Cameras have always been a puzzle to me. If it isn’t a “point-and-shoot,” my ability to discuss the photo capabilities of any of those instruments is extremely limited.
After all, what can a guy do since he knows that when he says “mechanical,” he’s told you all he knows. I mean, really, I’m supposed to be the creative sort, not some engineering miracle worker.
When the professor handed me a Speed Graphic 4X5 camera in photography class at Sam Houston State, my response was, “Duh, whut’s thet?”
I’d grown up with Mom using a Kodak “box” camera. You held it in front of you, near your waist, as you looked down and squinted into the tiny viewfinder and tried not to wiggle as you shot the picture.
Anyway, I learned to handle the 4X5 with some tiny bit of competence, only to find when I got out in the real world that one-shot wonder was antiquated and had been replaced by German twin reflex cameras (two lenses — one for focus and the other for snapping the picture).
However, since country weekly newspapers have small camera budgets, we couldn’t afford the $700-$800 Roliflex, so we bought the $80 Japanese Yashica D twin lens cameras, a duplicate of the “Roli.” They were just as good and rather than have a $100-$200 repair and shipping bill when one “busted,” we could just buy a new Yashica
That was in the early wave of “cheap” Japanese goods, which swept the country in the Sixties and Seventies.
The advent of those twin lens cameras replacing Rolis was also marked by the increasing use of the offset printing method for producing newspapers. Offset was great at reproducing photos that were of heretofore unseen clarity and contrast and cheap compared to the very expensive lead engravings of photos necessary in the old letterpress printing method.
Offset printed papers began a pictorial assault on the dull, staid and more expensive method of raised metal printing.
Young news entrepreneurs ran around with the Yashicas dangling around their necks and took tons of pictures and printed them in the paper. Offset-reproduced photos, it turned out, were cheaper than setting type for stories. Early on, there were even some newspapers that were entirely photographs, captions and headlines. That result was a combination of cheap, easy photography and people’s regrettable but ever-developing propensity toward less reading.
One huge drawback in any older camera, for those of us who are near-sighted, was dealing with being able to get a precise focus. We couldn’t afford a camera that had automated focus a la telescoping lenses, which also brought the subject into clear and precise view. Optimum reproduction and clarity on newsprint was always an issue, however, the offset printing method made that extremely easy.
So, we pretend-pro-photogs shot everything that moved, including crowds, and ran the pictures with broad, tantalizing, promotional hints that maybe YOU are pictured in this issue. Or, “723 local citizens pictured in this edition,” or other “teases” to draw readers into the newspaper.
It also didn’t hurt that my early days initial foray into publishing was a news sheet named “The Mirror,” because it allowed for such bold promotional phrases as “Clearly reflecting the citizens of…”
Nowadays, in the digital world, big time pros use cameras with lenses that guys like me, who are the antithesis of bodybuilding, can’t even lift. I even see guys with tripods that are understandably for the lens rather than the camera.
Anyway, I leave the photography to Life Mate, who has a real knack for it. I don’t even pretend to be able to “point and shoot.”
And, everyone is much happier with the results. Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.