There is nothing more satisfying than the click of a camera while taking a picture. You may still remember it from the days before cell phones made the mysterious land of photography a pedestrian affair.
Recently as I was helping my eighty-six-year-old sister move to a smaller apartment, I came across my mother’s Voigtlander on a forgotten dusty shelf in my sister’s closet. I asked her if I could have it, to which she consented.
I remember the first time I saw that camera. Mother was taking my picture in a small village in Czechoslovakia where she had hidden my brother and me from the Nazis in 1944. I’m four years old in the picture and in the process of eating a very large slice of watermelon the sweet taste of it is reflected on my face. The camera case had the scent of new leather then.
At home in San Diego, I’m looking at the old brown leather case with a worn and broken strap, it smells musty now. It had been custom-made for the camera and has circular holes for its six still shiny knobs.
I open the case and touch the lining of green velvet, it’s not cushy soft, but smooth, businesslike. I pick up the short spring cable connected to the shutter release. Mother sometimes had let me play with it and I clicked endlessly, pretending that I was taking pictures. I click now and I am relieved to find that it still makes the same springy sound, nothing is rusted or corroded. So I click it again and again and for a while, I’m four years old.
Then I examine the camera. It is box-shaped, made of metal, of course, plastic was not used for cameras when it was made ca 1939. It has a copper plate upfront that says Voigtlander in faded italics.
There are two lenses, one is the viewfinder. It is a TLR (twin lens reflex) I learn, researching it on the Internet. On top of the camera, there is a trapdoor you have to click open to look through the reflex viewfinder.
I remember it was another special treat when I was allowed to look through there before Mother snapped a picture. Underneath that lens is the actual camera lens with f stops circling it. There is a chart on the back that gives one the ratio to the distance— the chart rings a bell from my own photographer days, not so long ago when f stops still mattered.
I was allowed to put the film in the camera when I got a little older. I opened the clip, inserted the roll, and then wound and wound, there was nothing automatic about this procedure. Mother showed me the little window on the side and told me when I got to number one it was ready to shoot.
She almost always had this camera ready to take black and white pictures of us children. She left it behind when we escaped Hungary because it was in the pawnshop at the time together with my sister’s winter coat and our heavy lace curtains.
Sixteen years later when I went back to visit Hungary, my uncle who stayed behind gave me the camera to return to my mother, he found the pawnshop ticket and bailed it out. My older sister inherited it when Mother died.
The Voigtlander is a relic now sitting in a display case in my living room together with other sentimental remainders and reminders of my past. We have both seen and recorded wars and revolutions hate and love in the ups and downs of my familiy’s life in our own way.
We are ready to rest.