once a century is enough!

. In 1918 the world suffered a pandemic called the Spanish Flu of 1918. It lasted into 1920 and proved to be very contagious and very deadly. Here we are, a century later, and the world is hit by another influenza-like virus – the COVID-19 pandemic, also highly contagious and potentially deadly especially for those with compromised immune systems.


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Henri does Havana

Cuba by Bresson for LIFE March 15, 1963 issue

Toronto. On page 28 of the March 15, 1963 issue of LIFE magazine begins an article on Cuba after the revolution featuring the words and photos of the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Bresson is usually thought of in terms of his Leica and Decisive Moment photograph in France.

Take a gander at the photos and prose in this LIFE article from over 60 years ago. Castro had taken over Cuba in a world famous revolution. Worsening relations with America had his country black-balled by the mighty USA.

My thanks to good friend George Dunbar for unearthing this bit of history on the famous French photographer.

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way too much, way too late

Contarex cut-away from Larry Gubas’s massive “Zeiss and Photography”

Toronto. The Contarex was Zeiss-Ikon’s SLR flagship. With some 1,100 plus precision measured components, it was an engineer’s dream – and a repairman’s nightmare. The $500 US  “Bulls-eye” Contarex was announced at the 1958 Photokina but didn’t hit the shelves until 1960 – a year after the vastly less expensive and famously popular Nikon F.

The Contarex, built like a tank, was very complex by design. It was heavy, fragile, expensive and had to be used following a specific sequence of actions – not simple to use by any means! The camera and lenses were far better than those of any competitor, but took a very competent and skilled repairman to accomplish even the simplest task. It was designed for professionals with very deep pockets to buy extra bodies to use when the inevitable trip to the repair shop occurred and repairs took so long.  In contrast, other professional 35mm cameras were smaller, lighter, cheaper and faster to repair when necessary.

In Larry Gubas’s massive 2015 book on “Zeiss and Photography”, 36 pages are devoted to the Contarex family of cameras (check out Petra Kellers and the Camerabooks website when the COVID-19 pandemic is over). The camera design was externally very rugged. Even when the internal mechanism was badly worn by heavy use, the exterior often looked as if the camera had been barely used. Sadly, the Contarex was thought to be one of the reasons for the demise of Zeiss-Ikon as a camera manufacturing innovator and power house. Contarex was a retail failure, far too complex and expensive to make and repair compared to the competition.


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imagine! colour in 60 seconds!

revolutionary Polaroid color 1963

Toronto. With smartphones, FaceTime, Skype, etc all using full time live video today, a still colour print in 60 seconds is a big yawn. But, picture photography in early 1963: To see any  photograph – colour or black and white, the photographer had to wait for negative development, print development, and mailing to and from the processor (unless you were skilled at work or home).  Slides skipped the print processing but still took days  – two weeks up here for Kodachrome.

Polaroid shocked the world with its astonishing 60 second process that worked in all its cameras made since the 1948 introduction of its black and white process. LIFE magazine on page 74 of its January 25, 1963 issue devoted a ten page article to the amazing process. The film used was initially sold in Florida and by summer, throughout the States.  A six shot roll was projected to sell for $3 to $5 US in the States. No mention of print life or scheduled sales outside the USA.

Regardless, it was astonishing back in 1963 to see results so quickly! My thanks to PHSC member and good friend George Dunbar for suggesting this article and the astonishing accomplishment of the Polaroid labs down in Massachusetts long before the digital wave replaced film as the main stream process and smart phones replaced the majority of film cameras.


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megal what??

Megalethoscope slide of the Palais et place d’armes, Versailles, 1870s by Carlo Ponti

Toronto.  We have featured essays from the”Fans in a Flashbulb” site from time to time. This essay is entitled, “A Time Travelling Magical Megalethoscope View of the Palace of Versailles” and was published at the end of last month.

If like me, you have never heard of the “Megalethoscope“, click the above link and read the essay by Christopher George. A thank you and tip of the hat goes to our friend and fellow PHSC member, George Dunbar, for pointing out this unusual essay on a Victorian viewer and process invented in 1860 by Carlo Ponti.


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clowning around

Weary Willy and his Brownie

Toronto. Remember Emmett Kelley and these others? In this strip are many famous folk each with a camera of choice.

My Friend George Dunbar asks, “The famous with cameras … Who are they?”

Food for thought back in the days of mechanical marvels for film burners. These span the decades from glass to film; from stills to movies.


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what’s in your wallet?

Argus Contest in LIFE Nov 1962

Toronto. Not to be out done by Airequipt, Argus posted a two page spread (pp 10, 11) in the November 30, 1962 issue of LIFE magazine offering 10,ooo free prizes in the “ARGUS HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY”. The offer was limited to dealers in the American mid west. We did get a call out in fine print with the note “prices higher in Canada” below the list of participating American dealers.

I could not find a number anywhere for this contest (perhaps it was only printed on an insert). 1,000 of the winners got their choice of advertised camera or projector free – the other 9,000  winners got a child’s movie viewer and a Mr McGoo cartoon movie. All other early shoppers also got one free too (with the same cartoon movie) if they bought any of the advertised items on or before December 10, 1962 from the listed dealers.

As they say, “only in America“. Thanks to George Dunbar for pointing out this Argus contest to me. In fairness, photography products were often imported to Canada by third party wholesale firms who may not have shared the advertising costs in LIFE or the prizes.

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le film noir

Photo by Nopawach Gajajiva on Fantôme film

Toronto. In film technology (or analogue as they say today), the lower the sensitivity the finer the grain and the harder the contrast. Lomogaphy have announced “The Fantôme Kino B&W ISO 8 35 mm Film”. This new film, at such a low ISO, will be great for those dark, gloomy photos reminiscent of commercial 1930s movies shot on similar slow speed media.

I used a commercial copy film of similar low sensitivity to copy documents years ago. When I started out in 35 mm, Kodachrome was a fast ISO 10 rating so you had a choice detail in shadows or highlights, but not both!

Slow ISO speeds were common from the very beginning of photography. Dried emulsion on glass was too slow to use in the early cameras but proved perfect for making contact prints of hymns by sunlight.


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and the winner is …

Airequipt Superba 77A ad in LIFE

Toronto. Mid last century, companies worked hard to win a larger slice of the amateur photo market – especially in the USA, We saw where give-a-ways of non competing products for a few dollars and proof of purchase were used, This time a contest was held with the prize being a “free” projector, and if you didn’t win but bought any one of five different models of that brand, a consolation prize was thrown in.

You could write Airequipt to get a list of dealers in your neighbourhood – if such offers were allowed. Anyone with a number printed on page 29 of the November 9, 1962 issue of LIFE could take it to an authorized dealer who had a list of 1,000 winning number!

As you may know or recall, projectors like this one were necessary to view 35mm colour slides in a darkened room. Today, computers and smartphone technology have tossed such slide projectors on the garbage heap of lost dreams. Thanks to George Dunbar for suggesting this advertisement and such contests of days gone by created to sell both magazines and projectors.

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ninety-nine percent sweat

Skinner – lot of photos of Edison

Toronto. We find photographic collectibles in the darndest places – like non photographic auctions. Edison was said to define genius as one percent inspiration and  ninety-nine percent perspiration.

If you search out auctions, like one at Skinners, and patiently drill down, you can spot items for your collection like these photographs of Thomas Edison buried in the April 6 – 14 auction of Clocks, Watches, and Scientific Instruments.

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