Sunday, May 30, 2010

Purma Cameras - Raymond Loewy?

Purma Special Camera. Photograph by Tim IrvingThe Purma Special

There have been a handful of great designers who have put their names to cameras. Of all the designers that I wish had designed a camera, Raymond Loewy the father of American industrial design (he was actually French), would be at the top of my list. He did in fact design a consumer camera for Ansco, which although nice, doesn't have the style of, say, his $100, 000 pencil sharpener.

Raymond Loewy's name has always added value to a product, sometimes his name was used by advertisers without him knowing. The newspaper advert below states "Beautiful streamlined design by Raymond Loewy". I wish it were true but it's a myth dreamed up to sell a product.

Purma Camera Advert.The art deco design is by two Englishmen. That wonderful shape was created by the brilliant poster artist Tom Purves. The job of making it work was cleverly done by Alfred Croger Mayo. And, if I may say so, Raymond Loewy couldn't have done it better. The name PURMA comes from the founders names, PURves and MAyo.

Let me introduce you to the Purma Special!

The Purma is the work of great minds. The modernist design wouldn't have looked out of place in Fritz Langs Metropolis. It's made of black bakelite, that's grooved like a 78rpm disc. The lever to cock the shutter and the indent for the shutter button have the same profiles as 1930's airliners, in fact the shape of the body is borrowed from a pair of wings.

There is no design compromise on this camera, knobs and buttons would have ruined those modernist lines and a lens is un-thinkable. So all the controls are either blended in, or like the shutter, recessed. The most troublesome bit, the lens is hidden (except for when you need to take a photograph) behind a discreet bakelite lens cap. On removing the cap, the lens telescopes out.
Purma Special. Photograph by Tim IrvingThe shutter was the brainchild (it's patented), of Alfred Croger Mayo, it is ingenious if odd. The shutter speed control, which selects the three speeds (slow, medium and fast), is invisible. To change speed, you turn the camera clockwise to the vertical position for fast, turn it 180 degrees for medium and tun it horizontal for slow (it helps if you're a bendy cartoon character). Somewhere inside the camera gravity does it's job and the speeds do indeed change, you can hear a metallic noise! There is no visible indication, you have to have faith. Because the photos are square, it makes no difference if the camera is held vertical or horizontal, clever eh!
Back of Purma Special. Photograph by Tim IrvingAperture and focusing are fixed, no worries there.

All this design, but what do the photos look like? Well I have to be honest and tell you that I haven't used my Purma to take a photo, but I will one day. The 127 film is readily available, in the UK you can buy it from AG Photographic and in the US from The Frugal Photographer. There's an active user group on Flickr, some of whom make stunning photographs with the old Purma.

I'm sorry Mister Loewy didn't have a hand in the design of this camera. If you want one of his original designs, he did design the Lucky Strike logo which is still available and affordable, but sadly not this camera.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper,actor, photographer and icon, dies at 74

Paul Newman by Dennis HopperPaul Newman by Dennis Hopper

That rogue talent Dennis Hopper has died aged 74. Famous for Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet, but I'll remember him fondly as a thoughtful photographer.

Friday, May 28, 2010

From the sublime to the ridiculous

How does one follow the Fab Four?
Tomorrow night is the Eurovision Song Contest, live from Oslo, Norway (how can I get this blog back onto photography?). It's a time when the Europeans enter a period of weirdness.

It's been on the TV, every year since 1956 and I believe that a lot of Europeans do take the contest very seriously. You hear of tactical block voting where countries vote only to express their opinion on another country's foreign policy. An example would be Bosnia & Herzegovina giving the Serbian song "Nil Poi", and visa versa.

The United Kingdom doesn't have a strong record in the event despite trying hard to win. This is probably due to the fact that we've ruffled a few European feathers over the years by going to war with most of the other countries taking part. But the Eurovision Song Contest is still a big event for us because we celebrate the campness of the contest and pretend not to take it seriously. The host in the UK (anchorman), is the very funny and camp Graham Norton who before last years event in Moscow said "I can't wait to get to Moscow. With a combination of cheap vodka and a language barrier what could possibly go wrong?".

The build up started weeks ago when the song was chosen and since then we've been drip fed with Eurovision news and re-runs on a regular basis. Tomorrow night pubs throughout the UK will broadcast the contest on large screens, people will dress up, place bets and get drunk.

So for everyone who has never seen the event, the video below is an example of what you've missed. This is Sir Cliff Richard (yes he was knighted), performing the UK's 1973 entry in the contest, he came second!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The photograph I wish I'd taken

Early Beatles. Photographer UnknownYes, I wish I had taken this photograph. I was about 18 miles away at the time, I expect I was watching Elsie Tanner in black and white, eating cheap sweets, drinking sweet tea. I used to make the journey and cross the Mersey on a regular basis, I cycled once and crossed on the ferry but I had no inkling that these lads were doing anything interesting.

The man with the glass of milk stout, where is he now? And who took this mystery photo?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ilford Advocate Camera

Ilford Advocate. Photograph by Tim IrvingMy 1949 Ilford Advocate

I called in at the Redbridge Museum today and what did I see but an Ilford Avocate camera. I'm pleased this camera has attained museum status because I personally think it's one of the most beautiful cameras ever made.

Ilford, if you don't know is in Essex but it's also a Borough of London. The photographic company took it's name from the borough, then they moved to Cheshire. The Advocate was made for Ilford by a precision engineering company, Kennedy Instruments.

The quality of these cameras is second to none. The body is cast silicon alloy and finished in beautiful ivory enamel. I can't be sure but the bright metalwork looks like nickel silver. All the internals are machined and the lens is a stunning 35mm Dalmeyer, that produces wonderful contrasty images.

Seeing the camera in a museum has shamed me into using it. I've loaded my Advocate with film for my trip to Newmarket later this week. I'm off to photograph race horses being exercised, another early start. I'll add some images from the Advocate soon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Justine Reyes - Still Life Photographs

Photograph by Justine ReyesStill life with banana, purse and change by Justine Reyes

I've always had a thing for Dutch and Flemish still lifes and who wouldn't! The lighting, the detail and the philosophical meanings. These are paintings that can keep me occupied for hours. In fact, we used to have a large reproduction of a Dutch flower painting on the inside of our toilet door for many years. And now I'm fortunate enough to live within a few miles of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which houses my favourite collection of Dutch and Flemish still lifes and flower paintings.

The taking of a still life photograph is a difficult task to do, without bumping into cliches. And to actually find a beautiful still life photograph is very rare indeed. The photographs below are by Justine Reyes who has produced some glorious images and created a collection she calls "Vanitas".

But there's more to this artist than still lifes, she has many strings to her bow and I recommend you have a good look around her web site, I loved the "Home, away from home" series, go and see for yourselves.

Photograph by Justine ReyesStill life with cup and melon

Photograph by Justine ReyesStill life with still life book and figs

Photograph by Justine ReyesStill life with tea set, picture frame and cake

Photograph by Justine ReyesStill life with chicken game and flowers

Photograph by Justine ReyesStill life with buttons and rind

Photograph by Justine ReyesStill life with pomegranate and birds

Monday, May 24, 2010

The unique sound of the Seagull

Seagull Camera. Photograph by Tim IrvingSeagull 35mm Camera

I'm fortunate enough to have visited many countries in my life and unless I had a specific photograph to capture, I've usually chosen to travel without a camera. I always thought, and still do, that if I wanted a picture I could buy a disposable camera or, and this is more exciting and part of the travel experience, I could find a pawnbroker and buy something interesting (or I could just send a postcard to myself).

It was a pawnbroker in Kerala, southern India who supplied me with my Seagull camera on Christmas Eve 1998. The man who owned the shop was a good salesman, he told me that this was a serious camera and it's previous owner was an Australian who traded the camera for a shruti box. I remember feeling a little cheated at the time because a shruti box was high on my 'must buy in Inda' list!

Having flown with the Seagull I feel I owe a debt to the Australian who now owns the shruti box, because the Seagull is a beaut! The Seagull was made in Shanghai, China, many moons ago. It weighs 3 grams short of a kilo, made of chromed brass, steel, leather and glass, and I believe it would survive a nuclear attack. Add a suitable strap and you feel tooled up, this camera can be used to fend off villians and thieves.

It was inspired by an early Minolta camera, it's very simple to use and produces wonderful images. Wear the Seagull around your neck and you're back in the 1960's. It doesn't have an exposure meter, you have to use a hand-held device, or guess. I've always used the guess method to get the exposures and I've rarely been disapointed but there are still accurate instructions inside most film boxes, either way you'll get a picture.

The lens is perfectly sharp and contrasty. the bonus is the depth of field preview lever that's just in the right place to easily check the blur as you compose. Finally, the Seagull has a reasuring ring (like a bell), that resonates after the shutter has been fired.

Indian albul. Photograph by Tim IrvingAn album of my Seagull photographs

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stonehenge photographs

Stonehenge. Photograph by Tim IrvingStonehenge at dawn - Tim Irving

I occasionally feel sorry for digital photographers. The instant gratification they get from seeing the image on the screen is a poor substitute for the excitement I feel when I'm waiting for my film to be developed. It's a feeling similar to the build up to Christmas when I was 9.

I had to wait 5 days before I received the negatives and CD from Genie Imaging, with some of my Stonehenge images. These are from a big 6x7 camera that I lugged around the megalithic site in Wiltshire, England.

The camera produces 10 negatives and on first impressions I scored 7 out of 10, which is very respectable. The image above is my favourite at the moment - it's the first print I've worked on by using a palette toner on the print, I like the results.

There's another negative with a big black bird flying across the scene. Trouble is, the bird isn't where I'd want it, and it doesn't look like a bird. I'll keep looking at it and see if it improves with viewing.

I also took 20 exposures on a 35mm camera. I'll finish that film off next week and look forward to experiencing another build up to my young pre-Christmas feelings!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Photography without a Camera

The images below are from Rita Soromenho, an artist based in London. Rita uses found images, or in this case cameraless images to create her work.

Rita calls these creations "Scannograms" (made with a scanner, duh), and the scannograms you see here were the result of walks through the city's back gardens and wastelands picking flowers on the way.

You can see more of her work on her web site including a lovely series of scannograms from her families collection of old lace.

Rita SoromenhoFirst Walk - Rita Soromenho

Rita SoromenhoStamford Hill Walk - Rita Soromenho

Rita SoromenhoLea Bank Walk - Rita Soromenho

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Christopher Orr Exhibition at Artsway

Christopher Orr, The Thin Air, 2009. Photograph: Artsway gallery

I do like small pieces of art. Daguerrotypes, contact prints, tiny objects and miniature paintings engage me and seem to invite me in for closer inspection.

Which brings me to Christopher Orr, who's work is romantic and can sometimes incorporate huge landscapes. Yet most of his paintings are no bigger than my hand. The works refer to Turner, and the French Rococo painter Fragonard. They appear to be dream like scenes painted loose and lush with skies of turquoise and gold, they're very much to my liking.

You can see these painting until June the 20th at Artsway Gallery, Hampshire.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Zeiss middle class cameras

I saw this advert in a London newspaper, the text says "You never actually own a Patek Phillipe, you merely look after it for the next generation". I don't live in that world, but it got me wondering whether I actually own my Casio, I think I do.

In my world I own and use a dozen or more cameras that belonged to people from a previous generation, cameras of the 50's and 60's. Of these cameras some were cheap and were used for annual holidays and special occasions. While others were luxury items, not professional quality, but sold to the middle classes. And of these middle class cameras, Zeiss Ikon was the undisputed king.

Zeiss Contina 1. Photograph by Tim IrvingZeiss Contina 1

From the mid 1950's onwards manufacturers like Zeiss were continually up-dating models and building them to the very highest standard. These are heavy metal cameras, finished with the deepest chrome. The leaf shutters, precise and accurate like Patek Phillipe watches, or my Casio, and not forgetting those wonderful lenses.

Oddly, I've used a range of Zeiss middle class cameras for years and I've never thought they were particularly attractive, until now! Now I think they are very handsome, stylish even. I realise now that that like good music or good art, the design of these cameras takes time to appreciate.

Bicycle, Cambridge. Photograph by Tim IrvingA Cambridge Street - Taken using a Zeiss middle class camera

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Art of Miroslav Tichy

Miroslav Tichy with handmade cameraMiroslav Tichy with one of his homemade cameras

I first saw the photographs of Miroslav Tichy at the Centre Georges Pompidou, in 2008. Seeing the photographs in their handmade paper frames was like discovering a missing link for me. I won't spell out what I feel about these photographs, you either get it, or you don't.

After studying at the Academy of Arts in Prague, Miroslav Tichý (born 1926) withdrew to a life in isolation in his hometown of Kyjov, Moravia, Czech Republic In the late 1950s he quit painting and became a distinctive Diogenes-like figure. From the end of the 1960s he began to take photographs mainly of local women, in part with cameras he made by hand. He later mounted them on hand-made frames, added finishing touches in pencil, and thus moved them from photography in the direction of drawing. The result is works of strikingly unusual formal qualities, which disregard the rules of conventional photography. They constitute a large oeuvre of poetic, dreamlike views of feminine beauty in a small town under the Czechoslovak Communist régime.

Miroslav Tichy Miroslav Tichý, MT inv. no 3 - 8 - 35, by courtesy of Foundation Tichý Oceàn

Miroslav Tichy Miroslav Tichý, MT inv. no 3 - 8 - 23, by courtesy of Foundation Tichý Oceàn

Miroslav Tichy Miroslav Tichý, MT inv. no 3 - 8 - 22, by courtesy of Foundation Tichý Oceàn

Miroslav Tichy Miroslav Tichý, MT inv. no 2 - 250, by courtesy of Foundation Tichý Oceàn

Miroslav Tichy Miroslav Tichý, MT inv. no 1 - 17, by courtesy of Foundation Tichý Oceàn

Miroslav Tichy Miroslav Tichý, MT inv. no 1 - 32, by courtesy of Foundation Tichý Oceàn

Miroslav Tichy Miroslav Tichý, MT inv. no 2 - 232, by courtesy of Foundation Tichý Oceàn

You can visit the
Miroslav Tichy website here

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tate Modern's Exposed Exhibition

Exposed. Tate ModernAs art galleries morph into theme parks, big shows are no longer enough to keep the turnstiles spinning. To attract more tourists with time to kill and extract the maximum amount of profit per head, galleries are now holding exhibitions that don't actually make sense.

The Tate Modern in London is holding one such event between 28 May and 3 October this year called "Exposed" - They say:

"A fascinating look at pictures made on the sly, without the explicit permission of the people depicted. With photographs from the late nineteenth century to present day, the pictures present a shocking, illuminating and witty perspective on iconic and taboo subjects. "

Having looked at the preview it looks like old news and paparazzi photographs, there's nothing to get excited about here. The Tate must be running out of ideas to get us to hand over a tenner.

Buttercups and Mono

Buttercup Hill. Photograph by Tim IrvingButtercup Hill

I've just driven back from Stansted airport, from Essex through Cambridgeshire and into Suffolk. The landscape is awash with colour, and it's pretty tempting. There's acres of yellow rape fields, dark stormy skies of grey and purple. The foliage of the trees cover the gamut between hot purple to cool silver. It's all there for the taking but I can't bring myself to do it. You can get drunk on these colours, so it's best to calm down and use monochrome for the time being.

Later this week I have to photograph a bluebell wood near the former home of George Bernard Shaw. How will I get around the problem of colour and still get paid!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ash Ra Tempel

I'm filling in the gaps of my music collection, or at least my collection of 70's German bands. The albums I'm buying at the moment are from Ash Ra Tempel, one of the best kept secrets of the era. Let me know if you like it?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Peter Van Stralen

Photograph by Peter Van StralenI'm very happy to have discovered Peter Van Stralen. Visit the web site here.

Cameras to avoid - Number 1, the Cosmic 35

Cosmic 35 camera. Photograph by Tim IrvingThe Cosmic 35, and it's alias the Smena should be avoided at all costs.
Sadly I've never taken my own advice, and lured by the cheap prices I've owned several of these beasts. You see - they used to be sold cheaply via large adverts in weekend newspapers, they must have sold in big numbers, but isn't it strange that during the 70's and 80's you never saw them being used!

Book article on Cosmic 35Cosmic 35 used for glamour photography

When you see them for sale at the same price as a regular latte they do look to be a bargain, but in fact they're a total waste of time and money and you'd be better off with a latte.

The first one I bought wouldn't re-wind the film. The second wouldn't count the exposures. The third one, the film advance jammed up on the first film.

Cosmic 35 camera. Photograph by Tim IrvingWhen they work, they're hard work. The aperture ring is deep inside the lens, almost touching the front element and it's a nightmare to adjust. Whilst it's possible to get your fingers inside the lens to turn the aperture ring, it's impossible to see the apertures at the same time!

The only positive point I can make for the Cosmic 35 is that it has a damn good viewfinder. You've been warned.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Seduced by a bacon roll

It's been a beautiful day here. I was in North London this morning, Hornsey to be exact - on a little business. The company I went to see was in a small trading estate which was shared with half a dozen other companies, which in turn leased off spare space to smaller companies (London is very crowded).

I spotted "Chicken Time" (which seems to serve everythng but chickens), wedged into a delivery yard of a builders merchant. In my 8 year abscence from the UK, burger vans and fast food seem to have grown more than any other small business! The promise I made to myself last week of one fried breakfast a week was temporarily forgotten and I was seduced by a bacon and egg roll. I couldn't fault the roll and I award Chicken Time 5/5 for the food. Sadly they lost points over the tea which suffered from anaemia and only received 2 points, one for being hot and one for being wet.

The diet starts again tomorrow. Not easy for someone who enjoys their food to the degree that I do!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

W. Eugene Smith - The Jazz Loft Project

W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965Round Midnight ... W Eugene Smith captures Thelonious Monk and his Town Hall band in rehearsal, 1959. Photograph courtesy of the W Eugene Smith archive at the Centre for Creative Photography, University of Arizona/Heirs of W Eugene Smith.

In 1957, Eugene Smith, a thirty-eight-year-old magazine photographer, walked out of his comfortable settled world—his longtime well-paying job at Life and the home he shared with his wife and four children in Croton-on-Hudson, New York—to move into a dilapidated, five-story loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue (between Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth streets) in New York City’s wholesale flower district. Smith was trying to complete the most ambitious project of his life, a massive photo-essay on the city of Pittsburgh. Read more.....


The fence around Stonehenge. Photograph by Tim IrvingStonehenge

The UK has a new coalition government for the first time since the Second World War.
Last night was the coldest May night in 60 years. I had a few whiskies and went to bed at midnight. The alarm sound became part of a dream before I jumped out of bed. I made a cup of tea and was on the road by 3.30am this frosty morning to photograph Stonehenge.

I drove towards London, then around the M25 past Heathrow airport and on to the M3 towards Salisbury, the roads were empty except for the occasional lorries. Wiltshire is UFO country but I didn't see any, more's the pity. When I arrived at Stonehenge at 6am it was just getting light, it was clear, very cold and exhilarating!

For some reason the car park is cordoned off over night but I found a track within a few hundred yards of Stonehenge to park the car. I got my cameras ready for action and stalked the perimeter before the sun rose too high.

I can tell you that at dawn and only sharing it with sheep and 2 security men, this place and the lack of sleep gave me a buzz. The silence and stillness was amazing and I felt quite privileged to have this beautiful landscape and ultra-historic monument (almost) to myself. I wandered around for an hour until the light became flat and took 3 rolls of film, which are being developed and scanned as I write this. The photographs here were grabbed on a compact digital camera whose battery lasted less than 10 minutes in the close to freezing temperatures.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I Bought a Book

Time Life Books. Photograph by Tim IrvingThe older I get the less I want!
I'm an avid reader but I prefer to dispose of books once I read them. There are a few books that
I keep which continue to give me pleasure and the Time Life series of photography books are some of them. I bought my first Time Life book, mail order from a newpaper ad in the early 1970's, I think they were £10 each, which was expensive at the time. I signed up to receive the full set of 12 books, but I must have cancelled because I only received the first one, "The Camera".

Yesterday (40 years later), in a bookshop in Wales, I was thrilled to find "The Art Of Photography" from the same series. It cost me £2, a saving of £8 on the 1970's price and powerful proof that all good things come to those who wait. In truth I could have bought this book anytime had I wanted to, in fact you can buy the full set of 12 from Ebay for less than £10, but I prefer to hunt them out on my travels, and collect them individually, it's a slow way of doing things but it's part of a chain of events that started over 40 years ago.

These books are so cheap and plentiful that I'm tempted to say "just buy one and check it out", but I won't. For me the Time Life books are the finest series of photo books ever published. The quality of printing could be better, but for the price of a cup of coffee they have given me access to the most amazing photographs ever made and inspired me to be a photographer.

I'm still excited by my new book. I had a quick flick through it last night and like the other books in the series it contains a wealth of brilliant images that still knock my socks off, like the one below by Diane Arbus. So much more stimulating than a photography magazine.......

Photograph by Diane Arbus

Friday, May 7, 2010

The most underpriced camera

Penitent. Photograph by Tim IrvingPenitent - taken using a Canon 110ED 20. Photograph by Tim Irving

Speculating on what's the most overpriced camera got me thinking about what the reverse would be, the most underpriced camera. I don't mean new cameras, I'm thinking of older cameras that once cost a small fortune and now can be picked up for pennies, or a little more.

In truth, all my cameras are cheapos. I can't remember the last time I bought new and because I use film I'd be limited to a handfull of brands if I did decide to splash out.

I'll come back to this subject again when I've done a bit more research, but I'll start the ball rolling by suggesting a camera that would have been way out of my price range when it first appeared in 1975, it's the Canon 110ED 20!!!

Canon 110ed 20. Photograph by Tim IrvingI bought mine in a thrift store in Texas a few years ago for $6. It used to belong to the US Department of Labor and still has it's ID label. You can still buy these cameras for less than $20.

Canon 110ed 20. Photograph by Tim IrvingI know it's a 110, the film has been discontinued and you'll do some searching to get your film developed and printed but these aren't big problems, people still make Daguerreotypes and you don't hear them whining.

I buy 110 film whenever I see it for sale, it's not that difficult to find. I bought 3 rolls this year to add to the 6 rolls I already have in the freezer which will keep me going for the next 10 years. To get 110 film processed I look locally, and if my local shops can't help me I'll send the film to Fotoview or any of the dozens of other companies that offer the service.

The Canon 110ED 20 is definitely under priced for its specification. It's a very high quality camera made from metal, it feels reassuringly weighty in the hand. It has a coupled rangefinder, yes a rangefinder like a Leica or Contax camera. The lens is extraordinarily good, plus it opens up to f/2. It has aperture-priority metering and the batteries are commonly available LR44's.

Canon 110ed 20. Photograph by Tim IrvingWith the Canon 110ED 20 you get a premium camera that would have been very, very expensive in 1975, is easy to use and carry, takes great images and all for less than $20.

The Full English

Full English Breakfast. Photograph by Tim IrvingI've been in the UK for less than 4 months and I'm already having to watch my waistline. Breakfasts in Europe were good for me, a 'tostada con tomate' and a coffee, nada mas.

But here I'm eating like Fatty Arbuckle (and starting to look like him). I still have cereal and tea first thing in morning, but now I'm occasionaly supplimenting this with a mid morning visit to a cafe for a full English breakfast. Not only that, but I'm finishing my breakfast with a slice of cake or a Bakewell tart. I've always been a fan of the full English, and thought about it worryingly often during my 8 years living in Spain! Obviously this is a slippery slope, if I continue on this path I'll end up listening to Celine Dion and wearing socks with sandals.

The fact is I love cafe's. Everything about them I find comforting - from the Formica table tops to the wall mounted TV. and if they have a hand written (blue ballpoint), menu I'm in heaven. Equally fascinating to me are the people who work and eat in them. And I'm never put off by the exterior - the more shabby the outside is, the more authentic the food will be inside!

But this can't continue, starting next week I'm limiting myself to one English breakfast a week. It'll be difficult but I'll do it.

Cross Keys Cafe. photograph by Tim Irving


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