Nothing is what it seems. I had been watching a TV programme in which a critic spoke about equivocation in Shakespeare’s plays. ‘Ceasar and Cleopatra’ is not about Ceasar and Cleopatra, but about the reign of James 1. I had been thinking about a plot involving bidding on e.bay. The plot would hinge around an unexposed film hidden in a pre-war camera. I cannot believe that this plot has not been used before, but I cannot think of the film? I could not have invented it. Something must have remained in my mind. To go back to the beginning --
(though this was probably a story I wrote earlier in the year. (Developing this other idea might have been in my imagination - a camera with a mystic lens.)
Last month I was involved with e.bay - a short addiction. I was trying to buy ancient Russian optics for a digital camera, and I might have unwittingly stumbled across a film plot. The hero of the film is a camera - a very famous make of camera. You could call the film ‘I am a camera’ but this title has been used before.An alternative title could be ‘Me No leica’ However, the plot is leaky and I cannot quite see it. But everything is fake and cameras lie too. Neither buyer or seller are what they seem and the item that is up for sale is not what it seems either.
One could call the film f =18 - an ironic filmic reference Orson Wells and ‘F for Fake’. (This is a Tarantino plot.) The camera is the Leica 11 and the copy is the Russian ‘Fed.’ I recall that ‘F for Fake’ is about a forger of paintings for whom Orson Wells had sympathy and he meditates around the subject.
This is the story of two cameras. The real and the fake. The history of these cameras parallels the history of the twentieth century. This history could be portrayed in a series of images that could well have been taken - or faked - by the camera itself. I am a bit lost in this history, as my reading has been euro-centric and this is a story of the conflict between Russia and Germany, ’
The Leica 11 is the camera Indiana Jones would have used - note for Secretspi. It is a range-finder and had all these wonderful attachments; revolving turrets for the different lenses, spirit levels, exposure meters etc. These were all clamped onto the camera. James Mason would have one strung around his neck when he played a Nazi general. (These camera had been given to the German High command,) Specially made ‘Feds’ were given to the Russian Army and Politburo. They are collectable - about £500,
I do have, in effect, a copy of a Leica myself. It is called a Bessa and is a modern version that was made, and sold about twenty years ago. I got a second hand version at my local camera shop. I had expressed an interest in landscape photography, and the assistant had recommended it, quite accurately, as suitable. I can understand why it was sold so cheaply as it had, for the time, a very wide angle lens, but you might say I developed a Leica mindset without the requisite cash or social status to do the real thing!
I did try to bid for a real Leica,11 but the final bid was £1,800. I wouldn’t go above one hundred pounds, I tried to buy a ‘Fed’ but was thwarted by a Russian dealer A ‘Fed’ of the period was sold for £50 in England, so you can see the difference between the two cameras, but bear with me.
A camera enthusiast bids for a ‘Fed’ because he thinks he has found a rare copy. He could be bidding against other people, and a dealer who realizes he has put a rare camera on the market and wishes to withdraw from the deal. The Russian dealer has got his sale items from a pawn shop. (Echoes of the last Russian Revolution -Gorbachov - politboro - selling goods - pawnshop) Who owned the camera with the role of unexposed film?
Neither buyer or seller are dishonest as such but neither are what they seem. The enthusiast could be a porno-photographer - black and white and classy - and the Russian could do porn videos. (This is merely to bring visual sex into the picture - Tarantino.)
I got the lens I wanted - a Fed with an aperture of f18 - from another Russian dealer. It has not turned up yet. I paid about twenty pounds for it. (This was a bid.) I think I was the only person who made a bid - though another similar lens came on the market for, I recall, a few hundred dollars. This F18 aperture could be the key to buyer’s interest, as it was mine.
Note - Aperture markings became standardised after the second world war. A ‘Fed’ lens with an F18 aperture indicates a pre-war lens. F16 indicates the post war. I have already, bought an f16 lens and it seems to take fine pictures. It is a copy, or fake, of a Leica ‘Elmar’ or ‘Tessar’ lens. The f18 is an exact copy of the ‘Elmar’ lens sold with the Leica 11, but it is probably not usable with a digital camera.
Some Russian lenses now fetch high prices. One particular Jupiter lenses will cost more than £100, but this is still a fraction of the cost of the German equivalent. I might save up for one, but I don’t really need it. I now have a pre-war German lens and it came with a green filter. (A Leica lens but not one of the expensive ones) This is for black and white photography. (Still no success, though)
However, back to the film plot, The real value and interest in the camera - up for bid - is a roll of unexposed film in the camera. (yes, the film would last) But, surely this plot has been done before? I cannot have thought it up? Roman Polanski perhaps? It sounds like his sort of plot.
This is a conspiracy thriller Only a few of these rare Russian cameras were made - around 1941 - or just pre-war. Interested parties are trying to find the roll of film. Everybody who owned one of these rare cameras has been, or is being bumped off - the one remaining rare camera had been pawned by someone’s daughter. (red herring)
What the images on the roll of film consist of, is not revealed until the film is developed and the closing credits. Probably the pictures would reveal something unknown about concentration camps in the second world war. This would be the conventional ending. I cannot think of a relevant occasion where a snapshot might have been taken? This would have been in Russia about 1941. It could be when Russia declared war on Germany - the turning point of the war. Perhaps there had been some sort of meeting, recorded by this camera - when Stalin and Hitler meet? The roll of film might well reveal a pictures of Stalin smelling a roses. The whole plot could consist of following up false leads. Perhaps Mussolini could be involved too? I read a biography which suggested he only joined a Nazi pact because he believed Germany would win the war and Germany began to lose quite soon after this pact.
Short history of the cameras - a fascinating one.
The ‘Fed ‘was made in a Russian commune in the early 1930’s- after the Russian revolution, It is a copy of the Leica 11 which revolutionised photography. It was light, portable and could be used on the move - with low light lenses. It was the camera for the glitterati well into the sixties and was a ‘must have’ item for the super rich - and the professional photographer. (The contemporary equivalent would be the iphone which is replacing cameras)
You can buy a fake ‘Leica’ from Russian antique shops. After the second world war, the fake ‘Feds’ - the Leica copies - were turned into fake Leicas, thus selling for a higher price.. (Gold paint was in scarce supply after the war, and, apparently, the fakes can be spotted because the paint is flaking off) However, at the close of the war, the Russian victors took the machinery, plans and the glass, from the East German factories and transported the whole lot to Russia,
In theory, your fake Leica is a real one. I wonder what a collector makes of this? The Fake Leica costs more than the real Fed!! The collector has bought a fake of a fake and it is really real - a believable scenario. (Also, some enthusiasts on Flick’r think the Fed’s development into the Zorki resulted in a better camera than the Leica,) i bought a lens of that period - for the Fed/Zorki. The Russian dealer stated it was made with original glass. i did not know what to make of this, but the lens does not resemble a Leica lens from it’s outward appearance, though it might well have the same construction. Fick’r people rather condemn this lens, but it seems, to me, to take fine pictures, I paid £20 for it. But I am no camera expert - just a snapper when I go for walks. Some years ago a colleague gave me his old Zenith camera and i managed to mount the lens on a digital camera. It was the origins of this lens that i had been tracing. It’s origins are in the ‘Tessa’ lens of the Leica 11 and I have been buying the intermediate lenses. So there is a contemporary update to a plot.
The buyer is bidding for a fake that he wants for his collection and he realizes it has value - more than the seller has suggested. The seller - getting his goods from a pawn shop - is advertising this fake fake - not realizing it is genuine. He intends to send off a commonplace fake. He does not realise the significance of the f18 aperture mark. Both are deceiving each other and there is symmetry in the plot. A wild card is thrown in in that the real value is the roll of unexposed film. The hero has to be the Russian dealer as he realises all the owners of the fake fake/real cameras are being bumped off for their cameras. (News broadcasts) and rushes to England to save the life of the buyer.
Is there film potential here? The trouble would be that I am thinking of a film purely from a visual point of view so it would be difficult to write a script.
The sun has come out, after a dismal morning, and i am off with another lens - another Fed I got for £15. I could easily have spent this £15 on a few pints of beer and a bottle of wine. A cup of coffee at Costa will have to suffice.
But e.bay days are over. Mind you there is this Jupiter lens.....!!!
P.S This is not based on what really happened with the Russian dealer. He would not send what i had paid for. I suspect he photographed, and put for sale, an item he did not have. I was under the impression that the camera had been sent. This was not true and i got an e.mail from the seller requesting more postage - or he would not send the item off. I would not pay the extra postage. He then offered me another camera in his shop. I reported the matter to E.Bay and got nowhere. The dealer had offered a refund before I complained but that is not the point. I wanted what I had paid for and what the dealer advertised, I did get an email from E’bay which admits he had broken the contract according to their rules and, surely, he has to send what he advertised, or supply me with a replacement? I do not like the whole thing. The whole point of legal processes as that they support the plaintiff as well as the defendant. E’bay is not a court, surely? The dealer had e.mailed that ‘He do not understander zee business, Well, I never! Neither do I. Colleagues at work have informed me that there are much better sites than E.Bay -,Gumtree’ for example. If colleagues want to sell stuff they do it on ‘Amazon’.
The chances of an early ‘Fed’ working are slim. There is a site on how not to ruin an early ‘Fed’ and the best way not to wreck this camera is by not taking pictures with it, For those who owned a ‘Zenith’ and remember the elaborate procedure for taking a snap - the early ‘Fed’ is much worse. Taking a wrong step in the sequence of cocking the lens, could wreck the camera! Leica 11’s can still work perfectly and are, reportedly, marvels of engineering.