Greg Neville, Hommage to Lee, 2014
Greg Neville, Wolfgang Sievers’ camera 1, 2014
Wolfgang Sievers’ camera, the Stegemann StudienKamera C, is a 9x12cm monorail made from mahogany. It comes with beautifully crafted film holders, also mahogany. They are so unfamiliar in design it takes some time to understand how they function. The film holders are complicated with dark slides that have mysterious hinged flaps and brass clips, almost an exercise in hand craft for it’s own sake. The brass screws are aligned, they are all parallel!
Taking these trial photographs, I experienced two main problems. The first is that focusing is very primitive. There is no gearing, so the front standard is manually pushed back and forth along the wooden monorail. It’s not a smooth operation and jerks everywhere without precision. The other problem is the almost opaque ground glass which is very hard to focus and compose with. The camera has great precision in some parts but not where it really counts – when you’re taking pictures!
The two surviving original lenses are beautiful, both steel barrels, one still in its cylindrical leather case. Wolfgang said another lens was lost when lent for display at a museum in the 1990s.
As you can see from these photos, the optics have that German softness, or rather sharpness combined with softness, that distinguishes them from the typically harder Japanese lenses. Sharpness is not everything. These images show the lens has character, it is not merely a neutral collector of visual detail.
The lens used for these photos is an f7.7 inscribed Emil Busch A-G Rathenow, a short tele. It would be nice to take portraits with it because it would excel at that genre where the soft optical signature would fit the subject matter. Next time.
Greg Neville, Wolfgang Sievers’ camera 2, 2014
See my post about Wolfgang’s camera here
Wolfgang Sievers photograph of his Stegemann 9×12 camera
In the year before he died, Wolfgang Sievers donated a camera to my college, NMIT. The camera is a Stegemann Studien-Kamera-C, a 9×12 monorail originally designed by the great Pictorialist photographer Heinrich Kuhn.
The model C started manufacture in 1927 and this one was purchased by Wolfgang in 1937, as you can see from the receipt. The average weekly wage in Germany was 32 marks so this camera cost nine weeks wages. By comparison you can buy a Leica for that today. It came with a case, stand, lenses and film holders – see the photos below.
Stegemann was an important camera manufacturer in Germany and apparently survived the war for a few years. Wolfgang told me he had it manufactured in Berlin, then brought it to Australia in 1938. Unfortunately the 9×12 format was not common here so the camera wasn’t useful. I am not sure if that is the whole story.
A. Stegemann, Workshop for Precision Photo Apparatus, Berlin 1938
The camera is a relic of old German craftsmanship, it’s a beautiful handmade object. The best parts are very impressive, exquisite mahogany and brass materials, intricate design, tight tolerances in many places.
On the other hand it is a pre- World War 2 design, it has poor useability. The ground glass is dim and difficult to compose with or to focus. The focusing itself is very clumsy. The camera is awkward to assemble and does not function smoothly like postwar monorails.
Despite that it’s a compelling experience to use. It takes you into an older realm of photography. Heinrich Kuhn’s basic design is 100 years old – you’re using something from the age of Pictorialism! And this was Wolfgang Sievers’ own camera, and he used it in Berlin during the Nazi period!
See the photographs I made using Wolfgang’s camera by clicking here
Maurizio Anzeri, Nicola, 2011
Working over old postcards and studio portraits is so common it’s almost become a new genre. There’s the example of Tom Butler who draws on the faces in old family portraits in a Dada vein. And the Welsh artist Tim Davies who erased postcards of bridges to make made a comment on connection and communication. These interventions combine the found object with manual and craft traditions.
A further example of this is Maurizio Anzeri who embroiders vintage studio portraits. These strange designs look almost like New Guinea masks.
I put tracing paper over the photo and draw on the face until it develops. Sometimes the image comes straight away, suggested by a detail on a dress or in the background, but with the majority of them I spend a lot of time drawing. Once the drawing is done, I pierce the photo with a set of needle-like tools I invented and take the paper away; the holes are obsessively paced at the same distance to convey an idea of geometry.
Maurizio Anzeri, Edith 2011
NASA, Earth from Mars
Here’s a unique landscape photograph, and an historic first: planet Earth seen from the surface of Mars. That ridge at the bottom of the picture is on Mars, but where is Earth? You might be able to see a tiny white speck near the top left corner – that’s us! But in case you think you’re looking at dust on your computer screen, click on the image for a larger view, or go to NASA’s website.
It seems to be a realistic representation because NASA says that “a human observer with normal vision, if standing on Mars, could easily see Earth and the moon as two distinct, bright ‘evening stars.'” The Earth was 99 million miles away (160 million kilometres).
The photograph has an appealing minimal quality, a solemn nocturne, which suits the subject – seeing our world as an insignificant speck of dust.
Frame still from Kid Auto Race, 1914
Charlie Chaplin’s first film as the Tramp, Kid Auto Race, has an intriguing detail. In this shot from the film, Charlie is dangerously picking up his hat in the path of an oncoming racer. In the background a photographer can be seen shooting the race with a large camera. He’s not part of the film crew, just someone seen in the background of what turned out to be an historic movie. Presumably a press photographer from a local L.A. newspaper, he’s holding a camera that, in its own way, was also historic.
That handle on the tall viewing hood suggests it’s an Auto Graflex, a popular press camera in its day and ancestor to the famous Speed Graphic. It was made by Folmer & Schwing, a company then owned by Kodak. This model was made between 1911-15, right at the time of Chaplin’s movie. It’s a single lens reflex with mirror and ground glass for viewing – that’s what he’s looking down at. The camera took film in the 3 1/4” x 4 1/4” format. Click here to see a You-Tube video of one.
This camera has a place in history because it was one of the main press cameras in America at a time when newspapers were booming. Printing photographs in publications was a recent innovation through the new half-tone process (those small dots you can see in published photos) and it expanded the medium into new areas – news and photojournalism in particular. Folmer & Schwing cameras were very popular with professionals and subsequent models dominated press and commercial photography for generations.
One thing about this photographer – he’s artistic. He’s panning the camera as the racer goes by. That way the background will streak while the racer stays sharp. Its an up-close action picture. You can click here to see the film – our photographer appears near the end of Chaplin’s six minute comedy.
I wonder if the photo ever got published.
Folmer & Schwing RB Auto Graflex.
Frame still from Making a Living, 1914
Chaplin was a fairly successful Music Hall comedian on tour in the US as part of a travelling company. Producer Mack Sennett invited him to Hollywood and paid him $150 per week to be funny in movie shorts. Making a Living was the first but Sennett didn’t laugh.
Only a week and three shorts later (that’s how fast they were shot), he made Kid Auto Races at Venice and his future was set. It’s the first appearance of The Tramp, Chaplin’s trademark character who lasted until 1940 and The Great Dictator. He appears fully formed, the hat and cane, the ill-fitting suit, the over-sized shoes – all supposedly grabbed from the studio wardrobe. The Tramp character is basically a hobo with pretensions and in Kid Auto he’s annoying as well. He’s a camera hog who constantly stands in front of a film crew shooting a car race.
It’s a single gag shot on the street with no script, about as rudimentary as a comedy short could be, but the public got it and Chaplin was launched. Kid Auto was the vein of gold that eventually lead to Chaplin becoming more famous than Jesus and one of the highest-paid people in the world. It made sense to start out in a film called Making a Living!
“Who me?” The director at left telling Charlie to get out of the way of the camera.