When Alt Met Lomo

Peter J. Blackburn tells the classic tale of when boy meets toy, of gossamer wings, and love at first sight. It was just one of those things.

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

Starting at the top and moving clockwise: Valiant 620, c.1964, Agfa Isola II, c.1958, Agfa Clack, c.1955, Photax III VA, c.1955, Ilford Super Sporti, c.1961, Hamaphot P56L, c.1954. These are all medium format cameras taking 120 or easily re-spooled 620 film.

You see, it all started at the now and then camera show held in Dallas several weeks ago. I hadn’t been to one in years. Being quite satisfied with my current working assemblage, the accumulation of more stuff was not appealing. Anyway, collecting has always taken a backseat to creating. But following an irresistible cue from Frankie, it was ‘just one of those things, one of those crazy flings, one of those bells that now and then rings, just one of those things.”

POOF! And there I was—on a perfectly good Saturday morning paying admission to peruse a space jam-packed with gear by the truckload.

Oh, but what gear! What delightful, dazzling nuggets of kit sprawled in every direction!

[begin uncontrollable drooling]

What especially caught my eye at this particular show were the humble, quirky and peculiar, low-tech cameras of the twentieth century. My work in gum and casein printing has always been driven by the idea of high quality images produced by the meekest means available. And my choice of simple gear over the past thirty years has included a vintage Rolleiflex E3 and a completely manual Fujifilm GW6x7 rangefinder.

My first project (still in process) was to create a series of small, toy-like gum and casein images of single color and ultra-high contrast. As can be seen in the first photo card (lower right) the series is titled, Along These Lines. That particular shot was photographed with my Agfa Clack.

Now, thanks to that recent camera show, my work is exploring imagery captured with cameras even more basic and carefree. And my style has loosened a bit to match the playfulness of the equipment. Indeed, Mr. Alt has shaken hands with Ms. Lomo and much to my pleasant surprise have become very good friends.

The photos shown in this essay (below) pretty much capture my recent camera acquisitions and the work I have been creating using them. For starters, two 1955 Agfa Clacks (one standard and one converted to a pinhole camera), a 1964 Valiant 620 toy camera, and a 1961 Ilford Super Sporti have been pressed into service and work marvellously. Just load a roll of film, set a switch or adjust a knob, and shoot.

My second project now in the very beginning stage is to create a body of casein bichromate images (aka milk prints, aka casein prints) in the format of the Polaroid 600 series film now on the market. Recently I have been referring to the pieces as my PolaDiChroma prints. Pictured are the first four in the series.

I cannot express enough the sheer fun I have using these simple marvels of decades gone by. They work beautifully, and the medium format film size provides all the quality I need to create the rather intimate, meant to be held photographs in process right now.

Peter J. Blackburn, MA, has been working in gum and casein bichromate printing for over thirty years. He is represented by Afterimage Gallery, Dallas, Texas. You can also see Peter J. Blackburn’s gallery or read more articles he has written.

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