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Monthly Archives: March 2009
My First Camera
The Kodak Instamatic 25 was produced between 1966 and 1972. I received mine as a Christmas present from my parents in 1967. I would like to think that mum and dad were trying to nurture my budding photographic talent, but I think dad was just tired of me ‘borrowing’ his box Brownie when he wasn’t looking and using all his film.
It came in a box with a plastic lid (not unlike a shirt box) along with the strap (not attached to the body), a film cartridge (126 format), a flash cube, an extender to raise the flash cube above the camera and a small instruction book.
It has two shutter speeds: full sun and shade/flash. Apart from the film advance, the only other control is the shutter release.
I put a lot of films through this camera, I think I still have them all. It is hard to explain to people of the current generation, but cameras weren’t that common in the ’60s and ’70s. Very few of my friends families had cameras, and I don’t think any of my close friends did.
I consider myself to be very fortunate to have been given a camera so early and to have had a chance to find out how much I liked making pictures.
The second in this series of cameras in my cupboard is a Russian Soviet Zorki 4. It is another purchase; in fact it was the first item I ever won in an eBay auction.
The Zorki was made by the KMZ factory in a suburb of Moscow. The factory began producing cameras heavily based on pre-war Leicas just after the Second World War. The Zorki 4 was made from 1956 to 1973 and more than 1.7 million were produced, according to the Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras by J. L Princelle.
From what I can work out, my camera was produced somewhere in the late 1960s. It is a classic rangefinder with a few quirks. It’s heavy and solid, made out of serious metal, not plastic. The shutter and the shutter speed dial are interconnected, so you have to cock the shutter before setting the shutter speed.
The old Zorki has had quite a few films through it over the years but it is still in good working order. There are a few wear marks on the body and a scuff on the front lens element but apart from that all is good.
Reviewers have claimed that the images from the Zorki and the other Russian Leica copy, the FED, were as good as an image from a Leica.
And the Zorki has the added advantage of a Leica-compatible screw mount lens, so there is no reason why you can’t put a Summicron on the front of it.
I can’t afford a genuine pre-war Leica, but a Zorki isn’t a bad substitute.
A work colleague read this post and requested that I change the word ‘Russian’ to Soviet’. His reasoning is that the entire production run of the Zorki 4 was produced under the Soviet regime and isn’t exclusively Russian. And as Mikhail comes from Russia, who am I to disagree?
The moody black and white photos of Astrid Kirchherr are my earliest memory of being interested in photography as an art. My family had always had cameras and had always taken photos. I have boxes full of holiday snaps and family events going back to the 1920s. I even have some negatives that my Grandfather took during World War One (yes, One). When I manage to find the right box and remove it from storage, I’ll post a photo of the much-travelled old Kodak.
But Astrid’s photographs were more than holiday snaps, they contained emotion, they conveyed something to me. The first images I saw were of The Beatles in their early days. This series, taken in Hamburg; inspired my interest in black and white photography and has shaped the way I think people should be photographed.
Astrid photographed the group and individual members many times in the early ‘60s but by 1967 had virtually given up photography entirely. It was difficult to make a living as a female professional photographer in the 1960s and this was compounded by the fame she had gained from photographing The Beatles.
“They (magazines) wouldn’t look at my other work. It was very hard for a girl photographer in the 60s to be accepted. In the end I gave up. I’ve hardly taken a photo since 1967”, she said.
It is a shame because I would love to know how Astrid’s work would have developed over time.
I am very pleased to have two of Astrid’s photographs on my wall, both signed. Nearly fifty years after they were taken, they still remind me just how effective black and white photography can be.
Some photos from the Hamburg series:
These reduced, scanned images do not do the originals justice, unfortunately.
Some slightly better scans are here at the Silver K gallery site:
The last information I have about Astrid is that, along with Ulf Kruger, she owns a bookshop (K&K) in Hamburg.
Let me be clear about this. I am not a collector. I just happen to have one or two cameras that aren’t currently being used. So, OK, maybe more than one or two.
Most of these have just turned up over the years, family members have handed over a few because they know I like cameras and stuff. Some I have owned and kept when they were no longer used. Unfortunately, some of the ones I wished I still had were traded in when I upgraded. More about those in later posts in this series.
Some I have been fascinated with and bought. The first camera in this series is my most recent purchase: a 1936 Kodak Bullet.
This simple little camera is made of Bakelite and features Art Deco design. The range finder is two shaped pieces of metal that fold flat and the shutter is a simple lever.
What made this one especially interesting to me is that it was made in Canada. The reason being at the time Canada was a part of the British Commonwealth and the camera could be imported into Australia without the duties imposed on cameras made in the USA.
Her image collection included stunning images of the Icelandic scenery, mountains, desolate coastline, windswept plains. The images were often dark and made with very long exposures, giving them an eerie almost ghostly feel.
Frankly I was extremely jealous of her talent, her images and the amazing country she had to work with. I wished I had dramatic, harsh scenery like that to photograph, instead of the boring normal scenery around me.
Then I started thinking: “I do live in a country with harsh scenery, it’s just different”. I began to take notice of what was special about our Australian landscape. It is a harsh dry flat place for most of the state of Victoria. In the wheatlands north of Horsham, the horizon looks as if it has been drawn with a straightedge. The interest is in the texture, colour and light. In the late afternoon the wheat stubble glows gold and the clouds take on a mauve tint.
I began to drive into areas I once bypassed as being totally without photographic interest and I began exploring what is there. I am slowly building a set of images of the Australian landscape the way I see it.
My images don’t look anything like the ones Ragnheidur takes, but it is thanks to her that I am now seeing my own landscape. Thanks Ragga.
Edit September 2010
In June 2010 I spent 2 weeks in Iceland and got to meet Ragga and thank her in person.