I’m a big fan of rangefinder cameras — especially the newer Bessa models manufactured by Cosina under the revitalized Voigtländer name. What really strikes me as apropos when it comes to rangefinders — aside from the incredibly sharp and vibrant images on offer — is the pure mechanicity of the devices themselves. To use a rangefinder, or any older model of film camera, is to hold in your hand a device that can be grasped by the mind in its entirety. A series of lenses concentrate light onto a chemically treated film for a period of time that is precisely controlled by the opening and closing of a mechanical shutter. The result of this is the actual material trace of the photons of light emitted at the moment of image capture. The negative is an artifact that not only makes reference to a visuality experienced in the past, but is also itself, at one and the same time, an archeologically concrete physicality that excavates the past at the level of the sign (the image references the past) and a non-abstract material objectivity that itself is brought to light as a product of past light.

The difference between using a rangefinder and using a digital camera is similar to the difference between listening to records and listening to CDs. While it’s possible to conceptualize the way a CD works at the abstract level, it’s almost impossible to think through its workings at the level of physical, mechanical expression. On the other hand, the workings of the phonograph are inscribed in its very name: “phono” references sound, and “graph” refers to the act of marking. The phonograph is simply a device that marks, or traces the marks, of the sonic vibrations traveling through the air at the moment of recording. Like the negative, the phonographic record both represents a moment that occurred in the past (a miniature form of time travel) and at the same time is the actual past made materially present in the pinpoint contact between needle and groove. The proof positive of the material nature of the sound etched into a phonographic record is the fact that it can be read without mathematical translation. One famous example of this might be the grade-school experiment of making a paper funnel, attaching it to a pin, and running it along old record grooves to listen to the sounds that might come out. A better example of this is Dr. Arthur Lintgen’s ability to name symphonic recordings simply by looking at the varying patterns in a record’s grooves.

Of course, the other reason I like Cosina’s Voigtländer branded lenses, aside from their fantastic machine-age aesthetic sensibility, is the fact that the names of the models chosen by Cosina sound like they’re straight out of Voltron: “Nokton,” “Ultron,” “Skopar,” “Heliar.” There’s a manifesto on poetics contained somewhere in there.

The very look of a finely made camera lens is actually itself a kind of look. When I stare into the opening of the Ultron’s lens, the blade of its iris half-closed, it reminds of nothing so much as an owl’s eye, participating in the production of a momentary world of knowledge.

Click here for Cosina’s homepage.


3 Responses to “ultron”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    Ingo Sponda, Arthur Lintgen

  2. 2 Trane DeVore

    Um. What’s “Ingo Sponda”?

  3. 3 Anonymous

    Ingo Sponda = German Heroe

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