|8th August 2022. Sanderson Quarter plate with D. Bremner|
|Collisions. Often viewed with negative connotations, but collisions of ideas and events often lead to joyous outcomes. I have a strong affinity for my late Grandfather and this website is dedicated to him and Grandma. Orphaned by the RMS Titanic, his life was literally steered by a collision. Given my own backstory, I was captivated by David Bremner's recreation of his Grandfather's Bristol Scout aeroplane from the first world war, when I first encountered them at Bicester in 2015. David's cloning of the Bristol Scout from the original DNA supplied by the rudder bar, control stick and the magneto seemed both admirable but entirely as it should be to my mind. I had a chat with David and his relatives at their small display table and was struck by the passion and resolve. Some years later after the aeroplane was settled at Old Warden I again spoke with them and none of the spark had gone. After the Covid19 trauma, having to leave Ukraine and giving up flying I treated myself to a trip up to Old Warden again after a break of some years in July 2022, seeing that the Bristol was on the flying schedule I felt compelled to get a portrait of David with the Bristol, as he was certain to be found beside it holding court with a crowd of enthusiastic supporters. For that attempt I used the Thornton Pickard dating from the early 1920s, it was a good deal younger than the Bristol, but I was testing a replacement lens. It didn't work out as the ground crew whisked the Bristol away before I could sum up the courage to suggest my imposition. At this point another of life's collisions occurred, A chap approached me to chat about my not entirely discrete camera. He asked to take my picture, as he was good at that kind of thing being unencumbered by the absurd amount of social distancing I naturally employ decades before global pandemics made it fashionable. He then posted the image on David's blog explaining what I had been up to. This lead to David and I getting in contact and he agreeing to me taking his portrait. This is little short of petrifying to me, but compulsion and obsession have always tended to win the day with me.|
|The camera I elected to use was the Quarter plate Sanderson, ostensibly as it was older than David's Bristol Scout and could have conceivably photographed it in the day if they were in the same place. It's also a fabulous looking thing and breaks the ice as a talking point but hadn't been out of the display case for some time. The main reason it hadn't been out was the Unicum Shutter was horribly unreliable. The shutter had jammed open on several occasions ruining the plate. I resolved to discover it's faults and make it reliable again. At left is the Unicum shutter, a Bausch and Lombe product made in America and patented in 1891 in pieces five days before the arranged day. It's a pneumatically "governed" device that's seen considerable use during the past 120 years since it was brought glistening into this world. The principle problem was the vulcanite shutter leaves. Hardened and warped by sunlight they simply collided with each other instead of riding one over the other. It turns out that ironing them on setting two between two sheets of paper causes the ultraviolet damaged layer to stick to the paper and peel away. A brief polish and second pass with the iron returns them to near perfectly flat. Try this at your peril, but it worked for me. The shutter was then thoroughly cleaned and reassembled, firing reliably several dozen times before I was confident enough to trust it.|
|Rebuilt and ready. The vulcanite blades can be seen in the centre, they fade progressively towards brown over the decades but remain sufficiently opaque for the purpose. There were other issues of course, the brass cam follower pins that set the delay piston are heavily worn, so the piston doesn't fully extend, the nickel plate on the delay piston is worn off, so air escapes faster than intended and the mainspring is stretched and somewhat weaker these days, as is the closing spring. What could possibly go wrong! Now none of these issues will prevent the shutter from releasing but they will contribute to the Unicum's inherently poor speed control. I used my audio method (see project 10) to calibrate the shutter or rather produce an error card as there is no adjustment possible. That method will work with any multi blade leaf shutter but not single sector shutters. As expected the speeds were wildly inaccurate, with the slow speeds running fast due to insufficient braking in the delay mechanism and the fast speeds running slow due to lack of oomph in the springs. The crossover point was 1/5th sec. at 95% accurate. 1/25th sec. was running slow at 50% but quite handy as this equates to around 1/12th sec. This divides into the 100 ASA film I was using well enough to be usable. I then selected the three double plate carriers that looked serviceable and gave them a quick going over before committing six of my precious Efke sheets to the fray. With just sufficient preparation in the bag to avoid the failure to prepare trap, I set out on my quest with a bucket full of deferred defects and my fingers crossed.|
I wanted to avoid the temptation to pose David by the engine and propeller, it's too obvious and overly done. I'm too far back here, I'm not a portrait photographer and hate the idea of imposing. It rather shows, I suspect. But David is well used to it and clearly wants his grandfather's tale to be told.
This for me though is more about the desire to follow in his foot steps, to honour his memory, it's more about David's journey.
Photographically this was exposed at 1/12th sec. at f/30, mounted on a period headless tripod. The lens is the original Dallmeyer, Rapid Rectilinear, as bright and lively as the day it was made. This positive is unadjusted, images of this clarity were possible in the day. Efke mono coat film is probably a bit better than they'd have had, but it's still an archaic emulsion - sadly no longer made.
No change bar for opening up half a stop just in case the shadows were too strong. Still too far back but the detail on the aeroplane is impressive, given such an image from the time any amount of details and measurements could be taken.
None of these images are cropped, save for cropping out clip shadows and the unexposed margins.
This is better, the 'plane is there but becoming incidental. This is now more about David, but his grandfather is present.
I kept the shutter speed the same but opened up one stop.
The next exposure fell apart, or rather out, as the dark slide conspired to slide behind the sheet and hook it into the bellows, whereupon it fell out as the plate carrier was withdrawn. Four down, two to go.
Dare I say a growing confidence, or probably just a desire to change viewpoint. The headless tripod (rotating and elevating tripod heads being an innovation yet to be invented at the time) was unable to get the elevation I needed, so a bit of the Sanderson's lens rise was employed to shift the viewpoint. The glow from the diffused light through the Bristol's wings onto the coaming is well portrayed here. As for the strong light on David's face, I wasn't sure at the time, but went with it. Unorthodox as it is, I've decided it's okay.
Looking at the original, every line in the weft of the flying suit is clearly visible, a tribute to a lowly f/8 rectilinear. Mind you, it was hot stuff back in the day.
At this point I took a gamble. I have been writing a page for the website on the subject of double exposures. Double exposures were usually mistakes and increasingly throughout the 1940s and 50s in particular cameras were fitted with locks to prevent such mistakes. Occasionally you find old double exposed negatives, usually to the detriment of the image, but such marks are very much a signature of an earlier age. Famously, the only image of Titanic's Marconi room, is a tantalizing double exposure made by an Irish priest during his Transit to Queenstown. Deliberate double exposures are often contrived affairs, modern versions more so, more aptly described as digital montage. Here I made a fractional exposure first, moved the tripod and made a second exposure on top at the correct aperture, alas I don't recall what I used here but likely f/22 at 1/12th sec.
Here David looks ahead, surrounded by his history and accompanied by fractional version of his earlier self.
The Sanderson has had it's own say in the matter too, the very bright sunlight was shining right into the dark slide slot, I knew it was risky at the time. When the sheet was in the camera it was inverted, so the light streak was actually coming in from the top right corner. The oblique beam has caused specks of dust to cast shadows across the sheet. Its faults, deliberate and accidental have stamped their unique qualities upon it.
This is my favourite image.
As an aside, I also took the Nagel Fornidar for a rare outing and added one image of the aeroplane to that camera's gallery too.
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