More 8X10 Geekery: A post about Gears

SO I bought another camera. Go ahead, say it. This guy has a problem. Nobody needs three 8×10″ view cameras at this time in history. Sacha and I had a rare chance to take a day to go someplace recently. I took her to the George Eastman House. (Never date a photographer.) She loved it. We saw a terrific exhibition pulled from their permanent collection, The Gender Show, a charming, eclectic and mostly SFW look at gender from as many perspectives as possible, featuring beautiful prints by just about everybody you’d expect to see, and some fresh faces too. The thing that struck me most about our visit, however, was the docent that greeted us in the lobby, who without the slightest preamble or introduction, walked directly up to us and proceeded to gleefully predict the total end of film availability within the next 5-10 years. Fair warning. I’m stocking up, but between me and you, it won’t be on Kodak film. That place has always given me the creeps. I can’t help but wonder every time I go in there, in which room did George put a gun to his own chest, who found him, and who had to clean up the mess. Our new docent friend reflected that the company he created also sealed its own fate by inventing digital photography. He was probably just trying a little hard because there were onsite some higher ups observing the staff’s interaction with visitors, but I digress.

Let me begin again. I got a new camera. It’s a really beautiful, lovingly worn 1930’s Century Universal, made right in Rochester New York by the former Century Company that had been absorbed previously by the Kodak photographic empire. Everything works, and it even has the original burgundy colored bellows, in near perfect condition. Take a look at the beautiful schematic drawings filed with the US Patent Office in 1931 by the designer Charles H Roth. Go ahead, get jealous. This camera is not all that easy to find in good condition these days. It was used by both Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, so I guess it will be good enough for me. Of course I’ve been using it as much as possible, leaving my ca. 1900 Century View Camera and 50’s Burke and James 8×10 Commercial View Cameras sulking unused in a corner. The Century is a remarkable camera in its own right, but realistically I’m going to reach for the Universal every time, so if anyone’s looking for a nice Century View, made before Kodak got it’s grubby paws on the company, hit me up. It’s got the extra extension rail, the original restored by me bellows, and except for the screws that attach the ground glass, all of the original hardware & lacquer finish. The wood is intact but for a couple of small & well repaired splits, er, well, except for the part where some sort of animal chewed part if it away, but don’t worry, it’s in a discrete spot & the missing wood just makes it a little lighter to carry, without compromising its structural integrity. This is actually one of the lightest 8×10 cameras you could get and it has huge bellows extension. I have other plans for the Burke and James, so don’t ask. But I digress.

My “new” camera has a bit of a problem too. The rise sometimes falls. The gear that raises and lowers the front standard was a bit “funky” according to the guy who sold it to me, and probably needed some lubrication. As soon as I got the thing in the mail, in a huge box full of a random assortment of packing material, including a bonus t shirt in my size with a logo bragging about the way that Panasonic is revolutionizing photography, I folded the camera open and ran it through all it’s movements. It took about two seconds for me to determine that the front gear was obviously in need of much more than lubrication. I took apart the front standard to find that most of the gear teeth had been almost completely torn off from the shaft. I took some pictures for reference so I could get the thing back together in the right order and sent them to a guy who makes gears along with an elaborate email explaining what I wanted him to make, and painstaking measurements I cleverly assumed he’d be able to use to recreate the 80 year old machined brass part. His return email in full, read, “Just send me the gear..” I’m pretty sure he was laughing at me. The sad thing is that I haven’t been able to part with it. I just keep using the camera with the broken gear and sort of wedging it in place so the front more or less stays where I put it. I really should send him that gear. What’s my point in all this? I don’t know, I just sort of liked the reference photos I shot, so I’m posting them here. I’m confident that I’ll be able to resolve my camera’s little problem, and restore it to its original smooth functioning glory. I’m not so sure my problem is as easily resolved. But I digress…

Posted by scoopneil

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