Finding focus the old-fashioned way with Rand Collins
The 1914 No. 1 Kodak Junior has three shutter speeds and the rapid rectilinear lens, the first to yield photos in which straight lines remain straight instead of curving at the edges.
R and Collins views things differently from most of us – often through the lens of a vintage camera. Collins, a member of the Rotary Club of Duncan, British Colombia, Canada, used standard photographic equipment until about a decade ago, when he became curious about how vintage cameras would work with modern film.
His experience with older models was limited to the Zeiss folding camera he’d used as a kid, so he bought a 1920 Kodak on eBay and started experimenting. Today, he owns about 30 vintage cameras, which he restores himself.
Collins writes about his cameras and photos on his blog, throughavintagelens.com. “Cameras become a focus around which a lot of things swirl,” he explains. “You can use the cameras to look back on other people’s lives, and into your own life.”
The Rotarian: What’s the appeal of a vintage camera?
Collins: It’s the same reason people like vintage cars or collect antiques: On some level, you have to love old cameras. They are beautiful things. And it’s a fun challenge to work with them. Everyone assumes they can’t do the same kind of work that cameras do these days.
TR: Can they?
Collins: Even though old film doesn’t have the definition that modern-day film does, the pictures are incredibly sharp.
TR: How does a vintage camera alter the photographer’s experience?
Collins: I call it the photographic equivalent of bow hunting. It’s the sort of sport where you give the game every possible opportunity to get away. But the vintage camera also forces you to take a more contemplative look at things.
TR: Is it harder to get a good shot?
Collins: The older the camera, the more ways there are to mess up the photo. I’ve gotten pretty good with a Crown Graphic – in any 1940s or 1950s movie, that’s the camera a reporter is carrying. It has three ways to focus for everything. It has wire viewfinders. You can use it as a stand-up camera with black cloth and take some wonderful slow, careful portraiture, or you can use it to take action shots. But you really have to know what you’re doing.
TR: When isn’t vintage a good choice?
Collins: There are certain situations where a digital camera gets you pictures you can’t get any other way. I took the picture I entered in The Rotarian ’s photo contest (opposite) with a digital camera from my car, because it wasn’t a safe area to wander around at night.
TR: What have you shot recently that has a great story?
Collins: My favorite picture right now is called “Tulips, Water Tower Place.” It’s a story of how I got stranded in Chicago overnight and thought, “What am I going to do in Chicago? There’s nothing to shoot here.” I started wandering around, and in the middle of Michigan Avenue, right between the lanes of traffic, were these huge planters of tulips – every kind of tulip you could imagine. And every time the buses would go by, the tulips would wave. I ended up standing in the middle of the street at the edge of these tulips, and I took the picture at a slow shutter speed. Then I tried two or three exposures on the same piece of film. I came out with this wonderful picture, which I have in my living room. Very often, when you think nothing is going to happen, something wonderful happens.