Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Camera History, Part Deux

Leica IIIc
After college, I came back to Batimore, where I got my first engineering job, and where I lived for four years, until 1975.

On a day trip to NYC in late summer of 1973, I bought a Leica IIIc at Olden's, along with a Canon Seranar 50mm f/1.8 lens. With 2 or 3 rolls of Plus-X in my pocket, I was suddenly a Leica photographer, in the company of Cartier-Bresson and Eisenstadt. I had parked the car in Hoboken, and after returning there, I sneaked a shot of this gentleman reading his Daily News in the Erie-Lackawanna terminal.

Man on Bench, Erie-Lackawanna Terminal, Hoboken 1973That Leica, when I bought it, was already 33 years old, but it was a thing of beauty. Compared to my Nikon, especially with its heavy and clunky Photomic T finder, it was a featherweight, and a pleasure to carry around. For some reason, compared to an SLR, the rangefinder mechanism and all the fine knurling on the various knobs gave it a feeling of watch-like precision. It may be a guy thing, but I found myself often picking it up at odd times and playing with it - not shooting pictures, just looking through the viewfinder and rangefinder (two separate windows in the old screw-mount Leicas!) and focusing it, and dry-firing it.

L'homme sur Banc, bis - Central Park, NYC 1974The Serenar was a really excellent lens, but I had really wanted a Leica lens so as to be more "authentic." A year after buying the camera, I purchased a near-mint collapsible Summicron 50mm f/2.0. I wasn't disappointed, as this turned out the be the best lens I've ever owned prior to the digital age. Besides its amazing optical performance, it was also a better physical match for the small camera than the heavy Serenar. With the Summicron collapsed, I could slip the whole package into a coat pocket.

Here's another "Man on Bench" shot, taken in New York's Central Park, September 1974, with the Summicron. I was living in pre-Urban Redevelopment downtown Baltimore at the time, which seemed pretty boring to me, so I tried to get up to New York City a few times a year for picture opportunities.

Dog on Shoulder, Madison Avenue 1974And here's one to show that I'm not afraid to get right up close to a subject and look him in the face! Check out the classic mid-'70's painted t-shirt and slightly pre-disco hairdo. This shot taken on Madison Ave in NYC, August 1974.

Like these photos here, most of what I took with the Leica was black & white. After Roger's thorough training and several years of experience developing and printing B&W during college, I wouldn't let anyone else develop or print my negatives. During those first post-college years, my darkroom was a tiny hallway between the bathroom, bedroom, and living room in my one-bedroom apartment. There was a door to each room, so I just closed the ones to the bedroom and living room, set up a table in the hallway for my enlarger and trays, stuffed towels under the closed doors to block out stray light, and I was in business.

Just one more Leica photo for now, this one from the time after I had moved to Manhattan to work for GE....

Montmartre Steps - Rue Foyatier, Paris 1977Rue Foyatier, this oft-photographed stairs, climbs up the Butte Montmartre in Paris, ending near Sacre Couer basillica, the highest point in the city. It was a soggy, overcast day, and I wanted a somber, lonely look. I waited with my Leica IIIc and this solitary lady obliged me by starting the long climb upward. December 23, 1977.

Strangely, when I did a search on Google Images for "Rue Foyatier" back in early 2006, of all the Rue Foyateir photos in cyberspace, this was the first one!

But for some reason, doing the same search today yields no sign of my 1977 photo.
I guess that was my 15 Minutes of Fame.

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