The Large Format Project

Anniversary Speed Graphic

Anniversary Speed Graphic

Back in January when I laid out my resolutions for 2014, one unspoken resolution was clear to me - don't buy any new gear. I didn't need anything new and I was already under using what I have. That is still the case and I have used quite a few of my cameras already this year and lining up future projects for the ones I haven't. It's exciting. Then I saw an eBay auction that added a camera to my collection. Damn!

To back up a little bit here, James Pearson, Simon Kidd and I all keep in touch via a group text message - chatting about what we're doing with our film photography and answering each others questions. It's not all we chat about but it's the main thing we all have in common - that and fatherhood. I received a text message from James with an eBay link to a 5x4 film folder - it was a great price...a bargain...but I was firm in my plans for the year ahead. I knew large format would be where I would be heading in my photography because I love landscapes and the time and control large format photography offers is appealing to me. But not yet. I have a medium format camera that offers me great satisfaction. I was content. Simon stepped forward and offered me the use of his Graflex Crown Graphic for a while to see what I thought and suggested ways to process black and white sheet film without renewing my developing gear...which I would need to do if I made the move. Where do I go from here? All I'm investing in is a cheap film holder. What is there to lose?

I bought two film holders off the guy on eBay since he had a few, as did James, but they turned out to be the wrong size - 9x12cm instead of 5x4". I was already learning new things. I was still committed to finding the correct film holder, at the right price, and giving large format a go. Simon then sent a text saying he has spotted a Speed Graphic on eBay for £45 and it grabbed my attention instantly. It was clear the large format bug had already bitten. After some haggling, I had bought a large format camera.

The camera is an Anniversary Speed Graphic built in the 1940's and it needs some work but, after seeing it, not as much as you might think - not to warrant a £45 price tag or even the £40 I actually paid. It was advertised as a project that the seller had started and then gave up on. The ground glass had been broken but he had replaced that with a new one, and the bellows were burst and beyond repair. It had no lens but he was offering this at a reasonable price so I bought that too. Total price £85.

When you look at the camera you have to agree that it has seen better days but, then, it's 70 years old - I'm sure I will be saying that about my own reflection at 70 years old. The leather is dry and peeling and there is some stiffness in the movements. That a side, it is a complete camera for the best part and there appears to be very few missing parts that can't be replaced and certainly don't stop the camera working.

I've thought a lot about this camera in the last couple of weeks - about what I will do with it to get it up to scratch and usable. I've asked James and Simon, naturally. A restoration wouldn't be simple enough from what I've read and some kind of custom modification would also be simple, but the main thing for me right now is to get it working and that requires a new bellows.

I'll no doubt be posting about my progress with this camera over the coming months. I don't know when I'll take my first exposure with it but you'll certainly hear about. Until then I have plenty of other cameras and film formats to keep me busy.