Goin’ Out With One of the Big Boys (AKA 4×5 Graflex Crown Graphic)

I was headed out to the local promenade, uh…okay the walking path around the local lake, Mcintosh Lake, and had to choose what to bring. I decided it was time to ‘go big or go home,’ uh…actually I was home when I made the decision, so I really only had one choice. I went big.

Took the Graflex Crown Graphic with one film holder loaded with the French Bergger Panchro 400, a favorite black and white 4×5 film of mine when I can get it. (It’s been out of stock for over a year.) The Crown is plenty heavy even though it sheds some weight from the Speed Graphic by losing the focal plane shutter. Sporting a Schneider Xenar 127mm f4.5 lens, I was ready for business.

Just had to find some business to photograph. (I was looking for a portrait of someone I had never photographed before, this week’s prompt for The Photo Game.)

The first thing I did was open it up, pull the lens out onto the bed and extend the bellows so it would look like a camera and hopefully attract someone’s attention. It’s always so surprising how many people can walk by it and never even notice it. I was sitting on a bench in full view, just for that reason, to see if I could use it to help me find someone to photograph.

It’s old, but not that old. It shouldn’t need finding someone 100 years old to know what a Graphic camera is. Nope, but it did take a 91-year-old. Meet Norm.

After the camera introduced us–ok, it may not have actually spoken but it certainly served as the liaison to our meeting–I found out Norm’s wife of many years died just a year ago, and now he walks every day 3-4 miles. That’s a lot! I don’t walk anywhere near that much. He uses a walker and I’m sure it’s not easy, but he lives on the lake and this is where he walks daily. And he told me there’s a bench around the other side of the lake with her name on it as a memorial, which I will make a point to seek out. What a sweet old man with his big grin.

So, of course, I said, “Let’s get your photo with this.” To which he said, “Oh, no, you don’t want my picture.” I said I sure did. He within a split second made a quick reversal and sat down with me and said ok to a portrait. It may have all been in the same breath.

One of the best things a camera can do is serve as a way to meet people. I never would have met Norm had it not been for the Crown Graphic.

I think he was glad to have someone ask him about him, to say hello, to chat about the camera, and then to want to photograph him. Because he matters and perhaps doesn’t have a lot of interaction on a daily basis. If he’s anything like my Dad, he doesn’t.

So, he took a seat. I guessed exposure. Bright sunlight, backlit, 1/250 at f11. Then I processed the film two minutes longer, pushing it to 800 because I love a dense negative. And the last thing I wanted was his face to be thin on the neg, without enough silver.

I processed with Tim Gilbert’s (a local guy from Erie Colorado though he’s relocating to Ft. Lupton, CO) SP445 tank in 20 minutes. The negative looked great. Hung to dry (blotted the lower corner). Quick DSLR copy ‘scan’. Good to go. Next, I’ll hand print it in my darkroom and get him a print.

Of course, I’ll drop it in a frame for him. Presentation is everything.

Boy, that’s a good one. I can’t think of a better afternoon than that–meeting someone, having a bit of a conversation, making them feel important enough to photograph with a large negative camera, and making their portrait. I bet this photograph of him stays in his family for the next six generations at least. That’s the real reward. Knowing I’m making something that isn’t just for today.

What a gift. Him to me. Giving me the opportunity to make something lasting, something that will keep his warm smile alive forever. Because as long as we’re on that bench, the sun is shining, the weather’s pleasant, and life is good.

That’s forever in the life of this photograph. I told him to think of something wonderful, something special, and I’d photograph him with just that thought in mind for all time.

And here it is. What a special person. A treat to meet with the 4×5.


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