“This is the Mother of all TLR cameras!”
The ebay ad tells the truth, since this camera is the legendary Gowlandflex, a 5×4 – large format – twin lens reflex! All other TLR cameras such as the Rolleiflex are medium format using 120 film to make 21/4 inch square negatives. This one is a giant. Its inventor, Peter Gowland, was well-known, and the camera did find a small market. There was even an 8×10 model version which stood almost three feet tall!
Advertisements for the unwieldy camera appeared in popular photography magazines around 1960, and 600 were sold. They are currently a collector’s item, one is owned by Annie Liebovitz. The website for the Gowlandflex shows different models and accessories, all of which are unique and original. It’s worth a look, since this is one of the most unusual camera stories of all.
This model was used by Gowland himself and had a mirror fixed to the front so the model could adjust her pose.
The story of its inventor is a strange one. Peter Gowland was a celebrity glamour and pinup photographer during the 1950s and 60s, always seen shooting on beaches with cheesy models. He was handsome and well-built in that Southern California way, and his high-wattage smile must have opened doors for him.
He was the son of actor Gibson Gowland who appeared in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, and starred as the villain McTeague in Erich von Stroheim‘s 1924 masterpiece Greed. He was not a star, but you wouldn’t mind if it meant having those titles on your CV. His son Peter also appeared in several major films, including, unbelievably, Citizen Kane. Who could make this up?
Peter Gowland with his wife and business partner Alice Adams.