Now with” Meagre” funds coming in, and also money from the odd freelance assignment, I upgraded my Reflex Korelle II to a brand new Zeiss Super Ikonta B. I loved that camera and wished I had kept it as a souvenir. I prefer a wire-type finder to an optical one. Sketching my idea out carefully, I machine one up in my workshop. I got it chrome plated. I should have patented it.
A first step if I was to get into photography on a commercial basis was to build a darkroom to develop film and to turn out prints. It wasn’t too long before I had obliging neighbours, adept at carpentry, plumbing and, electrical; help to build one in the basement of my studio. For freelance assignments in those days it was all black and white and the film I used was Kodak Verichrome. Plus X and Tri X came along a year or two later, as I recall.
My first assignment from RKO was to photograph Ann Blyth. I should have walked away. What did I know about studio lighting, for example? I had to have the Kodak rep, - we called him ‘Mac’ - show me how to load holders for the 8″ x 10″ view camera. I persevered. I can’t remember how long it took me, but I came up with results that I don’t think I could manage today. There must have been a 3 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ camera on hand as I made a personal shot that I saw in my files a few years ago. Kodachrome was used in each camera. The ASA was 8. The small transparency hadn’t faded, even though it was more than sixty years old. The dark royal blue velour and the bright creamy white satin all held detail that I could hardly believe. I must have worked like crazy, flooding light onto the velour and using scrims to hold it off the satin. It was a great learning curve. I appreciate the comment of noted Swiss designer, Rene Schoflein, who claims that a photographer is not really a photographer unless he has been brought up on an eight by ten camera.
Kodachrome appeared on the US market in 1938 but didn’t reach Canada until sometime later. In the Canadian Kodak retail store on Winnipeg’s Portage Avenue when it did arrive, I remember the big flurry it caused. I don’t remember where the film was processed, but it was likely sent to Rochhester, N, Y. before Kodak got the Toronto facility up and running. By the way, Kodachome was a very slow film back then, with Daylight emulsion at 8 ISO (then called “ASA”) and Tungsten at only 6 ISO. I still recall making hand-held exposures with a Speed Graphic when shooting Hazel’s and my other sister Louise’s weddings early in war time.
I always used Kodachrome sheet film but I was a dedicated 35mm Kodachrome 64 user from the early 1960s, when I purchased my first F-2 Nikon, right up to the time Kodak closed down the Brampton and Vancouver processing facilities. Those transparencies reminded me of something else; I bought a 3 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ Graflex in those early days and that is what I must have used for the portrait and for the personal coffin exposure shot in the commercial studio. It was a beautiful little camera, and another one I should have hung onto in addition to the Super Ikonta B. I was born a pack rat and kept everything else so I don’t know why I didn’t keep them. A little later on I bought a 3 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ Speed Graphic, which was very nice, but I didn’t keep it either. I don’t know why I could have been so stupid. It kills me to think back over the many 5″x 7″, 4″x 5″ and mid-size transparencies I threw out when they faded.
With Adobe Photoshop there has been no trouble in resurrecting the few faded transparencies that remained in the files. I sure wish I had known the digital age was approaching. I am glad it has arrived and that it is here to stay. I spent enough of my life in a darkroom.