A Tale of Jim and Norma | Raj Mohan

On a summer morning in Central Park, I was intrigued by a man in a white shirt, shorts and hat practicing alone on the croquet courts. He approached, nodding at the camera around my neck and inquired: “Rolleiflex?” I replied, “No, Yashica.” And so began our friendship, founded on our common interest in photography, and strengthened by frequent meetings around the city during which we photographed, talked about photography (among other subjects) and indulged our shared fondness for sweet treats.

During one of our meetings, I mentioned that I was amazed at the quality of medium format negatives. In a flash, Jim responded: “Well, 4x5, now there is the next big step up; the negatives are incredible.” He continued, “Actually, I have a complete Sinar Norma 4x5 that is just sitting around – I haven’t shot with it for years. If you’re interested, it’s yours.” I rushed home to research this camera, and discovered Carl August Koch and the Sinar cameras https://sinar.swiss/company/geschichte-en-us/. My mouth figuratively agape, I accepted Jim’s incredibly generous offer.

Within a fortnight, Jim met me for the official hand-over of the Norma and gave me a detailed hands-on tutorial. Armed with this new-found knowledge (and a copy of Leslie Stroebel’s wonderful book ‘View Camera Technique’, also from Jim), I set forth. As an aside, I don’t intend this to be a review of the equipment (which can be easily found in the links and elsewhere), but suffice it to say that the Norma is a marvel of design – simple, sturdy, precise and elegant.

Day 1 To gain some familiarity with the camera, movements, and the stepwise procedure for photographing with a view camera, my first outing was to a rooftop. I used expired Portra 120 film in a 6x9 roll film back; my choice of film was based on my reluctance to clumsily load 4x5 sheet film holders in my tiny darkened bathroom, and also allowed me to make several test images at little cost. Here are a few images:

The Norma, perched atop the roof and ready for action. Kodak Retina IIIC and KodakT-Max 400

The Norma, perched atop the roof and ready for action. Kodak Retina IIIC and KodakT-Max 400

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Portra 800

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Portra 800

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Portra 800

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Portra 800

Sinar Norma, Nikon 90mm f4.5 Nikkor SW and Kodak Portra 800

Sinar Norma, Nikon 90mm f4.5 Nikkor SW and Kodak Portra 800

Sinar Norma, Nikon 90mm f4.5 Nikkor SW and Kodak Portra 800

Sinar Norma, Nikon 90mm f4.5 Nikkor SW and Kodak Portra 800

Day 2 Despite some flaws in my utilization of the camera’s movements, I was encouraged by the fact that I could make half-decent exposures. So much so that I ventured into my darkened bathroom with some sheet film and managed to load 4 sheets into 2 film holders in preparation for my next sortie. Again, I embraced the safety from embarrassment that the rooftop afforded, and produced these:

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Arista Edu Ultra 100

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Arista Edu Ultra 100

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar andArista Edu Ultra 100

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar andArista Edu Ultra 100

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Arista Edu Ultra 100

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Arista Edu Ultra 100

Day 3 Heady with excitement at the relative success of the prior experiences, I suggested to Jim a photoshoot in the field. We headed to Central Park, where, under Jim’s watchful eye, I made a few exposures on 120 film, including a joint effort in which we perched the tripod in the water at a pond’s edge, Jim hanging on to it for dear life, lest the Norma take a fatal plunge!

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

I quite like this unexpected double exposure, a result of my forgetting to wind the film on after a previous exposure.  Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

I quite like this unexpected double exposure, a result of my forgetting to wind the film on after a previous exposure.
Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

We perched the tripod in the water at a pond’s edge. Straddling the makeshift fence at the waters edge, Jim held on to the tripod to prevent the Norma from toppling over, while I made the exposure. Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

We perched the tripod in the water at a pond’s edge. Straddling the makeshift fence at the waters edge, Jim held on to the tripod to prevent the Norma from toppling over, while I made the exposure.
Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

On the same day, after parting from Jim, I took the daunting step of setting up the Norma on the streets of Manhattan to make two exposures of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Rapidly unpacking and setting up the camera on a busy city street was a new challenge, but the previous experiences with the Norma stood me in good stead.

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

Sinar Norma, Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f5.6 Symmar and Kodak Tri-X 400

The Norma, my first view camera, has been a revelation. It is a pleasure to use, challenges me technically and creatively, and forces me to see and to think a little differently – for which I thank my wonderful and generous friend, Jim

A little more about the Sinar:
http://glennview.com/sinar.htm
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiR0hrhTd-w

CONNECT

Raj Mohan is a photographer based in New York.  See more of his work on his website and connect with him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.