terça-feira, 3 de junho de 2014

Never say never


This a very common place sentence, I know. We all say that, but rarely change our views on something. Well, this not a mea culpa, just an act of justice towards the Rolleiflex TLR. I never liked the TLR formula. Always thought that they were too big for the 6x6 format and not true reflexes.  However, my main problem with the TLR was the Rolleilex name. I hate cameras that have become the playground of the rich and “knowledgeable” elite. I am weird, but I believe that there are no bad cameras, just bad photographers.

Well, I tried the impossible not to have any TLRs cameras in my collection. However, it was an impossible mission, old cameras have their ways to sneak into my house. So, a Meopta Flexaret arrived and stayed in the closet, it really didn’t attract the slightest reaction from me. Then, a Yashica mat arrived, but my heart continued to beat at the same slow rate. TLR’s weren’t just for me.

One day, I passed a store that was hard to define, it had all sorts of new things, like TV sets, radios, work gloves, tools, but everything was almost twenty years old, albeit never used.  Out of curiosity I entered the store, had a look around and asked the proverbial question “Do you have old cameras?”. The lady said no and I left. Just when I was turning around the corner, I heard a man’s voice yelling “Sir! Excuse me Sir, can I talk to you for a second?” There was a man at the door of the store waving at me. I returned to the store to speak to the guy. He said that his wife had told him that I was looking for old cameras and he might have one for sale. I asked what camera was and he said that he didn’t know, because it was stored away some place. We agreed that the following week I would come back to see the camera.

The week that followed I was religiously at the store to check the famous camera, but with no luck, the man had forgotten all about it. To make the story shorter, this happened for the next five weeks or so. I was starting to think that this guy had a serious mental issue.  Still, while some people visit a church to experience some kind of revelation, I visited the store in hope for a camera to reveal itself.  I was about to give up on this heretic practice, when one day the gentleman said “ I brought it today!”

I looked at the guy with a certain indifference, with my luck, I was going to see a Kodak Brownie or something like that. He disappeared behind the counter and came with a brown leather case that read Rolleiflex. Oh dear, I thought to myself, a Rolleiflex, so much trouble for so little. Still, he handed me the camera and I opened the case. At that time I knew nothing about Rolleiflexes,  but I knew that the vast majority had Zeiss Tessar lenses, but this one didn’t.  Interesting I thought, the model name was engraved at the top, 3.5 F and the lens was a Xenotar. The camera was in mint condition, the selenium meter worked and the waist level finder was a revelation, bright, with split image. What I can´t describe is the feeling of having it in my hands, the finish, the weight, whatever, it took me by storm.  The vendor asked for a very reasonable price, so I thought I would make a nice profit on it because I would never buy and keep a Rolleiflex, right? 


I left the store and walked a few meters and then sat on the kerb to better examine my purchase. Damn, what a beautiful camera!  It felt just so right, every control worked with precision and smoothness.  I was falling in love without knowing it. Suddenly I felt that I had to  put a roll in it and try it. I normally carry 120 film in my camera bag, so I loaded the Kodak Ektar 100, closed the door and ….the advance lever would not stop! Sensing that something was wrong, I opened the door and saw that half of the roll had already been advanced! Funny thing, with the door open the camera would stop the crazy winding. I was devastated, I was starting to like the damn thing and it was faulty! I was so disappointed, so sad really, I decided to take the Rolleiflex as it was to my trusted mechanic, I gave him a call and off I went.

When I arrived at his house he was expecting me with a wicked smile on his face. I handed the Rolleiflex to him and explained the malfunction. Is it serious, I asked? His answer was quick and stroke  me as bullet. “Of all the idiots that I know, I never thought that you would be one of them! “ What did I do? He laughed and sad, you just fell in to the most famous Rolleiflex trick, the loading! These cameras aren’t loaded just like any other camera, moron! Let me show how it is done properly. Ah the feeler roller! I felt so stupid, so insignificant, I think that even my teeth went red with shame. Needless to say, the Rolleiflex was working perfectly.

After this bumpy start, me and the Rolleiflex  have become as one. When I think of shooting 120 film it is the first camera that comes to my mind. As much as I hate to say it, there is nothing like it, it might sound snobbish,  but this is the real thing, just perfect. Ah, I still don’t like TLR’s, except my Rolleiflex!


sexta-feira, 2 de maio de 2014

From Russia with love

The stories about some of my cameras are back. Today I 'm going to take you on a trip to Moscow. You are all familiar with FED, the name initials of Mr. Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, the cool looking guy in the photo that carried mass executions and was responsible for the first state police, the ancestor of the KGB in the Soviet Union.

You might rightly ask what the hell has a bloody (literally) Bolshevik  to do with a camera, but they are connected. Besides eliminating unwanted people, this man was also responsible for setting up a network of orphanages throughout the USSR, to take care of the children whose parents he had murdered, no doubt. Needless to say, these orphanages, even after his death were controlled by the secret police, the dreaded NKVD. Everybody knows that work makes you free and it is the highest liberation that one soul can aspire to, so there was nothing better than to educate those orphans by making them to work for their living. In a rare moment of capitalist logic, the NKVD decided that the poor orphans near Moscow would produce a near perfect copy of a famous German camera. They could have chosen a more popular and people friendly camera like a Kodak, but no, they took on the symbol of excellence at the time. From around 1933 on, the first Leica II with a hammer and sickle left the orphanage. Problem was,  they had real strange names, a proper name had to be adopted, and finally the little camera was graced with the Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky name, no less! In order to make things clear, they engraved the name "Orphanage NKVD" on the top of the camera. This was the final touch, the thing that gave all the class and refinement that the camera needed, one might add.

Enough said about the origins of this camera's name. It is time to know the story between me and this FED I that fortunately excludes Mr. Dzerzhinsky.

Some years ago I went to Moscow on business in late November. While other guys shop for Matryoshkas and plastic Lenines, I go to flea markets, simple as that! As it happens, one of those flea markets was conveniently placed next to my hotel (is it fate or what?). There I found a Fed I in a condition that would match Lenine's if he was still alive. It was really old and worn, sitting with all sort of junk. The camera seemed original, with the uncoated lens, the engravings and the surprisingly smooth shutter, something not very common in FSU cameras. I asked the price and in response I got the price of a Lada or something like that, those people knew how to rip-off a foreigner. No way I was paying that sort of money for an old camera! Right? Well , yes, right, sort of...

I came back to Portugal and left Mr. Dzerzhinsky's relic in Moscow. However, like a failed love, I thought often about the FED I. I was starting to regret leaving the old camera in the country of Mr. Putin . There was something in that camera that attracted me and it wasn't the name, for sure! Well, it was a case of too little, too late, but I was also informed that I was due back in Moscow in the following March, in 4 months’ time. What if...nah, that would be asking too much.

As you can guess, as soon as I got back to Moscow I went to the flea market. Straight as an arrow I quickly got to the vendor's place and there it was! Perhaps with a little more dust, surrounded by even more junk and it seemed to say "see, I waited for you!" This time I was decided to give a new home to the old FED and started to negotiate the price. After a while I got the camera for the price of a Lada's headlamp. All the spare time that I had during that stay was spent playing with the FED I that slowly started to get back to life, the shutter working perfectly at all speeds and smoothly.

Some years have passed since then, but I still love this camera. I guess that was meant to be. Perhaps, if it was a person the story would have ended with a "From Russia with love".

quarta-feira, 23 de abril de 2014

Yashica Lynx 5000, the camera that changed the man.

The camera that changed (this) man.

This tittle might seem grossly exaggerated, but it isn't. This camera literally changed this man. In order to know a bit about it, we must go back into my past (cue violins...)

Back home, there was no photographic tradition. To be honest, there was an old AGFA ISO RAPID that seldom worked, in short, no camera to speak of. Then, one day, my uncles invited me to spend some days with them in the south of the country. Of course, being a teenager, my heart jumped at the idea of getting rid of mum and dad for a while. I was ecstatic, but then I remembered something terrible, how was I to record that epic moment of my life, I had no camera and the AGFA was really out of the question as Rapid film was long gone. I panicked!

I shared my life's dilemma with a dear friend of mine and presto, a friend in deed is a friend indeed! Voilà, as per magic she offered to lend me her father's Yashica Lynx 5000 that he had bought in Angola during the 60's.

Although the Yashica was already more than 20 years old by then, I thought it was a high-tech gadget and I felt really intimidated looking at the beast. What saved my day was a small piece of paper hidden in the leather case where precious information was written: Sunny f11, 1/125, Shadows f5,6/, 1/60. Now I could go out on my mission!

Armed with this deep photographic knowledge and with the lethal Yashica loaded with a 12 exposure film, off I went to conquer the world with a Lynx eye!

Modesty prevents me from commenting the results that I got with the Yashica, but I was completely overwhelmed by the results, just like someone who had seen a Daguerreotype for the very first time, only 100 years later.

It was a painful moment to give the camera back to its rightful owner, better still, to the daughter of the owner. It briefly crossed my mind to become a criminal, but I ain't got the stuff of what thieves are made. With a great deal of sadness, I returned the camera. I am pretty sure that it was the very last time that it was used.

After some years of coin saving, I thought I had the money to buy myself a camera. To my dismay, I learned that cameras like the Yashica Lynx were no more, they belonged to the past a perfect past for sure. My heart was broken, so I eventually bought a Praktica SLR, so 20th century with LEDs and all.

However, I never forgot the Yashica Lynx 5000 and when I started to collect old cameras I had hope to find one. Like always, destiny gives us everything we want, but always has a laugh before.

One day I found one at a flea market, just like the one I had used, only in a worse condition and with a filter in front of the lens. I was incredibly happy, it felt like finding an old school friend. I ran to the nearest photo store to buy a 36 exposures film (by this time, as you may conclude, I was a rich man!) and I started to shoot everything I saw. I distinctly remember of going to a medieval village and proudly taking pictures with the Yashica, although some of my friends were laughing at the artifact. That did not get to me, I displayed that look of superiority, the guy who knows of what a Yashinon 45/1.8 could do. I could hardly wait to have the film developed. 

When I got the pictures, my heart sank. Good God, what on earth had happened? The pictures were all blurry, out of focus, I couldn't tell what was in them. I was shot to heart, that camera destroyed in a few moments all the fond memories that I had! I an not a guy to be beaten on the first round, so I started to investigate the causes of that photographic disaster. I tested everything and eliminated possible causes as I went ( I was a sort of CSI of the camera world). In complete despair I turned my attention to the filter attached to the lens, it said +1 ...dioptry! The damn filter was a close up lens! The case was solved. I was embarrassed beyond imagination, I of all people, should have checked that filter. The worst was yet to come, when people started asking for the pictures that I had taken, this was the final humiliating blow.

I can live 100 years, but I will never, ever forget these Yashicas. The Lynx 5000 opened the doors of photography, after that, I was never the same person.