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