"You can't go home again" was the title of one of Thomas (not Tom) Wolfe's most popular novels. It was about the vagaries of his author-protagonist's attempts to portray his hometown, the fictional Libya Hill. The phrase has entered the language. What's meant by it, usually, is that you can't recover your innocence, your youth, and your provincial home of origin once you've moved away, grown older, and become sophisticated. A condensed version: the scene in Annie Hall where Alvy tries to re-create the date experience in the kitchen with the lobsters.
As we talk about cameras, one thing leads to another. Someone asked if I'd write about "My Year with a View Camera," to which my thought was, "I think I already have." I started looking for this article, and then came across this one.
To quote my old friend Bill Hickman, "Oh, dear." One of the problems with writing about a particular subject for a long time is that your opinions change, you keep learning new things, and the world changes out from under you, and sooner or later what you said "back then" would not be what you'd say about the same subject now.
Getting to the point: Re-reading my thoughts about the Wista reminded that three or four years ago I actually bought a used but like-new cherrywood Wista. And...it was just not enough like the first Wista I had. I bought the first one from an outfit called "Fields and Views" in about 1983, when I was in photo school. The wooden parts of that first Wista were constructed first and then finished, in the conventional sequence, using shellac or varnish or some other traditional type of wood finish—and the bellows were clearly made of real leather, because the camera had a distinctive, intoxicating aroma. The new Wista I bought had apparently had its wood parts finished first, using polyurethane or some other plastic-based varnish, and then CNC'd and put together. I knew this because there were very slight mismatches in the dovetailing and there was raw wood visible where the assembly hadn't been perfect, which would clearly be impossible had it been finished after being put together. And the bellows were plastic, not leather. The newer camera was perfectly nice, perfectly serviceable, but had little of the charm of my original Wista, the one I spent my view camera year with. (And that I sold in a period of penury in the late '80s or early '90s.)
Then it occurred to me...that always happens when I try to replace a favorite camera or lens from the past. I've done it at least six or eight times...tried to re-purchase a favorite camera that I let go at one time, but still miss. I sold my Leica M6 in 1993 and tried to buy another one in 1999—the lens design had changed, and the newer camera didn't have the same feel. Wish I had just kept the first one. One of the best lenses I ever used was a Schneider lens on a funky old Practisix update called an Exakta 66. I got rid of that camera because of some anomalies that were purely user error, I'm embarrassed to admit. This gets worse: when I tried to replace it with another one, the brand-new camera came straight from the box with its focusing screen installed upside-down. Who knew? All I knew was that it didn't focus right. I sold it. Only later did I find out about the upside-down screens. I even had a guy send me a beat-up old Spotmatic once so I could try the lens. I loved it. Did a lot of good work with it. Would you know, I never found another Spotmatic body that I liked as well as that first one. Go figure.
In fact, I think that every attempt I have ever made to re-purchase or re-acquire a fondly-remembered camera from my past has ended in failure or disappointment somehow.
Is that me, or is it just true you can't go home again?
Send this post to a friend
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.