In 1972 the George Eastman House presented the exhibition Wider View. It featured panoramic photographs and the cameras with which they were made. I became enamored with the pictures and the novelty of the cameras. In 1975 I saw a photography exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art that also included cameras. One of them was a Korona Panoramic View, 8×20 inch view camera, previously owned by Charles L. Franck (1877-1965), one of the foremost commercial photographers in 20th century New Orleans. This camera was manufactured by the Gundlach Optical Co. circa 1913 to 1932. It appears that he used this camera primarily in the 1920s and 1930s. The thousands of Franck-Bertacci photographs and negatives are held by The Historic New Orleans Collection.
The camera was on loan for the exhibition and a friend in New Orleans negotiated its purchase for me. It arrived in its original case with Franck’s address label. This collector also owned the E. J. Bellocq negatives that became the basis for the exhibition and book, E. J. Bellocq: Storyville Portraits.
After cleaning and fitting a bag bellows over the pinhole filled original, I first used the camera in September 1975. After a couple of years the charm of using this antique camera started to wear off. The film holders were prone to light leaks and it needed a new bellows. I rebuilt and improved the film holders, purchased materials with instructions and made a new bellows. The original 15″ Turner Reich Triple convertible, though sharp, was very low in contrast and suffered a great deal of light falloff. I replaced it with a 355mm Schneider G-Claron and a 19 inch Goerz Artar for a longer lens. A National Endowment for the Arts award in 1981 provided the funds to meet Kodak’s minimum order for 8″x20″ Tri-X Professional.
In the mid ’80s my gallery called and requested an enlargement of an 8″x20″ image. At first they did not seem to grasp that there were no 8″x20″ enlargers. I asked for a few days to think about it, since I did know that replacing the film with a negative and shining a light from the back would turn a camera into an enlarger. So with a lot of improvisation, I did just that and made a 14×37 inch print exposed with two slide projectors. The 8″x20″ enlarger would be refined with two more iterations over the next couple of years.
Van Deren Coke wrote, in his statement for the exhibition Wider View something that reflects what it was that had piqued my curiosity and what keeps me working with a photographic anachronism. “Wide views have a special fascination even when the pictures are very straightforward. This may be because they incorporate in their far-reaching corners bits of terrain we unconsciously realize our normal vision cannot accommodate. This amplified vision, although based on readily recognized elements, seems to embroider reality in this strange and provocative fashion. The exaggerations that are found in wide views are often subtle but when we see a picture that oversteps nature as we normally see it, we find a response is aroused even when the view is precise and seemingly lifelike. Nothing is lost in these unusual translations but something is gained.”