The British manufacturer Thornton Pickard made shutters and cameras from 1888 until 1940, their large, rather unwieldy single lens reflexes were made in large numbers in the 1920s and 30s. Mine was given to me many years ago by cousin, it’s by far the largest camera in my collection, but the cloth focal plane shutter doesn’t work, so it’s only ever been a conversation piece. Week 365 of my 52 cameras in 52 weeks project felt like as good a time as any to rise to the challenge of resurrecting this beast.
It’s a well specified camera, the shutter has speeds ranging from 1/10th to 1/1000th second, while the Plaubel Anticomar 15cm f2.9 lens stops down to f32. Focus is achieved using bellows, which are somewhat battered, but appear to be light tight. The image is viewed on a well shaded ground glass screen, seen by looking directly down from above. A lever on the side of the camera lifts the mirror and fires the shutter, but can also be used to lock the the mirror up.
Although originally designed to use glass plates, third party roll film backs were also available, mine came complete with a Rollex Patent 120 adapter, so there would be no need to seek out old glass plates or cut sheet film. Given its bulk, it’s just as well that you don’t need to rotate the camera to choose between landscape and portrait format, the film back is square in shape, and notched so that it can be attached either way, lines drawn onto the focussing screen show where the film or plate will be in both orientations, allowing you to compose your scene appropriately.
Taking a picture is straightforward, you just need to remember to do all the steps in the right order. Compose and focus, set the aperture, cover the lens, lock the mirror up, remove the dark slide from the film back, remove the lens cap for the exposure, in this case 10 seconds, then replace the dark slide, return the mirror and wind the film on to the next frame.
Even if everything was working properly, the short days at the end of December would have limited the opportunities to take the camera out, but this also made it an ideal time for indoor table top photography using artificial light. This called for exposures of several seconds, meaning that I could use a lens cap as a shutter, thereby getting around the problem of the broken mechanism.
Long exposures left me looking for static subjects, and you can’t get much more static than a skull. I picked this sheep’s skull up on a country walk around the same time that I acquired the camera, so it seemed like a good idea to introduce them at last. The lighting couldn’t have been much simpler, a miniature LED torch placed on the table, under the skull resulting in this momento mori, for a camera briefly brought back from the dead.