The Speed Graphic,the favorite tool of White House Photographers for Sixty Years

 

The Speed Graphic is the camera of choice.  Photo: US Signal Corps

The Speed Graphic is the camera of choice. Photo: US Signal Corps

George Eastman purchased Folmer and Schwing Manufacturing, a bicycle company that also made cameras, in 1905. Such a combination of products was not uncommon at that time. The 4×5 Speed Graphic camera was introduced in 1912. The camera contained a cloth curtain focal plane shutter and rail-based bellows mounted on a carriage that could be folded into a tight box. 4x5 cameraImprovements, such as a front leaf shutter and a sports finder, were added over the years, but the basic camera design never changed. In 1947 the company came out with the Pacemaker Graphic, which was the same camera without the focal plane shutter.

The 4×5 Speed Graphic was the sweetheart of press photographers for sixty years.

At one time sixteen of the twenty Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs were made with this bulky but durable picture-making machine.  The Speed Graphic became the identifying symbol of the news photographer.

Graphic 5100The film was put into the back of the Speed Graphic with film holders and a slide would be pulled, much like the film holders in the Wet Plate Process.    A photographer started the day with about ten film holders, each containing two sheets of film. Usually a photographer carried the holder in the camera and perhaps one holder in each coat pocket. Every exposure was important. The first thing that a press photographer would look for in a news situation was one good picture that would tell the story. It was called “making one for the bag.”

Once the photographer had that one picture, he could relax, look for something new, perhaps a feature picture, but he had to have that “one for the bag” before he did anything.

Times changed. The Rolleiflexs, Nikons, and Leicas became news photographers’ symbols and sweethearts. In 1966 the Graflex division of Eastman Kodak was sold to the Singer Corporation, which had no interest in continuing to make cameras.


  • An Interesting story about the press pool on Air Force One

    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/secret-lives-globetrotting-white-house-press-corps-glamorous/story?id=30344697

    Pablo Martinez Monsivals, Associated Press, photo by Hank Disselkamp ABC

    Hank Disselkamp has been a video journalist for ABC for sometime.  For many years Hank was a sound man.  Later he used a 16mm film camera to cover the White House and other news stories.   Today Hank uses the traditional video news camera, but for this story he used an IPhone.  He recorded and edited the entire story on the I Phone. Take a look.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/secret-lives-globetrotting-white-house-press-corps-glamorous/story?id=30344697


  • You can always count on Vice President Biden for a good story

    photo by Dennis Brack

    photo by Dennis Brack

    While Vice President Biden was shaking hands in the rope line on the South Lawn, Elizabeth Welke asks if Biden would talk to her husband back in Iowa. She called and her husband answered thinking it was Elizabeth with a greeting. “How ya doing beautiful?” You can imagine his thoughts when the answer came from the Vice President of the United States.


  • President Abraham Lincoln April 15th 1865. From first to last of the Lincoln Presidency Mathew Brady was there.

    Lincoln by Brady

     

     

    Mathew Brady’s photograph and the Cooper Union speech made me President of the United States—a quote often used by President Lincoln—Please click on the photograph to the right for the entire story.

     

     

    After Lincoln became president, Mathew Brady opened a studio in Washington.  The building with the large skylights for Brady’s portraits is still on Pennsylvania Avenue.

    Brady's studio

     

    Cabinet members, congressional leaders, and soldiers came to the studio to pose for Brady’s important record of Civil War history.

     

    lincoln troops copy  Brady and his teams photographed the many major battles of the  Civil War.  Unfortunately, the slow speed of the film at that time made it impossible to photograph the actual combat during the war.

    Ford's TheaterApril 14th, one hundred and fifty years ago, John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln in Ford’s Theater. Fords Theater The President was carried across 10th Street to the Petersen House where he died on April 15th.   The theater closed.  The government purchased the Theater and it was used for storage and War Department offices.  It was never to be used for entertainment purposes.

    In 1968, the Theater was completely restored and the restoration was based on Mathew Brady’s photographsFords Theater


  • The White House Easter Egg Roll: A Rite of Spring for everyone at the White House

    The center position at the Easter Egg Roll.   Photographs by Dennis Brack

    The center position at the Easter Egg Roll. Photographs by Dennis Brack

    The Easter Egg Roll brings out the photographers.  Usually all of the hard pass holders who are not on other assignments come to enjoy a nice morning on a beautiful day.Obama 4 6 15 Just about every “strap-hanger” who can manage to get admitted is there.  The open coverage on the South Lawn is large and can handle a big crowd.  The open coverage is to the side and this year did very well in covering the President and First Lady watching the egg roll.

    The  in town travel pool starts in the center and then proceeds the President to the egg roll. Obama 4 6 15 On to the Storytime Stage, where the President  once again read Where The Wild Things are.  Great facial expressions of the President gritting his teeth.Obama 4 6 15

     

     

     

     

    Obama 4 6 15Of course, Basketball was next with several players from the Washington Wizards guiding youngsters.  The President seemed to liked his role as a coach and even shot and made a few baskets.

    The final stop was  the White House Tennis courts. Made for some funny pictures.Obama 4 6 15

    One of the perks in covering the White House is a sign up sheet for reporters and photographers to bring their children.  It is a fun day for everyone.


  • Pope John Paul II and Presidents

    President Jimmy Carter helps Pope John Paul II during his visit to the South Lawn of the  White House in 1979. Photo by Dennis Brack

    President Jimmy Carter helps Pope John Paul II during his visit to the South Lawn of the White House in 1979. Photo by Dennis Brack

    John Paul II died on April 2nd in 2005. He traveled more than any Pope and on many of his travels he met presidents of the United States.  John Paul II’s first trip to the United States began in Boston in the midst of rain.  A storm during a ticker tape parade in New York made the photographer’s coverage difficult.  Pope John  Paul II

    Most of the photographers covering the Papal visit had to request new cameras because their rain soaked cameras just didn’t work.  The Pope landed to a clear sunny day in Iowa.  Perfect for magazine covers. Neil Leifer took the picture that made the over of TIME.

    John Paul II met President Jimmy Carter at the White House.  The president attempted to help the Pope when a wind blew part of the papal garment close to the Pope’s face.  John Paul II did not need help.

    A part of any papal visit is how it touches people’s lives.  On the papal visit to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, NBC electrician, Marvin Purbaugh was in charge of the lighting of the Basilica.

    Marvin Purbaugh  Marvin, a devout Catholic, was extremely proud of this honor and  the success of his work.  He considered it one of the great achievements of his life. Just think of how many other people like Marvin that have been touched by their efforts on John Paul II’s  journeys.

    cropped-expanded-pool.jpgOn another visit of John Paul II he was greeted by President Reagan in Miami.  One of the largest press pools in the history of the White House covered this greeting


  • Presidential candidate Senator Edward Kennedy

    Kennedy and Patrick KennedyAfter a day trip to Illinois to campaign in the Illinois primary, Senator Kennedy plays cards with his on Patrick on a charter flight.


  • First lady Lou Henry Hoover

    Mrs. Hoover poses a group of Girl Scouts on the South Lawn. Photograph by National Photo Company, LOC

    Mrs. Hoover poses a group of Girl Scouts on the South Lawn. Photograph by National Photo Company, LOC

    The photographers needed all the help that they could find during the Hoover administration. President Herbert Hoover was a tough subject, harboring a nervous dislike of the cameras. “He had a rather square face with small features,” photographer George Harris remembered, “and he was not sufficiently interested in showing to good advantage to be helpful to the man behind the lens.” To some photographers, Hoover seemed as if he was afraid he was going to say something he was not supposed to say.

    First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  Photograph by George Harris.  Harris & Ewing LOC

    First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. Photograph by George Harris. Harris & Ewing LOC

    To photographer Johnny Di Joseph, the problem at the White House was not the president. “He was okay,” Di Joseph recalled. “It was his wife.” First lady Lou Henry Hoover was made an honorary member of the White House Press Photographers Association, too, but that did not make her the photographers’ friend. Di Joseph remembered that Mrs. Hoover had a rule that no photographer could come within fifteen feet of her husband to make a picture.

    President Hoover wearing a "horse Collar" shirt  Photograph by George Harris.  Harris & Ewing LOC

    President Hoover wearing a “horse Collar” shirt Photograph by George Harris. Harris & Ewing LOC

     

     

    The president wore two-inch high collars with his shirts—Di Joseph called them “horse collars.” Mrs. Hoover did not like the way the president’s double chins fell over his collar, and she thought that keeping the photographers at a distance would prevent them from making closeup photographs emphasizing his weight.

    P226 hoover wait


  • St. Patrick’s Day at the White House

    Photo by Dennis BrackLong  before the days of President Reagan having a Guinness Extra Sout with Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill St Patrick’s Day was a big deal at the White House.   The day has become a series of rituals.  Dying the fountains was a must, but this year only the fountain on the South Lawn was selected for the celebration.

    Rodney Batten records this historic event for NBC Nightly News.

    Rodney Batten records this historic event for NBC Nightly News.

     

     

    Of course with a pool spray to record the historical event.

    Watching the pool spray at the  Fountain on the South Lawn

    Watching the pool spray at the Fountain on the South Lawn

     

     

     

     

    President Barack Obama  meets with Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny of Ireland in the Oval Office

    President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny of Ireland in the Oval Office

    A visit by the Prime Minister, ( the Taoiseach in Ireland), in the Oval Office is always on the schedule.

     

     

    A lunch on Capitol Hill with the Speaker of the House are traditionally on the schedule.  Everyone was watching the President and the Speaker.

     Pierce Brosnan, Representative Nancy Pelosi,  and Vice President Joseph Biden jr enjoy the music at  a St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the United States Capitol. Photo by  Dennis Brack

    Pierce Brosnan, Representative Nancy Pelosi, and Vice President Joseph Biden jr enjoy the music at a St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the United States Capitol.
    Photo by Dennis Brack

     

    Polite, but certainly not the warm feelings of the Reagan and O’Neill. The pool was  only escorted into the lunch, (held in the Rayburn Room), for a few minutes to hear the entertainment and we saw no interaction between the two.  We did see  Agent 007 so it was worth the wait.

     President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House John  Boehner and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny after a St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the United States Capitol.

    President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny after a St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the United States Capitol.

    An afternoon reception that packed the East Room concluded the White House  St. Patrick’s Day.

    A presentation of  Shamrocks at the reception in the East Room.

    A presentation of Shamrocks at the reception in the East Room.


  • THE ROLLEI, SAD TIMES FOR AN ICONIC TOOL OF NEWS PHOTOGRAPHERS

    Maurice Johnson's Rollei.  Maurice Johnson was a UPI photographer.  A member of the  George Gaylin's UPI team of the sixties.

    Maurice Johnson’s Rollei. Maurice Johnson was a UPI photographer. A member of the George Gaylin’s UPI team of the sixties.

    About 1957, the news photographers tools began to change.  Their old standby the Speed Graphic was still the camera of choice, but some of the news photographers were changing to a smaller film size.  Some were using the smaller 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 Graphic, but that didn’t work for anyone.  Others used the Koni Omega which worked  for some.   The medium format camera that caught on and became the standard for about ten years was the Rolleiflex.  The camera was made by Rolleiflex  but the German engineers who designed the camera would cringe if they saw it as the news photographers used the camera.

    There were two models.  The  top of the line was the Rolleiflex.  The less expensive  model was the Rolleicord.  There wasn’t much difference in the two cameras.Rollie close up 2015

     

     

     

     

     

     

    When a Washington photographer purchased a Rolleiflex or a Rolleicord , the first stop was Abe Jenkin’s basement.  Abe was a printer at the Associated Press, but  repaired and modified camera equipment at his home.  If you wanted your camera done at a reasonable time you had to bring the camera to Abe and listen.  Yes listen while Abe talked at his work bench.  Abe was a talker, but a gifted camera technician.

    That well engineered viewing system on the Rollie was first to go.  It was closed forever to make space for a sports finder.  You didn’t need to view focus because Abe fit a large focusing ring on the side of the camera.  The photographer would  know the distance—6 foot. 8 foot, 10 foot,  no problem for the shooters of that time.  It was a news machine.  This camera with a Heiland Strobe became the first choice of the wire service photographer.

    The 35mm cameras were coming up fast and within ten years became the tools for news photographers.  The fashion and documentary photographers continued to use the Rollieflex but sales  fell off.

    The film Rollieflex factory will hold an insolvency auction on April 20th, 2015. Sad times for a former giant of our business.