Photographers Posing with Their Unwieldy Cameras

Herman Schaefer holding a 5×7 press Graflex camera during a game
Baseball player Herman Schaefer holding a 5×7 Graflex camera during a game in 1911.

There was an element of suspense and excitement that any old school photographer will tell you is so sorely absent these days with all the digital camera gadgets. No matter how competent, a lens man never really knew what he was going to exactly get until the film was developed and printed. Any photographer worth his salt was adept at his craft equally as a skilled lens mans, and also as a laboratory technician inside the darkroom. It was in that red lit room where the other end of the process took place.

photographers posing with vintage cameras white house press
Seventeen members of the White House News Photographers’ pose with their cameras and tripods.

Starting from removing the film from its canister, skilled hands would spool the film onto a reel which would be placed inside a developing tank. In measured amounts of time, it would be treated with a developing solution, a stop bath, and finally a fixer. This process would reveal the negatives. Then you would go over to your enlarger, where you place the negatives to project them onto an easel with photographic paper. The paper is then processed again with the same chemicals, a developer, stop bath, and fixer, this time on 3 separate trays. That, in a nutshell, is how you arrive at a photographic print.

White House News Photographers’ Association posing for a group picture while clutching their top-of-the-line cameras in the 1920s
White House News Photographers’ Association clutch what were once top-of-the-line cameras.

It must be mentioned to this DSLR and Photoshop generation that does not realize it never had it so good. The photos assembled here show an era in photography when these methods were the only way to produce pictures. Some old-timers insist, pictures of the old school ways have shown themselves to endure over a hundred years. That remains to be seen of today’s digital counterparts. There is also something the toxic smell of fixer and developing solution will do to excite a thinning number of photographers who still experienced the anticipation of roughing it up inside a darkroom.

Frances Benjamin Johnston with her camera
Frances Benjamin Johnston, one of the earliest American female photographers and photojournalists, with her camera.

So to all you photography buffs of the digital age, please look at these photos with some amount of gratitude. It was in the hands these practitioners of the craft that ultimately paved the way for the development of photography as we know it today.

traveling photographer shooting in Columbus, Ohio
Itinerant photographer with his camera in Columbus, Ohio.

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Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.