Apropos the ongoing discussion I thought I'd post a first snap of my most recent camera acquisition. First, I have to throw out a caveat: there's nothing significant about a photographer getting a new camera unless he (or she) is going to use it. I've gotten a couple of cameras over the past couple of years that I haven't used much. And this one's just an experiment. So don't read too much in to this acquisition. It's of no significance or consequence yet.
I don't name all my cameras—but this one has a name. I've dubbed it "The Single Use Device."
The view of it above reminds me of a funny story (again, one I've told before). My late mentor, teacher, and friend Steve Szabo lived for a time in a houseboat on the Potomac estuary. Steve was among the early wave of art photographers in the 1970s who, led by George Tice and others, took the 8x10 Deardorffs that had been de-accessioned by the previous generation of architectural and studio photographers and started doing art and alt-process photography with them. In those days Deardorff 8x10s were little in demand and not very expensive (by which I mean roughly $350–$700), and Steve had two of them.
That was also the era of the Diana camera craze—a time when it briefly became fashionable for art photographers to do serious work with $5 plastic toy cameras with single-element plastic lenses. (The now-better-known Holga is essentially the same camera.) Curiously—and contrary to the original gestalt—authentic original Dianas now command relatively premium prices. In those days you could get one for as little as $4.95, so Steve had a couple of those, too.
The final thing you need to know is that cameras were relatively more expensive in the broad swath of the middle of the twentieth century than they are now. Before point-and-shoots came along in the '80s, having a camera pretty much meant having a 35mm SLR, and 35mm SLRs could always be fenced—er, pawned—for at least a dime bag. They were magnets for thieves.
What happened was that a thief broke into Steve's houseboat when he was away and cleaned him out. When Steve got home and took stock of his losses, he was relieved to find that his two Deardorffs—which were folded up, of course—were still there. But both of the worthless Dianas were gone. Steve concluded, much to his amusement, that the thief recongized the "camera-ness" of the camera-shaped Dianas, and assumed they were valuable, but had no idea what the Deardorffs were.
Looking at the picture at the top of the post, you can almost sympathize with that thief. If you weren't a photographer, you might not recognize that strange thing as a camera either.
I'll post more about the singular and radical single-use-ness of The Single Use Device later this week, or next. The story is surprisingly deeper than you might suppose.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Rob: "This summer, in Minneapolis, a thief smashed out my passenger-side window, rifled through the glove compartment, and stole my GPS (probably a dime-bag right there). He/she took my Tachihara 4x5 (attached to a carbon fiber tripod), that had been craftily camouflaged under a beach towel on the front seat, examined it, found nothing of value, and left it unharmed in the adjacent shrubbery. Here's a crime scene photo: