This is the thing digital cameras can never take away from film cameras… they can age well. The shot on this page was taken with a camera that is very special to me. My Zeiss Ikon Contina IIa. It was built in 1956 as an exceptionally well made point and shoot. It is all manual and has a selenium cell light meter (NO batteries required). It is not a range finder nor an SLR (looking through the lens). To focus it you have to judge the distance to your subject and turn the lens scale to match your guess. It helps to be able to convert to meters as it is a German camera. It has not had a roll of film in it in as long as I’ve owned it until last week (shame). Despite it’s lack of modern conveniences it is capable of adding beauty to the world when given the chance. Imagine how well a 55 year old digital camera will hold up. This camera will be able to work alongside it then too.
The reason this camera is special to me is not because it is old or beautiful (even though it is both of those). It is because it was given to me by a beautiful German lady named Helga. Helga lived in the Bronx when I met her and she was in her mid 70’s then. That was around 2000 or 2001. She lived in a house behind my mother’s that had been built by her husband when that part of the Bronx was still farm land. I used to periodically talk to her over the adjoining fences and it was always a treat. One day she asked me to come around to the house. When I arrived she said she was selling the house and moving since it had become too much to handle after the passing of her husband John (John by the way was a wonderful painter, a kind man and the subject of one of my favorite photographs I have ever taken). Helga handed me this camera and said that it was a gift. She had purchased it when she was leaving Germany as a sort of insurance policy. If things did not work out in America then she could sell it and buy her way back. Things did work and she stayed.
I have looked at this camera for years. Last week I decided to run a roll through it on our swing out to California and I got this photo. I love it. It is old and new all at once. It is new beauty in a changing world and it was placed here by a camera that is as gorgeous and functional at fifty-five as when it was new. Thank you Helga for one of the best gifts that was ever given to me.
Pacific Beach, San Diego, California taken with Zeiss Ikon Contina IIa on Kodak Tri-X