Camera Tales: The Konica Autoreflex T (second exposure)

Konica introduced the Autoreflex T in 1968, the company’s first fully automatic 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera with through-the-lens (TTL) metering. The camera is built like a tank and, when the shutter-release button is pushed, it sounds like one. Its heft might suggest it was carved out of a solid block of steel.

The camera came with a 52mm f/1.8 Hexanon lens, those days considered a not-too-wide, not-too-telephoto good standard  focal length. Its all-metal barrel gave it a weight and sense of durability to match the camera body. The bayonet mount, introduced with the Autoreflex T, allowed for quick lens changes. Indeed, my kit soon filled out with 135mm telephoto and 28mm wide angle lenses.

Around 1973, I acquired the just-introduced Konica Autoreflex T3, an updated version of my first camera. The Autoreflex T was relegated to use as a back-up body or loaded with a different film. With two camera bodies, either switching film speeds or film type during a shoot simply required a quick change of lens from one body to the other.

This photography kit would be by my side through the bulk of the 1970s. My understanding of photography would evolve over that period, alongside my design education at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture. 

In 1971, newly enrolled in the Environmental Design program, I knew marginally more about photography than I did about architecture. In fact, it was a surprise to family when I announced the year earlier that I wanted to pursue architecture. It seemed destined, even to me, that I would enter the world of engineering, given my interest in electronics. But my mind had been infected by high school readings of books like Megalopolis Unbound by Claiborne Pell and The Heart of Our Cities by Victor Gruen.

No doubt those early looks through the Konica Autoreflex T viewfinder also steered me to a visual  profession. Photography forces one out of the house, out of the basement, out of the classroom. You have to see the world around you and then figure out how best to explain that world through the small black frame of a camera eyepiece.

Studying design at university was a course-guided process of learning techniques and completing assignments. My study of photography, on the other hand, had always been a self-guided, self-taught enterprise. In those frenetic university years, photography was informed by what I was doing in architecture school. My Konica cameras and lenses would help me complete projects required for my Bachelor of Environmental Design and Master of Architecture degrees.

Along the way, I undertook more personal, self-directed projects that were photography-based. But inevitably, it was hard to escape the gravitational pull of a life dominated by architecture.

I successfully applied for a Canada Council Explorations Grant to complete a slide and sound show (popular at the time) called Towards a Prairie Aesthetic. I can’t say that the program received good value from the small grant they awarded me. The slide show was never shown. But the award was important to my growth as a photographer. It allowed me to travel across Manitoba and the American midwest in search of prairie design and then encapsulate that sense of a regional ethic in a set of 35mm slides. It was learning to see, photographically.

There was also time during my education for a then-de rigueur  grand tour of Europe. It was a road trip with a school colleague that took us across France, Italy, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Austria, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. Our guidebook was Nikolaus Pevsner’s Outline of European Architecture. An enormous number of slides came out of this trip. Certainly not many could be considered great. But there is nothing like continuous practice, many failures and a few successes to refine a skill and develop a personal style.

Finally, there was my summer job with the Province of Manitoba’s Historic Resources Branch. The Branch was hiring students to complete architectural inventories of Manitoba communities. No doubt my still in-progress architecture education was an important part of my interview. But it was my two dozen slides of Manitoba architecture that impressed the most. Photos taken on my Prairie Aesthetic project. Photos taken with my Konica Autoreflex cameras.

Those 35mm slides earned me a job with the Historic Resources Branch in the summer of 1978 and again in 1979. In 1980, having just graduated with a Master’s degree in Architecture, the Province offered me a full-time job as architect with the Branch. That job continued for the next thirty years.

In 2003, Konica merged with Minolta and, in 2006, Konica-Minolta moved out of the photography business and sold it to Sony. By 1978, I was needing additional lenses, which necessitated a shift to the Nikon system. I sold most of my Konica kit to help pay for the new cameras.

All that remains is the body of my first Konica Autoreflex T, a camera that carries the weight of my life-changing year, 1970. A camera that played a large role in establishing my career for the next thirty years. A camera that helped me refine my photographic vision, helped prepare me for a period of intense photographic growth. Starting in 1980. And never ending.

 

Air-Inflated school project, c. 1972

Air-Inflated school project, c. 1972

 

Get Together, Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, 1972

Get Together, Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, 1972

 

Get Together, Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, 1972

Get Together, Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, 1972

 

Eaton's Heating Plant, Winnipeg

Eaton’s Power Plant, Winnipeg

 

Eaton's Department Store, Winnipeg

Eaton’s Department Store, Winnipeg

 

Gateway Arch, St Louis, Missouri by Eero Saarinen (from "Towards a Prairie Aesthetic")

Gateway Arch, St Louis, Missouri by Eero Saarinen (from “Towards a Prairie Aesthetic”)

 

Prairie Chicken House by Herb Greene, Norman, Oklahoma (from "Towards a Prairie Aesthetic")

Prairie Chicken House by Herb Greene, Norman, Oklahoma (from “Towards a Prairie Aesthetic”)

 

Rural Manitoba (from "Towards a Prairie Aesthetic")

Rural Manitoba (from “Towards a Prairie Aesthetic”)

 

Winnipeg, an early darkroom print c. 1975

Winnipeg, an early darkroom print c. 1975

 

 

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