Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Analog East Texas - Kodak Duaflex III

Miriam Roldan, 5, of Center, models her new cowgirl hat at the Millard's Crossing Flea Market on Jan. 11 in Nacogdoches. Released in 1954 with a list price of $24, the equivalent of some $200 today, the Duaflex III was the third camera in the line from Kodak which put quality cameras in the hands of the masses with the slogan, "You push the button, we'll do the rest."
(Click on any image to view larger)
As promised, the Analog East Texas project launches (has launched?) Sunday, Jan. 26, in The Daily Sentinel. I decided to start out with a camera I picked up several years ago, the Kodak Duaflex III.

I actually have three Duaflex cameras, one Model II and two Model III. With a bit of judicious cleaning and some mix-and-match parts swapping, I came out with one (maybe two) working cameras.

I honestly don't remember when or where I bought this camera. It was probably at a flea market or garage sale in Iowa or Illinois, which would place it somewhere most likely in the 1990s. About all I can say with some degree of certainty is, when I bought it, I had no idea I would one day be shooting with it.

As you can see, the Duaflex III is a pretty simple box camera, at least compared to the digital cameras of today. But, for its time, it was pretty innovative. This particular model had a scale-focusing lens, meaning you had to guess-timate how far away from the subject you were and set the lens accordingly. It also features a simple Waterhouse aperture, a revolving metal disk with three holes cut in it, controlling the amount of light entering the camera. This was important as the camera has a single-speed, spring-loaded shutter. The shutter speed, based on what I've been able to find out with extensive inter-webs research (OK, I looked at a couple of sites), is about 1/30th of a second. Pretty slow by comparison to cameras today, or even other cameras of that era.

As you can see in the top image, though, it still does a pretty good job. But, aside from the quality (or lack thereof) in the images the Duaflex III produces, it's still fun getting out with a camera few if any of my subjects have ever seen before.

PHOTO AT RIGHT: Sydney Watson, 18, left, and Bryce Barham, 17, both members of the Nacogdoches High School Key Club, pose Saturday, Jan. 14, during the annual Old-Fashioned Sweet Tooth Sugarcane Event at the Durst-Taylor Home Historic Site on North Street in Nacogdoches. The portrait, made with the Kodak Duaflex III camera, is typical of the type of family photos camera owners would take in the 1950s, when this camera was released.

 The reaction I got from Sydney and Bryce, our ribbon cane syrup girls in the image above, was pretty typical. Another photographer, local friend Jeff Abt, had lined the girls up for a photo using his M9 Leica digital camera. Once he was done, here I came with probably what could be considered the furthest option from Jeff's camera as possible.

The girls seemed amazed, and a little shocked, at the camera I wanted to photograph them with. "Wow, look at that!" one of them said as I lined up their image in the viewfinder, estimated the distance and clicked the frame, all the while explaining the project.

And that's one of the things which is really fun about this project. When I decided to start shooting film again, I had in mind only to refresh my own photographic juices. But, as this project developed in my head and as I pitched it to the powers-that-be here at the newspaper, I realized this could be a new way to connect with my subjects.

And it has proven to be just that. It's been a great conversation starter, mostly, in the few weeks I shot with the Duaflex, and as I move forward with the rest of the project. It's also accomplishing its original goal of helping me get back in touch with my photographic roots. When I first started making photographs, digital imaging for the general public wasn't even a flicker of a though in anyone's mind. 

Today, it's ubiquitous. Just about everyone has a small, point-and-shoot digital camera, or at the very least a camera function in their cellular phone. Heck, 99.9 percent of the photographs I make for the newspaper are shot with digital cameras.

But, there's just something about shooting film I've found I still love, despite the ease and immediacy of digital. Maybe it's because digital is so immediate that it's becoming, not boring, but routine, I guess you'd say. 

Digital photography doesn't seem to hold the, for want of a better term, magic that film photography still has for me. The digital cameras I use for the newspaper are so good, the images seem almost too perfect. They're smooth, noise-free and, looked at one way, almost artificial. They remain true representations of activities and events in my little town of Nacogdoches and the surrounding area. But they just don't seem to have the meat that images I make on film do.

Anyway, here's the first installment of the Analog East Texas project I've been teasing for several weeks. Thanks for looking and, by all means, please leave your comments and keep coming back. New installments of the project will appear on or around the last Sunday of each month during 2014 with, I promise, occasional updates in between.

Analog East Texas is an ongoing photographic project by Andrew D. Brosig, photo editor for The Daily Sentinel. Each month, Analog East Texas will highlight an antique film camera from my personal collection. The idea behind the project is to explore the technology and technique that inspired both amateur and professional photographers in the pre-digital age. Analog East Texas also gives me a chance to return to his roots in non-digital, film-based photography. To see more images from the project, visit my Flickr page here.

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