Hana’s Weltaflex

In general, I think it’s a good idea NOT to post images here that don’t really sing about who I am as a photographer; the idea is that I should use this space to discuss my photography, and, in case you haven’t caught on to what an awful lot of blogging is about, do some self-promotion, which would imply that I post only work that I think really says something good.

I guess the above and below photos do say a lot about me as a photographer, but it’s more in the philosophical realm that these images speak. Aesthetically, they’re snapshots. Technically, they’re trainwrecks. But they have a good story:

I was out in West Lafayette, IN for Christmas this year, and my sister-in-law, who is Slovakian, offer to show me her father’s camera, which he had given her some time ago, and which had not been used since maybe the early or mid-80’s. It was a Weltaflex Twin Lens Reflex camera (made in East Germany) in a very nice leather carrying case. And the big surprise was that there was film in the camera. Fomapan film that had been loaded into the camera when the country was still Czechoslovakia and the war was still cold. I got kinda excited.

Disappointingly, it turns out that it was a “newly” loaded roll of film, and that no exposures had been taken on it. I had some Ilford Delta 3200 120 film with me, so I loaded that up and started chasing the kids around the house, finding very quickly that, if I had to sit down and write ad copy for the Weltaflex, I’d probably just leave the subject of viewfinder brightness out of the conversation altogether. I couldn’t see a thing, and by the time I had fiddled the focus knob into something within a good chuckle of sharp focus, the two-year-old I had been hunting would be far gone. Even when I had my brother’s family sitting immobile on the stairs, I still couldn’t really tell if that thing was in focus. I knew that I really liked the prism viewfinder on my Bronica and how it made sharp focus child’s play, but shooting with the Weltaflex drove that point home.

What I love about TLRs is the sounds their shutter makes. It’s sort of like one of my former students sucking his or her teeth. Subtle. Quiet. My Bronica sounds like two sheets of plywood falling off a truck on the highway when I press the shutter release…so much so that my daughter refers to taking a picture with it as “clomping the camera.” The TLR, on the other hand, is so unintrusive; it is so much easier to forget that pictures are being made, and that is good for both the photographer and the subject.

I don’t know how old the camera actually is. Forty years? Fifty? Maybe sixty? It still works perfectly well, and since film doesn’t functionally change that much over time, it is still a fully functioning camera. I’m sending prints–silver gelatin prints–to my brother’s family, and some of those will hopefully find their way back to Slovakia, where my sister-in-law’s family still lives (her father, unfortunately, has passed away). I like the thought of how far that camera has travelled and the different cultures and settings that have passed through its lens. I like the idea of sending pictures of the grandkids taken on the grandfather’s camera halfway around the world. I like what using this camera says about photography: it’s still about exposure and the moment, no matter what the technology used. And I guess that says something about me as a photographer.