Lynn Trafton reports on a photo project inspired by the past.
Houston photographers Curtis Bean and Paul Hester and writer Doug Milburn are all involved in "Houston of Panoramic Proportions", a project over one and a half years that will culminate in an exhibit at the Houston Public Library this month.
Using negatives of Houston photographers, Frank Schlueter, 1876-1972, and Litterst, and a unique Cirkut camera, they are creating a contemporary archive to be added to the collections of historical negative and photographs at the Houston Public Library and the Harris County Heritage Society.
Schlueter, who photographed for over 75 years, accumulated an unbelievable number of images estimated at over a million. A commercial photographer, much of his work included events, personalities and architecture of Houston and Harris County.
"We selected and cataloged 800 of the negatives so that exact geographical and cultural comparisons between the past and modern day images could be made," says Hester, "Since there were no prints available the work was entirely with negatives. A written description was made of each one, and National Photographic Laboratories, Inc. printed 100 of the negatives.
When Hester, who is noted for his architectural photography, takes Schlueter's old Cirkut camera on location, he knows that he is setting his camera in the exact spot that Schlueter placed it 70 years ago.
The Cirkut camera is a panorama camera which moves with the aid of a battery and can cover a 360 degree angle. It produces a three to six foot by eight inch negative, and uses special film and paper from Kodak.
"Actually, we are using a Cirkut camera 'outfit’," explains Bean, "which means that it can use sheet film as a field view camera or a roll film back can be added turning it into a Cirkut camera. The battery voltage determines the shutter speed, and we use only one shutter speed, 1/12 second. It is quite an experience to photograph with the Cirkut camera. Every time we work with it something different happens. Sometimes the wind will affect the bellows as the camera turns, or uneven movement of the gears will cause streaks on the film as it passes behind the opening."
The images are printed as contact prints without an enlarger or lens. The old printer was found at the Heritage Society. It has rows and rows of light bulbs which make it look more like an egg hatcher than a piece of photographic equipment, and the amount of light falling on the paper can be regulated by reaching in through doors in the rectangular printer and unscrewing individual lights. The process of printing is slightly reversed. Since the lights are on the bottom, the negative is placed on the glass above, the printing paper on top of the negative. The hatches are closed, the lights turned on and history is repeated some 70 years later.