My first camera was the medium format Zeiss Ikonta, given to me at age 12 because I'd received my first darkroom equipment and I could make contact prints fro these 6X6 cm. negatives. At this point I was more interested in the process than the art, though it didn't take long before I discovered Ansel Adam's series, "The Camera", The Negative" and so on and that led to looking at good images and as they say, the rest is history. I roamed the back alleys and the river valley in Edmonton and frankly didn't take any photographs worth remembering.
In high school I photographed for the yearbook and needed something a bit "sportier" and purchased a Petri 35 mm. rangefinder camera and used it throughout high school to photograph everything from dances to football - hardly ideal for the latter, but you work with what you can afford and interestingly it wasn't all that bad. Sure you could only catch the plays on your side of the field, but that would usually provide enough images for the purposes and there's something to be said for images in which the whole play can be seen.
Christmas 66 my parents purchased a Pentax SV, the last of the non through the lens metered SLR Pentaxes. It was to be a family camera, though it didn't take long for me to monopolize it.I still have the camera and it still works as well as the day I got it, though I confess it hasn't seen the light of day in a few years. Really don't want to get rid of it though. My first decent image was taken very shortly after getting the camera. Throughout university I used it with good effect to photograph rugby and gurus and politicians and students.
Somewhere around 1974 I discovered the small volume called "Zone VI Workshop", this unimpressive little book was written clearly and logically and made a lot of sense, more than Ansel's books had and certainly a lot more than Minor White's and the many followers. Fred Picker, author of this book, really emphasized the fine image and the really good print. He strongly recommended a cold light source for the enlarger and espoused the virtues of a larger negative. By this time I was aware of the work of Edward and Brett Weston and had at least an inkling of what the fine image could look like (though I'd never seen an original print and book reproduction of the day was improving but hardly great, certainly by today's standards.
About the same time, I attended a photograph appreciation course at Edmonton Art Gallery, taught by Hubert Hohn. By the end of the weekend I was muttering under my breath and getting hot under the collar - what a waste of time. Photography has never been the same since. Hubert spent an hour going over a single Stieglitz image of a porch. It was very ordinary looking at first glance, but he was able to take this much time because he could point out all the things that weren't coincidences, either arranged through camera position, or though selecting the subject in the first place. Gradually over the next six months, I started, initially against my will, to look at images through his eyes and started seeing in other images, the relationships that he had admired in Stieglitz' image. This led to searching out more fine images and was the start of a lifelong gathering of books of fine photography.
I went back to using the Zeiss Ikonta. It had a decent lens, 75 mm. and could be stopped down beyond the official marked f22 for some good near far compositions. I started to make better photographs and at last, with the help of Fred Picker, the prints showed the images to full advantage.
By now I was in my family practice residency and married and living in an almost condemned row house near the hospital. The place did have a basement, though perhaps cellar might be a more accurate term. I did however manage to build a darkroom of sorts - no running water but Kodak was selling their chemicals in "cubitainerrs", cardboard boxes with collapsible plastic bags of chemical. In hind site, I have to wonder what using an old fixer container as my water source did for my negatives, but it worked, and those negatives are still just fine thank you - so I guess it didn't do too much harm at all. The old iron claw foot bath tub upstairs became my high tech print washer.
While on holiday on Vancouver Island, I was photographing a lovely river and rapids, hopping from rock to rock as I worked on my compositional skills. At one point I didn't land quite right and fell forward rather violently, while carrying the camera on the tripod. I was quite fit (those were the days) and managed to land such that the camera didn't quite hit the ground, but the force of stopping the tripod from reaching the ground ripped the tripod socket out of the bottom of the camera and bounce, bounce, bounce later, I was without a functional camera. I wanted to keep to medium format, but SLR's were out of the question. This was in the days before ebay so getting a used camera didn't seem to be an option. I could though purchase a Yashica Mat 124G, TLR, and this became my camera of choice for several years. I really liked that square ground glass image, even if it was reversed left to right. I still have a portfolio of very nice silver prints made from this camera.
By now I was a full fledged working family doctor and Fred kept sending newsletters promoting the wonders of 4X5 and larger cameras. I was able to borrow a Crown Graphic 4X5 press camera from the local newspaper (I was living in London, Kentucky) and had a lot of fun and some success with that camera. Eventually though, Fred's marketing got to me and I was persuaded to purchase one of his 4X5 kits. This was before the days of Zone VI's own 4X5. Mine was a light weight medium brown wood and silver camera which came to be known, not affectionately, as "old shakey". It did function quite well despite it's limitations but I found my success rate went way down going from the convenient and easy to use Yashica to the dark cloth blowing in the wind, slow to set up large format camera.
I struggled with 4X5, absolutely convinced that if I was to be a serious artist (I was starting to have those sort of ideas), I had to use a "real" camera. Anything less would be letting Ansel and Fred and all the others down. Hey, I could do it!
Well, though I did have some success, over the years it was interspersed with long periods of exciting scenes that didn't produce interesting image. The last straw was when one day I went out to the farm where my wife kept her horse, bringing along my 4X5. I lugged it into the field with the horses, thinking to get a picture, realized I'd left something crucial back at the car and being a smart fellow, decided I should place the camera on the other side of the barbed wire fence, just in case the horses knocked over my tripod and camera. Upon return from the car I met one of the horses happily eating my camera, munching on the bellows which were rapidly disappearing inside the horse - I thought they were vegetarians!
I managed to sell the camera, sans bellows and discovered what I thought was the answer to all my problems, a lovely, solid, functional Toyo 45A. I had played with a Technica at one point but this seemed easier to use and didn't have that fiddley 4 point adjustment on the back and besides I could afford it. I used it once, never got round to processing the film, and it sat for almost 15 years during which time I totally abandoned photographing. I'd completely lost the spark, the drive, the interest to photograph. I'd had so many images turn out less interesting than I'd expected that it was all too much. Of course, working too hard, being stressed out and probably depressed much of the time and having a young daughter with other priorities didn't help either.
During this dry spell, I maintained my interest in the fine image, I just couldn't make one myself. I added to my book collection and thumbed through magazines. I thought about photographing again, and even took snapshots. Somewhere around 1998 I started to play with some black and white film in my "snapshot" Canon Rebel. The pictures were poor, the image quality fair, but I remembered the beauty of the large format image and so once again, I sallied forth into the world of large format photography.
I hauled out my Toyo 45A, added a 300 mm. lens to my 210 and 120 mm. and started seriously photographing the landscape. I had more successes than previously, enough to keep me photographing, though I kept finding limitations of the camera and thus started my ventures on ebay, buying a variety of cameras, trying them for a while, then selling them on and getting something else. I tried several monorails from the Toyo C (did you know you could push on the standards and they'd displace and not bounce back?). I borrowed a Linhof monorail (nice camera though heavier than my wooden tripod and thus top heavy and a bit awkward for hopping from rock to rock across a river. I found that as one tightened the tilt adjustments, it would twist the back out of alignment - had anyone at the factory actually used a camera? At one point, out of desperation for a good camera, I dropped $2000 for a brand new Wisner Traditional. Sure was a pretty camera.
My very first outing with the Wisner, I set up next to the car, camera on tripod, lens on camera, on with the backpack and over the shoulder went the tripod. In a spilt second that took an inevitable lifetime, the front standard proceeded to shoot forward on the base and come right off the camera (didn't know it could do that). The lens headed rapidly for the ground, the bellows looking like some sort of slinky toy as they were dragged behind the weight of the lens. As if that wasn't enough, the back standard decided to join the front one and it too shot off the base and the whole kit headed for the paved road surface, from a height of about 6 feet (after all, It had been swung over my shoulder). A tenth of a second later I had a pile of kindling, and oddly a lens that wasn't damaged. One thing about wooden cameras though, you can glue them back together. The camera was almost as good as new after that, though I never felt it was a very precise camera, nothing quite lining up square. I didn't think this was from the fall, so I was back looking for a different camera.
I started dabbling with medium format again. Somewhere I read about the Mamiya press 6X9 cm. camera - and purchased one, then some lenses for it, and realized two things - I absolutely hated rangefinder type viewfinders with their innacurate edges. By this time, composition had become extremely important to me and knowing exactly where the edges of the image would be was critical. Second, by the time I had the camera and backs and lenses, the damn thing weighed as much as my 4X5 equipment. Still, I did get one lovely image with it which graced the back cover of Lenswork # 57, so I shouldn't be too critical. Via ebay, I tried out a Bronica SQ-A - lovely camera that I only sold because I still had my 4X5 equipment and couldn't really afford both systems - I have regretted doing so ever since. Later on I did sell the 4X5 equipment and got a Hasselblad, but kept finding near far compositions that depth of field wouldn't take care of. Back to 4X5 and round and round things went.
I should point out that in fact I had a hell of a lot of fun playing with all these camera systems and having discovered that via ebay I could swap fairly inexpensively, I didn't feel badly that I was spending more time playing with cameras than actually photographing. I purchased a few Technica cameras along the way, almost but not quite right. Somewhere I discovered the Color Kardan camera. This was a Linhof foray into a cross between a full fledged monorail and the technical camera Technica. It had a two section monorail which meant it could be carried relatively compactly. The rail was huge and absolutely rigid, even in it's two parts. the front standard was the same as the technica, simply adapted to the monorail. it was the equivalent to a Technica V, with the pump up front rise. the bellows were unique. They had two really large pleats at the front, with the regular small pleats for the rest of the bellows, giving a darn good compromise between regular and bag bellows and certainly enough for my kind of photography. The back looked more like a piece of modern sculpture than camera, with it's sweeping curves and huge knobs. It still had the four knob back tilt adjustment, but it had back rise.
Now, you often read that a drop for the lens or rise for the back isn't really needed, but somehow I often found myself at the top of a ridge, photographing into a valley and if you want those trees vertical, a back rise is just ideal, and on this camera, darn handy. I discovered the BTZS dark "bag" which was a lot more functional than a loose cloth. It stayed on the back of the camera permanently, thanks to a couple of electrical clips glued to the shell of the camera back. The dark "bag" nicely wrapped round the camera on the short section of rail to fit perfectly in my back pack. The longer part of rail stayed on the tripod as I hiked. This camera turned out to be the most successful of all my 4X5 cameras and I used it with some success for a couple of years before being seduced into the world of digital.