Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Ultimate Photographic Machine (or only cool guys use a Rolleiflex)

The first rule of Rolleiflex club is you don't talk about Rolleiflex club
This post is inspired by the recent road to Damascus conversion of a certain Mr Micheal Reichmann of the Luminous Landscape fame who recently purchased a Rolleiflex in order to 'rediscover his craft'.
In an earlier essay on the LL a guest writer elucidated:

"While I was browsing Flickr and searching for some inspiration for my next portrait assignment, I came across some beautiful medium format portraits taken by excellent photographers using Hasselblad and Rolleiflex cameras. I was really impressed by the characteristics of those pictures: nicely balanced composition in square format, beautiful black and white (B&W) tones, shallow depth of focus and “mind blowing” micro-contrast details. As a digital shooter and owner of a Canon 5D mark2, it was something new to me that I have not seen before. Needless to say, I fell immediately love with medium format photography and I wanted to have a medium format camera to take pictures with similar characteristics".

Praise indeed! Especially from a writer on Mr Reichmann's LL blog which is not normally noted for espousing the advantages of film photography over full frame digital SLRs

My experience with Rolleiflex cameras goes back a few decades to the 1980's when I found myself training as a wedding operative.
The cameras have many great features and only a few drawbacks, the most obvious of which are the lack of truly close focus, the lack of interchangeable lenses and the laterally inverse (mirror) image on the focussing screen.
Rolleinar 1 on a Rolleiflex T
The close focus can be somewhat ameliorated by the use of the Rolleinar close-up lenses which come in three (1, 2 and 3) strengths number three being the strongest; they can also be stacked and give surprisingly good results. I would say the Rolleinar is the must have accessory for the flex along side a lens hood.

As a young man I found using the Rolleiflex both inspirational and slightly frustrating, the top wedding guys all had Hasselblads and that was the camera I aspired to. It was only when I started using the 'Blad I started to appreciate the quiet handling and unobtrusive manner of the Rolleiflex, and in practical use interchangeable backs and lenses really didn't prove such a great advantage.

Perceived advantages
So what  is the reason I preferred the Rollei to all other medium format cameras I've owned? 
Top of the list is the way it handles, and from the waist and almost goes unnoticed during portrait shoots; you maintain eye contact whilst still being able to frame the subject–in other words there isn't a camera plastered in front of your face so the subject has a more relaxed less intrusive sitting.

Easier for Selfies? Would this be better with an SLR stuck to his face?
Did I mention it was whisper quiet in operation? No mirror slap or shutter clop just a smooth sounding schtick that makes medium format SLR cameras seem clunky in comparison.

The build quality is exemplary; photographers from the modern era that hold one find the solid feel and positive operation even after fifty years of use are often extremely impressed–these are not consumer electronics with built in obsolescence; the Rolleiflex is a well engineered machine build to last a lifetime.

Optical quality is also impressive, Zeiss and Schneider are two of the best lens producers in the world Tessar, Planar an Xenotar types are as good as it gets optically, and have drawn many iconic images over the years.

The master at work
Those images were created by an astonishing list of photographers, far too many to list although a personal favourite being David Bailey (pictured above) who said recently "If I had to use just one camera it would be a Rolleiflex"

Not all of us have the skill of Bailey, Avedon and Arbus or even Mr Reichmann but few will deny that quality tools are great to have and use–even if we don't aspire to being as cool as this guy:

How many digicam users look this cool?
Quality never goes out of style, and life would be too short not to have owned a Rolleiflex. Or possibly you might be one of the many 'tonally starved' DSLR shooters like the one in the LL blog who would like to see 'mind blowing micro contrast and tones like you've never seen before' there is one thing for sure people will be creating wonderful images with them in the future just as they did in the past.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Yasushi Tanaka's studio 1960

Robert Short with Louise Gebhard Cann 
These images are of Yasushi Tanaka's studio in Paris circa 1960. Tanaka was a Japanese artist who lived in Paris from the early 1920's until his death in April 1941 at the age of 54.
These  photographs were given to me by Robert Short who is the young man in the images.
The older lady is Tanaka's widow Louise Gebhard Cann, an author Tanaka met in Seattle and married in 1917.
Louise Gebhard Cann with a bust of Gauguin in the backgound
The studio was situated at 70 bis, rue Notre Dame des Champs and had previously been the home of Ezra Pound; the table in the next photograph was made by him!

View from the Mezzanine showing typical Paris studio living space
Robert Short and Mrs Tanaka

I find these images fascinating, no only do they show pictures of a family member in 1960 they also show a time that has since gone. These photographs were found in Mr Short's attic stored for 30+ years in an Ilford Print box–I wonder how many digital images will be so easily rediscovered in years to come.