Wednesday, June 15, 2011


There is a strange connection between a photographer and his or her camera.

The longer a camera is used, the stronger the fondness the photographer feels for it grows. If you really enjoy using a camera and you take a lot of pictures with her, it ends up being kind of an extension of your arms, your fingers, your mind and your soul. I guess it is because a camera is like a musical instrument: an inanimate object that accomplishes a key part in the expression of a feeling, which opens a new chance for people to communicate.

I believe every photographer transfers a bit of her or his soul to the camera. And I think this is also one of the reasons for the fascination about old second hand cameras. I like to make imaginary journeys to the past and try to know which hands used our cameras before mine. My Flexaret, for example, could have been bought by Pavel, a Czechoslovak journalist living in Prague by the end of the 60s, although he originally came from Bohemia. Our EOS 40D could have belonged to Lukas, a young hobby photographer living in Linz, who sold it when he decided to get a 5D to try and start a new career as a professional wedding photographer. Or my Hapo, that could have been owned by Helga, a Bavarian woman living in a small town close to Nürnberg by 1959, who wanted to have her own camera and got it in the mail from Photo Porst's catalogue. She had to cope with the laughs of her husband, who was a heavy smoker. Helga, though, showed a very insightful eye for photography since the very first moment she started shooting with the Hapo. Its leather case became impregnated with the smell of her husband's cigarettes, which would not vanish for decades.

On our last visit to Munich I took the chance to look around a couple of second hand camera shops. As I entered F&S in the Herzogspitalstraße (which looks like a watchmaker's, only with tons of cameras and lenses from the last hundred years piled on the shelves) there was this elder gentleman in front of me who, as I quickly realized, was not buying anything but trying to sell a camera to the store owner.

(Flexaret VI, Ilford XP2 Super 400, ISO 400/27°)

The camera was a nice looking Rolleiflex TLR sporting f/2.8 lenses. The old man took it carefully from the leather case and, trying to conceal a slight shake of his hands, handed it over to the store owner, who took it roughly and examined it with the look of a professional poker player. He quickly opened the back and, releasing the shutter in B mode, held the 'flex up against a light to examine the lens. He then proceeded to put it down and told the man that the lens had a scratch and that he could only give him 50€ for the camera. The man looked shocked and told him it was a very fine camera, and asked him how much would he sell it for afterwards. The store owner did not answer and gave the 'flex back to the old man and, looking at me and ignoring him, asked me what I wanted. The old man, visibly annoyed, put the camera back in its case and left the store.

I asked the store owner to show me one of the cameras from the shop window but, probably because of the scene I just witnessed, I decided to bring my business elsewhere. I had a strong gut feeling that someone capable of offering 50€ for a camera that he could then easily sell for more than 200€ was not really someone to be trusted.

I walked down a couple of blocks to another shop that I already visited in the morning. As I reached the counter, I asked one of the salesmen for the article I wanted (*), which was exposed in a quite hidden showcase. As we returned to the counter, I looked to my left and saw the same gentleman already taking his Rolleiflex out of its leather case. He was showing it to another salesman, who was shaking his head negatively. Then the old man told him that he also had a big collection of Nikon lenses, “just like the ones you have back there!”, and if they would take them.

I felt deeply sorry for the old man. Judging by the extreme care he showed when taking his camera in and out of the leather case, I guessed selling it had been no easy decision for him: the 'flex had clearly been a source of enjoyment in the past. I tried to imagine the happy memories that this camera brings to the old man's mind. This thought made me sad and even angrier at how the other store tried to rip him off.

The man then slowly put his 'flex back into the leather case and the whole thing in a white plastic bag and turned around to leave this store with no success, too. As he walked past me, our eyes met and for an instant a crazy thought crossed my mind, but then I reminded myself I already have a TLR, which, in fact, was hanging from my neck the whole time!

I really wish the old man finds a honest buyer for his Rolleiflex, one that appreciates its true value, both material and sentimental.

(*) in case you're wondering what did I eventually bring home from Munich, well, you'll still have to be a little patient... ;)

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