Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Jack London's Camera

A friend picked up this camera at a yard sale in Truth or Consequences, NM some years ago and gave it to me.

The No. 3-A Folding Pocket Kodak was made from about 1903 to 1915.  It was pretty close to state-of-the-art with a shutter going up to 1/100 and a two-element Rapid Rectilinear lens.  The camera produced a postcard-sized negative on 122 roll film.  In the picture below, the 122 reel is on the left.  Next to that in order is a 116 reel from my 1-A Special, a 120 reel and a 35mm cartridge.

Now, I'm pretty sure that the camera in my possession is not Jack's because the last patent number inside the back is 1909.  However, it does appear to be the same or very similar to the camera London can be seen holding in a picture that appeared today in the NY Times Lens blog.  The picture was snapped in 1904 while London was in the process of being arrested by Japanese military authorities for taking unauthorized pictures during the Russo-Japanese War.

While the details are a little hard to discern, you can see in a zoomed-in view that there are great similarities to my No. 3-A, including the rounded form, the two slim struts at the front which hold the lens board, and the pneumatic bulb shutter release which juts down to the left from the camera's front.  There is also the possibility that London's camera is the slightly smaller No. 3 Kodak which used 118 film, based on a comparison of the camera's length to the length of London's right hand.  My 3-A model is 9.5 inches long which seems to me a little more than the camera London holds.

My own No. 3-A would need a little restoration work before it could make pictures.  It has a small tear in the bellows.  The lens is clear and the shutter seems to work well.  The 122 roll film for the No. 3-A has not been available for many decades, but adaptations for shooting still-available 120 roll film are not terribly difficult.  I'm thinking maybe I should give it a try.


JR Smith said...

Living as close as I do to so much Jack London history, this is fascinating.

I would love to see what kind of images this camera and lens would produce. Good Winter project I think!

Anonymous said...

I had one of these for a while, back a lot of years ago, and I used to tape 4X5 film in it, in the darkroom, for a "one shot". What is made me realize is that they never should have discontinued the film, I would love to have a roll-film folder with a neg that big!

Mike said...

I have to admit I've never paid much attention to Jack London up to now. Clearly, he was really an interesting fellow, and I'm going to try reading more by and about him. Luckily, this being then hundredth anniversary of his death, all his works are free of copyright restrictions and available as free ebooks at the Gutenberg site.

I've never tried the one-shot sheet film method. I have run quite a bit of 120 film through my 116 cameras successfully. That gives interesting results which include a panoramic effect.

The big roll film cameras look ungainly today, but they really represented a giant leap forward for photojournalism. Aluminum bodies kept the weight down and just twisting a knob to bring a new frame into position was a big speed improvement. The complementary technology that promoted photojournalism was the halftone process.

It is nice to see some attention being paid to Jack London's pioneering work as a photographer. The other big name in the field at the time was Jimmy Hare who also led the way in unposed news and war photography. It is even possible that Hare was the one who made the picture of London's arrest in Korea. I have seen his pictures of the Russo-Japanese war, though I've not come across any accounts of meetings in the field between the two. At the time, London was working for the San Francisco Examiner, while I think Hare was employed by Collier's.