Tuesday, April 17, 2012

{Memory | A man and his camera}

It is important that we share the story of lives. 

Of another's life. 

All of us have a story - some witness it and thereby witness our life. Some of us simply read of another's life - and even without knowing them it can be a touching tribute to humanity in general... of how we are loved by the people who witness our life: our family, our friends... and how valuable each memory we make from childhood to adult is in preserving what is good and true and whole in life.

And documentation.

And cameras...

My friend Erica and her mom, Shauna recently gave me the most incredible old German camera. I have been collecting cameras and they knew of my collection. This camera was Shauna's father's - Leon Lee Hofer. And what an exquisite camera it is. 

Leon Lee Hofer with one of his cameras.

I asked Shauna to share a little bit of info about her father - the man who owned this camera, here are her words:

  • On the day of January 28th in 1960, two cars traveling on a lonely country road met head-on  at the top of a hill.  The impact took the life of my dad, Leon Lee Hofer age 29. 
  • He was one of 9 children from a strong German family in South Dakota. 
  • He met my mother after coming to Bethel College. 
  • While at Bethel he was active in music and captain of the Varsity Quartet.  He was editor and photo editor of the yearbook. He was the first Bethel graduate to be deceased. 
  • While living in Flint MI he used his carpentry skills to build a house for my mother and I from the ground up.  He was director of music at the Flint Missionary Church as well as youth teacher. 
  • Being 5 when he died, I don't remember him very well. My older cousins and family that do remember have told me what a handsome man he was.... but more importantly a genuinely nice & funny man that loved the Lord.  
  • I remember him taking my photo with him after setting his camera on the timer.  He also created a faux front page newspaper headline & picture announcing my birth.  He set the paper on a table and photographed it.  He sent little 3x4 pictures of that image to family.  They actually thought it was a true news story.

Although Leon's story was cut short, he had a story - as we each do. Obviously photography was important to him, as was his heritage, he chose a German made camera. :) I believe he had quite a few nice cameras - this Prominent model being one. Life is so short. And can be unexpected. It is important to do the things you love and live it to the fullest. Here is a man who did just that.

I did a little research on these cameras - these memory documenters as I like to call them. 

Only around 4,000 of these cameras were made - the Voigtlander Prominent 6x9 roll film camera were manufactured from 1923-1936. It was the best roll film camera made by Voigtlander, it included a split-image rangefinder. 

Taken from camerapedia.com
Voigtländer is an optical company founded by Johann Christoph Voigtländer in Vienna in 1756 and is thus the oldest name in cameras. It produced the Petzval photographic lens (the fastest lens at that time: f/3.7) in 1840, and the world's first all-metal daguerrotype camera (Ganzmetallkamera) in 1841, also bringing out plate cameras shortly afterwards. The company issued stock in 1898, and a majority of the shares were acquired by Schering in 1925.

Over the next three decades, Voigtländer became a technology leader and the first manufacturer to introduce several new kinds of product that would later become commonplace. These include the first zoom lens (36–82/2.8 Zoomar) in 1960 and the first 35mm compact camera with built-in electronic flash (Vitrona) in 1965.
Schering sold its share of the company to the Carl Zeiss Foundation in 1956, and Zeiss and Voigtländer integrated in 1965.

An obviously incredible camera. I am still not sure how to accept {properly} a gift such as this. I do not feel worthy of such a beautiful gift. I have told Shauna and Erica it will be on loan to me... even though they have offered it as a gift. This will always be Leon's exquisite camera and only in my possession. I am honored to care for it. I am touched, beyond words that something so important to them is something they believe I will cherish and I do. I've pulled it out of its case several times, 4x in fact I think and looked at it repeatedly just to marvel its awesomeness. Leon had incredible taste and selection in cameras. Even though I never met Leon, I'll bet we could sit down and talk about photography - I took film courses in college so I have enough insight to hold a decent conversation, but I'll bet he could have taught me a few things - and maybe I could have shared my insight on digital. :) This is one of the reasons I will look forward to meeting people in heaven - relativity of things in life we had passion for. 

Though photography changes through the years - and went from film to digital - the concept is the same. The use of light. The power to capture emotion and document it in a life story. The desire for someone to tell this story using the camera. I hope that in a small way writing about this man's life - and his camera - which is now by far among my collection, my very favorite - would be pleased at how much I value his love for my own personal trade: photography. How I respect the deep love he had for his family. And also that I regrettably understand the grief of a life lost too soon, as my sister was only 28 when she was also tragically killed in a car accident.

In the end I believe the photographs we achieve now and after our loved ones are gone are far more in value to us than the camera that took them. It is their resemblance on paper that we dare not part with. It is a tiny portion of them, in spirit even. There is something transcending about capturing a person in a moment ... a moment that was their life. It carries our priceless memory. 

I'm half tempted to say when someone asks me, "What do you do for a living?" to say, "I'm in the memory documentation business." Rather than, "I'm a photographer." It's a slight variation, but to me holds much more emotive value as to connect it with something priceless... memory. The tools - so important in achieving this, but the end result - a worth beyond measure.