When Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took what most people considers the first photography, in 1827, only a few could imagine it would become not only one of the most popular hobbies but also one of the most rapidly growing technologies during the 20th Century. But, leaving technology apart, it is precisely classic cameras the ones that are more sought after from both advanced users and collectors alike.
In my particular case, it all began quite a few years ago, being little more than an adolescent. Since ever I have been interested in, among other things, history and collecting old things, one day I became acquaintained with an Agfa Isolette. Despite not having any previous knowledge neither of photography, medium format cameras nor old photo cameras in general, as of today it is still one of my greatest findings (this particular model is one of my favourites, and I own and use several regularly, the first one will always have a special place reserved). Soon I learned to appreciate everything involved in creating an image, and become surprised of the great results that, almost 75 years after its manufacturing, still yields.
Soon, however, lack of knowledge took its fare, and in less than one year and during a street photography session in my city, I discovered the bellows of my precious camera was showing its age and usage (on my hands noy very hard, but always at least one picture daily). Taking into account that original manufacturer no longer sells new bellows, and that they cannot be sourced right from the supermarket, I made the effort buying a second camera off the big auction site. To my great dismay, after receiving the camera and upon close inspection I discover the bellows on this second unit are in an even worst state than that from the first one (which, at least, were made out of something quite similar to lether, while the second ones were made out of plastic or vinyl). Investigating, I discover a couple of things: on one hand Isolettes have quite a number of followers, and on the other both the original bellows and grease used during manufacturing were of a quality which could be, at the very least, improved. It is hard to source new bellows nowadays, and nevertheless they were far from my student's pocket reach. I tried applying black adhesive tape to the corners of the bellows, but this was not a durable solution and on the long run they became counter-productive. As I had a second set of bellows to play with, I could try every suggestion received. Sadly, I didn't find a satisfactory solution. The only way to go, for me, was to build my own bellows.
In the meantime, my passion for old cameras (mostly older than 1975) kept growing, and I end up buying other cameras I found, mostly folding cameras from arounf WWII (i.e. between 1930 and 1960).
So, after lots of tests and failures, a couple of trips and little more than one year, I finally managed to find a working solution for replacing my bellows with new, custom made ones, thus returning all that lost glory and potential to my folding bellows cameras. Since then, I decided to continue with further learning to take advantage of those deteriorated cameras restoring them and making them usable again. Also, I noticed that most repairmen involved in those tasks are increasingly retiring, or nearly retirement, and under any circumstance it is possible to dedicate 12 hours per day to this. So, I learned as much as I could from that people out there who opened their doors to me, and gathered as much parts and service manuals as I could. Today, it's one of my preferred hobbies, which I enjoy most, or that permits me enjoying other things.
Right now I do especialize in folding bellows cameras, and my personal collection includes nearly 100 units from the beginnings of 20th Century (an ICA camera for plates and some KW Patent Etui) to the 70s (Pentacon Six, Spotmatic...), with my adventure in the electronic cameras reduced to Canon: EOS 5, EOS 55 and EOS 40D. I do enjoy using all of them, and I do 90% of my shoots with medium format film cameras, the remaining 10% shared between 35mm and digital. I think that, upon returning their old wealth to those cameras, is like doing a little journey in time, taking us, somehow, to experience what so many people did as well before you with the same camera you may have in between your hands now, and with others that, due to technical, economical, statistical or political reasons, held their position as relevant milestones within Photograhpy's History, well earned as they provide us with an insight of where we are and how did we reached this far in Photography, and to better understand what does it mean for each of us an static image. Definitely, looking at the world with other eyes.