Category: History

My life in cameras

My life in cameras

I’ve been interested in photography from a really early age, and here is why it happened.

The Wheaties camera

wheaties2 cropped

 

I first got interested in taking pictures when I found I could get an actual working camera for 55 cents and a Wheaties boxtop. I was about 7 years old and this was pretty exciting for me. Mine used 127 film which you then “took to the drugstore” to have processed. You got back little contact prints about 1” x 1.5”. I’m not sure if enlargements were yet available, but enlargements from such a cheap camera would have been pretty awful.  Some years later, I actually had a summer job at the local photofinisher that serviced all those drugstores. But that’s another story.

These promotional cameras were made by Regal Galter of Chicago, and were available with various nameplates. While they were little more than toys, they did take actual pictures and I took a lot of pictures, especially on vacation or when we took visitors to nearby Niagara Falls.

This was really a learning experience, and I am sure most of my pictures were terrible, but every mistake led to more chances to learn. Of course, the camera had no settings for shutter speed or lens opening. And, in those days, the only 127 film type was Kodak Verichrome Pan, a very forgiving, wide latitude film that produced reasonable pictures over a wide variety of lighting conditions. This was, of course, an outdoor, daylight camera. Inside shots and flash pictures were still in the future.

The Brownie Hawkeye

hawkeye2 hawkeye flash

When I was about 11, and in about 6th grade, my parents surprised me with a wonderful new camera, the  Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. It used 620 film, producing negatives that were 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ inches (or 6 x 6 cm). The bakelite Brownie had a bright prism waist-level viewfinder, and there were a number of types of film available for it, including Verichrome Pan, Tri-X and Kodacolor. The flash attachment used flashbulbs, of course, and while you could use ordinary white flahsbulbs you could get blue flashbulbs to simulate the outdoor color balance for outdoor Kodacolor. (Color film came in outdoor and incandescent in those days.) Contact prints from these 2 ¼” square negatives were decent sized, and the camera quality was sufficient to stand enlargement to “oversize” prints if you wanted to pay for it.

The Brownie Hawkeye was made from 1949-1961, with the flash model introduced in 1950. It was the most popular Brownie ever made, and you can still find them around pretty easily. They make good stage props and there was a recent men’s clothing ad where the model was using a Brownie Hawkeye, but was foolishly holding it up to his eye!  The original Brownie Hawkeye cost $5.50 and the flash model $7.00!

This Brownie went with me on all our vacations and I even got to take it to school on occasion to snap pictures of my friends.

As I moved on into Junior High School, I became interested in developing and printing my own pictures, and the 620 film was easy to handle and contact print. I developed the film in a little plastic tank using Microdol-X or D-76 and contact printed the negatives. It was clearly time for an upgrade.

My Yashica was my first medium format camera

yashica

In about eighth grade, I bought a Yashica (probably using my paper route money): a pretty good quality twin lens reflex, using 120 film and still making 2 ¼” square negatives. The Yashica had a f 2.8 viewing lens which projected onto a ground glass screen for focusing, and a f/3.5 taking lens. This was my first camera that allowed focusing, as well as setting of the lens opening and shutter speed. This was a huge learning experience, and it was a good thing I could develop the film myself, because I ran through a lot of getting the hang of setting the exposure correctly. I used the Brockway incident light meter as well. And it was the first camera with decent resolution that allowed good enlargements.

The two knobs on the front controlled the lens opening and shutter speed, and the large knob on the side moved the two lenses in and out for focusing. The rear knob was for advancing the film. I don’t think there was an interlock to prevent double exposures, though. And there was no film advance that assured that you moved the film far enough. You had to look at the numbers on the back of the film paper that were displayed in the window on the back of the camera.

Around this same time, a took possession of a used enlarger much like the Kodak enlarger shown here, which really opening my vistas to making contact sheets, and making small enlargements on Kodak Medalist paper, developed in Dektol. This enlarger was a diffusion model, where the enlarger lamp is diffused through ground glass and passed through the negative and then to the enlarger lens.

practicefield

That Yashica was my main camera throughout high school. I used it for sports photography and group photos of all kinds.

Ventures into 35mm

minoltaAround this time, 1957 or so, 35mm cameras were getting better and cheaper and my father bought me a Minolta 35mm camera. I was soon taking so many candid pictures with it that I started spooling my own bulk film into 35mm cassettes. In those days, you could reuse standard Kodak cartridges, but Kodak put an end to that in about 1964 by crimping the ends so you had to use a bottle opening to pull them open.

The Minolta was only my second adjustable camera, where I took light meter readings and set the camera accordingly. The camera was well built, and I used it throughout high school for all my candid work for the yearbook. It did not feature interchangeable lenses, however.

It also introduced the possibility of color slides, which I dived into as well. And in fact, it turns out you can process your own Ektachrome, and I did that for some years to save money and for instant gratification. During high school, my friend Jeff Luce and I did some color film processing and printing (from 2 ¼” square negatives) It was a lot of fun, but took an awful lot of work. This did, however, give us a chance to crop and adjust the darkness if our photos.

Nikor

This was also about the time that I switched to the Nikor stainless steel film processing tanks that I still have and use. It takes a little practice to load them, but once you get the hang of it, they are very easy to load in the dark or even in a changing bag. This is probably now one of photography’s great lost skills! Sadly these tanks are no longer made, although other vendors have similar models.

 

 

The Kodak Retina

Retina

Around the start of the senior year in high school, the Minolta was not all it could be, and I looked around for a camera with sharper optics. I settled on the rather unique Kodak Retina IIc, a German made camera with an f/3.5 Schneider Xenon lens, and shutter speeds to 1/500th. It had a built in light meter and introduced (to me at least) the LVS or Light Value System, later called the EV or exposure Value system.

You matched a pointer to the light meter needle on the top of the camera, and that gave you a single LVS number. You set that LVS number on a wheel at the bottom of the lens, and it locked together all the f/stops and shutter speed combinations that would give you that exposure.

The Retina had a very sharp lens, rivalling the Nikons I later went to. While there were two additional lenses available: wide angle and short telephoto, they only replaced the front elements, not the whole lens and I never looked into them.

Later on that year, my father bought a Retina IIIc, which was the same camera with a f/2 lens, and that is the one pictured here. It still works very well.

I used the Retina IIc all through the rest of high school and nearly all of college as my camera for candids, and having joined the yearbook staff right away, I had access to a very good darkroom.

My Rolleiflex

Rolleiflex

In early January of my Senior year in high school, a friend of mine who worked at a local photo store called me to say that a used Rolleiflex had just come in that was in immaculate condition and I ought to get it immediately. My father worked near there and I called and asked him to take a look. He told me it had been sold, but didn’t tell me that he’d bought it for my birthday.

This was one highest quality cameras I’d ever had. It had a f/2,8 viewing lens and an f/3.5 taking lens and a film transport system that assured that the roll would always be advanced the correct amount. I used this all through my college career along with the Retina. And I had that camera for 40 years after that. It took outstanding photos.

Moving on to Nikons

Nikkorex

In my senior year in college, I wanted to move on to a camera with interchangeable lenses and high quality optics. Selling my Retina combined with a small early graduation present, I put together enough money to either buy a Nikon F or a Nikkorex F plus a Sigma 60mm-200mm zoom lens. They were about the same price. The Nikon F was a thoroughly professional-grade camera of its time, and the NIkkorex was intended for the amateur market. It had excellent Nikon optics but instead of the usual focal plane shutter, had a Copal Square metal blade shutter. I chose the latter because it seemed like a bargain to an impecunious college student.

When I got the Nikkorex, I found that that shutter was hardly silent and was roughly as noisy as a bear trap. Just the thing for shooting wedding ceremonies! Much later, I learned that this Nikkorex was sort of a joint project between Nikon and Mamiya, who actually manufactured the camera. That model was later sold by Ricoh, and Nikon went on to produce a number of Nikkormat cameras for the amateur market.

What can I say? It may not have been top of the line, but I used that Nikkorex all through graduate school and while raising a young family. It may have been a bit noisy, but the optical quality was very good.

Finally, a real Nikon

 

While teaching at Tufts, I wrote a number of books, and the royalties from my first book and second book enabled me to finally trade my Nikkorex in for a Nikon F3, one of Nikon’s most popular film cameras of all time. Of course, the Sigma zoom lens worked with the new Nikon just fine. I also managed to buy a new Beseler 23 C enlarger.

This Nikon F3 that I bought in 1980 was a workhorse camera for me for years: I didn’t seek to upgrade until digital cameras became more common in the early 2000s.  I still have it and it works just as well as the day I got it.

Replacing the Rollei

rollei 6003

By the early 2000s, my Rolleiflex was showing the signs of age. It just didn’t produce as sharp images as it once did, and it seemed ill-advised to spent money on repairing a 40 or more year old camera that was no longer made, so I sold it and bought a used single lens reflex Rollei 6008. This is a battery driven camera with through the lens metering and interchangeable 120 (or 220) film magazines, so you could switch from black and white to color, or between different film speeds mid-roll. The film advance was automatic, and while there were other lenses available for it, their prices were astronomical.

I took some photos with it recently and it remains an amazing machine: solidly build with incredible resolution. It is not autofocus, although Rollei did make a model that was at some exorbitant price. The producers of the Rollei line, Frank & Heidecke, went out of business in 2009 and Rolleis are no longer being produced, although there are a large number in the used market.

Frankly, this is a camera that only a tripod can love, since with the hand grip it weighs 79 oz or nearly 5 lbs. Its images are unsurpassed, however.

My journey into digital cameras

coolpix 995

In 2001, digital cameras became price accessible, although still of just moderate quality. My first digital camera was the Nikon e995 Coolpix which was really only suitable for making small pictures for a web site, with e megapixel resolution (2048 x 1536). Nonetheless, it was good for closeups and I used it for about 3 years.

 

 

The Nikon D70

Nikon d70

This was a 6 megapixel camera (2000 x 3008) that stood me in good stead for 4 years. It had a good zoom lens (18-70mm f/3.5-5.6) that was considerably more light sensitive than the previous Coolpix, and the lenses were interchangeable. I soon got a telephoto zoom(70mm-300mm) for it as well. And with that resolution, I could take good quality stage pictures easily.

bermuda d70

d70 sorc

The Nikon D80

Nikon d70

Four years later, I upgraded to the Nikon D80 to further improve resolution to 10 mexapixels (3872×2592), but kept the same lenses. This workhorse camera stood me in good stead for tens of thousands of pictures of all kinds. It was the first one that I felt I could make decent enlargements from and many of those are still hanging around our house.

 

 

Nikon D7200

d7200

I finally moved to a Nikon D7200 (24 megapixels) in 2017 and with it a new kit zoom lens, since the one I used with the D70 and D80 needed replacement from heavy use. But the 70-300mm telephoto remained in happy use. This was the first camera I’d had that would also do movies. It was a handy feature but I personally didn’t use it all that often. But the higher resolution was a great boon for landscape photography as well as stage photography.

 

The Nikon Z6

You would think that this should be the end of the story, but all of those digital cameras above used a 24 x 16 mm sensor, called DX format, while a full frame sensor would be 24 x 36 mm, or FX format. These full frame sensors can have the same number of pixels as the DX cameras and produce a much sharper image.

z6 and adapter

This year, Nikon introduced the Z6 (and Z7) cameras which had a full frame sensor and 24 megapixels (or 45 for the Z7). It is also a mirrorless camera that reduces vibration as well as the shutter sound since there is no mirror to flip out of the way. It has gotten very good reviews, included one I wrote comparing it to the D7200. However, Nikon also introduced a new Z lens mount and an accompanying adapter for recent older lenses, while they develop new Z-mount lenses.

This is simply the sharpest camera of any kind I have ever had, and an absolute joy to use. I haven’t been on any picturesque vacations yet using the Z6, but here is a lovely local picture that shows its sharpness.

Z^ scene

Conclusions

I wouldn’t be the photographer I’ve become without all those experiences, and starting at a young age was part of it. Only that way do you become entranced with the magic of film, seeing the prints and learning what works. And the magic of seeing prints develop in a darkroom tray is a thrill that few experience any more.

It’s easy to carry around your digital camera and never download or print any of those pictures, but that is a big mistake. The reward of beautiful prints is worth a little effort and is a big part of the learning experience that can make you a better photographer.

To some extent having a little digital camera in your phone bypasses all these steps and make photography seem routine. Again, starting young is still a step on the way to build confidence in your creativity and you should do your best to encourage young people to do more than take snapshots. And they should make some prints, too!

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On being a paper boy in the 50s

On being a paper boy in the 50s

skyscraper

In Columbus, at the corner of North High and W.N. Broadway there was an Isaly’s store in the 1950s. This popular dairy store served their famous Skyscraper cones, sundaes, sodas, shakes and sold cheeses and cold cuts, included their famous Chipped Chopped Ham. Since Isaly’s was right next to the Clinton Theater, they did a good business after every show. I gave them my business for another reason.

If you walked west on W.N. Broadway about half a block, you would come to an alley, and just up the alley on the left was a small frame building painted dark green. It was maybe 10’ x 16’ in size and locked with a padlock much of the day. But around 3pm, the Station Manager opened the building so you could see shelves running down each side and a counter in the rear. This is where I and other paper boys (there were soon some paper girls, too although not at that particular substation) picked up our papers every afternoon.

Columbus, in the mid-1950s was a city of about 380,000 (Greater Columbus was probably half a million) and had three newspapers: the Columbus Dispatch, the Columbus Citizen and the Ohio State Journal. The Dispatch and Citizen were evening papers and the Journal a morning paper. Each of these were at that time independently owned, with the Columbus Dispatch, the largest in circulation and advertising being held by the powerful (and somewhat secretive) Wolfe family.

The Columbus Citizen was part of the Scripps-Howard media empire, and the Journal was held over the years by a number of owners.

Politically, Ohio was definitively a Republican state and the Dispatch was clearly a rock-ribbed Republican newspaper. Ohio went for Eisenhower in the 50s and for Nixon over Kennedy in 1960. Only a few counties around Cleveland went for Kennedy. However, by 1964 most of Ohio went for Johnson over Goldwater. But after that, Ohio has remained Republican most of the time until Obama, although considered a “swing state” by some currently.

347walhallacolorI lived at the end of East Longview in Columbus, but our modest 3 bedroom 1-bath house faced the Walhalla ravine and had a Walhalla address. From there I could easily bike to Clinton Elementary School, just a few blocks away, and later to Crestview Junior High when I entered seventh grade. It was about that time that I became a paper carrier. I think that the paper sent notices to the classes of rising seventh graders inviting them to apply for paper carrier jobs, and I applied.

In any case, soon after I started Junior High in the fall of 1954, I began my paper route. I would bike home, leave my schoolbooks and grab my paper bags and bike down to the substation behind Isaly’s. Many days I beat the truck that left the papers off at the substation. We’d all be sitting around on the shelves waiting until some sharp eyed boy spotted the truck and called out “Papers!” We’d all grab the bundles out of the truck and bring them into the station, where the young station manager, Jim Lawson, would count them into groups and hand them out to each of us, more or less in the order we had arrived.

rolledpapers

While we could go off right away to deliver the papers, many of us stayed to fold the papers to make them easier to throw onto a customer’s porches. We could use rubber bands, but most of us learned how to fold newspapers quickly   by tucking the folded section into the opening on the spine side of the paper. A quick twist and these papers were very stable for throwing without messing with rubber bands. It became a point of pride among the carriers to be able to fold your entire route’s papers in a couple of minutes before setting out. I only used rubber bands to secure the Sunday papers, which were a bit larger.

I did stop off at Isaly’s from time to time, and in June they had a  Dairy Month special: half price ice cream sodas! They cost 12 cents! I usually had more than one that month.

My paper route

elakeview2

My first paper route on East Lakeview Ave was a relatively small one with only 34 subscribers. The street looks much the same today. The Citizen (and the Dispatch for that matter) cost 5¢ a copy daily and 15 cents on Sunday. Of that, we got, I think a little over 2 cents a paper, and probably a bit more for the Sunday paper. (I later learned that Dispatch carriers were paid a bit more, closer to 3 cents a paper.)

I folded all the papers, put them in my saddle bags and set off about 4 blocks south to Lakeview. Usually, I put some folded papers in my shoulder bag and walked up one side of the street and back down the other delivering papers.  Most houses in this era had covered wooden porches, and if I could toss the paper on the porch, it was pretty safe from the elements. Some customers had specified “In the door,” ot “In box” and we had to walk up and deliver these in person.

Then I rode my bike up to the next block and repeated the process. The last part of Lakeview made a left turn and ran along the Walhalla ravine. These houses were below street level and a bit harder to get to. Sometimes this engendered small tips, but that was pretty rare.

Sometimes there were mishaps: you got a paper wet or accidentally tossed it into the bushes. But since I added my parents’ house to my route, I always had an extra. In one particularly wild mishap, a wild throw left a paper on the customer’s porch roof. Fortunately, that was Jim Lawson’s parents’ house, and  we had a good laugh over it.

Delivering papers was pretty quick once you got the hang of it, but Sunday papers were a bit more of an effort. The papers were heavier and hard to manage, and most carriers, including me, talked their parents into driving them on Sundays. You picked up the papers, I think, between 6 and 7am and were expected to have them all delivered before 8am. And yes, on Sunday, I used rubber bands.

Collecting

Collecting from customers was one of the bigger pieces of drudgery in what at first seemed like a halcyon experience. Carriers were given half-size 3 ring notebooks with a page for each subscriber, and it was up to you to collect weekly and keep records of whether they had. Generally, we collected Thursday evening after dinner, when people would be home. Daily subscribers paid 30 cents a week, daily and Sunday paid 45 cents, and those who ordered magazine subscriptions through the Citizen paid an additional 15 cent a week. So, you collected 30, 45 or 60 cents per subscriber per week.

changerThis took some time but wasn’t too hard. There were almost always a few you had to go back to because they didn’t seem to be home or didn’t want to answer the door, or didn’t have change.  I  had one of those belt change dispensers loaded with nickels, dimes and quarters. This is the same sort of changer that came up in the testimony of Anthony Ulasiewicz, one of Nixon’s White House Plumbers, who testified that he carried a changer to make all those phone calls from pay phones.

The second year, the Citizen came up with subscriber pages with little postage stamp sized tear-off tabs to give the subscribers as receipts. While this might have seemed like a good idea to someone, that meant there was little space to write notes about subscriber requests, and they weren’t all that sturdy.

Paying your bill

Every Saturday morning, a bunch of bleary eyed paper boys, carrying little canvas bags of money showed up at the substation to pay their paper bills. They didn’t want change or checks, so you had to have your parents launder the checks and If you had a bunch of coins, you eventually had to take them to the bank.

My bills that first year were around $11.50, meaning that I got to keep around $3 a week. Not really a big haul, but this was worth a bit more in the 1950s than it is now.

After about a year I got the chance to switch to a larger route on Clinton Heights, with about 56 subscribers. This took longer to deliver, but I made almost twice as much money, about $6 as week. And the route ended up only a block from our house. Clinton Heights had some larger houses, especially at the top of the street, but most wealthier people preferred the Dispatch.

Snow

Looking back at my childhood in Columbus, I tend to think of the smell of new-mown grass, fresh morning dew and hot summer days. But Columbus did have winters, and sometimes significant snowfalls. I don’t recall exactly all we did, but  I do remember pushing my balloon tire bike through the snow as it carried the papers for me. I also remember that that little green carrier’s substation had a stove in it, and on cold afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings, Lawson would build a fire in that metal stove, vented through the roof. And that heat was really welcome.

Canvassing

One truly unwelcome feature of being paper carrier was the Citizen’s insistence on our canvassing for new subscribers. One night every month or so, we’d meet at the station about 6pm and jump into cars provided by Lawson and our district manager. They’d take us to unfamiliar neighborhoods and give us a pep talk about the wonderful trips we could win if we sold enough subscriptions (and magazines). The Dispatch did not require its carriers to canvas. But according to my friend Jeff Luce, who carried the Dispatch at the same time, they were required to sell accident insurance policies to their subscribers.

Some of the boys on these canvases came up with amusing, fictional trips instead such as rides on the Goodyear Blimp and alligator rides. Sometimes we went in pairs, egging each other on to enhance the fictions we were spinning. Sometimes, the customers found it entertaining enough to order a subscription.

Other times we were turned away because the Citizen was a “damned Democrat” newspaper. It certainly wasn’t as Republican as the Dispatch (in local argot pronounced DIS-patch) and it seemed more centrist to me. However, since Scripps Howard’s syndicate was wide ranging, some of the stories were probably less parochial. Later when I was back in Columbus for graduate school, I did compare the papers with a better eye to their politics, and as this was during the Vietnam war era, the differences were fairly plain. The Dispatch was far less forgiving in any stories about war protests and the Citizen much more neutral. Few of the nationally known liberal columnists appeared in either paper.

Selling Extras

In those simpler days, newspapers still sold extras on the street when a major story broke mid-day. I was called out of classes at Crestview to sell extras twice. The major one was the conviction on December 21, 1954 of neurosurgeon Dr Sam Sheppard in the murder of his wife Marilyn. I was given a bag of papers and a spot on North High street where I was to hawk the extras. I think I may have sold 6 or 7.

Sheppard was exonerated in a second trial and released from prison in 1966. The judge blamed the media circus atmosphere for influencing the jurors in the first trial. Columbus papers had stories nearly every day about “Dr Sam” and his sensational trial,  but the Cleveland papers practically tried and convicted Sheppard in their articles. The television series The Fugitive seemed to be loosely based on Sheppard’s case, but this was always denied by its creators.

Carrier Awards

I did win one trip to Washington, DC with the newsboys when I was about 12, selling subscriptions. It was a really successful trip and we had a great time. We saw the usual sights: the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and yes, I and most us did climb all 800-some steps to the top of the monument. We also saw Monticello, Arlington Cemetery, and I think, part of the Smithsonian.

I was selected a Carrier of the Year my last year in the job and took a bus down to the Citizen office and have my picture taken along with a handful of other lucky carriers. We got our pictures in the paper and a snow globe with a gold paper carrier in it, that sadly I seem to have lost some time since. In my 2-1/2 years as a paper boy, I had only one “missed” delivery, so I had a pretty good record, but it probably didn’t help me much with my college applications.

Time to Go

Partway through 9th grade at Crestview Jr High, I realized that it was time to leave the paper business as North High School was approaching, and it would make more demands on my time. So, I submitted my resignation. And, in the place for a reason, my wise-guy parents suggested I put down a biblical reference: I Corinthians 13:11.  The quote is:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Sex

Like Peyton Place, no story would be complete without some sex. You would probably like to read about some flamboyant affair with a customer or wife or something, But I was 14 then and that never happened. The best story I can tell you is the Susie Scott lived on Clinton Heights and I saw her once or twice and took her out at least once. That was to go to a Teen Dance Party TV broadcast one Saturday afternoon. And yes, we did dance, so I can say this was my (our) TV debut as dancers: an event never repeated.

Epilog

isalys-logoThe Isaly family retired in the 1960s and many of the beloved stores closed with them. The delicious Klondike Bars remain, now made by Unilever. Most of the Ohio Stores closed by the 1990s, and one or two remained longer in the Pittsburgh area.

The little green substation is gone now, and that space looks to be a parking lot. Isaly’s seems to have been replaced by a Kroger and, sadly, the elegant Clinton Theater, where I saw lots of kid’s matinees has been torn down. Right now, there is just a patch of grass there.

clintontheater

In 1959, Scripps Howard merged the Ohio State Journal with the Columbus Citizen and the Citizen-Journal was published as a morning paper under a Joint Operating Agreement with the Columbus Dispatch, using the same press facilities, and some of the same back office staff. This was possible because of a recent law that was intended to save struggling papers, and did for a while. But in 1985, recognizing that evening papers were passé, the Dispatch terminated the operating agreement and the Citizen-Journal, lacking a buyer, closed. The Dispatch became the morning paper the next day.

journalimage

By the third generation, the children of the powerful Wolfe family were less interested in running the family businesses. In addition, the newspaper publishing business was no longer all that profitable and in 2015, the family sold the Columbus Dispatch to Gatehouse Media.  In 2016, the new Dispatch owners endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, although Ohio went for Trump. This was only the second time the Dispatch had endorsed a Democrat. Their other endorsement was of Woodrow Wilson.

The family patriarch John F Wolfe died in June, 2016, and The Wigwam, the Wolfe family’s hunting lodge and retreat was sold to Violet Township in 2018 by the Wolfe family at a substantial discount from its valuation, bringing to an end some of the power of the Wolfe clan. They still owned broadcast media, substantial real estate holdings and investment banking businesses, but Wolfe’s philanthropic leadership and strong opinions were no more.