Monday, September 24, 2007

Whys of the View Camera

Last week at Behind the Lens blog, George Barr posted an article , titled "Is the View Camera Dead ?" I responded to his post and he asked if I would write a piece on what the view camera does for me, here is my response:

I have been shooting pictures with various cameras of one format or another since I was teenager, I started my first newspaper job at the Goldstream Gazette on Vancouver island where I grew up when I was 18 years old, in those days I was using a 35mm Nikon F and later F2's cameras. For the past 24 years I have been employed by the Kelowna Daily Courier in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley , these day I shoot all digital with the Nikon D2Hs which I love using. I have always enjoyed taking pictures on my time off for my own personal work, and in the early years of my career I shot Kodachrome with my Nikons. My interest in view cameras started more than 30 years years ago when I bought an old view camera at an antique shop in Victoria, B.C. it was rickety old contraption on its spindly tripod with a draw string shutter along with wooden film holders that leaked light like sieve, I didn't use it all that much, but I did get the film holders sealed and cut down some 5 x 7 film and made a few exposures just to see what the pictures looked like, I eventually sold it but kept the lens. Its wasn't till about 8 years later around 1985 when I walked into my local camera store in Kelowna, B.C. and spied this beautiful wooden modern day view camera on display , the camera was a Tachihara 4 x 5 wood field camera ( I now have a newer version ) it came with a 150mm Schneider lens, so I ended up buying the camera, little did I know at the time what I had got myself into.

I soon discovered that the view camera was heavy and bulky, ( especially with film holders and tripod to carry ) also the lens had no real depth of field. I quietly put the camera away for a year or so. A year later I decided to tackle the camera once again , I traded in the 150mm lens that came with the camera for a 120 mm lens which was more like a 35mm lens on a 35mm film camera, one of my favourite all time lenses . I persevered and became comfortable with using the view camera and learned how to process black and white sheet film plus learned the zone system. By 1990 or so, I was fully immersed and had felt I could produce images with confidence with my big box camera.

More than twenty years later my artistic vision has matured and feel comfortable with my technical technique in order to produce pictures from the view camera. When I am out photographing with my camera along a hiking trail for example, I can get some pretty strange looks from people who may have never seen such a camera, most people are curious and think its really old and some people like to know why I use such a camera, if I had to give a short answer I would have to say because I really enjoy using it and its a lot fun. I find that the camera helps me to slow down and think more about the picture at hand, that is not to say that I have lost picture possibilities here and there due to the fact that I did not get the camera set up in time, being on a tripod and all but I am not at all concerned because at the end of the day I always seem to come up with photographs that I am happy with. When I am out in some of the beautiful national and provincial parks in Western Canada I like to take the time to contemplate my surrounds between taking pictures, and quite often but not always, I have found other picture possibilities in the very area where I am set up. I also like the 8 x 10 frame format, I like the extra depth I get from my horizontal landscape images and I like to frame my subjects full frame with little or no cropping in the final print. My view cameras are challenging but rewarding to use and have given me years of enjoyment which has resulted in many fine photographs, which can be seen at my website

The above picture was taken by my friend, documentary photographer, Wendell Phillips while hiking in Canada's Glacier National Park a few years ago.


ilachina said...

The web and blogging at its best! A wonderful, thoughtful essay on the artistic path of a great artist, for all to enjoy. Just a superb piece. I can well resonate with your view that "camera helps me to slow down". Though I never used a view camera (indeed, a photographer friend of mine who *does* is likely to talk me into doing precisely that), I often lament the "old" days (even with my film 35 mm), when everything was "slower". I would not go so far as to say that something deep has been lost in the modern world of instant digital review (though something clearly has), but speaking as a devout practitioner of (and convert to) the "digital" version of photography, I find I must discipline myself to always "slow down" when behind the camera. I never had to do that with film.

Thanks again for that lovely post. It is a pleasure reading about other artist's life's trajectories, and what their own trajectories have taught them.

Chuck Kimmerle said...

Strange camera...where does the memory card go?

Gary Nylander said...

Maybe some day someone will come up with an affordable digital view camera with a memory slot, a big one that is !