MATT ISENBURG

Famous Collector & co-writer of PHOTOGRAPHICA 

In the early years of the PHSC, members were offered books on camera collecting at a discount. One that I picked up in December 1979 was the recently published Photographica by Charles Klamkin and Matthew Isenberg.  It was a tremendous pleasure this evening, over 20 years later, to meet Matt Isenburg in person. Matt enjoys photographing his cameras and does a superb job at that. Many of the slides are full colour versions of the black and white images in his book. He described much of his selection as milestone cameras -- each extending the depth and range of photography in some fashion. 

The slides were very sharp and clear, showing the beauty of many of the cameras as objects of art. My casual shots off the screen do not do justice to them. Matt is keenly interested in Daguerreian images and equipment (he sold off a large number of his "newer" cameras when he shifted to Daguerreotypes and related articles twenty years ago). As thank you for joining us, Mike Robinson, our resident Daguerreian photographer took a modern Daguerreotype of Matt. 

After zipping though about 150 slides of rare milestone cameras, Matt showed some exquisite examples from his image collection. Many of his examples were of the common workman and his tools -- touching on the broader availability and appeal of early photography in North America vs. Europe. Unfortunately, I ran out of space on my digital camera's memory card at this point, dropped a battery trying to switch my cells, and generally missed out on showing you some truly excellent examples of quality Daguerreotype images. 

Matt showed one Daguerreotype of the US Capitol building, only one of three such images known to exist. In other cases, He took woodcuts from period advertisements and diligently tracked down the Daguerreotype used to draw the ad. In one image of a New York street, Matt showed in a blow up the incredibly fine detail contained in a Daguerreotype. In another, he showed the narrow contrast range of the medium -- it was a picture of a light coated horse being held by a black groom. The exposure was for the horse, showing all the detail in his mane while leaving his groom in the shadows. 

He had a wonderful series of images of people and the tools of their trade -- plasterers, painters, machinists, etc. Matt pointed out the difference between European photography of the mid 1800s which catered to the upper class, and the American industry which offered the opportunity for people in all walks of life to have their image taken. 

The slide show and narrative demonstrated how one person can collect and define the history of an industry, then move on to another aspect and put his personal touch on that collection too.        

 

The images from top to bottom:

Matt Isenburg. Speaking at our April meeting. Matt admits to being in his 70s, but has the interests and energy of a much younger person.

Miniature Coloured Daguerreotype. This little image is a bit larger than a silver dollar. Matt carries it as an example of the beauty, sharpness, and stability of the daguerreotype image. Matt noted that the soft case wears out in time. He is on his second case and has more in reserve.

1839 Daguerreotype Camera. This is the GEH replica of Daguerre's own camera with the f/19 simple lens. Matt also had a slide showing the bottom of the camera and the slots and locks for adjusting the sliding back. The diagram below this image shows the mirror which could be attached to the lens to correct the image reversal so common with daguerreotypes. Matt said the attachment screw holes were evident on the brass front plate of the lens.

c1910 Clarissa. This little tropical plate camera was shown as an example of the precision quality and beauty of German cameras in the early decades of the 20th century. It was made by Graefe & Bardorf (Berlin) and came with a 75mm f/3 Hugo Meyer lens which focused as close as 18 inches. The focal plane shutter operated from 1/20th to 1/100th of a second.

c1930 OMAG filter on a Leica. Before Kodachrome, Technicolor, and Agfacolor, colour images were created with various additive processes. The OMAG filter offered by Leitz, NY could be attached to your Leica to snap the requisite three black and white images through red, green and blue filters to be combined to project a colour image.

c1890 Le Rire. The cover of an issue of this French cousin of Punch magazine had a tongue in cheek illustration of a young photographer whose attributes are suitably enhanced by her choice of a Stereo-Photosphere camera.

c1890s Stereo-Photosphere. And here is a closer look at this unusual metal camera from France. non-stereo versions with only one sphere/lens could also be purchased. 

c1915 Minnigraph. Matt enjoys photographing his little gems. This is a picture take by his Minnigraph of a slide of the same Minnigraph being projected on his wall. The Minnigraph was made in Berlin by Levy-Roth. It was the first European still camera to use 35mm cine film. The negatives were half-frame size. The camera is equipped with a simple single speed flap shutter and was offered with a choice of lenses including the 54mm f/3.5 Minnigraph Anastigmat and the f/3.0 Pentagraph Berlin.  

1884 Monocular Duplex. This ungainly looking box camera is actually the first known American SLR camera. Like the 1950s Exakta-Exa, the shutter is a curved metal plate attached to the viewing mirror. A slit in the shutter gives the exposure. As the mirror pulls up out of the way, it pulls up the shutter plate, passing the slit across the negative to create the exposure. 

1924 Multi-Photo Camera. Matt called this French camera a real work of art that reminds him of the ornate scroll work on the Paris subway entrances (You can see one on the Montreal subway, too. I think it is Victoria Square that has the ornate iron work donated by Paris -- It's over 25 years since I lived in Montreal). Lenses could be attached in various places to take up to 9 images on a single plate -- or three stereos plus three single shots. The camera was pocket size! In the picture, the lenses are shown attached to their holders on the side of the camera.

1882 Schmid Detective. Matt describes this as the first hand held camera, ushering in the age of the instantaneous snap shot. The model shown is a pre-production model used by the inventor. I guess the detective aspect stemmed from being hand held in the days when a camera was recognized by it's size and tripod with the operator hidden under the focusing cloth!  

c1899 Sigriste. This pair of cameras (the left one is stereo) were made by the Paris firm, J. G. Sigriste. They are jumelle-style bodies with f/4.5 Zeiss Tessar lenses and what is thought to be the earliest high speed shutters -- speeds to 1/10,000th of a second on some models (usual speeds ran from 1/40th to 1/2,500th).   

c1912 Ticka. Many people have seen the Ticka miniature camera shaped like a pocket watch. This is the much rarer version with a porcelain watch face and hands on one side (McKeown cautions the collector that many fakes have surfaced, but so far with a printed, not porcelain, watch face). 

1860 Wing Camera. This detail shows the dial and adjustment knob provided on the top back of the Wing multi-exposure wet plate camera used to take up to 25 shots per plate. The dial operated a gear and cam mechanism which shifted the plate across and down to expose a different area of the plate for each shot. The camera was designed by Southworth of Southworth & Hawes fame. He sold the patents to Simon Wing who continued to manufacture the camera. Matt's example is one of the Southworth versions. 

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In writing this page, my memory was ably augmented by Matt's book Photographica and Jim McKeown's Price Guide, 10th edition.

As usual I snapped the images with my Nikon Coolpix 900s digital camera directly from the screen during the slide show. I used a table tripod on my chest to steady (sort of) the camera. As a result, while the images are acceptable on the web, they are not suitable for printing. I did considerable adjustment to the images to compensate for a combination of the slow speed of the camera and the brightness range of the projected image. The darkroom I use is Corel Photo-Paint, a very able competitor to Adobe Photoshop. Its a pleasure to be able to adjust the image parameters and see the effect instantly on screen. 

Click on any of the thumbnails at the right, to bring up a larger version of the photo. Use your browser's back arrow to return to this page.

NB. My trusty Coolpix 900s is about to become an antique. three months after I bought it, Nikon released the Coolpix 950 which captured 2 megapixel images (vs. my 1.5meg) and did so faster and with more flexibility for the photographer. In April/May 2000, Nikon will release its Coolpix 990, a 3 megapixel camera with even more improvements in its handling and imaging features. As a high end "pro-sumer" digital camera, the 990 and its competition now offer the level of resolution once considered to be a match for 35mm Kodachrome slides! 

by Robert Carter

Photos


Matt Isenburg


Miniature coloured Daguerreotype


1839 - Daguerreotype camera


Diagram showing use of a mirror attached to front lens to correct the image


c1910 Clarissa tropical plate camera


c1930 OMAG colour filer on a Leica


c1890 magazine cover cartoon photosphere


c1890s Stereo Photosphere


c1915 Minnigraph half frame (slide) picture taken with the Minnigraph


1884 Monocular Duplex - first SLR camera


1924 Multi-Photo camera. A work of art!


1882 Schmid Detective. First hand held camera


c1899 Sigriste cameras. first fast shutter cameras made (up to 1/10,000)


c1912 Ticka - rare watch face model


1860 Wing multi-exposure camera - detail of plate adjuster mechanism 



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