Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pieces of Time

A little piece of time. If you think about it, every time you take a photograph you capture a little piece of time on film. (I do, of course, refer to traditional photographic media for the purposes of this discussion as well as any other discussion I am likely to have in the forseeable future.) Everything stands still in the image, more or less, depending on how big a slice of time you have caught. Looking at images, you can see things exactly as they were when the images were made, be it a hundred years ago or yesterday.
Finding a cache of images from the past is a bit like traveling back in time. Kaye Treese has been traveling in time back to the the early 1900s, courtesy of his collection of glass plate negatives.
In 1948, Treese's family bought a house in Altoona, Pennsylvania from the family of local pharmacist Charles Rhodes. Although his profession was pharmaceutical, Mr. Rhodes interests were varied and obviously included the serious pursuit of photography; because in the attic of that house were the results of that interest, hundreds of glass plate negatives.
Prior to his death in 1948, Charles Rhodes, using a 4x5 camera recorded life in a small, early 20th century Pennsylvania town. Self portraits, parades, political rallies, social gatherings, all were subjects for his photography. It is interesting to reflect that the passage of time has lent a certain exoticism to these once everyday scenes and will do the same to the images that we make today, causing our everyday scenes to look quaint and old-fashioned 100 years hence.
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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Argus, Vershoor And Vokar

By Ron Kuykendall

In the early 1920’s,Charles Vershoor was an engineer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He started the Cavac Co. radio business about 1924. His first real success came in marketing his Arbor Phone radio. In 1931 he formed International Radio Corp on the success of his Kaydette –a 4 tube ac/dc home radio in a phenolic resin case available in many colors. A kit allowed the Kaydette to be used in an auto (first car radio ?). Another offering was a kit that allowed the Kaydette to be controlled from any room in the house. A two tube pocket radio (personal radio), and the Autime the first clock radio soon followed. Vershoor marketed thru neighborhood drug, jewelry, sporting goods and similar smaller retailers. There was a problem with the radio business however- in the summer people were outside and the radios were inside. The summer lull in sales forced Charles to lay off his workforce. A vacation in Europe looking at Leicas, Contaxes and Retinas made an impression. Cheap box and rollfilm cameras using 120,118,122,127 etc. were plentiful. Good cameras like he saw in Europe were expensive-$58 at the least. Why not market a summertime item (camera) priced so advanced camera users could desire and afford it.
He asked Gustave Fassin to design a small compact camera using the new 135 cartridge, with retractable lens, and a phenolic resin body. The first Argus had an Ilex fixed focus 4.5 lens with a diaphragm, sold in 1936 for $12.50. Once again Vershoor judged the market rightly-30,000 cameras in the first week- and his factory ran all summer,making Argus A’s from the same plastic as his Kaydette. Next was a full line of support items-enlargers, darkroom items, light meters and exposure guides, filters, flash units, and slide projectors for the new Kodachrome. His A became a series-A2, AF, A2f, A3,etc. Marketing of the C, C-2, C-3, was started. Graf Optical was bought to provide an in house optical department. The first non-135 film camera, the Argoflex was marketed and the line of radios was sold to concentrate on photography. Argus was second only to Kodak in the U.S. Suddenly Vershoor was ousted- a stockholder revolt- a little matter of excessive compensation from himself, shoddy fiscal management, undocumented expenses-sounds familiar.
With the wealth and reputation amassed from his Argus experience, Vershoor bought a smell factory and started a business. He engaged Richard Bills to design a new camera. The Vokar I was a heavy cast metal camera for 135 film with 2.8 three element anastigmat lens, a combined viewfinder rangefinder, and a shutter that was cocked as the film wind knob was turned-double exposure prevention. It shared the stamped metal aperature plate assembly and the captive take up spool of the Argus A-3 as well as the basic layout(although reversed) of the new C. The camera would be noted however for its film knobs enclosed in the top housing.
The Vokar A was marketed in 1940 while Argus marketed his A3/CC, the C and Argoflex. The Vokar A was simple a 6x6 120 rollfilm folding camera, with a 3 speed self cocking shutter, Ilex 6.3 lens, plastic body with film knobs on the bottom. The first series had a folding viewfinder-later Vokar A’s had a chrome top plate with an optical viewfinder. This unremarkable camera became quite remarkable in its marketing. Development of the Vokar I was delayed by WW II and Charles died in 1943.

With the return to civilian lifestyle,the Vokar B with cast metal top and bottom plate was marketed in1946. Some had a simple shutter and a meniscus lens in a plastic housing, a better version had a Wollensak anastigmat lens/shutter unit. Film knobs appeared both top and bottom. A mysterious Voigt( in Voigtlander script) identical to the simpler Vokar A without the cast metal plates appeared. A Voigt Jr was marketed with the meniscus lens assembly, top and bottom cast metal plates and with knobs on top. There was also a Wollensak version. Unlike the Vokar series, some of the Voigt series did not have lugs for a neckstrap-instead they sported a swivel ring in the center of the plastic back case.
A Wirgin Deluxe joined the party- with stamped metal plates, art deco graphics, and a hinged back- was identical to the Voigt Jr. A model 4.5 sported a Wirgin 4.5 Anastigmat and three speed shutter very similar to the Voigt Wollensak,with cast metal top and bottom plates and film knobs on top. A model 51 was the Voigt with chromed top and bottom plates, the Wollensak Velostigmat 4.5 and Alpax shutter. In most cases film knobs could appear top or bottom.
All body components of all versions were nearly identical or inverted. I have owned several of these cameras and have counted five lenses, three body variations, three viewfinders, three variations in strap attachments, and three different top/bottom units. The Wirgin brothers had escaped Germany before 1940, had established a Wirgin U.S.A. factory, possibly in N.Y. and may have manufactured at least the parts for these multiple versions. Vokar also marketed a number of darkroom items, a tank electric agitator and a slide projector very similar to the Argus PA, which also appeared under the Voigt, Sears and Vokar names.

In 1947 the delayed Vokar I appeared, a model II followed a few months later- identical except for the addition of two screws to the top cast metal housing. The Vokar lens/shutter unit was manufactured in a plant in Celina Ohio-apparently with little quality control. The shutter was a source of failure of as many as half of the cameras produced- a flood of returns bankrupted the company about 1950. One Vokar I have owned had a non working shutter-seemed to be of acceptable design but needed cleaning from a sticky lubricant. Another had an acceptable shutter but the lens image was terrible. They both looked nice sitting on my shelf- with their smug enclosed film knobs. The Vokar A and B series were priced at $15 to about $35 depending on the lens while the Vokar was advertized at about $75.
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June Program

Local amateur photographer, Kaye Treese, will make a presentation on June 4th from his collection of over two hundred 4” x 5” glass negatives he rescued in 1948 from a third floor attic of a house in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Kaye grew up knowing the photographer and his family well. Kaye will show samples of the negatives to illustrate the various aspects of his presentation.

Kaye lived in the area depicted in many of the shots that were taken circa 1910. He will describe the technology of glass negatives and how he acquired this group.

Kaye will give a brief history of the photographer, Charles Rhodes, and describe some of the techniques and equipment he used. Mr. Rhodes seemed to enjoy taking two shots and splicing them together into one interesting picture. The collection also has historical content and depicts life in the 1900s in small town Pennsylvania showing clothes, parades, political rallies, home interiors, funeral wreaths, parks and hunting parties.

Since moving back to Tucson in 1997, Kaye has spent many hours in darkrooms over a period of five years using various processes and media in an attempt to preserve the negatives and the images on them. He will describe the materials and processes he has used in these tasks that included contact printing, 8 x 10 printing, Kodak duplicating film making and now digitizing of the negatives.
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Where The Money Goes

Liz Whitaker visits with Scholarship recipients Jessica Livengood (left) and Beatirz Duran (right)
By Ria Ryne

As everyone familiar with the Western Photographic Historical Society knows, each year we solicit scholarship applications from full-time college students majoring in photography. At $5,000 each, these scholarships enable our organization to have a significant impact on the lives of the students who receive them.
At the May meeting WPHS members and guests were given an opportunity to see where the money goes, when two scholarship recipients, Beatriz Duran and Jessica Livengood presented a program showing us how they spent the scholarship money awarded them and giving us a glimpse into their photography.
In the current economic climate, belt-tightening is going on everywhere, many organizations are forced to cut back on the assistance that they are able to provide to students and for many the much-needed help simply isn't there. At times such as these, it is important for us to reflect upon the difference we can make to an individual and by extension to the community at large. It is important for us to consider that a $5,000 scholarship may very well make the difference between realizing a dream and having to give up its pursuit. It is important for each one of us, as members of the Western Photographic Historical Society and therefore presumably in agreement with our mission of education to do whatever it is within our power to do to ensure that the WPHS is able to continue that mission.
So volunteer your time at the sale or auction, write an article for the newsletter, donate equipment you are no longer using. Remember, we're all in this together.
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