Came for the history, stayed for the cameras

Century old Camera Lucida taken with a modern Apple iPod Touch

Century old Camera Lucida taken with a modern Apple iPod Touch. f/2.4, 1/25 second, 3.3mm lens. Hand held and a bit blurry from the photographer’s age.

Toronto. Our organization is often thought of as an History society – which it is. But it is a modern, up-to-date photographic organization as well. Many of its members and executive are professional photographers, both retired and active.

While we call ourselves PHSC or “The Photographic Historical Society of Canada”, our journal is called “Photographic Canadiana” and emphasizes Canadian photographers and images. Our speakers at the monthly meetings in Toronto have spanned the gamut from the very earliest of processes, the 1839 Daguerreotype and Calotype right up to the very latest of digital technology and cameras – after all, today’s modern technology is tomorrow’s history!

In the 1970s, many camera collecting organizations were founded and a wealth of photography oriented books were published. Like our society, many organizations added the word History to their name although the majority of their members at the time seemed to be camera collectors and users.

I have seen many changes over the decades. I no longer collect anything and occasionally sell something. As digital has routed film, the popularity of camera collecting has faded in favour of images. In fact, with a camera in every phone, it is hard not to see someone snapping a record of an event, or simply a “selfie”.

There is a niche group of young adults who enjoy using and processing film or even older technologies. For them there is still an active market for user cameras, lenses, darkroom gear, etc. served by the more modern items offered at our fairs and auctions.

I had never heard about any books on the history of photography when in 1969, Helmut and Alison Gernsheim published an update to their encyclopedic book “The History of Photography”. Two years later, as an active amateur photographer living in Montreal, I came across a note in a popular camera magazine mentioning that book and its American publisher, McGraw-Hill. I dropped in to see my friend Mr Rodick of Rodick’s Booksellers on rue Ste-Catharine in Montreal and ordered a copy for the sum of $25. A few weeks later on June 9, 1971 I was the owner of a massive hard cover 8.5 x 11.75 inch, 600 page book published not by McGraw-Hill, but by Gernsheim’s European publishers, Thames and Hudson of London, England (Mr Rodick and his wife were both British).

The following year, my second daughter was born and two months later I decided to retire my elderly Exakta and spring for a new Leica M4, recently discontinued when the Leica CL and M5 came on the market. I was impressed with the camera’s ergonomics and quality of construction. I began searching for other Leica lens, meantime reading the Gernsheim’s historical opus.

In searching for Leica Lenses, I would check the Toronto Star want ads, section 427, each time I was in Toronto. On one occasion in late 1975 I spotted an ad for a meeting in North York the same night as I happened to be in Toronto. I delayed my flight home to Montreal and attended the meeting to learn more about photographic history. The meeting was held in the basement of the North York Public Library. The hall had tables all around the room with people buying and selling old cameras, lenses, accessories, darkroom gear and more. I tracked down Marg Addision and signed up before I left.

To this day, the only Leitz things I bought new where my Leica M4, a 50 mm Summicron lens and a 35 mm Summicron lens (plus the odd accessory). All the rest of my Leica and Leitz things were used. I found them at the society, in ads by individuals, and in camera shops. The society meeting that night was an eye opener for me and I became a life long member. A year later my family and I moved back home to Toronto allowing me to participate on the executive as well.

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