If you think of a picture taken with a camera lens from over a hundred years ago, what kind of image would you have in your mind? And what kind of picture would it take?
At Art on the Hill this year, we have a special exhibition of photographs taken with a collection of antique lenses paired with modern cameras- and the results may surprise you.
Amy Hill from the Art on the Hill team went to meet the family behind this project
Marie and Andy Pohler moved to Brill just over a year ago and brought with them a stash of very interesting photographs. They burst with colour and show the movement and vibrancy of daily life in Taiwan and Japan. But even before the first shutter was released on this series, hours of thought and technical expertise had gone into creating the camera- lens combinations.
Marie’s Father Sunny Tseng is the former technical director of Kodak Far East and for as long as she remembers has been an avid collector of camera lenses. His profession started him on a life-long journey to understand the history of these lenses and camera development from a very early stage - as far back as the seventeenth century, and all the way up to the digital camera age. He’s eighty-eight years old now, and still collecting.
Marie’s brother Tony Tseng is a fine artist, and is the one behind the camera, taking the pictures with a modern digital camera, paired with the very old lenses. Connecting the two is where Sunny’s unique expertise comes in. Since many of these lenses were made for one camera - in a day when photography was not prolific - finding adapters to fix them together is the huge challenge. For some of the combinations, three, four or five connectors are used, and in some cases where nothing has worked, Sunny himself has made an adapter. Images of the equipment used are shown alongside the photographs, adding a fascinating dimension to the display.
The sharpness and quality of the images is quite remarkable- given the age of the lenses. Sunny wanted to demonstrate that the technology and that quality of the lens- even in Victorian times- was amazing, and that the lens is the key constituent to a photograph. The exhibition is about his passion for the technological aspect of photography.
Marie and Andy laugh as she admits she is a ‘phone camera user’ and they talk about Sunny’s collecting obsession - he has thousands of lenses. ‘He’s so enthusiastic. He can’t stop collecting.’ Says Marie. Years ago, when I was working at a bank in London, every now and then I’d get a phone call from my Dad in Taiwan saying: ‘Tomorrow there’s going to be an auction at Christies, can you just pop down there at lunchtime?’ and I’d say: ‘Dad I have to work’ and he’d say ‘Yes but there’s going to be this really important camera…’ I went two or three times for him!’
The lenses date from 1850-2003, and the series has pictures taken using lenses from almost every decade in between. A selection of images will be exhibited at this years Art on the Hill, 28th - 29th March.