A seed is planted.
For as long as I can remember my step dad has had 3 cameras that he basically used as decorations. Two were box cameras and one was a slightly more conventional looking camera. I never really paid that much attention to them other than I thought they looked pretty cool in a retro/vintage sort of way.
This all changed in November of 2010. I had just started to get into photography after an amazing trip to Japan, and really fell in love with film cameras. I loved the whole process that came with film. This new love of photography and film cameras specifically lead me to ask my step dad if the cameras on display were functioning models. His answer, rather unassuringly was that last time he used them they worked. However, that was at least 30 years ago. I did not let this fact deter me from my mission.
The first camera I decided to try out was the GuGo as this looked more like the cameras I was used to seeing. It was covered in thick grime. I assumed that this was what happens to dust that never gets dusted off. The camera was also missing a few screws and at first, the focus wheel would not turn at all. I got myself a thin needle and removed the grime that was on the focus wheel runners and managed to turn it to three focus points. Being very new to photography I wasn’t sure what the numbers referred to distance wise. Was it feet, meters or centimetres? I again asked my step dad, and the answer was even less helpful than last time. “I have no idea” came the rather frank reply.
After an hour or so, I had removed all the grime, got the focus wheel turning as much as I could and was extremely excited to try it out. The only major issue with the camera was the fact that the viewfinder was incredibly dirty on the inside so it made picture taking pretty difficult to say the least. It was going to be more of a hope and pray process!
All bets are off.
I took the camera down to my local camera store to see what they made of it. After amazing a couple browsing the store about how old it was (initially a guess of around the 50 year mark) and the fact that you could still get film for it I spoke to the staff for a good 10 minutes or so on the best course of action. They concluded that it would be best to try out colour negative film. That is, black and white film that uses the same chemical process as colour film (C41) so that the cost wouldn’t be sky high to develop and also the fact that they doubted that the lens on the camera would be able to pick up much detail with colour film. The patience I had to see if the camera functioned at all was nonexistent. I walked out of the camera store, around the building to China Town and back again, with a finished roll and a very excited feeling.
I waited a few days to collect the rolls of film (I had also got one of the box cameras up and running. The Ensign all distance to be precise and shot a roll on that too) Myself and the staff at London Camera Exchange were very impressed about how clear and crisp the pictures were. Light leaks aside, the camera functioned surprisingly well. I just needed to find some screws for the body and clean the viewfinder up.
I decided to call into ‘The Real Camera’ shop around the corner to pick up some expired film and see if they knew anything about the cameras history, as I couldn’t find anything on it online at all. Interestingly, the guys there had never seen my camera before, or even heard of it for that matter. This had them rather interested about it. So much so that he let me sift through a box of screws to sort out the light leaks. He also got an encyclopaedic type book out on cameras and actually found out a bit of information on the camera. They were made in the 1950’s in the US Military zone of Germany, which meant that the camera was 60 years old and still shooting strong! Oddly, this date contradicts the story of how the camera came to be in possession of my family.
My step dad claimed that his brother received it whilst on a Naval boat in the war from a German soldier that they rescued from the Ocean. The camera was given as a thank you for saving his life. Obviously this tale could’ve been shortened over the years to become something a little left of the truth. I have an inclination that it was a gift from after the War and it was sent as a thank you. Not received on the ship itself. However that is all just conjecture and assumptions on my part.
Whilst talking to one of the staff members there, I suggested he look through the viewfinder to see how bad this was. He thought for a moment, and then asked if I was in a hurry. I was not and told him so. He then said that he would give the glass in the viewfinder a quick clean, as he always likes seeing old cameras restored to usable conditions. Whilst cleaning the glass he said that he normally charges for this service, but seeing as he offered to do it, it would be on the house. Once he had finished up I took another look through and was amazed at the difference. A few scratches, but otherwise very clear. I bought some expired black and white film and said my goodbyes.
The improvements to the pictures after visiting ‘The Real Camera’ shop have been vast. Hardly any light leakage now and I can actually see through the viewfinder. I have since tried a roll of colour film in, and every picture came out fine. It’s such a quirky little camera that has an amazing history to it and a very unique shooting style due to it’s half working parts (the 1/25th shutter speed sometimes sticks open so I only use 1/75th or B mode, plus it can only focus between 3ft and 15ft)