If you are puzzled about the kind of camera to buy, get a Speed Graphic...cops will assume that you belong on the scene and will let you get behind police lines.While Weegee's advice may not hold true half a century later, if you prowl the streets with a Speed Graphic, you will certainly attract attention, because the image of a press photographer with a Speed Graphic is burned into our collective consciousness like a flashbulb memory.Arthur Fellig (aka Weegee), Naked City, 1945.
Which brings us to the topic at hand: flashbulbs!
I bought a supply of flash bulbs from Bill Cress, who advertises periodically in the Usenet net news group rec.photo.marketplace. With a booklet of advice and a little knowledge about guide numbers and reflectors, I set out to explore the streets of the sleepy hamlet of Palo Alto, California.
After a couple of hours with no news other than a few disaffected suburban youth hanging out in front of the local designer pizza parlor, my faithful photographic assistant and I ventured, Speed Graphic in hand, We went to a Cafe Fino, a local restaurant featuring Nancy Gilliland, a 30's and 40's chanteuse and piano player.
Cafe Fino is an elegant setting, with soft lighting, Art Deco murals, and a well-dressed silver-haired gentleman behind the bar. We go there for drinks and dessert often enough that the Nancy plays our song when we come in.
I put my Speed Graphic with the flash on the table, and it attracted attention. The waitress asked about the camera, but didn't really understand the concept of single-use flash bulbs.
When the crowd thinned out about 10pm, Nancy shimmered over in her green sequinned dress, and we talked for a minute. After dessert I went over to the piano and took her picture with a GE #5 flash bulb on TMAX 100. After a couple of Kir Royale, I had unfortunately forgotten to pull out the dark slide. So I shot another one. Nancy was nearly blinded by this time, and as you can imagine, I'd attracted a bit of attention. Just then owner Fred Maddelena came over and insisted I take his picture. I used a sheet of the ISO 200 Polaroid Sepia, but forgot to change the shutter speed, and it was over exposed. Oops.
The TMAX came out great, and I printed it on Ilford Multigrade IV with an old Besseler enlarger at the Santa Clara city darkroom, and scanned it in. The scan doesn't do justice to the print. (Click on it for a larger version.)