-An Aging Street Photographer Laments the Impending Demise of a Special Camera-
As a beginning photographer in the 1970’s, long before I knew what I was seeing, I was drawn to Sylvia Plachy‘s wider-than-normal photographs. They were published weekly in her Unguided Tour column for New York City’s iconic newspaper The Village Voice.
I eventually learned that she used a WIDELUX camera, manufactured in Japan by Panon Camera Shako in both 35mm and 120mm models.
In 1980 my friend Laimute Druskis lent me her F7 35mm model – it was love at first shoot. I felt that the camera’s 140 degree “ultra wide angle” view was perfect for street photography. Its fixed focus range, about 5 feet to infinity, made shooting easier and faster.
The camera has five f/stops (f/2.8 to f/11) but does not have a standard shutter. A slit exposes film as the lens gradually pivots on a horizontal arc. This “pivoting” has three settings: 1/250th, 1/125th and 1/15th of a second. Moving at 1/250th of a second, the lens makes a loud sound. At 1/15th of a second it purrs, and the camera can be hand held in dim light.
Set into a rotating barrel, its 25mm lens produces twenty one 24 mm x 56 mm negatives (64% wider than a standard 35mm negative) on a roll of 36 exposure film.
As soon as I found one for sale, I bought it, and I’ve been using it ever since on almost every project I’ve photographed.
Now each time I use it, I wonder how much longer my camera will last. The F7 was made until 1988. The latest Widelux model F8 has not been manufactured since 2000. Even worse – parts are no longer available. I was lucky a few years ago, the last time my F7needed repairs. One of the excellent technicians at Nippon Camera Repair was returning to Japan for a visit. Because parts were available there, he took my camera with him and returned a few months later with a working camera. I began photographing with the Widelux F7 in my South Brooklyn neighborhood.
As I became serious about being a photographer, I began making photographs every year of a Good Friday street procession at the Catholic church I went to as a boy.
It takes a while to learn how to hold the Widelux so that your fingers do not appear in the edge of the frame
Over the years other Catholic churches in Brooklyn added active Good Friday processions and dramatic reenactments of the Stations of the Cross. St. Barbara’s in Bushwick is one of them. By now I was shooting more color than BxW.
A friend at work told me that her Baptist Church had a special Good Friday service. So I photographed at the Greater Zion Shiloh Baptist Church also.
Most people do not think of New York as a “holy city” but expressions of religious belief abound, especially in the outer boroughs. I photographed many colorful walls with painted messages warning about drug use and violence.
Many of these walls memorialize local residents with both religious and personal messages.
I started photographing Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade in 1992, and I’ve made many of my favorite images for this ongoing project with the Widelux. Its wide angle of view places my costumed subjects in the broader context of an urban beach.
Sometimes I’m surprised when I look at my Widelux negatives – lots of interesting activity at the edge of the frame that I didn’t see in the rush of photographing.
A few weeks after the Mermaid Parade, another of NYC’s most photographed street festivals takes place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Carrying of the Giglio, a painted tower over 80 feet high, began as an expression of religious and cultural identity among Italian-American immigrants in 1903.
NYC’s scrap industry is another longtime interest of mine. I’ve photographed its many aspects with a variety of cameras and once again found the Widelux essential for capturing people as they work.
As I was preparing this article for Street Photography Magazine in July, 2021, I received a NYC CITY ARTIST CORPS Grant. This grant will support my plan to photograph the last undeveloped stretch of Coney Island’s old amusement area. Just three blocks long, Bowery Street is the home of the remaining small, often family owned, booths and concessions offering games of chance and skill. Here are games with regulation size basketballs and narrow rims, games with water pistols and darts, rings to toss and bbs for shooting zombies.
Visit Larry’s Bowery Street Exhibition, running September 25th – October 17th, 2021.