That Linhof & Sipping Fanta On A Mexican BeachTuesday, August 19, 2008
I went to Beau Photo today. It is the only photo equipment and supply store that routinely stocks the Ektachrome 100G in 120 which is what I use to take photographs in colour. Sooner or later when that film and or labs in Vancouver stop processing I will have to purchase a digital camera for my commercial work. I will still shoot Ektachrome or whatever other film replaces it and I will have it processed in Toronto or New York. When it becomes impossible it is my hope that by then I will have been vaporized in some lucky accident and my widow will be sipping Fanta on a Mexican beach.
While in Beau Photo I went from the film, paper and other stuff side of the store to the photo equipment and studio lighting side of the store. With my bag of film ($300 worth) I stared at all the lighting stuff that makes what I use look like a Studebaker Scotsman (this Studebaker tried to bring the idea of frugality and it sported no chrome. The idea was ahead of its time so the car failed).
An elderly man (I guess if I looked at myself in a mirror I would define myself as one) was getting rid of all his ancient gear. There were a couple of nice looking Pentacon Six 6x6cm cameras, one Mamiya RB-ProS like mine with two lenses, some sort of 4x5 inch field camera and a 6x6cm slide projector that looked like it had bored audiences for many years. The man looked at me and with a smile he said, "I am selling my stuff, I am downsizing and moving to an apartment. You know how it is?" I had to tell him that his Pentacon Sixes were dogs that had been made by reluctant German engineers in the Russian Occupied Zone of Germany and later by the same engineers, turned lazy bureaucrats of East Germany in the fine city of Dresden. "They have their peculiarties but as long as you know what they are the cameras work just fine." Whe he told me that, I countered with, "These were built before Germans started making good Audis." I did not remind him that the predecessors of Audi at that time were making DKWs that had a three cylinder engine that sounded like eggs frying in deep fat. But I admired his 140mm Mamiya lens with a floating lens element (I own two of these extremely sharp lenses). He smiled at me more generously. When he left with his receipt, what he had last told me reverberated in my head, "If they offer me too little I will take them back and give them away."
About four years ago I went to MCL Motorcars to photograph a man who managed the exotic automobile section of the company. I admired a beautiful dark blue Aston Martin. The man, an Englishman, barely smiled under his moustache and then sadly told me, "Don't look under the hood, it's a Ford."
Every once in a while when I am using my Nikon FM-2 which are nicely finished in metal and make satisfying clicks I think of where they came from. I think of the exotic Contax of the 1930s (more desirable to me than a Leica) and how that kind of machine work and fine manufacturing is all but dead. My German repairman, Horst Wenzel fixes mechanical cameras and restores them. He was trained at the Hasselblad plant and instinctively knows how mechanical cameras work. But he will not look at the latest crop of cameras. You need computers to access information on where and how to repair them. You have to be an electronics wizard. You have to be so specialized that you might be able to look into the latest Nikon but not the Canon.
I cannot believe that somehow the Germans started all this with their people's car, the VW Beetle. By early 70s my Mexican VW repair facility in Mexico City would plug into my car and check on a computer the compression of the engine. I was given the readout and told that my engine was in good shape at 90%.
I remember going to McQueen Sales (the Canadian representative of Asahi Pentax) in the early 80s with a Pentax ME Super that had failed me at a job. Kas, the consumate Japanese technician told me, "We have a new improved circuit board for it." The folks at Pentax in Vancouver had knewn beforehand that I had a camera with a faulty circuit board and had not bothered to call me. When Horst repairs my mechanical cameras I can expect them to work well for a long time.
When the sad man at Beau Photo showed me his 6x6 slide projector, I had to point out that I own a 6x7cm Linhof slide projector with Leica lenses (not an Aston Martin with a Ford engine). I can project my 6x7cm Ektachromes and fill the Orpheum stage wall if given the chance. The projector is manual and I have to put each slide, one at a time and shift the beautifully made slide holder seen here. It is solid metal and it makes a satisfying clunk if you slide it with spirit. If you don't the projector makes no sound and the cooling fan is not audible.
As I teach at Focal Point and I have to maneuver the operation of digital slide projectors (the images they project are of doubtful quality) I realize that an era has gone by. Cameras, people tell me, are efficient tools. They make (or capture images). I would not even begin to explain to them how I love my cameras and that they are more than just efficient tools. How can I tell them that I like to look at the nicks of imperfection or the effects of my hard use? They are my friends and companions of something I love to do. I take pictures, I don't capture pictures. The first implies a gentle cooperation with my subjects and with my cameras while the second seems almost aggresively violent.
It can only be a short time when I will probably take the plunge made by that old man and downsize, too. I don't look forward to it. Vaporization sounds like a better idea. Will I go alone or in the company of my friends?