Written by John Hickman, Archival Volunteer
Recently I was tasked with cataloging a collection of old photographic equipment that found its way to the archival storage shelves of the MVZ. Being from the ‘pre-digital’ age, what I found was an amazing collection of photographic tools that had undoubtedly been used over the years to capture a wide variety of images supporting MVZ research, description and daily life (See MVZ Archival Image Search). In addition to the ties to the work of the MVZ, these tools also provide a view of the advances in photography through the 20th century.
Working through this collection was also personally interesting because many of the various pieces of equipment were items that were familiar to me due to my own photographic interests. But there were others that I could only guess at how they would be used, which led me to some interesting discoveries. These days, with digital cameras everywhere, we forget the challenges faced by photographers, even up into the 1990s, when you had to have film available, take your photo with crossed fingers, and wait for the film to be developed before you knew if you’d been successful in capturing your subject.
Here are some examples of interesting equipment now catalogued in the MVZ archive:
- A Nikon F Series camera. Introduced in March 1959, the F immediately became Nikon’s best seller due to its rugged body, extensive lineup of interchangeable lenses and wide variety of accessories.
- A Camera Lucida. A clever device that assists a sketch artist by displaying a traceable image onto the surface on which the artist is drawing. The artist sees both subject and drawing surface simultaneously, allowing the artist to duplicate key points of the subject on the drawing surface. A tremendous tool for creating realistic drawings of the natural world.
- A Cine-Kodak Special movie camera in its original case, with manual. The Cine-Kodak Special was introduced in 1933 for advanced amateur and semi-professional work, and quickly became popular with professionals for its vast range of capabilities. A decal on the case exterior noted with Robert Stebbins as passenger to Plymouth, England sailing July 2nd, 1958.
- An Eastman-Kodak Kodascope K-50 Movie projector, a classic old style reel projector first manufactured in 1933. The original case contains the reels and even an oil can for keeping the projector well lubed.
- A Gossen Lunasix exposure meter in its original moulded leather case. Built in Germany, these devices were indispensable to film photographers who had to get the exposure just right, and didn’t have the luxury of immediately viewing their pictures as we do now with digital cameras.
- A Konica FS-1 camera. Introduced in 1979, it was the first 35mm SLR equipped with a built-in motor drive for film transport, which allowed a sequence of images to be captured.
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how useful these tools were to field researchers and scientists of the MVZ. Its exciting to consider that without doubt images that we’ve seen on display in the MVZ and in various texts were captured using these tools. What a history!