An interesting topic, but perhaps only for us gentlemen with the distinguished tonsorial colours around our ears - personal grey scales, as it were.
I know for a fact that my interest in photography was brought into being by two factors: my attraction for the shape/design/symbolism of cameras such as Leicas and Canons that I would see advertised in the pages of American magazines during the late 40s and early 50s; the enthusiasm of my mother who had lots of books on art around the house and who would also take me to galleries when the chance presented itself.
There was an intrinsic beauty in those pre-M Leica designs that simply made me want to have one. I didnīt know squat about apertures, shutter speeds etc. only that the jewels looked so lovely. I knew somebody who had a Rolleiflex of some sort and an aunt had a Rolleicord which she allowed me to borrow for a while, long enough to convince me that a groundglass was the way to go.
The very first camera I had as my own was a Brownie Reflex TLR though a relic from an earlier age - a black Kodak box which could be turned on its side to make either v or h format images was around for a long time. Next, but first in adjustable cameras, came the Voigtlander Vito B, with 2.8/50 Color Skopar, I think. I did buy a rangefinder for it, but perhaps that was just an exercise in daftnes - zone focussing would have made more sense. But you do have to learn by experience. That camera, the Vito B, was funded by my girlfriend who became my wife - guess gratitude manifests itself in strange ways! Anyhow, I did pay her back via my pocket money...
As far as real cameras go, the first in line was an Exakta Varex IIa which I bought after much scanning of the pages of Popular Photography Annuals - it seemed to be the top dog of its day. That was followed by version 11b - God knows why - no difference I can remember today - and the lens arsenal was a 2.8/50 Tessar, a 3.5 or 4/135 Schneider Tele-Xenar and a Flektogon(?) wide which sucked. The Schneider was very pleasing. At the same time I bought a second-hand Rollei T with yet another Tessar, 3.5/75mm, which was a bit soft but worked well enough. Those two brands, Ekakta and Rollei, powered me into professional life on my own.
The shortcomings of a 75mm lens for portraiture were always apparent, but lack of money is a great creator of patience and argument for not doing really close shots. I eventually bough a Mamiya C Something with a 180 lens to fill that need.
Then came the day when I could get my first Nikon F and Hasselblad 500C! Well, not both on the same day, but probably in the same year, then, if you want to argue the point. Both Rollei and Mamiya became memories at that point.
But, the problems with hand-holding a Hasselblad soon made me realise that single-lens reflex cameras above 35mm create as many problems as they solve! Mainly, we are talking about vibration. However, to the list you have to add the fact that long lenses do need pretty fast shutter speeds if you are trying to stop human action, even when itīs standing still, posing for you. Nonetheless, to the 500C I added a 500CM. (However, the departed 180mm Mamiya optic was more pleasing for what it did than was the 150mm Sonnar for which it had been early substitute.)
Around this time, early male menopause began to rear its ugly head: I started to listen to advice from stock agents. So, off went the two Swedish squares to be replaced by a single Japanese rectangle, the Bronica 6x7 version, in fact. What a load of crap!
Reduced to a jelly of indecision, I thought that the way forward from the mess would be to invest the Bronica into more Nikon stuff, which I did, ending up with, apart from the original F, an F2 Photomic which had come into the group some time along the way as well as a Nikon FM for its 125th synch. (When the FM2 came along with 250th sec synch I got rid of the FM.) An F4s also entered my life sometime abut then.
Stock was still not making me a millionaire, despite the fact that I was with Tony Stone Worldwide (now Getty), and in yet another menopausal moment of truth I parted company with perhaps the best agency in the world and flirted with another, which had always advocated 6x7 (again - I should have known better from experience) so the obvious thing to do was to get rid of all the 35mm and buy one of the new Pentax 6x7 cameras, which I did, with 55mm and 200mm lenses. Clearly, this took me nowhere, as digital was already striking fear and loathing into both suppliers and stock outlets. Oh yes it was - millions of transparencies were never going to be replaced or/and scanned without the expenditure of real mega-bucks all round. And nobody likes money to flow in that direction.
Having decided that stock was costing me more than it was earning, I bit the bullet as well as all the fingers on my hands and sold the Pentax.
Some work was still around - should I want it - doing stuff for travel brochures, so I thought why not? I now found myself in the enviable position of being cameraless, so with all the world to choose from, I discovered that the Nikon F3 was still being produced, despite Nikonīs best efforts to hide that fact by not advertising the thing. And thatīs what I bought. Along with a 2.8/24mm which covered 99% of what the brochure market needed. I have to say, I did miss my 35mm shift a little bit, but it was too long; the 28mm shift wasnīt much wider, so the 24mm compromise seemed better. I just couldnīt make myself go Canon. It was an aesthetics thing: I detest the shape of those EOS creations: melted Mars Bars, I always think.
By this time, after many years in the battle, I came to the conclusion that being an amateur was perhaps the better option. Well, that was an idea that was helped along by a first heart attack, something which made me aware of Helmut Newtonīs decision after his: from this moment on, I only do what I WANT to do. Photographically speaking.
The F3 is still around, the 24mm having to share its box with a 50mm and 135mm. Oh, as well as a D200 which has come to replace the F3 as the thing that gets the use. Anybody coming to Mallorca is free to purchase, at a good price, out-of-date film still filling a freezer. Never throw away what you might someday be able to sell!
Would I buy back any of those old cameras?
No, not even the īblads. The memories of the jobs, the locations, the good times as well as the not so hot are in the head, not in the cameras. Would I even be a professional photographer again? I donīt really know: nothing I have done with digital has ever replaced the purely tactile experience of the old days and the old ways. I can fully understand why some younger photographers are turning to film and all it represents. But not only has the photographic world that I joined all those years ago changed beyond recognition, so have the tools. Somehow, it all lacks soul now.
Neither did I ever get to own one of those Leicas that had stirred my mind in the beginning.
Edit: Hey Soos! - where did my morning go?