Jim And My First Medium Format Camera

When my interest in photography grew into a passion during the middle of my college career one of the things that fanned the flames and kept them burning was my discovery that professional photographers are generally very willing to share their knowledge with aspiring photographers and newcomers. Whenever I was out and about, if I spotted a studio, I would stop to check out the images on display in the window, and if the business were open I would often go inside to see what was displayed there.

Me with my first professional quality medium format camera, a Mamiya Press 23 with a 6cm X 7cm roll film back that worked with either 120 or 220 film. The photograph was made by my cousin Gary Burge at my first portrait and wedding studio, Dave’s Studio, at 731 New Hampshire, Lawrence, KS shortly after opening in 1973.

In most cases I was greeted warmly by studio staff members and often if the owner, who was usually also the photographer, were available he would take an interest in the college student / beginning photographer and spend some time talking to me about his studio operation and sometimes share technical information or tips on running a business. This contact with working professionals was no small part of my education for what was to become a career.

One such person was a man I now remember only as Jim. Jim ran a small camera store and camera repair service in what is known as the Argentine District in Kansas City, KS. I met him while shopping for a medium format camera. For those of you who are unfamiliar with photographic terms that would be a camera that produces a negative larger than 35 mm and smaller than a 4” X 5”.

As this was during a time long before the advent of the internet I had studied Magazines like Popular Photography and Modern Photography for information on various cameras that might suit my need. I had photographed one wedding and wanted to photograph more. The first was on 35mm film, but the accepted practice in the business was to use cameras that produced a larger negative which in turn produced higher quality prints. Before meeting Jim I had settled on purchasing a Yashicamat which was a camera I believed would suit my needs and was affordable on my limited budget.

While searching for the best price o the camera of my choice I stopped by Jim’s store, explained what I was looking for and why. It took little time for him to persuade me had set my sights too low as he showed me the camera I should be getting, a Mamiya Press 23 with a roll film back, and he also persuaded me I needed a Honeywell Strobonar electronic flash to go with it. The dilemma this presented was the outfit was a little over $400 which was more than 4 times what I had budgeted for my new equipment purchase. That was no small amount of money for a college student working a part time campus job and occasionally selling some photographs, but I left Jim convinced he was right and determined to find a way to consummate the purchase.

My next stop was the Baldwin State Bank where I somehow managed to convince the loan officer I was credit worthy and walked away with a 12 month note and sufficient cash in my account to purchase the desired camera. The next day I was able to pay a return visit to Jim and purchase the desired new piece of equipment.

As Jim ran through some of the finer points of using my new camera he made an offer that looking back was probably worth far more than the money I had borrowed to buy equipment, he offered to take me along as he photographed a wedding and show me the methods of an experienced professional first hand. As Marlon Brando once said, it was “an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

On the appointed day I met Jim at his store before the wedding. He showed me how he prepared, checking equipment to make certain everything was working, verifying his bag contained sufficient film and spare batteries, and he explained what we would be doing when we arrived at the church. We then got in his car and headed down the street to a small Catholic church where I spent next few hours trailing behind my new-found friend and seeing first hand how a working professional photographs a wedding.

As I headed back home after this amazing experience I was thankful for what Jim had shared. Looking back I now realize how much more this kind man had given me than just a good deal on some quality equipment.

In the days that followed, using my new camera and flash, I earned the money required to pay off my 12 month loan in just a little over 30 days. The true value I received in that small camera store in Kansas City, KS was not the flashy new equipment that has now long been traded on newer fancier picture making machines. The true value was the knowledge that an experienced professional willingly gave at no extra cost to a wet behind the ears beginner who wanted to join his profession.

To all who helped me along the way I say thank you.

To Jim, wherever you are, I offer a hearty and very special Thank You!

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Text and image copyright 2010 Dave Michael.  No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the author.

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4 Responses to “Jim And My First Medium Format Camera”

  1. Lee Delamater Says:

    Wonderful, entertaining story. And may I say, VIVA 1973, (from the photo), I loved your photo. It’s great to find a friend who shares information instead of hides it as if they are keepers of some secret. I do think most artists want to share and collaberate, in my experience. Keep shooting Dave!!!!

  2. eric Says:

    Awesome
    story
    how long did you
    run a studio..
    I wish that I had your luck
    with some one taking you under
    his wings.
    I worked for a dysfunctional
    fashion photographer one summer
    might have been 73 or 74
    I am a bit hazy on the dates
    wasnt my cup tea.
    I have earns a few shekals taking photos
    but bottom line is I wanna shot what I
    wanna shoot
    I think I will just keep photography as a hobby

  3. Ade Says:

    A lovely heart warming storey and that’s a great shot to accompany it.

    Ade

  4. Dave Michael Says:

    Eric,

    The first studio I started in 1973 and ran for about 3 years. I was young and had more enthusiasm than knowledge about what I was doing. While closing it down I took a part time job in a lumber yard which turned into a full time job, but I continued to do some photography.

    I went from there to a major building materials chain working from an hourly position to management in a retail location and finally training management personnel for that company while traveling the states. During that time I continued to do some photography work including some for use in training materials for my employer.

    I left there and worked another building materials related ob for a sort time before taking a job as assistant manager in a camera store and one-hour lab. I did a lot more photography work o the side while working at the lab, became deeply involved with a local photographer’s association, started exhibiting as a fine art photographer and the opened my second studio in 1989 which I ran until 2003.

    From that time until a year ago I worked a part time labor job that provided benefits and did a few odd photo jobs. A year ago I left the part time job on medical leave which as of August 1 this year turned into retirement. Since going on leave a year ago I have bee much more active in the fine arts work and have begun exhibiting in galleries a little more and hope to continue increasing that activity.

    I enjoy the opportunity now as you put it to “shoot what I wanna shoot.” I’m done working my butt off to satisfy the vanities of brides and trying to make pictures of high school seniors that please both them and their parents.

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