Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019
Photography by Anthony Colagreco, Copyright 2019
The Digital Era
Many of you reading this came of age in the digital photography era. Most likely you’ve never used, maybe never even seen, a film camera. My girlfriend Marion was like that. The first time I handed her a film camera she took a shot and then looked at the back of the camera to see the picture – which, of course, was not there! People who grew up with digital photography can’t imagine having to wait to see the pictures. When I first got started, unless you had a darkroom and developed and printed your own, you had to wait days to see your photos. When I had my first camera shop in the early 1970s we had our photofinishing done by a big commercial company called Colorcraft. Their courier picked up film from us every day and delivered the finished photos. As I recall, it took three or four days to get your pictures back. A bit later in the 70s came the innovation of next day delivery. People were amazed to get their pictures that fast. Next came the minilabs that pharmacies, grocery stores, and discount stores installed. Suddenly you could get your pictures back the same day! Some places even offered one hour service. The race was on to be the fastest, but quality was often lost in the rush. People got back poorly exposed or otherwise flawed pictures, and assumed it was their fault, never knowing they could have gotten good pictures from a better lab.
Today those big photofinishing companies are long gone, as are most of the smaller labs. The last lab in my area, run by an old friend of mine, closed at the end of 2018. People who still shoot film pretty much have to develop and print their own unless they live near one of the few labs still in business.
Kodak Alaris has just reintroduced Ektachrome 100 Professional in 35mm rolls and Super-8 cartridges. They must think there’s a market for it, but that leaves open the question of where to get it processed. (kodakalaris.com)
The Lomography people have recently introduced black and white Potsdam 100 and Berlin 400 films. These come in 35mm and 120 roll film sizes, and are “cut from old stocks of a cinematic emulsion, produced by a legendary German company.”. Available online from Lomography (www.lomography.com)
I don’t know much about the current Lomography company. I know they got their start selling a compact camera made by LOMO, Leningrad Optical and Mechanical Works, in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad in Soviet days) and turned that little camera into a cult object. They’ve expanded to selling a wide variety of photographic products. I’d guess that the “legendary German company” they refer to is Agfa. Apparently Agfa had large stocks of film on hand when they went out of the film business. Rollei was selling rebranded Agfa black and white film under their name for some time. In cold storage black and white film will still be good for many years. In a bit of sales hype, they say, “Steeped in a rich past and prestige, this mighty monochrome is not just a tribute to history — rather a part of it.”
I used to collect Soviet era cameras and lenses from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. While the little LOMO point and shoot, the LC-1 was nothing special, LOMO also made the only Russian-built professional camera, the Almas (Diamond in Russian). During the Cold War days, Soviet photographers were cut off from the Japanese professional cameras the rest of the world used. LOMO was tasked with the job of producing a camera for Soviet professional photographers. Superficially, the Almas looks like a Nikon F2, but on closer inspection is revealed as a unique camera. The removeable prism housing is styled like Nikon’s, as are the interchangeable focusing screens. The camera body looks like a Minolta and has a shutter that looks like a Copal, but is a unique LOMO design. To carry on the hybridization, the lens mount is Pentax K mount. The camera is very robustly built and most samples I’ve seen show considerable use. There is a connection on the bottom for a motor drive, but as far as I have been able to determine, that motor drive was never produced. The 50mm lens on my sample is excellent. It’s too bad that this noble experiment vanished when the Soviet Union collapsed and photographers in former Soviet republics gained access to cameras from the outside world. My Almas has no light meter, but there was a meter prism available in small quantities that is rare today. My Almas is the star of my collection of Soviet cameras.
About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348. Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-musical-instruments/