As a New Year comes in I get mellow and like to reflect on the years gone by, and hopefully the ones to come. On my mind today is a question and a reflection.
When is a camera more than a camera? What is any camera REALLY worth?
Sometimes, and this may happen only once in your life, you get to own a camera is more than the sum of its parts…
Such is ‘Agatha’ my Agfa Silette. Alone of all the cameras I have owned this is the one I would never part with. Agatha was bought by my father the year I was born. He was a manager at the Agfa plant and specialist film processing works in Wimbledon in the 1950s. He bought an Agfa Silette as a ‘happy snappy’. Dad was a keen photographer, at one time a professional, and although he loved his TLR cameras he obviously thought a snap shooter would be a good tool to capture Birthdays and other family events as well as everyday life at the Agfa plant.
Through the years the Silitte captured birthdays, weddings, holidays, family excursions and much more besides. It’s hard to find a single family picture that wasn’t captured with the Silette.
No family outing as a child was complete without the Silette wrapped around dads neck and over the years dad captured many hundreds of images of the family with using it. It became almost a totem, endowed with semi-magical powers to recreate happy times and special events.
A few times a year dad would get all of the slide film he had shot and processed and the family would sit down to watch a slide show of the recent outings and sometimes reflect on previous happy times too. Remembering people forgotten from the past, places that had been visited, holidays we had enjoyed and, occasionally, some people and places we would rather forget. This was a simpler time, far removed from disposable digital images flashed onto social media in an instant and almost as quickly forgotten. Photography was special, an event, something to look forward to and enjoy.
Like any daughter my dad was my hero and as I grew up I too wanted to be able to take photographs for the family. For an early birthday dad bought me a Kodak Instamatic 33 but it was always a privilege to be able to use ‘Agatha’ the Agfa. As I grew out of the Kodak dad used to let me use the Silette and taught me the rudiments of photography. The basic rules of composure, aperture and speeds, depth of field, basic composition. How to use flash to fill a scene, how to manage low light and so much more besides.
Such was the totemic power of the Silette that when dad was making his will I asked if the Silette could be mine for when he passed. The Silette seemed to hold part of him in it. Not just in its output of slide films but in the very metal, glass and fabric that it was made from. It captured almost my entire life in film and when I think of dad the Silette is bonded indivisibly to the memory of him.
Nothing else was of value to me when dad passed – not money, just this simple well made camera from the 1950s that taught me the basics of photography and recorded my life.
Sadly when dad passed the Lucimeter lightmeter and the accessory bulb flash gun had been lost or broken but the Silette was beautifully intact.
Today the Silette is seldom used but she still takes excellent sharp photographs and runs perfectly. A faithful friend, never missing a beat, her shutter still within specification, her lens free of fungus. Her light seals are made from tougher stuff than Japanese foam and have never needed replacing. Though well used, to me, she she looks as lovely as the day she was made.
What is Agatha the Agfa Silette worth? To me she is priceless. Just to hold her reminds me of my father and my childhood gone by in a way nothing else does or can. She brings back memories and lessons of photography under my fathers watchful eye. Occasionally I run film through her – using such a basic tool my instincts are sharpened for photography and she connects me to my fathers lessons all over again. Composing, watching the way the light plays, reading the shadows, holding my breath as I slowly press the shutter release.
When is a camera more than a camera? When they are an embodiment of a time gone before, a legacy and a testament to the past and a stepping stone to the future.
May I wish you all a happy snappy 2023 and may your God bless each and every one of you.
Mel is one of the driving forces behind High 5 Cameras and writes all our articles.
Starting serious photography back in 1972. Over the years she got to shoot film with most of the major brands in 35mm and large format as both a studio photographer and content provider for websites in the early life of the web. These days she is rediscovering photography and has become the GOTO person for knowledge on camera repair advice.