The analog film camera has seen a resurgence and popularity as a slow medium for thoughtful photography, intentional artmaking, and an embrace of uncertainty. As this popularity grows, I recently had the chance to browse a friend’s vintage collection from her own family and local thrift bins.
Browsing their shelves, I took notice of the array of flashes they had found. Compared to today, it’s startling to think of the variety that the amateur 20th century photographer was using. I wondered how this variety may have impacted their images, the way they used their camera, where they went, what they photographed. As I looked at them it also struck me the way they looked like sculptures themselves. I borrowed a few to try and capture their uniqueness not only as old tools but as visual objects. Below is a photographic inventory of some of the most interesting in her collection!
Have a look:
Zoom-70, Pentax, 1986
In later decades, technology advanced to the point that strong enough flashes were able to be incorporated into the camera body itself. Because these were largely consumer grade point and shoot models and the flashes were effective enough for most situations, the camera has no mount for additional flash. As a result, professionals continued to use mounted flashes as below. The contemporary DSLR has a small flash while also having a mount available for additional professional accessories, enabling both options.
Bounce Master, Accura circ. 1960
This bulb flash drew me in with its compact leather carry case and reflective panels that bloom out like a flower when readied to shoot. It requires bulbs purchased separately that don’t fit into the carrier kit, is a bulkier and more delicate system, and features no labels. It shows the inaccessibility of this type of flash, not something you can easily put in a backpack and casually carry around. It is, however, far more portable than studio lighting and gives the photographer the chance to shoot at all hours of the day in uncontrolled settings.
Super Camer, Elektronic Ultralittz – Made in Germany circ. 1960
This particular flash is clearly designed to be used in the field. The ergonomic features inform the aesthetic decisions as we see in the ridges for the battery and the shoulder rest. You can also tell it’s for a more consumer class as the back includes a reference chart for flash settings based on film type and ASA. In contrast to the Bounce Master, this flash, while still very bulky, is much more manageable and durable for the average person and the average ‘photo-ready’ situation.
Digital Flashes, Assorted, circ. 1970s
Much easier to maneuver, less requiring careful handling, and with detailed charts on their backs these flashes are a clear shift to the future of photography: digital and widespread. Interestingly, DSLRs (the professional-grade digital cameras of today)
Interestingly, DSLRs (digital cameras of today) have a small flash incorporated into the camera body above. At the same time, professional-grade models will also have a mount allowing for additional flashes. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds!
Looking at these four together, it’s interesting to be able to see the clear technological progression in photography over the last century. Just through the kind of flashes developed and produced we can see how the kinds of photos, types of photographers, and photographic settings changed over the course of the 20th century.