In recent months, I have been in a little “slump” in my photographic adventures. Luckily, in October when I took a driving trip to see my family in Virginia, my father gave me a Koni Omega Rapid (oddball medium format), Graflex Crown Graphic (large format), and a Rolleiflex Automat (twin lens reflex) to use! He’s always been good like that and I think that seeing me getting back into film photography made him want to hand these off to someone to use again…they were just sitting in drawers in their dank basement.
I got home with these new gems and was getting some great inspiration just by having these cameras in my hot little hands. Upon my return, I was on flickr catching up and someone had posted about a photographer by the name of Vivian Maier from Chicago that had just been “discovered” after her passing. He made mention of her use of a Rolleiflex and this really intrigued me. I found more information on the web about her shooting through many decades with her Rollei and that there were thousands of rolls of film found of hers. There were two major things that made me very interested in her; the fact that she was a woman photographer in a time when it was very male dominated, and that she used a Rolleiflex camera rather than a more “dainty” 35mm or other smaller camera that a typical woman of the era would.
I came to read about her, watch videos and see her story explode across the internet. What a find this John Maloof had come across! Thoughts of her falling into obscurity went through my mind and made me so thankful that John had the wisdom to see the great value of this woman’s images and the story of her life. There is now a display of her work and a couple of her cameras in Chicago…makes me really want to go there to see it and the place that she had called home for so much of her life.
Now this Rolleiflex that my father had entrusted me with had so much more meaning to me. It started with a fascination of the German engineering of a machine that was made around WWII and now the added interest of a mid century woman photographer having used a very similar camera. I can’t wait to use the camera more and watch the incredible story of this amazingly talented woman photographer unfold.
I have long had a passion for twin lens cameras. Dad let me use his Yashica Mat 124g when I was 13 or 14 years old. He even guided me in the darkroom for developing the 120 negatives. It was the beginning of my medium format shooting and darkroom experiences.
I used my Pentax MX 35mm through high school and college and picked up the Yashica Mat again in the late 80s. There was just something about the twin lens camera that inspired me…the classic ground glass viewing, the large size of the negatives, or maybe just the square format. It was always fun to get the twin lens out for a day of shooting.
“Dilapidated Barn” c. 1988 shot with Dad’s Yashica Mat 124g
Well, Dad had a habit of selling his gear at camera shows in exchange for other stuff, so the Yashica went to a new home. I expressed that I missed the tlr, so he said I could use his Chinese Pearl River version. I took it home and put a few rolls through it, then put it away as the appeal of electronic wizardry snuck into my brain. As the 90s went into the new millennium, I went to digital cameras…until last year (2009) when I dove right back into film photography again. I pulled that Pearl River out of the box of my stored camera collection. The magic was back in my hands…though this was a very lowly version of a tlr, it was a pleasure to use and produced lovely images. This was also the first time in my photographic history that I became comfortable not using a handheld meter and using “the meter in my head.”
Pearl River 4-s Twin Lens Reflex Camera
I made another trip to Virginia recently and Dad “loaned” me yet another tlr…this time a legendary Rolleiflex! I was thrilled to finally get my hands on such a renowned camera. It is one of the earlier Automat models from just after WWII with the Xenar f3.5 lens. Even though it’s not one of the uber expensive 50s or 60s versions, it’s still wonderful. I have shot a couple of rolls in it and the German engineering is truly awe inspiring…especially for its age! I am looking forward to many more years with this vintage beauty.
“Boca Grande Light III” shot with Rolleiflex Automat