It was a classic bait and switch.
First, some history... Damaso Reyes first proposed a NYC meet-up on Rangefinder Forum, an online home for camera nerds. The group was Leica-centric and, as I was new to Leica, my girlfriend thought the meet-up would be good for me because she would not have to listen to me talk about cameras and photography all the time. Somehow, after attending a few of these monthly meetings, I unwillingly became responsible for keeping the event going when Damaso decided to relocate to Barcelona.
It was fun meeting in a bar and obsessing about photography and cameras. We admired each other’s gear and shared stories. Like a Camera Anonymous meeting, the meet-up became a support group of camera addicts.
Wanting to explore this obsessive behavior more thoroughly, I thought it would be cool to create a “First Annual Camera Beauty Pageant” for a February Meet-Up, where we could play off our obsession with cameras and the culture we all share.
New Yorkers are both aggressive and competitive. On the Rangefinder Forum thread, we knew each other enough where I became a Don King persona and encouraged trash talking and low blows.
I made up rules that would favor my cameras, but I also presented this event like a bare knuckles street fight where only one rule would be strictly enforced: “No biting.” I went over the top, started pumping up this big event, and promoted a 1970s New York City style of rowdy lawlessness. Just to be democratic, I decided to let the mob be the ultimate judge of winners and losers.
By chance Damaso was back from Spain for a visit and could attend the pageant. I limited the competition to Leica M bodies. (Later competitions would be more inclusive and had many more categories; for example, the second annual event was a “Camera Olympics” with many more competitions.) Each competitor had to give up the smut on the camera: what makes it special or worthy of consideration, its rarity, history, and how it was discovered. All this gave the mob ammunition; very quickly the event became rowdy and ruthless.
I had an odd M6: the Wetzlar engravings were on a Titanium top plate with standard chrome knobs and levers. I had purchased the camera used, my first Leica, and serial number indicated that it was a Leica prototype that preceded by about 5 years the limited edition Titanium M6.
Politely and promptly I removed my M6 from the competition because John C. had a pristine black paint Leica M2R that was even more wonderful than mine. Others also removed their inferior cameras after their pitch, until only John’s M2R and Damaso’s black beat-up M6 TTL remained, and that’s when the vicious fighting began.
John presented his black paint M2R as a camera he had bought and sent to Lutton in England to have stripped, CLA’d, and repainted. It took a very long time and must of cost plenty because it looked like a brand new camera. This camera also sported a Leica black paint 35mm ‘cron, so everything was vintage correct.
I mentioned that I love the black M2R, but just to start getting things started I gave the M2R a demerit because it was not complete and did not have a black paint Leicavit to exploit the “R” capability.
When it was Damaso’s turn, he legitimized his beater M6 TTL as a pro’s working camera, and the wear was proof of its elevated status. You could feel the sentiment shift among the mob. John was sweating as Damaso accused him of being a collector and not a “shooter.”
The mob went wild. John tried to explain, “I got it back just in enough time for this event and didn’t even have time to put film through it,” but the love for his gorgeous camera was fading. Then Damaso picked up the beautiful M2R and showed everyone that Lutton had installed the protective plastic on the base plate like a brand new Leica.
“It’s a Shelf Queen,” Damaso said. And others in the mob agreed. “Take off the plastic, show me its not a Shelf Queen,” Damaso said.
Someone in the mob yelled, “Take it off,” and then the mob began chant, “Take it off… Take it off… Take it off…” All of the sudden it was like a hockey game. People not chanting were having a hard time breathing because we were laughing so hard. I was one of those laughing, with tears in my eyes.
In the end this beautiful M2R lost because John C. could not take the plastic protection off like a brand new camera. The following year John C. came back with another camera that should have been a ringer, but was defeated again. The moral of this story is that nice guys are losers.
These celebrations of camera culture are a big deal. One year after the M9 was released John C. brought a brand new M9. This one may also have had the plastic on the base plate but, in Leica tradition, when new models are first released, securing one is very, very difficult due to limited availability.
At this event there happened to be another brand new M9. The buzz going around was that they were so new they were rare. Other than the owners, the mob had never seen or handled a M9 before.
So, in our craziness, we used serial number to determine the winner between the two M9s. The camera with the lower serial number was deemed “vintage” and of course, a vintage camera is always worth more than a new camera. John C. lost again.
I think it took three or four attempts before John C. eventually became our champion. For some strange reason he was a true underdog; the mob could be brutal, especially to a mild-mannered guy. The lesson here is that if you don’t win the first time, come back for another beating.
I decided to create a “Cheap Camera” Contest because not only I made up the rules, but also I had a dead ringer. I did my usual trash talking, and to inspire a huge turnout I even offered this vintage camera as a prize. Boy was I cocky and over-confident.
At the event I talked up my lucky find, but Sam had a Voightlander Bessa II with a legendary Heliar 105mm lens. It is remarkable that both cameras are rangefinders, but even more remarkable that Sam also found his treasure in a thrift store, but get this: Sam also paid $24.99 for his camera. So my loss in this cheap camera contest came down to the difference between NYC sales tax versus Long Island sales tax. I lost the Cheap Camera Contest by 6 or 7 cents.
Let's return to the present...
2018 Camera Carnival
Lexington Avenue and 97th Street
East Harlem, New York
The winner of the 2018 Camera Carnival was Joe’s early 4x5 Linhof Technika V. A true time capsule, his Tech V had the “You suck factor.” In fact, I was so green with envy that I repeatedly I told Joe, “You suck!” Please note the smug smile on Joe’s face in the one photograph where he confidently reveals an original white Linhof presentation case.
“Brutal,” I said. Then he opened up the presentation to display the treasure inside.
Then he opened the camera, loaded the accessories that came with the body, and showed us the paperwork indicating the matching serial numbers of the body and the legendary Linhof Select Zeiss 135/3.5 Planar.
“You suck Joe,” I repeated. Brutal. I know that the Zeiss Planars from that era are legendary because I own a Linhof Select 100/2.8 Planar made for the 2x3. The image quality, rendering, and sharpness are all so German, meaning perfect in every way. Clean examples are especially difficult to find and, in Joe’s case, a triple lucky find.
First, Joe’s 135 Planar is spotlessly clean. No lens separation, which is common on these balsam cemented lenses.
Secondly Joe had the cam with the matching serial number that was originally made by Linhof for the lens. Oddly enough, for some unknown reason the lens was was sold separately by the same dealer where Joe first just bought the body loaded with all the accessories like the hood/filter holder for the 135 Planar, the Linhof grip, the wirefinder….
Somehow Joe discovered this 135 Planar belonging to this camera much later, with obsessive data mining through the dealer’s website. Talk about a lucky find! The moral of the story here is that it pays to be obsessive.
So here is what kills me. Joe really got a great deal on the body because not only was it in superlative condition and came with the original packaging, but also it came with mucho accessories that are expensive if purchased separately.
“You suck, Joe.”
On top of that, just to really piss me off, Joe paid almost no money for the Zeiss Planar that, again, was oddly mispriced.
Again, “Joe, you suck.”
The dealer never should have sold the lens and body separately because the lens, body, accessories, and original packaging all together would have commanded a high premium. Joe’s camera is of museum quality. Too bad he owns it and not me. I guess the moral of the story here is to be like Joe: stubborn. Anyways this camera seemed like “Divine Intervention.” Really a remarkable camera and the deal of a lifetime.
When I posted on the “Rangefinder Forum New York Meet-Up” thread, explaining the “You suck factor” and how it related to Joe, he posted a response. He understood the “You suck factor” when he saw Sam’s black paint Leica II.
I once owned a nice black paint Leica II, but mine was a user. Sam’s had only minimal signs of wear and, with the nickel hardware and knobs, dates to 1932. Somehow Sam secured a vintage nickel Elmar with appropriate black paint lens cap and black paint hood. The rarest accessory was the vintage Leica wrist strap.
Sam told me that he identified the wrist strap by doing forensics. First, the knurling matched the Leica knurling on the Leica II. Second, he did a search and found one available at the Leica Store selling for 350 Euros. Ouch.
In the past I bragged about trading gear like commodities and exaggerated that I daytraded cameras. It is not such an exaggeration in Sam’s case as he has a stockpile of about 300 cameras, and he now identifies himself as a collector. Sam also has established a relationship with a camera dealer to the point they basically trade cameras without any cash transactions. Seems like Sam has cornered the market. Someone call the SEC.
Then there was Sam’s Alpa. What a strange and unique beast: both rangefinder and SLR.
The ethnography here is that New Yorkers are hype-competitive and ruthless; mobs are uncontrollable; and photographers are funny guys with obsessive behavior.
I’ll end this here and won’t bore you with the cameras I brought to the Camera Carnival, but here’s a shot of an extra heavy “Baby” Linhof. I’m holding off because these are my personal cameras and I will write about them in another article.
NOTE: To read the NYC Meet-Up thread, first you have to register at RangefinderForum.com and sign in. Registration is free.
Photographer, painter, writer, and performance artist, Calvin Lom runs a particle beam accelerator in a physics research laboratory and moonlights as a vintage hipster.
Text © copyright 2018 by Calvin Lom. All rights reserved. Photographs © copyright 2018 by Calvin Lom and reproduced by permission. All rights reserved.