close-ups with a Leica

Leitz Accessory Front lenses
for their 5cm Elmar

Toronto. For many years Leitz made standard lenses for the Leica that focussed as close as a metre. Want to get closer? Too bad. This all changed in around 1927 when Leitz offered supplementary front lenses for its standard 50mm lenses – the Elmar, Hektor and later the Summar.

Leitz offered three lenses to allow close-ups from 39 1/2 inches to 10 1/2 inches. The trio called ELPRO (1*),  ELPIK (2*) and ELPET (3*) were sold from about 1927 to 1958. A special ring adapted the tiny marvels to the larger f/2 Summar lens. The ones marked without the * were meant for very early cameras and lenses.

I bought my trio of Elmar supplementary lenses nearly forty years ago from Stan Weyman down in Connecticut and they arrived by mail on January 10, 1980. Leitz went on to make and sell the famous spider legs, extension tubes, focoslides, and other odd focussing mounts that became feasible after interchangeable lenses arrived around 1930.

Many other cameras adopted close-up lenses and they became common place offerings by filter makers as they easily attached with rings or threads meant for filters. Tables and tape-measures were needed to determine the correct focal distance and frame size. This was simplified by spider legs and the other odd gadgets Leitz made and sold.

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PPOC Magazine “Gallerie”

PPOC Magazine Gallery

Toronto.  Many thanks to editor Bob Lansdale for sending me an email announcing the latest edition of this wonderful magazine.

Gallerie is published by the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC), an organization Bob was heavily involved with before he became editor of our journal Photographic Canadiana.

As a professional photographer, Bob has continued his membership in the PPOC, as have many of our other members and executive.

Bob’s late wife Margaret, wrote for both the PPOC and the Professional Photographers of Ontario’s magazine. In 1997, a selection of her columns was published in a book titled  … a funny thing happened on the way to the darkroom! Typesetting, layout, and editing was done by husband Robert Lansdale who took a course at Humber College on the use of the program, QuarkXpress, the preeminent professional program of the day.

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an ode to volunteers everywhere

editor Bob Lansdale
proofing issue 44-1 at
Aries Friday, April 20th

Toronto. When you think about it, tasks are expensive. We at the PHSC could not last without our collection of truly talented volunteers. Take for example our journal. Bob Lansdale is a professional photographer – and an editor and  publisher.  Bob has edited and published our journal Photographic Canadiana for over two decades  – since  January 1997 and issue 22-4 when he took over from another veteran, the late Ev Roseborough, who was also a professional photographer (and a musician).

In this photograph, you see him at our printers (one of the few tasks for which we pay) The Aries Group  in Etobicoke, diligently proof reading page negatives for issue 44-1 before it is printed and copies mailed to all members. Editor Lansdale is illuminated solely by the florescent light of the light table giving him an eerie look as he concentrates on a page negative.

I was the designated driver for Bob on Friday and chose to capture this photo while testing a Nikon P7000 – a gift from member Ed Warner, another volunteer who has taken videos of each presentation over the past many years. Ed’s videos serve as a refresher for writing speaker reviews for the journal, (some newsletters,) and our web site.

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Pictorial Lighting
William Mortensen’s
1935 book

Toronto. Many well known photographers of the late 19th and early 20th century embraced the off shoot of photography called pictorialism. A bit late to the game, but a prolific photographer and author, William Mortensen joined the Hollywood fraternity in the early 1930s.

Before he embraced photography and pictorialism, Mortensen described himself as a painter (artist). He established a studio just south of Hollywood in nearby Laguna Beach.  There he exploited his knowledge of painting by emphasizing pictorialism in his portraits of Hollywood denizens. His books were published by Camera Craft Publishing Company up in San Francisco, California.

Nearly everyone has or has seen one of his many books on the theory of pictorialism photography. Included here is the back cover of Pictorial Lighting and its frontispiece (the photograph of a girl titled “Greta“). This book was first published in 1935  – I have a copy of the book’s fourth printing in May, 1937, a couple of months before I was born.

By the end of the second world war, pictorialism was passé and reality and photo journalism with its demand for accurate, gritty, and detailed photographs had taken over. Before the war, Leitz made the Thambar lens, a soft focus portrait lens ideal for pictorialism. Unfortunately, the lens and its 9mm central silver spot to block the central light rays was finicky and hard to use reliably. Post war, a few lenses were made from pre war parts, but economical demand no longer existed.

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Charlie Hodge and the MNI

Charlie Hodge of
the MNI c1954

Toronto. Dr Wilder Penfield founded McGill’s Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) in 1934. The institute became world famous for Penfield’s ground breaking research on seizures and  the human brain. Charlie Hodge was his Neurological Photographer of choice.

In 1945, a 21 year old Hodge joined the MNI as an assistant in photography. Six months later, he took over the medical photography department when its experienced head, Peter Hayden, retired. Charlie ran the department for nearly a half century. Charlie embarked on a crash course in medical photography to meet the exacting standards of Dr Penfield.

In the middle of the previous century, good work demanded bright lights and big cameras. The bulk of the medical photography was done with black and white film in plates, cut-film, and movie reels. When Charlie died in 2001 at about 76 years old, he was remembered a few months later in an article in the July 2001 issue of NeuroImage magazine.

My thanks to George Dunbar, who unearthed this 1954 photograph of Charlie and an assistant in action at the MNI, in the holdings of Library and Archives Canada (LAC).


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a German perspective on Photography’s history

Toronto. Most of the books I have on the History of Photography are English or American. For a German view point, I look at a  translation of Eder’s History of Photography. Austrian Josef Maria Eder wrote the 3rd edition of his book “Geshichte der Photographie” in 1905. He wrote this history because he felt the German and Austrian inventors in the development of photography were largely unknown or ignored by the British and French historians.

He was encouraged to write an expanded and updated version but it was delayed by the great war and the events before and after the war. As a result, his 4th edition was not published until 1932 although his preface was dated a few months earlier in November, 1931. His 4th edition was finally translated into English on January 2, 1945 by an American, Edward Epstean. The copyright on his translation was held by the Columbia University Press in 1945 and renewed by them in 1972. A Dover reprint was first published in 1978. I eventually picked up a marked down copy for $6.75 but neglected to note where or when this exchange was made (likely in 1980 at Coles or The World’s Biggest Bookstore, which they owned).

Epstean said in a preface to his translation of the 4th edition, “The illustrations appearing in the German work are omitted since most of them have only an ornamental value and are of little practical use to the student.” So you have an 800+ page text divided into some 97 chapters plus the copious notes and the index with only a single photograph – a portrait of Josef Maria Eder (1855 – 1944),  the author and chemist, likely taken in the 1930s for his 4th editon.


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it’s always an attraction

Toronto. Niagara Falls. Such a world-wide attraction.Even studios used the falls as a picture on a backdrop. The roar of the falls is very evident when you visit in person.

The Ontario side has beautiful park lands and attractions. Sleazier attractions and accommodations pepper the nearby streets of the town. I took colour slides in 1975 showing a close view of the horse-shoe falls, the crowds of visitors, and the park setting.

This story in the June 6, 1949 issue of the American magazine LIFE touted the history of the falls which is shared by the US and Canada. Typically, the American side focussed on industry over parks and beauty. Tight rope walkers traversed the falls from the American side to the Canadian side. Have a look and enjoy the days when citizens of both nations could casually wander across the international border unencumbered.


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the old way to get pictures quickly

Polaroid ad in 1949

Toronto. In the film era you waited days or weeks to see the results of your camera efforts – unless you owned one of the marvellous Polaroid cameras that gave you a picture in a minute! Edwin Land came up with a technology that gave you a black and white – later full colour – positive print either in camera or later in your hand!

To his credit, Land designed a very elegant and complex camera which, like an Apple computer today, just works. The camera he designed had little scope or need for adjustment. Like the big Kodak sellers of the day, the camera was a folding bellows model. For an amateur snap shooter the Polaroid had a couple of serious flaws: it made expensive prints and the prints were one of a kind – no fast reprints unless the shot was taken again and again.

The June 13,  1949 issue of LIFE magazine had the Polaroid ad you see when you click on the above icon. The ad shows a prospective user just how easy it is to use a Polaroid Land camera and see your print in seconds. There is no mention of the cost of the camera or the film and prints … Polaroid went on to make many different camera models and captured enough market share to gain the attention of Kodak who began to compete with its own camera and film. Kodak lost the eventual court battle and were forced to buy back all their Colorburst cameras (or just the name plates) so few are ever seen today with the name plate in place.

And today? Both Kodak and Polaroid mis read the coming digital wave at a terrible corporate cost. And every smartphone has a built-in camera that gives faster and far better prints than you could ever expect from Polaroid (or Kodak), prints ready to be sent to web sites or fellow smartphone users in an instant!

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sure they are tiny but do they work?

LIFE article
summer 1949

Toronto. For a time there was a sub category of camera collecting – collecting sub-miniatures. In practical terms, only the Minox was well engineered. But it, like all the others, suffered a fatal flaw: tiny negatives. Negative material (a.k.a. film) was just too grainy and low definition to compete with larger cameras. The Minox was seen at camera shows and camera retail stores and occasionally in spy movies, often being used in a way that defied the science of the day.

I owned two Minox cameras –  a used model IIIs which was lost in the mail; and a new model B that I used to snap an in-concert photo of a young Bob Dylan when he played Montreal. I eventually traded the model B plus a Minox enlarger and developing tank for a Leica IIIf. In our 2015 Show and Tell, John Linsky brought along his Petal camera and a full kit that accompanied the tiny marvel.

Clicking on the above icon shows a LIFE magazine article dating back to its June 20th 1949 issue. Like the magazine, the tiny cameras have disappeared in the mists of history. Modern day smartphones offer sharper images in full colour at resolutions impossible with tiny film negatives – and the camera comes free with the phone!

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who shot Ott on wot and why?

Fred Ott from the
Douglas Collins 1990 book

Toronto. Well, some time around the 1893 World’s fair in Chicago, Edison chose his employee Fred Ott for a movie experiment. Why Ott? Ott was notorious for his violent sneezes! On this occasion he needed a little help to “pull the trigger”.

The short movie of his sneeze went on to be famous as the very first movie close up. Douglas Collins wrote a coffee table size vanity press book called The Story of Kodak in 1990 which devotes page 79 to the epic sneeze. A biography of Eastman was published in 1996 by Johns Hopkins called simply “George Eastman: A Biography“. It was written by Elizabeth Brayer who had access to the Eastman papers at George Eastman House. Betsy was our speaker back in October 2007.

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