I have been a photographer for about forty years (next year is actually my 40th anniversary working for TIME Magazine, as a wide eyed intern) and I have seen a lot of changes in the world of photography, and the technology which surrounds it. There is no question that the last ten years has brought changes to our world that no one could have foreseen (well, perhaps Victor Appleton, the author of the well known Tom Swift science adventure books for the 30s-50s.) The advent of digital photography - you know, where there is Noise, but no Grain in the pictures, has sped up the flow of imagery, and been responsible, I think for some very negative changes accompanying the positive ones. The real down side has been the purchase of speed at the expense of a number of other indices of journalism: thoughtfulness, reflection, pondering, kicking ideas around. In so many realms of journalism, and photoJ above all, there simply isn't time for such niceties. Amongst my newspaper, wire, and now even magazine (make that web) colleagues, speed to publication is the ultimate demand. In the 60s the Associated Press (".. the AP!...) used to say "a deadline every minute.." That was true, if there wasn't one in Istanbul or Perth, there very well could have been in Vancouver, Bogotá, or Niamey. Now, it really IS a deadline every minute. In fact, the events each make their own deadlines: as soon as they are over, bang! Deadline.
So, it was with a good bit of historical levity, and appreciation that I opened a box this week -- another eBay purchase. I'd heard there was a military collector in New Jersey who landed a set of 200 World War 2 recon cameras: the K-24, a beauty which used a big (5.5") roll of film, my favorite old/new lens, the 7" Aero Ektar (it would have been silly for them to call it the Airo Ektar, right?), and an electric motor which would take 3 frames a second while dodging German flack. [The Germans made a great version.. the LuftCamer which no doubt was dodging Allied Flack). The cameras were selling for about $200, and I couldn't resist, having been the "inventor" of the Burnett Combo (the Speed Graphic and Aero Ektar lens). I didn't really invent if of course, but I think I am the first guy to have a cover of TIME magazine with it. I came late to the 4x5" press camera world. It flourished in the 30s through the 50s, when it was finally overtaken by 35mm. But as I discovered in the past few years, there is a charm to shooting SLOW, and knowing you only really have ONE chance to get a picture. It changes your attitude, big time. You become quite good at Mulling. At considering. At pondering. You want to get it on that first frame. And as part of that change in point of view, I wanted another MINT, clean, ready to go Aero Ektar lens, and figured this camera was the key to it. I ordered the camera, and it arrived earlier this week; as I opened the outer box, it was if Jumanji was arriving in the studio. There, stenciled onto the side of the original box was the info about the birth of this camera. In that great military-speak: 1 Camera,Aircraft type (they are NOT kidding about that!) with 7" lens.
"The Jumanji box arrives..."
Serial number 168459 lens number EE830. There is a code for military/1940s stuff to keep track of dates: CAMEROSITY: those letters correspond to 1234567890 so... EE is 44 = 1944.
In all its Beauty, and, yes, Weight!
I was disappointed not to get a 1945 model, but I suspect most of the later ones are already gone. This lot of cameras had been sent to an east coast depot, thence to go to Europe. Then the war ended, and they remained for sixty years in storage. Opening the box was a treat . A LOT of corrogated cardboard, and underneath, a barely liftable olive drab behemoth. The K-24 in all its glory.
"Don't drop this on your foot!"
The 'stuff' is all there (interfaces, cables etc etc) , and of course I was being given a little message: The 3 lock screws holding the lens on won't move ( I need a machinist, I think, to liberate lens from body) .. but the joy of trying to hold the damn thing really made me feel like my hands were touching a part of history.
I am a history buff I suppose. I have visited Normandy a number of times over the last 35 years, still enthralled with D-Day, the men who made it happen, and the living history which still surrounds those beaches. Who else do you know who has on his itunes Gen. Eisenhower's broadcast to the people of Western Europe the day of the landings? So you get the idea. But more than anything, to hold a piece of amazing industrial engineering like that which the K-24 package represents, is like holding a history in your hands. We photographers like to think that we are collecting and writing the First Draft of History for the rest of the world. But now and then, the latter drafts of history have their own amazing ways of speaking. In holding that K-24 I think I was touching a draft that I'd previously been searching for a little too hard to actually see it. We're just sayin... David