The tech savvy JJF has a working knowledge of arcane photographic theory and obscure equipment. Sixteen millimeter cine, 6cm x 7cm. He is particularly involved with classicist, Leitz optical developments, and how the company’s innovations came to establish and define the history of 35mm still photography as well as helping to shape contemporary communication.
“Leica—Invariably Part Of The Equipment Of Explorers, Scientists And Experienced Travelers.” —1930’s Leitz Advertisement, Oskar Barnack, Pionier Der Kleinbildfotografie Erfinder Der Leica.
In 1913 Oskar Barnack designed the prototype for the world’s first miniature camera. This “Lilliput” camera was a radical departure from the large format static box cameras of the day in that it was a much smaller size, which utilized 35mm Kodak motion picture film rather than the larger plate films that were in use. Oskar’s invention allowed the photographer to be freed from the constraints of lugging around the many pounds of cumbersome cameras, tripods, and required gear. Eight by ten inch negatives and contacted printed images were a common standard of the period.
The essence of Barnack’s brilliant vision was that you could expose a much smaller piece of film to create a negative and then project a larger image in a darkroom. Oskar’s motivation was that he needed a small portable camera that he could carry while he was hiking. He pioneered precision optics that were capable of capturing and enlarging quality images.
World War I intruded and Leitz did not release Barnack’s design until 1925. This Leica (the name is a combination of Leitz and camera) begat all of today’s 35mm and digital cameras. Because of the Leica, suddenly photographs could be captured in assorted lighting conditions with a handheld mechanism that was thoroughly modern in its construction.
Florence’s photographic practice takes advantage of the unique characteristics of a number of Leitz/Leica proprietary products. For example, he utilizes f0.95 Noctilux lenses for both still and cinema purposes. These optical implements exceed the perception of the human eye. They are the world’s highest-speed aspherical lenses. In his darkrooms—which are working laboratories to develop and test different methods of experimental and environmentally friendly processes—there are a number of Leica enlargers employed. One significant unit is believed to be the only known working example of the first Leitz enlarger. It is noteworthy that this 1926-era machine remains a fully functional precision instrument. David Gensler of LeicaCraft has examined this piece and is working with the Leitz archive to retrieve the original paperwork. In JJF’s noir atelier, form follows function. And like every other piece of equipment, the aforementioned unit works to earn its keep.
Another Florence collaborative project involved artist Eric Haze and shaper John Pyzel and myself. We built up an all-terrain Chevy van replete with serigraph/letterpress printing capability, cases of spray paint, a working Leica Focomat IC enlarger and darkroom, and a pair of JJF/Pyzels. It is an interactive and vengeful proposition capable of creating aesthetic content and mayhem anytime at anyplace. Shit that works is our modus operandi. And true to form, the darkroom is built as a modular portable unit. Its dedicated Pelican case is water, shock, and dust proof. The premise was to create a completely portable unit that was quickly adaptable to sea/air/land deployments.
All photos above by John John Florence.