Longines-Wittnauer Company, Experimental XL Camera #2, 8mm, United States. Alan and Natalie Kattelle Collection.
Mark Abb, Collection Photographer
Building boats, houses and cabinetry had been wearing on me, so I came to Northeast Historic Film in search of easier work. During those “careers,” an Olympus OM 1 was close at hand to record the process and those in harness with me.
I’ve been filming since my mid-teens. My camera became an early companion. That camera was the first pen of my journal, often generating some pocket lining with name credit through pursuit of an interest. Study of film has remained ongoing, and I was looking for on-the-job training in the digital world following some university courses. I thought NHF might be a good place.
I was intrigued during my interview when David Weiss, Executive Director, mentioned photographing movie equipment for a website. I got on board and not long after was assigned to record Alan Kattelle’s collection of movie cameras. The 800+ piece assortment includes 8mm, Super 8, and 16mm cameras and accessories gathered over 25 years. Once a display that filled a wall of Kattelle’s home, the collection was donated to NHF in 2007.
I erected a studio beneath the lobby of the Alamo Theatre amid concession stand supplies and shelves crowded with film equipment. Armed with a Canon G9, I opened Box 1.
I am now into Box 45 with 1700+ images already filed on computer. All of Kattelle’s cameras are wrapped in numbered bubble wrap and packed in acid-free cardboard filing boxes. An unknown number remain to open, and I’d rather not know the total.
Photographing the collection has been a learning process. Having worked with ambient light, I’m not a studio photographer. But I enjoy the challenge of capturing a good image, including some of the camera’s character, construction or unique details.
Each camera contains a small, numbered tag, tied with cord by Alan’s hand. Frequently, an additional note is enclosed, typed on slips of yellow paper or hand-written, describing the rare, experimental, last of kind, or fact of interest. Notes tell of Kattelle’s keen interest in and knowledge of cameras. I envision Alan cheering as he acquired certain models, as there are subtle differences in cameras that appear to be twins, indicating his interest in the technology. Some include a display base he made from Plexiglas or a jar lid telling of his engineer/sculptor background.
Bell & Howell Filmo Model 75, 1928, 16mm, United States. Alan and Natalie Kattelle Collection.
Every box is both time capsule and treasure chest. All contents differ in type and number. Some boxes hold 6 cameras; others hold more than a dozen. From compact to cumbersome, the collection exemplifies the advancements in technology across the years. The variety is impressive; from basic to complex, with single to multiple lenses. Early examples range from lack of detail to richly embossed and ornate, including instructions for available light settings fixed on the body; and focus, f-stop, ASA - DIN manually adjusted. Their all-metal bodies give a built-to-last feel. Few are of plastic construction.
A routine has evolved in this process: display camera reference number, clean off the dust, open and check for film (often still on the reel or in cartridge). Note the smell stored since the last opening, trace their unique mechanical workings, release shutter (many remain wound). Listen to the action as the spring unwinds (must have been a trick to capture wildlife with this mechanical action). Imagine they feel some relief; note the wear or lack of it. Start photographing from the most interesting side; shoot a minimum of 6 frames. Try to capture the country of origin; to date, Austria, France, Great Britain, Japan, and USSR are among them.
The condition of each camera hints at its use and its operator; was the 8mm with a “Bermuda Customs Inspection” stamp for an amateur on vacation? Others show regular use with dings, scratches and worn finish; were these owned by a professional? Some show signs of hard service, with “US Army Signal Corps” labels. Many are just gems: museum quality, solid construction with a patina of age, secure fit, precise action with unblemished finish, occasionally in their original boxes with papers in working order.
Ziess Ikon AG, Kinamo S-10, 1928, 16mm, Germany. Alan and Natalie Kattelle Collection.
I’ve been turned loose on the project and attempt to improve image quality and composition as I go, with the hope of doing justice to the subjects. The project generates its own momentum, and I am curious what future boxes hold as I progress documenting this rare collection of movie cameras. It is both a privilege and an education to be chosen to record this collection and to see firsthand the history of advances in motion picture camera technology.
Photos by Mark Abb.