A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Yuliya, Keely, A Canon Pellix & Help From A Dead Friend
Thursday, December 03, 2009

Yesterday I taught my last studio classes for the season at Focal Point. The Contemporary Nude Portrait and Portraiture Through the Ages will meet one more time next Wednesday when we will critique the pictures my students took in the last two weeks. I will miss this bunch as both classes had very good photographers who showed that rare talent that is initiative.

I had an ambivalent problem. I knew that we were going to have two of the best models at Focal Point and both of them would be in both classes. They are Keely end Yuliya. I have been feeling a bit down and out without my studio and watching my students shoot great models while I supervise. It would take up too much time and it would seem to me a bit unprofessional for me to also hook up to the studio lights and take my own pictures during class time. In the past I have occasionally shot with a small film camera with fast film and taken a few of what we in the business of photography call grab shots. I was ambivalent because I really wanted to take some pictures.

Gerrit te Hennepe, the lawyer of my of my recently deceased friend, Abraham Rogatnick, called me at noon and provided me (I did not know at the time of the call) for a justification to shoot some pictures of Keely and Yuliya. He called me to tell me he had found a couple of cameras in Abraham’s house and he wanted me to have them as I might find some use for them. I tried to explain to him that film cameras are now obsolete and mostly worthless and that I wanted to get rid of stuff and not acquire more of it.

Te Hennepe insisted. I passed by his office which was conveniently a block away from Focal Point. He gave me a box with two cameras. One of them was a Malaysian made, electronic, film Minolta that did not bark because its battery was dead. The other camera was a rare gem that few people would know about.

It was a 1965 vintage Canon Pellix that had the innovation of a partly transparent mirror so that the usual noisy and jarring vibration flip of the mirror up (during the exposure) and then down (after the exposure) was eliminated as the mirror was fixed. Part of the light was diverted to the film and some of the rest to the viewfinder (not all that bright!). The camera failed in spite of this innovation. It was an expensive camera. The elegant mirror that did not move must have appealed to Abraham who had a Bauhaus feel for things as one of his teachers at Harvard was Walter Gropius. The Pellix came with two lenses for which Abraham must have paid a little fortune. One of them was a superb 50mm F-1.4 and the other a startlingly thin profiled “pancake” lens, a 38mm F-2.8. Years ago I had taken some clandestine shots in the Mexican Museum of anthropology (photography was and I believe still prohibited) by hiding a little Pentax MX with a pancake lens inside my jacket.

I taught the 2 to 5 nude class and controlled my urge to take pictures. During my break between 5 and 7 I went to the Tea Room across the street on 10th Avenue from Focal Point. Abraham and I used to sit there for at least an hour, sipping African tea and eating the fine pastry made by the Taiwanese/ Brazilian owner. I have been going there and missing Abraham a lot, particularly his intelligent discourse.

I made up my mind that I was going to test the Pellix on Yuliya and Keely. I practiced putting a roll of Tri-X a few times into the camera until I thought I had down pat the loading mechanism. I snapped the shutter a few times, removed the film and put it back and advanced it to my first exposure for the next class.

There is a cardinal rule of photography that stipulates that one should never use a camera for something important if the camera has not been used before. So, just to be sure I also loaded a marginally newer Nikon FM-2 with a roll of Tri-X.

I managed to shoot about 6 pictures with the Pellix. Focusing in a dark studio with the dim viewfinder was a challenge but I enjoyed the assertive but still quiet shutter. I took most of the pictures with the Nikon. I processed the film this morning. I had a pleasant surprise that was caused by some serendipity of which if I were to believe in things paranormal I would say that Abraham had a hand in it from the beyond.

Somehow when I snapped the shutter in the tea shop I caught my tea glass, the saucer and the spoon. When I photographed Keely with it, that image of was on her frame and I had a double exposure. The combination of Keely and the tea glass was delightful.

There were two more pictures in that Canon Pellix Roll that were killers. One is an almost profile of Yuliya and the other is the nicely scary picture of Keely that I scanned. For drama I added a red and yellow toning via Photoshop. The rest of the pictures are the more predictable ones taken with my Nikon FM-2. I believe that I just might show off to my student’s in next week’s critique!

Abraham would have told me, “You should take pictures when you can even if you are the teacher. If you don’t, you're a schmuck.” Thanks to Abraham and his sophisticated klunker I feel as if I were a 20 year-old, all excited about photography as I feast my eyes on the pictures of Keely and Yuliya.

I sent the Keely and the tea picture to Gerrit who replied:

Dear Alex

Thanks for sending me to first two exposures of your use of the Pellix.............Abraham would have undoubtedly have appreciated the unintended yet creative juxtaposition of the two images.

It is a wonderful picture - the model is beautiful and expressive - and will remind me of you and Abraham........and makes me pleased that you have the camera(s)

Were you working on chiaroscuro?


Technical Information: All pictures were taken either by a Nikon FM-2 with a 50mm F-1.4 or a Canon Pellix with a 50mm F-1.4. I shot Kodak Tri-X pushed to 800 ISO which I processed in Kodak HC-110 Dil 1/39 for 6 minutes 45 seconds.


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