Camera Tales: The Wista 4” x 5” Field Camera

It’s an object of beauty. Built for desire as much as for function. It was the more portable view camera that I needed in 1983. But so beautiful as well.

Wista 4” x 5” Field cameras are hand-built in Japan. The camera bodies are constructed of rosewood or, like mine, cherrywood with intricate tongue-and-groove joinery, all finished with a clear lacquer to preserve the beauty of the wood. The hardware is all brass plate or finely machined solid brass knobs. The  black bellows and brown carrying handle add accents of leather. This camera exudes craftsmanship in every detail.

Yes, it has a carrying handle. The Wista folds neatly into a relatively light, compact package that can easily fit into a mid-sized shoulder bag. This is a camera built for the prairies, built for backpacking, built for travel.

It unfolds origami-like, expanding into a full-fledged 4” x 5” view camera. It was a magical part of my picture-taking process, standing as I often was, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, pulling the camera back and lens board into position as the pleated leather bellows stretched open, like a dormant flower bud blooming under the prairie sun.

Like most field-style view cameras, the Wista does not have the extensive range of movements of my Cambo studio camera. Swings, tilts and shifts of both the front lens board and the rear film holder are possible, just not to the extent of the Cambo. Not enough movement for food photography or architectural work, for example. But enough for the land-hugging prairie landscape that I intended to photograph.

Historically, my Wista follows a twisted path.

On the back of the camera is a brass nameplate inscribed with its manufacturer, Wista Co., Ltd, “Made in Japan” and a serial number. The company dates back to 1968,  then operating under a different name, and becoming the Wista Company in 1972. At that time, Wista started to build its signature wooden field cameras. Mine was purchased in 1983, but I doubt it is significantly different from a 1972 version. In fact, the camera is still being manufactured and sold as the Wista Field 45DX Field Camera. It looks to be identical to mine, the only real difference being price. I paid USD $575.00. Today it would cost $2,910.00.

On the front of the camera is another brass plate: Zone VI Studios Inc., Newfane, Vermont. Zone VI was the go-to mail order shop for many a serious photographer and darkroom printer. Its owner was Fred Picker, a serious photographer in his own right. Over the years, Zone VI sold a  variety of view cameras, sometimes branded and sold under the manufacture’s name, sometimes rebranded as a Zone VI camera and sometimes, as with my camera, both.

For me, the Wista took over from my Cambo studio camera for out-of-studio projects. Its nimble form and weight was more conducive to field work. That it could be packed away in a shoulder bag allowed me to venture further away from the car. And there was the delight of the unfolding.

My Interlake series was completed with the Wista. There is a lightness, a delicacy to the photographs that, in part, flows from my working relationship with this camera. There are people in this series as well. The less intimidating scale of the camera and its attractive wood and brass was an engaging bridge between subject and photographer.

The Interlake series was completed in 1984 and explores a stretch of land north of my home base in Winnipeg. It’s a region constrained on the west by Lake Manitoba and on the east by Lake Winnipeg – both inland seas that are, at times, calm and reflective, or raging and dark. It is a land defined by wilderness and agriculture and, along its coastline, by fishing ports and beaches.

The series follows the documentary approach which began with my Prairie Views series from southern Manitoba, infused with the lighthearted nature of its beach culture. Prints from Interlake were exhibited in the 1986-87 Winnipeg Art Gallery show, A Sense of Place: Photography in Manitoba.

 

Wista 4" x 5" Field Camera, unfolded

Wista 4″ x 5″ Field Camera, unfolded.

 

Wista 4" x 5" Field Camera, maximum vertical shift, 90mm Caltar lens (equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm film camera)

Wista 4″ x 5″ Field Camera, maximum vertical shift, 90mm Caltar lens (equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm film camera).

 

Wista 4" x 5" Field Camera, maximum front and back swing

Wista 4″ x 5″ Field Camera, maximum front and back swing.

 

Wista 4" x 5" Field Camera, rear film holder with fresnel lens focussing screen. The fresnel screen allows for a brighter image than the ground glass screen on the Cambo.

Wista 4″ x 5″ Field Camera, rear film holder with fresnel lens focussing screen. The fresnel screen allows for a brighter image than the ground glass screen on the Cambo.

 

Wista 4" x 5" Field Camera, detail of the lens board and its brass hardware.

Wista 4″ x 5″ Field Camera, detail of the lens board and its brass hardware.

 

Wista 4" x 5" Field Camera, folded.

Wista 4″ x 5″ Field Camera, folded.

 

Meleb, from the Interlake series (original 11" x 14" silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

Meleb, from the Interlake series (original 11″ x 14″ silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

 

Gimli Dock Triptych, Panel One, from the Interlake series (original 11" x 14" silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

Gimli Dock Triptych, Panel One, from the Interlake series (original 11″ x 14″ silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

 

Gimli Dock Triptych, Panel Two, from the Interlake series (original 11" x 14" silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

Gimli Dock Triptych, Panel Two, from the Interlake series (original 11″ x 14″ silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

 

Gimli Dock Triptych, Panel Three, from the Interlake series (original 11" x 14" silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

Gimli Dock Triptych, Panel Three, from the Interlake series (original 11″ x 14″ silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

 

Cemetery near Komarno, from the Interlake series (original 11" x 14" silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

Cemetery near Komarno, from the Interlake series (original 11″ x 14″ silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

 

Arnes, from the Interlake series (original 11" x 14" silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

Arnes, from the Interlake series (original 11″ x 14″ silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

 

Riverton, from the Interlake series (original 11" x 14" silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

Riverton, from the Interlake series (original 11″ x 14″ silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

 

Beach near Ponemah, from the Interlake series (original 11" x 14" silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

Beach near Ponemah, from the Interlake series (original 11″ x 14″ silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

 

Hnausa Dock, from the Interlake series (original 11" x 14" silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

Hnausa Dock, from the Interlake series (original 11″ x 14″ silver print on Oriental Seagull Paper), 1984

 

 

 

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