Pocket Kodak, 1896
On the day that Kodak sells it film manufacturing business, it seems appropriate to commemorate big yellow’s dawn in the late 19th century.
Here is an object on Ebay from the early history of popular photography, an 1896 Kodak. The term ‘Box Brownie’ is fixed in the cultural memory, the name Kodak gave their range of amateur home cameras that started in 1888.
This Pocket Kodak is small, only 7 x 10 x 6 cm in size. It’s for a largish pocket, but a pocket nonetheless. When you consider that only about 15 years before, the dominant form of photography was Wet Plate with it’s large sheets of glass and toxic chemicals, a pocket camera is an amazing idea. Kodak’s genius then was in taming photography, making it convenient and simple.
Kodak box cameras had features that are unusual to us: the lens is behind the shutter, and you pulled a string to cock the shutter. But this model inaugurated one long-lasting feature, the red safety window for when you’re winding the film. Young photographers today know that invention from their Lomo Dianas and Holgas.
The lens is an f10, 65 mm focal length. The camera took 12 exposures on 1½ x 2 inch (3.7 x 5) cm exposures on paper backed roll-film. This is much smaller than current roll film, between 35mm and 120 format. It’s a different format from the original Brownies that held 100 exposures and had to be sent to the factory for re-loading. kodaksefke.nl has some examples.
It must have been OK for it’s time because Kodak made almost 150,000 of them, at $5.00 retail. I don’t know if it helps but in 1913, $5.00 was worth $117.00 of today’s dollars. But this one is going for $300 on Ebay. That’s inflation.
Greg Neville, Appropriation: is it appropriate? 2013
The Bronica SQ-B was a medium format SLR introduced in 1996. It was a lower cost version of the highly regarded SQ-A, with many of the advanced features removed. I haven’t noticed any of that; the simplicity is its best feature. It’s a strong and reliable camera that is a great pleasure to use.
Bronica was the Japanese answer to the fabulous Hasselblad, giving high quality but at a much lower price. Their cameras were instantly successful when they appeared in the late 1950s. The original lenses were Nikon, later their own designs, then the company was acquired by lens maker Tamron in 1988. The lens quality of Bronica has always been a feature.
The SQ line was discontinued in 2004 when the company itself was pretty much finished. Presumably the shark frenzy of the digital revolution killed it, as it did so many companies.
Greg Neville, plumbing design 1, 2013
Greg Neville, Wall 16, 2013.
Allan Arbus in recent years, and with Diane in the 1940s
Allan Arbus, actor, photographer and former husband of Diane Arbus, has died at 95.
Arbus was born in 1918 and became the childhood sweetheart of Diane Nemerov. They married during World War II and soon established themselves as fashion photographers in New York. The partnership was very successful, their work being published regularly in fashion magazines such as Glamour and Seventeen.
In the 1950s, Diane became restless and moved on to her brilliant career as an editorial photographer and artist. Allan moved into acting, ended his photographic work and moved to Los Angeles where he became a fairly successful actor, best known for his role in TV’s MASH. They had two children together, the photographer Amy Arbus and the editor Doon Arbus. The couple had separated in 1958.
Allan Arbus played by actor Ty Burrell in the 2006 movie Fur
Allan Arbus was not one of the great fashion photographers like Avedon and Penn but together with Diane, did very good commercial work over a long period.
Allan and Diane Arbus, for Glamour magazine, 1948
Greg Neville, AM Penck at the NGV
Clifton Pugh, portrait of Mark Strizic, 1968
When Clifton Pugh painted his portrait of photographer Mark Strizic, he showed a camera hanging from his neck. Strizic is holding the strap in an affectionate, possessive way, and Pugh painted it with just enough detail to distinguish the make and model. It was a Nikon F with the Photomic attachment, one of the great cameras of its time.
Nikon F Photomic
The Nikon F single lens reflex was the game changer in the 35mm format when it arrived in 1959. It was so good it seriously threatened other traditional leaders in the camera market. It was a sturdy camera and was adopted by photojournalists all over the world, replacing the legendary Leica in this role.
That boxy attachment on top is the Photomic light meter, an accessory that got around the need for a handheld meter. The circle just left of the letter F is the Cds cell. In later models, the light meter was built internally in the camera: through-the-lens metering, a giant step in its day.
Mark Strizic. The businessman Andrew Grimwade and family, 1968
Strizic favoured 35mm photography and he became a master of differential focus and contre jour lighting which the reflex viewfinder made practicable. This commissioned portrait was made in the same year as the Clifton Pugh portrait of Strizic, 1968. You can see how the reflex viewfinder of the Nikon would help in establishing the areas in focus. Grimwade is positioned in a zone of sharpness between the baby and the woman. The baby is closest to the camera, although it appears at first glance that Grimwade is in front of both. It’s a great example of shallow depth-of-field, something that Strizic was very good at. He created a distinctive body of work along these lines in his portraits.
Focal length conversion chart – click for larger view
If you’re like me, you’ll always have trouble knowing which focal lengths are equivalent across different formats. There’s a formula for converting it based on the diagonal of the frame, but I couldn’t remember it. Fortunately, viewcamera.com solves the problem with a chart that lays it all out.
Just choose your focal length along the left hand bold column. Then read across to find its 35mm equivalent for your medium or large format. For example, a 150mm wide angle lens for a 6×6 format camera is equivalent to a 96mm lens in 35mm format. Since I know that’s between a standard lens and a short telephoto, I know that if I buy that 150, I’ll have a nice portrait lens.
Greg Neville, Balcony Silhouette, 2013
Nicholas Caire, Collin Street, Melbourne, 1902
Did you know that Victoria had a second Gold Rush, 100 years after the first?
The wealth of this state and its capital city was established by the discovery of gold in the 1860s. Money poured out of the ground and much of it went into building Marvellous Melbourne, the great international city of the late 19th century.
The image above shows the great avenue of Collins Street, Melbourne’s pride until the 1970s and in my experience only equalled by Madrid’s Gran Via, which still stands. Collins Street does not. Of the grand Victorian buildings you see here, not one remains.
That second gold rush was the mad scramble by institutions and property developers to rebuild on the valuable urban land. It meant the destruction of the Victorian architectural fabric and its replacement by mediocre examples of international modernism A photograph from the same viewpoint today would show some of most uninspired modern architecture you could find anywhere in the world. At least we have Nicholas Caire’s Collins St.
Washington, D.C., circa 1917, Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative
I’m constantly struck by the high technical quality of old commercial photographs. This image from 1917 is so sharp and clear it could be an advertisement for tailoring or wool manufacturing, “never mind the quality, feel the width.” In that era the combination of technical prowess, quality materials and the market for records of individualism made it a golden age of the studio portrait.
This one shows a bright and ambitious young American man, professional and eager for assignment. The informal desktop pose, hands in pocket, suggests readiness and practicality; the clear penetrating gaze, capability for the job in hand. He’s a Protestant citizen with a promising future.
The image comes from the website www.shorpy.com which publishes archival vintage photographs of general interest. This one is of interest, it shows a young man at the start of his famous career: J. Edgar Hoover, future head of the FBI.
Greg Neville, Tardis, 2013
Frederick Sommer, Medallion, 1948
The strange photographs of Frederick Sommer struck me like a bell when I was shown them in 1983.
Sommer combined the democratic gaze of the camera with an attitude influenced by Surrealism. He would collect detritus found in Arizona rubbish dumps and arrange it in his studio in bizarre assemblages that were unprecedented in photography.
He liked the staring gaze of the large format camera, its ability to capture fine detail, but he focussed it on the lowest subject matter, rubbish that had baked in the desert sun.
He was friends with the Surrealist Max Ernst and you can see the affinity in the image above. Ordinary objects, the head of a doll and a piece of wood, are combined in a way that ‘multiplies’ the materials, giving them an eerie power. In Medallion, the camera stares at the doll and the doll stares back.
“He was interested in objects with histories, things imbued with the evidence of time and chance. (his still lifes) stand as emblems of memory. Sommer transforms these trivial relics into objects of talismanic power and mystery. – Keith F Davis.