©David Sorcher 2014
I was shooting the Gatsby Gala, a roaring twenties themed party for the Junior league, when there it was, sitting on a pedestal as a party prop, a time machine to another century. Despite the era it was meant to invoke, many may not realize that the Speed Graphic was actually in production in some form from 1912 all the way up until 1973. Though the 35mm camera has been around nearly as long (the first Leica prototypes date to 1913 and went into production in 1924) press photographers looked to the Speed Graphic as the main workhorse of the trade for years and it was common equipment for photojournalists well into the 1960s. Well many at least. They were bulky, heavy and slow and only allowed a single sheet of film at a time (later adapters held six sheets). Still, many press photographers like Weegee made their mark with these bigger format camera. The great and ever combative documentarian W. Eugene Smith, however, was fired from Newsweek in 1939 because he refused to use anything but his 35mm cameras. Smith was convinced these smaller, faster roll film cameras were the future of photojournalism. But these big, beautiful beasts, the dependable Speed Graphics, still held their place in the battery of photojournalism for more than two decades after that before the industry finally accepted that the compact and stealthy 35mm cameras could indeed produce acceptable quality images for print.
As the last rays of the setting sun glinted off this classic machine and cast my shadow against the wall i felt like i was caught in a moment between time. I raised my camera for a shot. There i was photographing this piece of photographic history with my Nikon D4, skipping entirely past the era of 35mm film cameras with my digital wonder in hand. And what comes next? Putting aside the advent of instagrams from smart phones which may begrudgingly have at least some journalistic applications, where do we go from here? Cell phones certainly can't do the full job of the photojournalist today. I find myself already exploring the possibilities of the new generation of mirrorless cameras. Though much smaller by comparison to the Speed Graphic, my D4 is still a bit of a beast in its own right. As someone who cut his photographic teeth street shooting with a handy little Leica rangefinder i miss the days when i could raise my camera to take a shot without everybody noticing the equipment first. The size of most mirrorless cameras bring a bit of stealth back to the shooter and perhaps will allow me to slide under the radar again in places where a full-size digital might be a bit of an albatross around my neck.
Certainly professional camera equipment will continue to evolve. One can only wonder how long our full-size digitals will hold sway in the field before the next new thing takes over. Yes, i do resist change, especially when i am so heavily invested in the present paradigm. One thing for sure…technology evolves exponentially. It moves faster with every decade, every year, every minute, every second. It is extremely doubtful that professional digital cameras in their present form will hold out as the mainstay of the industry anywhere near as long as the more than half century reign of the Speed Graphic. That remains an accomplishment worthy of note.