Ode to my Grandfather

As a photographer I generally blog about couples and weddings. Today I reflect on a different topic, but one that also relates to my profession as well as to very special people and events.

Photography has been a fascination of mine for as long as I can remember. Looking back, I think this interest may have been inspired by my 92-year-old grandfather. As a child growing up in Boston, I remember my grandfather taking my photo every birthday, Christmas and Easter. And my nana having me pose for every occasion from dance recitals to proms. While it was my nana who wanted each holiday and milestone captured, it was my grandfather who knew how to operate the camera. He also knew how to fly airplanes, having been a pilot. And when I was around 11 years old, he took me on my first flight. I remember feeling nervous but excited as he photographed me standing on the wing of that small plane, with its door open to the cockpit, on which I was about to embark.

Then one day I grew up, got on another plane and flew from Boston all the way to Tasmania, where I eventually ended up staying. Throughout my adulthood, my nana would send me photos my grandfather continued to take of my family back home in Boston. This was her way of sending my family to me. Although I know my grandparents were sad that I moved so far away, they always encouraged me to follow my dreams and live my own life. One of those dreams was to pursue a career in some form of art. Although my grandfather always thought I had a way with words and often urged me to become a writer, I know he was equally as proud when I became a photographer.

On one trip back to Boston and a visit to my grandparents’ apartment, my grandfather gifted several of his own (and his father’s) antique cameras to me, claiming he didn’t know how long he’d be around and that someone in the family ought to inherit them who might find some use for them. He thought these vintage cameras might still work, but he wasn’t entirely sure.

Since then, these cameras had mainly just been sitting on a shelf in a prominent position in my office gallery for potential clients to admire. But a week or so ago, I decided to take a few of them out to play.

Utilising my contacts in Hobart’s professional photography industry, I was able to source some outmoded films and receive some mentoring from colleagues with a passionate interest in classic technology. I was even able to find a lab that still develops negatives and can make digital files as well as prints from cameras manufactured in those eras.

So one afternoon, I picked up my 13-year-old daughter from school, still in her uniform. Together we adventured into the city, armed with two old-fashioned cameras (one ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952, fully loaded with C-41 black & white film and the other a Kodak Retina IIIc circa 1954-1957 with 35mm colour film), looking for a place of historical interest to practice using them, but having only a vague idea as to what I was doing.

We started out near Kelly’s Steps, where I fumbled with the manual focus and tried to visualise my daughter through a foggy diamond-shaped focus point meanwhile adjusting the aperture and shutter speed, only to remember I first needed to meter the light with my contemporary Nikon D4 (the only mechanism I had to use as a light meter).

My daughter enjoyed licking her ice cream cone which had fully melted by the time I managed to take my first shot in broad daylight. Moving on to even shade, my daughter posed by sandstone walls while it took me another ten minutes of fiddling around before I was finally able to confidently click the shutter. I began to understand why so few wedding photos were taken back then, and why most of them were traditionally, fully posed.

Within minutes we were approached by onlookers, captivated by these dinosaurs I held in my hands and up to my eye. Distracted by passers-by and frustrated because the Ikoflex kept getting jammed every time I cocked the shutter or wound the film (I couldn’t quite work out which was the source of the problem), I gave up and tried again in a quieter location behind the Henry Jones Art Hotel. With only 12 exposures, I had few opportunities to get this right and no thumbnail-sized picture on the back of the camera to show me a proper exposure had been achieved. While I was attempting to get the Ikoflex to function properly so I could photograph my daughter sitting in a dilapidated rowboat marvelling over the Kodak Retina, the chef at Drunken Admiral restaurant spied us through a window and couldn’t hide his curiosity so he joined us for a sticky beak.

With the Ikoflex and my amateur guidance, my daughter managed to snap a blurry photo of me taking a picture of her with the Retina. Later that afternoon on my way to dinner at Ethos, I got my friend, Amy, involved in the project. With the Retina she also managed to capture an unclear (but let’s call it “arty”) image of me still trying to make friends with Ikoflex.

I went home that night feeling grateful for the dawning of the digital age of photography and that I wasn't a wedding photographer in the 1950’s! Then I waited in anticipation for the films to be developed and cheered when more than a few images actually turned out!

Special thanks to:

Brett Rogers for his extensive knowledge of the history and inner workings of vintage cameras and films;

the guys at Walch Optics (Francis, Ross & Daniel) for stocking and selling me the films, providing invaluable historical information and brief tutorials on how to use these cameras, getting me out of a jam, and directing me to printing facilities;

Perfect Prints for knowing how to remove the films safely from the cameras, developing the negatives, and producing the prints as well as digital files from scanned negatives;

And last but not least…

Thank you my dear grandfather, Marty, for leaving me your cameras which have crossed countries, cultures and generations but even more importantly for your profoundly positive inspiration on me, strong encouragement over the years (I may still write that book one day!) and priceless gift of so many treasured memories captured.

Below is a collage of some images captured throughout this photojournalistic experience, all numbered and described from left to right..

Above is a collage of some images captured throughout this photojournalistic experience, all numbered and described below from left to right: 1.    Colour photo of my great-grandfather’s Brownie Camera – 1907-1933. Box camera for 2 ½ x 4 ¼ inch on 116 film; taken with my modern day Nikon D4 SLR digital camera and edited in Photoshop using a filter to emulate the vintage look of colour film. 2.       Black & white photo of my daughter looking up from holding the Kodak Retina IIIc circa 1954-1957 taken with the ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952. TLR: Twin Lens Reflex. Not cropped (full frame is square shaped) nor edited (to retain original format). 3.       Colour photo of me holding the ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952; taken with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957. Cropped but not edited (to retain original colour). 4.       Black & white photo of me taking a picture with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957; taken with the ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952. Not cropped (full frame is square shaped) nor edited (to retain original format). 5.    Colour photo of my grandfather’s KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957; taken with my modern day Nikon D4 SLR digital camera and edited in Photoshop using a filter to emulate the vintage look of colour film. 6.    Colour photo of my grandfather’s KODAK: VIGILANT SIX-20 circa 1939-49. Folding-bed rollifilm camera with non-optical folding frame finder; taken with my modern day Nikon D4 SLR digital camera and edited in Photoshop using a filter to emulate the vintage look of black & white film. 7.    Colour photo of my grandfather’s ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952; taken with my modern day Nikon D4 SLR digital camera and edited in Photoshop using a filter to emulate the vintage look of colour film. 8.       Black & white photo of my daughter with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957 overlooked by a curious bystander; taken with the ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952. Not cropped (full frame is square shaped) nor edited (to retain original format). 9.       Colour photo of my daughter eating an ice cream cone; first shot of mine taken with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957.  Cropped but not edited (to retain original colour). 10.  Colour photo of me around 11 years old about to take my first ever flight; taken by my grandfather but camera type unknown. 11.   Colour photo of my daughter; taken with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957.  Cropped but not edited (to retain original colour).

Above is a collage of some images captured throughout this photojournalistic experience, all numbered and described below from left to right:

1.    Colour photo of my great-grandfather’s Brownie Camera – 1907-1933. Box camera for 2 ½ x 4 ¼ inch on 116 film; taken with my modern day Nikon D4 SLR digital camera and edited in Photoshop using a filter to emulate the vintage look of colour film.

2.       Black & white photo of my daughter looking up from holding the Kodak Retina IIIc circa 1954-1957 taken with the ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952. TLR: Twin Lens Reflex. Not cropped (full frame is square shaped) nor edited (to retain original format).

3.       Colour photo of me holding the ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952; taken with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957. Cropped but not edited (to retain original colour).

4.       Black & white photo of me taking a picture with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957; taken with the ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952. Not cropped (full frame is square shaped) nor edited (to retain original format).

5.    Colour photo of my grandfather’s KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957; taken with my modern day Nikon D4 SLR digital camera and edited in Photoshop using a filter to emulate the vintage look of colour film.

6.    Colour photo of my grandfather’s KODAK: VIGILANT SIX-20 circa 1939-49. Folding-bed rollifilm camera with non-optical folding frame finder; taken with my modern day Nikon D4 SLR digital camera and edited in Photoshop using a filter to emulate the vintage look of black & white film.

7.    Colour photo of my grandfather’s ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952; taken with my modern day Nikon D4 SLR digital camera and edited in Photoshop using a filter to emulate the vintage look of colour film.

8.       Black & white photo of my daughter with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957 overlooked by a curious bystander; taken with the ZEISS IKON: IKOFLEX IIa circa 1950-1952. Not cropped (full frame is square shaped) nor edited (to retain original format).

9.       Colour photo of my daughter eating an ice cream cone; first shot of mine taken with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957.  Cropped but not edited (to retain original colour).

10.  Colour photo of me around 11 years old about to take my first ever flight; taken by my grandfather but camera type unknown.

11.   Colour photo of my daughter; taken with the KODAK: RETINA IIIc circa 1954-1957.  Cropped but not edited (to retain original colour).