My Life in Cameras no.9

9. PENTAX SV

I acquired a Pentax SV in 1971 when I foolishly swapped a nearly new Mamiya C33 for this 10 year old camera. I was jipped! But it got me through a couple of weddings and a year of study at Prahran Tech. This camera needed an externally-fitted light meter, that contraption you see on top in the photo. This was before through-the-lens lightmeters were invented. The later Pentax Spotmatic, a classy camera in its day, solved that problem with an internal spot meter.

The Asahi company started in 1919 making lenses, converted to military output during World War II, and grew in the postwar years when Allied (American) assistance helped it develop the first Japanese SLR  in 1952, the Asahiflex. Pentax led the game in developing the SLR camera. In 1954 it invented the mirror-return feature – before that the reflex mirror stayed up after you pressed the shutter blocking your view. Since then, viewfinders just blink.

It was also the inventor of the pentaprism, that pyramid-shape on top that became characteristic of all SLRs. This was the first eye-level SLR viewfinder, before that you looked down into the viewer like a you do in a twin-lens-reflex. The invention gave the company its name: “PENTAprism” and “refleX”. The company settled into a long reign – continuing today – as one of the leading makers of consumer cameras.

I have a soft spot for Pentax, a name which doesn’t quite have the caché of Nikon or Canon. But Pentax SLRs were always so smooth and easy to handle they became an extension of you – their advertising slogan in the 1960s was “Just Hold a Pentax”. And they looked so tasty.

These photographs were of two girls I hardly knew. They are very much of-their-time, but I think they hold up pretty well

Greg Neville, Lyndy Farrell, 1971

Greg Neville, Lyndy Farrell, 1971

Greg Neville, Lynn at Labassa, 1972

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My Life in Cameras no.11

11. MAMIYA C33

The Mamiya twin lens reflex cameras were a breakthrough in their day. Rugged, reliable and straightforward, they were a ‘systems’ camera coming with interchangeable lenses and various accessories when the Rolleiflex and Yashica TLRs were fixed. Every function was external and visible making them practical, working machines. This is the antithesis of the sealed-up, moulded plastic digital cameras of today. My students are first intimidated by these strange devices but invariably fall in love. A Mamiya TLR is a strange, almost Steampunk contraption to members of the iPhone generation.

According to Camerapedia, C33s were made between 1965-69. Very popular in all its forms the Mamiya twin lens reflex began in 1958 and ended in 1993, a long innings. It was the Volkswagen of cameras, or perhaps the Kombi van – big and unwieldy, but never giving up. Surprisingly German in its appearance and handling, almost East-German, considering it’s a Japanese camera design. If you’re interested, Ambientimages blog has some good information.

Diane Arbus used one, as you can see from this photograph of her shooting a love-in in Central Park (hence the daffodil in her mouth).

Diane Arbus in Central Park, 1969, photographed by Garry Winogrand

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My own work with this camera as a student was inspired by Frederick Sommer whose photographs of detritus opened up a new world of subject matter for me.

Greg Neville, untitled, 1982

Greg Neville, untitled, 1982

Greg Neville, untitled, 1982

Greg Neville, untitled, 1982

Denny Moers

Denny Moers, Bannister 3, 1979

Look at this image and try to guess how it was done. Yes, it is a photograph; no, it was not manipulated in Photoshop. It is from a black & white negative printed on black & white darkroom paper. Is it handcolouring or toning? No.

Denny Moers is an American photographer who early on in his career developed a unique and clever technique. Moers prints his negatives on silver chloride paper (probably Kodak Azo). He develops the print, puts it through Stop Bath, but he doesn’t fix it. Instead, he exposes the still wet paper to very bright light, and watches it fog. He then applies diluted fixer with a paintbrush to specific areas. The more fixer, the less colour will take up. To achieve the colour, he chemically tones the print in Selenium or sulfide toners. You didn’t think of that, did you?

I first saw his work in Camera Arts magazine in 1983 and recently discovered his website: http://dennymoers.com/ There are images from this and other series where this technique was employed and he gives a detailed description of how they were done. Even after all this time, they still seem very fine to me.

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Tim Handfield’s Deep Skin

Tim Handfield, Tomatoes, Trenerry Crescent, Abbotsford, 2004-o6

Melbourne photographer Tim Handfield has a retrospective at Monash Gallery of Art, the first time a significant amount of his work has ever been shown. It’s called Deep Skin. Handfield has pursued his photography over the decades despite putting much of his energy into his photographic businesses, including the processing lab called The Colour Factory.

In an artist’s talk at the gallery he described his affinity to the New Colour Photography, an American movement which grew out of the pioneering work of William Eggleston and Stephen Shore in the seventies. New Colour photographers tended to focus on un-picturesque subjects, seeking to find some kind of beauty in the ordinary details of everyday life. It is an observational aesthetic, avoiding sentiment or ideology. Its key quality is a scrupulous detachment, although sometimes touched by irony and visual wit.

This could describe Handfield’s images, especially his early work of the 1970s and his late work of the 2000s. They have an incisive optical clarity, focussing on the colour relationships in his subjects. He is an expert in colour, finding luminous colour relationships in the ordinary world: suburban walls, industrial lanes, a pile of kids’ bikes. “He knows how to harvest the commonplace, and wring beauty from it,” Chris Wallace-Crabbe states in his catalogue essay.

You can see more work on Tim Handfield’s website.

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White Modern

Greg Neville, The Barcelona Pavillion, 2011

One of my other sites is modernismus.wordpress.com where I’ve created an archive of my photographs of modernist architecture. The images have been taken during my travels and research trips both in Australia and overseas. The images on this post, more of which can be seen on the Europe page at modernismus.wordpress.com/europe, show the durability of the modernist ideal in architecture.

The Barcelona Pavillion above was designed by Mies van der Rohe in the 1920s, but the actual structure you see is a 1980s copy of the destroyed original. It is accurate in every detail.

The Bosnian Historical Museum in Sarajevo dates from the 1970s, four decades after it’s prototypes by Mies, Le Corbusier and others. The Serbs tried to blow it up in the Balkan war of the 1990s, but it survives, sort of.

Greg Neville, Bosnian Historical Museum 2011

This final image below, of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona, shows the continuing development and relevance of high modernism. It is the work of U.S. architect Richard Meiers, who also built L.A.s Getty museum, amongst many others. It was built in the 1990s, and shows the influence of Le Corbusier.

Greg Neville, Museu D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona 2011

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