Press photographer gear in the 40's and 50's?
I posted this same question in another forum, and nobody really knew the answer. I was hoping it would get different responses here.
For a press photographer in the 40's and 50's shooting a 4x5 speed graphic, what would be the lenses that one would carry? Aside from the standard 127mm and 135mm would there be a wide angle? Maybe a 10" or 15"? Or did they just use one lens and do what they could? I always see documentaries and all I see are 135's and 127's. They look like they are traveling light?
Jesus, man. ONE LENS is sufficient! The pressmen had enough weight to worry about, and most (from what i've heard) would lock the focus and shoot hyperfocally, as it made it easier to deal with the g/n of flashbulbs. I'm sure many would have had a backup or maybe a second lens in the giant vulcanite box, but certainally not when they were moving around.
The notable exception i can think of may be the tele-optar some may have additionally carried for paparazzi stuff to get in closER, but in old photos you can see the pressmen weren't afraid to get close, unlike the superzoom creepers of today.
Personally, I prefer a 150 on my Speed.
*disclaimer* I may or may not know what the heck i'm talking about
I guess the equipment would be dependend on the part of the world you are considering.
The guys I knew who did it mostly used the Grafmatic 6 shot backs so all focusing was done with the Kalart rangefinder.
Focusing on the ground glass was just not happening in the press environment.
Thus they used the one lens that was on the camera as lens swapping would have meant recalibrating the rangefinder - not something you're likely to do in the field on a moments notice.
Other than the camera and a couple or three grafmatics, the flash gun and a pocket full of Press 25 or #5 flash blubs was the essential kit. If you look at the press work from the period you'll see many many images made with the direct bulb flash, even outdoors, because of the maximum lens apertures and film speeds.
The phrase "F8 and be there." to describe press photography's most important duties came from this period.
Toward the end of the Speed Graphic era in the 70s I saw some rigs outfitted with the Honeywell/Singer Strobonar electronic flashes but by that time most guys were moving on to the new 35mm systems as fast as they could.
The Associated Press and Time Life have published several "best of" photography books that give the camera specifics for each image. Flipping through one of those will give you an idea of how the press camera/twin lens/35mm eras overlapped. The mighty Speeds lasted farther into the late 20th century than most folks imagine.
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I was given my first 4x5, a Speed Graphic with no front shutter, by a free lance photographer in 1937. Normally a 127 or 135 lens. Very few used Grafmatics because of their weight and it was much faster to load and unload regular holders in the darkroom than the Grafmatics. The free lance photographer lived and died with the speed with which he could get a print to the newspaper. Some, especially those who photographed sports and needed to act fast, and those who had to travel light because of not having a car, used filmpacks (16 sheets in a very lightweight magazine).
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Grab some old "'60's vintage" Photojournalism books......
As a kid I remember going through 60's vintage "Photojournalism" books (they were "vintage" then), and there were plenty of descriptions of the typical Press "kit" back in the 50's and earlier. Photographers from newspapers in Milwaukee, NYC, Louisville Courier-Journal and other locations had a boatload of 4X5 Speed Graphics, film holders, extra 4X5 Graphics with different lens boards (getting around the rangefinder calibration issues), with most of the gear stored in the huge trunk of some then-current Ford or Chevy. And those cars had room for "junk" in the trunk.
Some of the most elaborate pieces were the gear used for sports photography in that day, guys over the press box with a who-knows-how-long majestic glass in front of some hybrid camera/film holder combination. They pre-focused the lens (via ground glass back) for baseball games to catch 1st, 2nd and 3rd base positions and used intuition to get the shot. A different era......
Even when that book was published, MF was widely accepted in the Press field, 35MM was coming on board.
The comment on the photographer Weegee is spot-on..............the trunk of his car looked like a small closet of a Speed-Graphic collection. If these guys were ever rear-ended, not good for maintenance of the LF "fleet".
I am certain that more than a few packed the 90mm WA Raptar/Optar to go with the Teles. I recall seeing photos of Margaret Bourke-White with her (Pacemaker) Graphic having three rangefinders (the top mount Graflex with side mount Kalarts on either side.) After seeing that I always craved a left mounted Kalart.
Though Maggie probably had Ektars or something even cooler.
The Graflex with the 135mm was the standard in the US , in Europe you had some Leica and Contax shooters as well as the Rolleiflex and a few Ermanox cameras. The main cameras from the late forties on was as far as I know the Rolleiflex. The Graflex, MPP and other lf cameras were used by a few photographers but were not used that much by euro photojournalists.