo-diesels still put in sterling work on the Southern for freight company GBRf.