There’s an astonishing collection of old cameras on show at St Mary in the Castle until Sunday as part of PhotoHastings 2016. Alex Brattell went along with his boring modern camera for a preview during the installation.
In March 2015 environmental scientist Gerry Cookman died leaving the vast collection of cameras, lenses and accessories that filled his house, to his niece and nephews. Paul Thomas, well known to artists and small businesses in Hastings as the founder of Martel Colour Print and his sister Laura, a photographer, have produced this remarkable exhibition which is on for just one week. It is a memorial to their uncle Gerry who instilled in both of them a love of photography, but it is also a celebration of collecting.
People like old cameras. They are friendly. They tempt you to strike a pose or stop and look a little more carefully. They might look like ones that Grandad or Mum or your ancestors used to make albums that have now become heirlooms. Old cameras, like watches, teapots and all the other things that people collect to explore the world through, become something else when they become collections. En masse they offer a spectacle of engineering, design and social history and of course represent the mystery of the obsession of collecting.
Gerry Cookman’s academic and professional career as an environmental scientist took him from the West Country to Scotland, Harvard, Syracuse, Cuba, Brazil and Columbia. In 1982 he took early retirement and bought a small thatched cottage in Chulmleigh, North Devon. Here he was able to indulge his passions – fishing, books, music, films, wine and above all, cameras. Always a keen amateur photographer, Gerry started to collect classic photographic equipment, initially without much discrimination, but later specialising in postwar Voigtländers.
The exhibition features about 450 of Gerry’s cameras, along with lenses, accessories, notes and photographs. Many well known brands are on display, but at its heart is a selection from what is probably one of the most complete collection of Voigtländer cameras in existence.
It is of course fun to see so many cameras in one place but if you are so inclined you can marvel at the world’s first zoom lens on an SLR; the world’s first built in electronic flash; the first built in film winder motor; the first leaf shutter rangefinder with interchangeable lenses; the development of the self returning reflex mirror; the automatic frame counter; the coupled rangefinder; through-the-lens metering and finally, the arrival of electronics.
Of the half plate and medium format folders, twin lens reflexes, single lens reflexes, half frame and stereo cameras on display, about two thirds are Voigtländers including examples of the Perkeo, Vitessa, Vito, Vitomatic, Vitoret, Bessa, Bessamatic, Bessy, Brilliant, Superb, Prominent and Ultramatic.
Paul’s blog “Lensmanship” about using cameras from The Cookman Collection, written entirely in plain English, is at https://lensmanship.silvrback.com
More information about PhotoHastings is at http://www.photohastings.org.
Cookman Collects is in the Crypt of St Mary in the Castle, Pelham Crescent Hastings From Tuesday 15th to Sunday 20th November. Open 10am – 5pm, Sunday until 1pm
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