The Photographic Historical Society of Canada

Pictures in the Paper - beginnings of press photography
Reg Holloway
Program date: June 17, 2009

Reg Holloway
Holloway by Lansdale

Large Press Cameras
Admiring the cameras

Otto Rath with Plaubel Makina
Otto with Plaubel

large press cameras
Camera Display

Otto Rath and a Zeiss Ikon press camera
Otto with Miroflex

camera display
Camera Display

Goerz Anschutz
Goerz Anschutz

Plaubel Makina c1930s
Plaubel Makina

Graflex XL
Graflex XL

camera display
Camera Display

camera display
Camera Display

Graflex SLR
Graflex SLR

Goerz Anschutz
Goerz Anschutz

Plaubel Makina
Ernemann

Speed Graphic
Nettel

Speed Graphic
Book

Our June speaker Reg Holloway whose varied career began as a reporter/photographer in Britain described how photography and the press have mutually benefitted over the years. He noted that in spite of our current interest in the “race into or perhaps through digital”, we must remember photography is still relatively new - its roots go back only four or five generations (for example my grandparents were born in the 1870s and their parents in the 1840s).

Once the photographic print had been achieved it was inevitable that a way would be found to make that image more widely available. Only a limited number of people could be reached by a single image even in an album or an exhibition. Reg emphasized that the medium for distribution was the press.

Artists provided the illustrations and impressions in the mass media of the day in spite of the technical limitations. Reg gave an example of the great fire of 1842 in Hamburg, Germany. The news took 10 days to arrive in London. An artist borrowed a painting of the city to guide his illustration. He added fire, smoke and by-standers to his interpretation of the painting and two weeks after the fire a detailed report appeared in the Illustrated London News complete with a line drawing depicting the famous city in flames.

Up to the end of the 1860s, pictures in the press were line drawing illustrations printed with wood cuts engraved from the work of a traditional artist or photographer. To reduce the length of time needed to make the wood cut, the blank block was sawn in quarters or sixths so many engravers could work at once. When the engraving was finished, the block pieces were glued together to print the line drawing.

In 1869 Montrealer William Leggo succeeded in applying Fox Talbot’s idea of using a fine screen to convert the continuous tones of a photograph such that they could be recreated with the simple black ink/white paper of the press. His “granulated photograph” process was used to publish a Notman portrait of Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Arthur in the weekly Canadian Illustrated News, the world’s first publication of a halftone image.

Leggo and his publisher, Desbarats, took the process to New York City where they improved it and in 1873, they founded the New York Daily Graphic. “In 1880, the Graphic became the first daily paper to use the halftone process to reproduce a photograph on the same page as text.” Later in the same decade, the combination of halftone technology and the speed of the new dry plate photography marked the start of press photography.

The speed of the dry plates made hand held cameras practical. The ability to take hand held photographs led to the invention of relatively smaller cameras (still big and heavy compared to today's models). Reg illustrated the evolution of press cameras and their features as the preferred models moved from glass plates to cut film to film packs and finally roll film in ever shrinking negative sizes. Sample cameras from his collection sparked considerable interest (our members are still strongly hardware oriented).

Reg started this part of his talk with the large single lens reflex (SLR) cameras of the late 1890s - the pressman's preferred style in that era. He noted the Mentor Reflex of 1898 from Germany (Goltz & Breutmann) as possibly the earliest available large SLR, followed by the famous Graflex SLR first offered in 1902.

Next in popularity was the simple rigid box design with a focal plane shutter at one end and a helically focussing lens at the other. This style quickly evolved to a more compact style with a bellows, struts and lens board that allowed the camera to be folded when not in use. Examples of this style are the Goerz Anschutz (Reg was equipped with an old Anschutz model as an apprentice photographer in the 1950s), Ernemann, and the Nettle. A feature of the Nettle was the use of a lazy tongs version of struts. The tongs allow focussing by moving the lens board position, eliminating the cost of a helical lens mount.

One of the smaller lazy tongs press cameras was the 1912 Plaubel Makina - Reg has a c1953 model IIIR version in his collection. This unusual and well engineered instrument is held by a grip on the lens board while a small knob on the opposite edge of the lens board is rotated to move the back of the camera to focus.

The same year, 1912, saw the release of the Speed Graphic - the dominant press camera in North America for the next half century or more (Who hasn't seen a Hollywood movie "press photographer" with his big mitt wrapped around the flash gun of his trusty Graphic?). The camera was made by Folmer & Schwing who by then had been absorbed as a division of the mighty Eastman Kodak Company.

In 1921 Newman & Guardia of England released a combination reflex and drop-down baseboard camera. Lenses were attached to the camera with a fast change bayonet mount. It used the smaller 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 negative format and offered fast lenses (f/2.9) and telephoto lenses (10 inch). Focussing can be done via the reflex hood or directly on the rear ground glass. Later in the decade, Zeiss-Ikon also offered a combination camera - the Miroflex, a waist level SLR with an eye level sports finder. It was a versatile but heavy addition to the press photographer's toolbox.

An event occurred in the mid 1920s that failed to attract press photographers until a few years later. Ernst Leitz, the German Optical company famous for its microscopes, began marketing a new precision miniature camera, the Leica. This was the first still camera using 35mm cine film to become a big commercial success. Once the cine films improved, and the concept of "small negative - big print" was accepted, the Leica and other 35mm cameras became serious tools for the press. Meantime, the larger cameras remained in vogue.

Another marvel of German precision, the Linhof Technika was offered in 1930. It was "a particularly elegant baseboard type ... after the style of the Graphic". It met the requirements of many professional photographers, including members of the press, but it was heavy and expensive with some features not necessary for the rough and tumble of press work.

Strut cameras continued to be popular. For example in England, the VN camera of 1933, designed by Van Neck (one time Goerz agent in London). Similar to the Anschutz, it was "bigger, sturdier, and technically more advanced". The camera was designed especially for press photographers with a quick change back and flash synchronization built into the focal plane shutter. This shutter was controlled and wound from a single wheel with a short throw.

Glass plates began to be replaced by film - cut film, film packs and even roll film. The Rolleiflex twin lens reflex was released in 1937 and after the war gained popularity in the press as photographers upgraded their pre war equipment. Speed, convenience and versatility made the Rollei an attractive alternative to the larger format cameras. It could be used at waist level, eye level and even held over head for shots from behind a crowd. Reg used a Rollei for six years in East Africa during the late 1950s - early '60s where its construction helped protect against the inroads of damp and dust.

In time, the traditional press cameras were scaled down to smaller negative sizes. An example being the Miniature Speed Graphic of 1938. Post war, the Pacemaker Graphics were "the big guns of press photography in North America" for a quarter century. They followed the traditional Graphic design with a folding baseboard, but added extendable focussing tracks, a coupled rangefinder, and a special focussing aid for night work. Many fast change lenses were offered, and all shutters where flash synchronized.

The expensive and high quality Hasselblad system was used by some press photographers but it was mainly a tool for commercial and studio people. In 1963, one of the first and best known professional cameras from Japan was added to the expanding camera market. The Mamiya twin lens reflex was an original design - substantial and well built. Shortly after it first appeared, Mamiya added interchangeable lenses/shutters and a film advance crank with automatic shutter tensioning, taking a few more press photographers away from the traditional large format cameras.

Camera makers like Linhof, Mamiya, and Graflex responded to the threat of 35mm cameras with new modular camera designs. But it was too late and within a decade they all vanished as the large format press cameras faded into history and 35mm became the standard. Surprisingly, today there is a continued interest in the large format cameras by "young serious students wishing to explore the essentials of photography".

After his talk, Reg answered numerous questions while we handled and admired samples from his fine collection of old press cameras. I was attracted most to the small technically precise c1930s Plaubel Makina which spanned nearly a half century of press use beginning just before the great war. To learn more about press photography, see Reg Holloway’s book “The Evolution and Demise of the Larger Format Press Camera” published in 2008 by Epic Press of Belleville, Ontario. Contact Reg by email (regandannaholloway@sympatico.ca) to arrange the purchase of a copy.

Plaubel Makina
Plaubel Makina
Speed Graphic
Speed Graphic
Newman & Guardia
Newman & Guardia
Zeiss Ikon Miroflex
Zeiss-Ikon Miroflex
Leica I
Leica Prototype
Linhof
Linhof
VN Van Neck
VN Van Neck
Rolleiflex
Rolleiflex
miniature speed graphic
Mini Speed Graphic
Pacemaker
Pacemaker
Mamiya
Mamiya
Graflex XL
Graflex XL

NB. I received a note from Reg on October 10th, 2009 that he now has a web site called www.regholloway.com featuring his book.


This page was designed in Dreamweaver CS4 on an iMac running OS X 10.5 (Leopard). Unless otherwise noted, images on this page were taken with a Sony F828 digital still camera and subsequently adjusted in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom V2.2 and Photoshop CS4. Presentation images (the black & white images except the Leica Prototype) are ©2009 by Reg Holloway and may not be used without his permission. The Leica prototype image is used under the CeCILL and CC copyright rules. It was taken at the Vevey Photography Museum by Rama. Contents and all other images are ©2009 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Copies of photographs displayed during this presentation may not be used without the copyright holder's permission. Contact PHSC at info@phsc.ca if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

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