If a camera could tell a story

Posted on by Bellamy


If a camera could tell a story
Sometimes I wonder what story a camera would tell if it could. We can see a visual record of everything that camera has seen, as long as we know the provenance of that camera and have access to all of the images it took. But that is almost impossible for most classic cameras. But something happened recently that made me think a bit more about this.

Recently I got a camera from Dave at ShootTokyo in an Epic Trade Deal (I still swear I wuz robbed). Well, not just one camera, but loads of cameras. One of those cameras was a Nikon F3HP. It has soon some roadwork and has obviously been lovingly used. The F3 is a popular camera and it sold almost immediately. Which is when I got a mail from the original owner of the camera. He told me that the camera had been his fathers in Europe, before being brought to Japan and then sold to Dave. Dave passed the camera to me and now it is going back to Europe, to a very happy home that will make good use of it I might add.

It was really cool to hear about the history of a camera and where it had been. To know some of the history of the camera and to know the distances it has travelled give me a real sense of satisfaction. This made me think about some of the cameras that I had seen in the past and it made me wonder about the stories that they could tell. Where have they been? Who has owned them? What have they shot?
I get to see an awful lot of old cameras. Many are beautiful, pristine items that have barely a mark on them and tell you little of their origins. Certainly in some cases these cameras have not seen much as the collectors don’t want them to. But some of the cameras are different. They have been used and in some cases they have the battle scars to prove it. Like the M3 in the top image. Oh how I wish I could speak to the camera and find out how it got the dents and scratches.

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This Leica M4 had been used by a South African photojournalist until it went to a new home in Japan. The camera was beaten and bruised, but still ticking merrily along without issue. When I held the camera in my hands it was almost like being connected to a time machine. Although I could not see the images it had taken, I could feel the life that it had lived and my imagination overflowed as I thought about where the camera had been, the sights, the sounds, the shots.

And this one, it was made for the German military, so you know it has the camera equivalent of a thousand yard stare. Sure, nowadays it is a collectors item, and handled with white gloves and deference. But back when it was made it was a government owned tool, and was treated as such by the people that used it. I have no doubt that the majority of the images that were taken with this camera probably still exist in a government archive somewhere.

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On a modern camera there may be some dents or scratches, but very few of them are from anything other than general use (unless you happen to be a conflict photographer). I am talking about these really old cameras, that have passed through many hands (some legit, some less so), in some cases survived (and documented) wars and life changing events. There is almost no limit to what they could have seen.

This Kodak Vest Pocket Autographic is very nearly 100 years old (and still working too). It has lived and survived through 2 world wars! Although it looks mint, it has definitely been used. This to me is amazing, it is like a miniature time capsule which we cannot crack open. The memories are tantalizingly close, but forever beyond our grasp.

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Sometimes I like to make up stories about a camera past in my head, just let my imagination run wild and see where it ends up. It is fun and gives me the chance to really get to know the camera. I think this is one of the reasons that I do this job, I love the history of it all.

If your camera could tell a story, what do you think it would be?

JCH

13 Responses to If a camera could tell a story

Gunston April 10, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Film develop and scan are expensive here in Singapore. Which deter me me from getting.
While I love the color And B&W from film photography, thinking of Nikon FM2n and 50mm ais.

Reply
    Peter April 14, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I’ll second that. Singapore sucks for film photographers. Even more expensive than Australia and so few labs and film stocks available.

    Reply
      Jesse June 2, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      Much agreed! Which is why I suggested our friend Bellamy develop a service where by he sells film + service of developing and scanning for one single low price. Any takers?

      Reply
Vance Lester April 10, 2014 at 8:41 pm

My Leica M2 has a name J.F. Ellison stamped intho the back. I heard that Leica did this at the factory as an option. I’ve googled the name but nothing comes up. Guess I’ll have to make up my own stories for my camera.

Reply
Andy April 10, 2014 at 9:11 pm

I have owned my BessaR since it was new out of the box (it sat on a shelf unsold for a few years) so I guess I’m responsible for all of its stories so far.

I was thinking of this exact topic yesterday after Eric Kim posted a paparazzi photo from the tarmac of an airport that had a bajillion Rollei’s in it; “when you buy an old pro-level work horse camera, who has it photographed in the past..?”

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Will April 10, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Check out what this camera saw…great ad:

http://youtu.be/AyctP3J6GHE

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    Mark April 11, 2014 at 4:18 am

    Great ad, that’ll be Robert Capa then I take it.

    Reply
      Andrew April 12, 2014 at 6:06 am

      Yes the ad would seem to be based on Robert Cappa. Ironically he mainly used zeiss Contax gear in ww2 and the related Nikon range finder system in the 50s. He died with a Nikon in his hand. I believe he did own a leica screw mount camera but traded up to zeiss when he could afford to. Cool Ad non the less.

      Reply
Carsten April 13, 2014 at 12:42 am

I have got a Nikon F at home that was a war photographer’s cam in Vietnam.
To be honest, I wouldn’t really want to know what it has seen. But I love to have it here and give that vet a good home.

Reply
Jeffrey Wanerman April 16, 2014 at 12:48 am

For years, during my Nordic skiing and ice speed skating trips to Lake Placid, New York, I had admired the photography of a local commercial/large format photographer. Years later, on Ebay, I bought a complete SINAR Norma outfit from a camera broker. In the original case, there was documentation that this was the SINAR norma of the photographer who I had admired all those years!

Reply

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