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Brownie Hawkeye, Agfa Silette, Leica M6

My first camera was a Plastic Brownie Hawkeye with flash. I have photos taken with that camera from age ten. When I was a teenager, we moved to Wetzlar, Germany, across the river and up the hill from the Leica factory. I could see the Leitz plant from my window. I liked taking pictures, and the thought of a complicated Leica made me wonder about all those buttons and numbers, and the cost! Probably more than my father made in a month!


At about fifteen, a family friend took me to a darkroom to show me how he developed pictures. I suffered though the part where you develop the film and waited through the drying process. When he put the neg in the carrier, I became more attentive, because now I was starting to see something. He exposed the paper, and dropped it into the developer, and I saw the first real magic I had ever seen with my own eyes. The moment that print came up, I was hooked! I took the test strips home and looked them over, and I knew what I had to do.


The next day, I invested all my savings on an Agfa Silette (meter, no rangefinder.) The cheapest Leica was still far beyond my pocketbook, but I didn't care yet. I had in my hands the means to make magic. I shot as much as I could afford, and learned about Kodachrome. (Some of those 40 year old slides are still unfaded.)


I was elected President of the Frankfurt American High School Photo Club in my junior year, and moved up to a Regula RM rangefinder, as befitted my station. I also spotted the Metz Mecablitz, and spent all my earnings for it, so I was the second person I knew to own an actual strobe flash.


We returned to the US, and, I became a student staff photographer for the my college news bureau, also shooting for the newspaper and yearbook. As part of that job, I shot 16mm film of the athletic teams for the coaches to study.


I had this idea, (fostered by working for weekly newspapers,) that the only way you could be a news photographer was to also report, so I took Journalism as my course of study.


When I left college, and moved to Baton Rouge, there was an opening at the newspaper that paid about $80 per week.(1966) Before I accepted it, I stopped at a TV station. The News Director told me he had no reporting jobs open, but asked if I could shoot film. Of course, I said "Of course!" The pay was $109 per week plus overtime.


As the years progressed, I kept my hand in still photography with a Pentax Spotmatic, and bought a used Leica IIIf in 1970. I did some still freelance for UPI on the side while I was in TV. I think they paid $7 per shot, and they replaced the film. Later, I left news and went into the production department of the CBS affiliate in New Orleans, and I started taking lots of stills there, using Nikon F2's and the first Mamiya 645.


Most of my still work in those years were the Station ID slides. So while my work was published in a few regional magazines and illustrated three books, my widest audience was hundreds of thousands of people as they looked up over their beer to see what channel they were tuned to. Those years turned me into a wide angle guy, leaving plenty of space to place the Logo "WWL-TV 4, New Orleans." (Wide angle scenics . . . a hard habit to overcome.)


Now I live in and photograph a not-so-modern city, at least we pretend it is not. Behind the old Victorians, not blocking our lace grillwork, we point our satellite dishes at the sky here in Natchitoches, and we are modern in many, many other ways.  While we actually live in these old houses,  and remember our histories and myths,  we've rewired our 1920's traffic lights to use halogen bulbs.

As you look at my photographic portrayal of this oldest city in the Louisiana Purchase, it might strike you that I barely shoot any black and white.   The place, I always shoot in color.

In my daily work, I scan  photographs of the past of this part of the county.  We hold photos dating  from the War Between the states, people being baptized in the Cane River, posing on the stairs of plantations, and at humble cabins; people cutting wood, and chopping cotton and the 1927 flood.  The one thing that always hangs in my mind when I look at these bits of evidence is that this is a window to the way our people lived.

Only a few autochromes survive of those days, also some hand-colored shots, but the lion's share are black and white.  When I look at those color images, I think I can see more of the character of the people than I can with black and white.  I won't argue that some art, some "modern" stuff will present better in black and white.  Just not for me. When you see a black and white shot from me, one of two reasons is present, either I am playing with a new type of film, or the skin tones just didn't please me.

Maybe I'm  desensitized to black and white after working with it for so much of my life.  There was a time that color photography was a great luxury for me.  With digital, that's no longer the case.

About twenty-five years ago, I bought a Leica  M4-2, and later traded it for an M6.  After 15 years, I moved to an M7.  I'm now using a Leica M9 digital. 


My kit includes a Leica M9, Leica M6, and a Pentax K-r.


My M lenses include 15mm Voigtländer,  21mm Super-Angulon f4,  21mm Elmarit, 28mm Elmarit asph,  35mm Summicron asph, 40mm Summicron C, 50mm DR Summicron, 75 mm Summarit, 90mm Elmar C, 90mm Tele-Elmarit, 135mm Elmarit.   I use Pentax pancake ltd primes on the K-r.


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