Voightlander Bessa I

One of my favourite things to do is to browse round flea markets and junk shops, and I’m always on the lookout for old cameras. Last week, we visited a 1940s recreation weekend at Wimpole Hall. To be honest, I can take or leave the recreation aspects, but I wandered into one tent and spotted this little beauty – a Voightlander Bessa I, circa early 1950s.

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If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you will know that the camera that made me fall in love with film photography was a Voightlander Vito, so I knew that this could be something pretty special. However, I know that bellows cameras are notorious for all kinds of problems such as leaking light, however I picked it up and had a quick look and the bellows seemed fine. I’ve also picked up enough knowledge to test out the shutter speeds out and they all seemed to be firing fine. The seller wanted £15, but I offered £10 – purely because I only had a tenner on me! – and they accepted, saying that they wouldn’t have gone so low but were happy to give it away because they could see that I would use it.

So I took it home, cleaned it up a bit, and worked out how to use it. However, pretty soon I noticed that the lens seemed to be full of fungus. I know that this is a bit of a problem with older cameras, so my heart sank when I saw it. I looked into repairing it myself, but I suspect that once I’d taken it apart, I’d never get it back together again. I then enquired with a camera repair firm about how much they’d cost to clean it, and they quoted £80+VAT.

Disappointed, I was getting ready either to dismantle it and accept that it’s broken anyway, or to resell it on Ebay. However, before I did either of those things, I thought I might as well run a film through it. To be honest I was resenting even wasting a £5 film on it, but I thought I’d give it a go so I took it over to Peckover House in Wisbech. When I got home, I then decided that I would try in develop it in Rodinal, which I’ve never used before but I thought as the film was probably ruined it wouldn’t matter. Anyway, here are the results below, using this 70 year old camera that I almost binned as worthless junk. Please be aware, the winding on mechanism took a bit of getting used to so I overlapped two images, and forgot to focus one..

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I then decided to take two photos with a flash on a tripod in my living room.  We’d just been to see Goodbye Christopher Robin so we tried to go for a bit of a thirties vibe..

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So, I’m really pleased with it! The fungus doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue – there’s some dust specs in the pictures but I’m not too bothered about that. I think the Bessa is a bit of a keeper. I see online that they mostly sell for around the £100 mark, and the next model up (which is identical apart from that it includes a rangefinder) sells for around £300! Not bad for something which cost me a tenner..

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Rydal Grotto

Descend from the main stately home of Rydal Mount in the Lake District, pass through a tunnel beneath a bridge next to the flowing stream of Rydal Beck, and you will find a curious little building before a waterfall. The building was originally built in the 1668, and its main purpose becomes immediately apparent once you enter. A solitary window frames the waterfall, making it seem like you are looking upon a living painting. The building served as a retreat for artists, who could sit in the little building and paint the waterfall.

I can’t paint unfortunately, but it made a nice subject for my Semflex TLR. My wife has more talent than me so I took a picture of her as she followed in footsteps of those before her and sketched the waterfall. The light was beautiful through the window.

I almost destroyed these negatives in development, putting in only 300ml of solution rather than 500ml, thinking I was developing 35mm rather than 120. I’m glad I managed to save them.

 

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Overgrown bench on Semflex TLR

I recently acquired a beautiful early 1950s Semflex – a French TLR camera. I had wanted a Lubitel but the guy in the shop convinced me that the Semflex is much better.

I took it out for its debut on a walk around Grasmere in the Lake District. I left my wife on a small beach to do some sketching while I attempted to reach the top of Loughrigg. The Semflex is a pretty big and heavy camera and I was soon regretting the decision to take it with me, but I then came across a broken and overgrown bench, and then it seemed worth lugging the thing up the fell after all..

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I wish it was the 60s, I wish I could be happy..

My wife and I have just returned from a week in the Lake District. The last time we went I had no real interest in photography. This time I took a box with about 6 cameras in it!

While there, we visited the Abbot Hall gallery in Kendal, where they had an exhibition entitled ‘Painting Pop’, which featured the art of the early 60s. It was very interesting – I particularly enjoyed David Hockney’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’.

I had my 1959 Voightlander round my neck while we were walking round the gallery, but I put it away as I wasn’t intending to take any photographs. At this point, a lovely gallery attendant approached me, said how much she liked my camera, and said that I should go to the end of the exhibition where there was a mock up of a 1962 living room.

Needless to say, we made full use of the opportunity, and it was nice to be able to use an era-specific camera! I think my wife particularly enjoyed wearing the Jackie O sunglasses. I’m also being annoying by taking a picture of myself in every mirror I see at the moment, but seeing a drinks cabinet filled with Babycham glasses with a mirror at the back seemed too good an opportunity to miss…

 

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Fun with the Minolta X700

One of the reasons I got into film photography is because I like the unexpected. I like not knowing how the pictures will come out until weeks later. I like having total control over every aspect of the camera without having any autofocus or anything like that.

When I went to Budapest a few months ago I had every intention of buying a Soviet relic such as a FED or Zorki (I still want one!). Instead, I came out with an eighties Minolta X700 SLR, which isn’t what I thought I would want. Indeed, for a while I felt like I had betrayed myself by buying a camera that has a lightmeter and features such as aperture priority mode.
I realise that this is ridiculous seeing as the camera itself probably now qualifies as an antique rather than a hi-tech piece of kit!

Anyway, I feel like I’ve made my peace with the Minolta now. It’s a nice compromise between having a fully manual camera (and you can ignore or turn off all of the help), and something that goes some way to helping you a little.

I haven’t had a chance to take many pictures recently as I’ve been writing a book and doing lots of GCSE exam marking, so I’ve strung this roll of film out for a long time. Sometimes you can get some nice surprises back when this happens.

Here’s some pictures I took in the depths of the Tate Modern a few months back. The room was very dark so it was nice to have the help of the light meter, which advised the slowest shutter speed possible. I’m pretty pleased with the results. It’s probably a cool picture more due to it being a cool artwork than because anything I’ve done, but still, I like them.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

 

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As we walked away from the Tate Modern, we stopped at the normal tourist trap on the South Bank where the youngsters gather to show off their skateboard and BMX skills. I wanted to try and capture a sense of motion with a slow shutter speed. I’m pleased with the first one of the person on the BMX – I thought the background might come out blurred given the slow shutter speed and my shaky hands but that hasn’t happened..

 

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

 

 

The Vest Pocket Kodak

Readers of my previous posts will know that I’m pretty interested in the history of photography, particularly the first efforts of companies such as Kodak to open up photography to a mass audience. I’m also fascinated by the First World War (I’m a History teacher and do self-guided tours to the battlefields of France and Belgium.) Therefore, you can imagine my geeky excitement when I saw that a book was being published called ‘The Vest Pocket Kodak & The First World War’, by Jon Cooksey

The book looks at the story of the aforementioned Vest Pocket Kodak, or VPK as it was affectionately known. Launched shortly before the First World War, the VPK folded down to about the size of an Iphone, and was designed to be carried easily about one’s person to catch the ideal snapshot, being much less bulky than other mass market cameras such as the Box Brownie. When you were ready to take a picture, the camera folded out using a bellows, and took remarkably sharp and accurate pictures for such a small camera. One version even allowed you to open up a flap and write on the film – allowing the

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photographer to ‘tag’ their pictures with details on where it was taken, date etc.

Cooksey’s book looks at how the VPK soon became the camera of choice for those soldiers travelling to France and Belgium to take part in the opening phases of the First World War. Thousands of them were tucked securely inside soldier’s pockets, allowing a greater democratization of war photography than had ever been seen before. There are many amazing photos in Cooksey’s book. One in particular I have used in many lessons on the First World War (see below).Image result for british troops shrapnel fire first world war

This picture, taken by Lieutenant Robert Money on 8th September 1914, depicts men of the Middlesex Regiment under shrapnel fire on the Signy-Signets road. Taken on a VPK, in my mind it is one of the most evocative, and disturbing images of the First World War, capturing the danger of troops caught out in the open. There is a sense of immediacy and movement in the picture that is missing from many other, more staged First World War pictures. The horse and cart on the road obviously racing towards safety, the soldier on the bottom left hunched over to protect himself, and most disturbing of all, the soldier in middle who is already hit and is running for cover, his face covered in blood. Cooksey reports that this soldier was intelligence officer Alfred Sang, who sadly later died of his injuries on 2 October 1914.

For obvious reasons, by 1915 it became a court martial offence to carry and use a VPK on the battlefield, as the army tried to control the flood of unsolicited images of the horror of the Western Front. Happily for us historians, these orders were largely ignored, even by those who were meant to enforce them. Below is another action photo, taken in 1915 by Private Frederick Fyfe of the Liverpool Scottish on his VPK during the attack on Bellewarde ridge, near Ypres. The picture is remarkable for being a real picture of a First World War battle taking place, from an unprotected position. Many such pictures were either faked (witness the endlessly reused, fake sections of the ‘Battle of the Somme’ film used in virtually every WW1 documentary and many books, and often passed off as reality), or were taken so tentatively over the parapet that they mostly show sandbags and barbed wire. In this image, the eye is drawn to the bursting artillery shells in the distance, the soldiers scrambling up towards the rise on the right (the flag was used to indicate the progress of the attack to British artillery), while corpses litter the ground. It’s no wonder that pictures such as these were banned.Image result for bellewaarde ridge photo

There are also many other, more candid photos in Cooksey’s book, such as this taken by by keen photographer Captain Colver on his VPK. Taken in May 1915, several weeks after the VPK was banned, the picture shows just how much the rules were flouted. Not only is the photographer himself risking a court martial, but second from the right is Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fox – the commanding officer of the regiment 1/5 York and Lancaster regiment.

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Overall, this book was a fascinating read, with some wonderful photographs. If you are interested in photography, and the First World War, you can’t go far wrong – it’s also a beautiful little volume! Only thing is, I now want a VPK…