20 August 2010

All for love for Halina

Another self indulgent piece of nostalgia. For this you can blame Pauline Laybourn, of Minneapolis[1].

Back awhile I recorded rediscovery of my first ever camera, a Six-20 Brownie 620C Box[2], a milestone which at age eight set me on the road to where (and what, and who) I now am.

Now we fast forward four or five years to 1965 ... I am twelve, pushing thirteen, and I have moved on to a 120 folding wartime Dallmeyer[3] which has dramatically extended my visual range, technical knowledge, and ambition. It has also introduced me to the economic advantages of packing more photographs onto a single roll of film ... where the Brownie gave me eight shots for a week's pocket money, the Dallmeyer yields sixteen (albeit at half the size). Since one pocket money per month has to go on chemicals and printing paper, this is a big deal ... instead of less than one picture a day I wallow in the luxury of almost two!

I have, by now, become a prolific consumer of used photographic magazines. Mostly ten year old copies of Popular Photography, cadged from the attics of amused strangers, but also the occasional Amateur Photographer only a month or so out of date. And every photographic book I can find in any available library. Although I am now at an age where the Amateur Photographer's frequent two piece swimsuit "portraits" occupy a significant part of my attention, I am nevertheless soaking up text and theoretical knowledge like a sponge. And one of the things I have learned from this reading (and some diligent arithmetic) is that a 35mm camera would (even after allowing for more photographic paper) push me up into the three and a half images a day league. Better still, I could perhaps buy 35mm film in bulk and cut it down myself to refill cassettes, cutting costs to allow a giddy seven or eight pictures a day[4].

There are problems, of course. I learn, without realising it, the capitalist lesson that one must invest in order to profit. To enable that three and a half image habit, I will first have to fund the purchase of the 35mm camera. And saving that sort of money will mean stashing away pocket money and buying no film, chemicals or paper at all for ... ummm [scribbles frantically on envelopes] an insupportably long time. If I compromise, and just cut down on the purchases to save part of my pocket money, the purchase disappears into a remote future beyond the conception of my twelve year old self.

Nevertheless, I continue to dream and to calculate. What I really want is a Leica ... the tool (I know this from all that reading) of all my heroes: Henri Cartier Bresson, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, W Eugene Smith, Eve Arnold, Willard Morgan, Chim Seymour ... but that is out of the question. By the time I save up for a Leica at four shillings[5] a week, I'll be drawing my pension. We are on the move, as a family, so a Saturday job (which might deliver the Leica by middle age) is not feasible So it's time to drop my sights a little ... which is where the Halina 35X comes in.

Even the Halina is beyond my reach, in fact. Dropping to five pictures a week and saving the balance of my pocket money, I could hope to buy it somewhere around my sixteenth birthday. But that is at least close enough to build dreams upon, if not to realise them.

Snapping back to the present day, in 2010, now. It would be nice to say that the Halina 35X pictured here is the one which I saved for and achieved ... but it wouldn't be true. (My first 35mm camera came to me just over a year later, and it wasn't a Halina[6] ... but that's another story.) No. The Halina became the first camera I didn't buy. The one shown here I have just bought second hand on a market stall for €2, which is what has prompted this post.

The fact that I never bought the Halina back then in 1965 didn't, however, stop it playing a huge part in my life. For a year I harassed innocent (and astonishingly patient) camera shop managers and assistants with outlandish questions. A columnist in Popular Photography advocated loading bulk film not into standard cassettes but specialised Leitz or Contax cassettes which, when the camera back was closed, would open to allow unimpeded low friction film transit through the light trap. These cassettes only opened in certain cameras (primarily Leitz or Contax, but also a few other expensive marques) which had the necessary modification to the film chamber. At the first opportunity, I was down into the nearest camera shop to ask a bemused assistant whether the Halina 35X was equipped to accept Leitz or Contax cassettes? (Answer: no.) I read of the first crude automatic exposure systems, and how dangerous it was to rely upon them rather than upon the photographer's own experience. Would the Halina 35X, I asked the long suffering manager of the same shop, hamper me in this way? (Answer: at twelve pounds and ten shillings it didn't even have a light meter, never mind automation.)

For just over a year I lived in a hazily glamorous professional future fantasy where I roamed the world (still dressed, curiously, in shorts and a school uniform) delivering back astonishing photoreportage to grateful editors (sometimes at Magnum, sometimes at Life magazine) ... all taken with my trusty and beloved Halina 35X.

And now, four and a half decades on, I finally possess one.

These footnotes are dedicated to my favourite critic, who has been deprived of this particular exasperation for some time; but, alas, they contain none of her beloved "tingly" ISBN numbers.

[1] Pauline keeps pressing me to put this sort of thing out in the public domain ... that's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

[2] Also follow up posts with new photographs taken using the Brownie since it returned to me last year.

[3] Sadly, I am unable to find any trace of my Dallmeyer in either print or web sources. There are similar examples, the closest being the Dallmeyer Dual which had a closely matching specification though it differed greatly in several structural details.

[4] Once I eventually had my first 35mm camera (see note [6] below) I did indeed start mainlining on bulk film purchased in thirty metre rolls. Later I discovered the joys of short dated or date expired stock which was cheaper still and showed no drop in quality. And sometimes my father, through various acquaintances concerned with replenishment of military reconnaissance stores, augmented my supply with date expired hundred metre tins.

[5] Four shillings, in 1965, was one fifth of a British pound or 48 US cents.

[6] It was a beautiful Russian built copy of my dream Leica, the Zorki 6, infinitely superior to the Halina and bought not out of my savings but through the boundless generosity of my parents who, I now realise, could ill afford it at the time.


Acerone said...

A great trip down Nostalgia Street Felix - the number of shots / days in the week / pocket money equation is a beautiful insight into the earlier days of photography. I fell privileged to have first started my career in photography at cobc at 16 where a 15 year old pentax K1000 with f1.4 50mm lens could be signed out from Louis for free, and a bulk loaded B+W 40ish exposure film was £1.75.

But now i feel spoiled! With my digital SLR and 4gb memory card i shot nearly 400 shots of the Red Arrows at the balloon fiesta... and i didnt even spend a penny of my pocket money ;-)

Pauline Laybourn said...

Those of you familiar with SCRATCHINGS will find in a section titled "Beginnings", the powerful impact that "ancient Brownie box" had on 8 year old Felix. The Brownie was soon followed by a wartime Dalmeyer, then a Russian-built Leica copy. And his dreams are now recorded history in TODAY.

In the October 15,1987 edition of CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY, Felix has "Credo" published. Somewhere in SCRATCHINGS it says: "Lose your dreams, and you might lose your mind...."
Felix has not lost his dream.

Julie Heyward said...

Beautiful post.

I had a similar budget crises when moving up from instamatic to 35mm -- and used similar tactics on various unsympathetic adults. (I also resorted to Grandma versus parent blackmail ...). But once I had the 35mm (a Pentax) I began to lust after a view camera (from reading Ansel Adams Negative/Print). I could not afford any part of a 4x5 rig -- but I nevertheless saved and saved until I could buy a 4x5 tripod. It was (and still is -- I still have it) a massive thing that I have kept all these years. I did not get a 4x5 camera until several decades later, and by then the tripod didn't suit, but I loved it dearly in its unused majesty for all the years that it supported my 4x5 fantasies.