My vintage 1958 Rolleiflex 2.8E. I acquired it in 2005 from a camera aficionado who was downsizing his collection. At the time (and still now) I was obsessed with the work of Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, and it was not long before my curiosity about the Rolleiflex – the famous camera they had all used – was more than I could bear.. I had found the seller, unsurprisingly, on EBay after seeking out the particular model he was selling: the 80mm 2.8E version, which I had decided would be better suited to my particular interest in portraiture, as opposed to the more common 75mm 3.5 models. I was looking for a seller located somewhere close enough for me to pick up the camera in person – instead of sending it through the mail with the risk of damage. Once the deal was made, I drove a few hours from Stratford, Ontario, where I was living at the time, and met the owner at at a MacDonalds restaurant where the exchange was made. …A perfectly mundane place to pick up one of the most beautiful cameras ever made. The condition of the camera was everything he had promised, and I celebrated the purchase over a shake and fries.
The Rolleiflex is one of those iconic cameras, like (so I’m told – and hope one day to experience) the Leica M3 that has a mesmeric effect on all photographers. Whether they shoot digital or film, they can’t help but drool when they see one. With lenses that are absolutely second to none (mine has the Schneider-Kreuznach Zenotar lens, arguably, alongside the Carl Zeiss Planar lens, the finest Rolleiflex lens ever) and it’s medium-format film negative (at least three times larger than 35mm negatives) can produce images that combine razor-sharpness with a certain liquid beauty. But be warned: They ain’t easy to use. They’re heavy, one sees the image in reverse, and focusing on a 55 year old ground-glass can take some getting used to – plus, you only have 12 shots to get it right – but the results can be superb. It is a beautiful object in it’s own right, and when using it you can imagine following in the (very big) footsteps of those great photographers of the past.
When I bought the Rollei in 2005, I was already consumed by a photographic undertaking of my own making (begun in 2002): photographing my fellow-actors – behind the scenes – at The Stratford Festival of Canada. Until then, I had used my classic 35mm Pentax K1000 for all my pictures, but once I had the Rolleiflex in my hands I began to work with it in earnest and I was very excited by the results. My fellow artists were always enthusiastic about collaborating on the portraits, and the project became a big preoccupation in my life in those years. I would continue shooting pictures at the Festival through my last season in 2008, and took, undoubtedly, thousands of photos. In fact, one of my great, great regrets of leaving the Festival is that I had to face the loss of a pet project I was very passionate about. It pains me now to think of it, because at the time I was dead-set on making a book based on a decade of photography at Stratford. Life intervened, tsunami-style, and hardly before I could realize it I had packed my cameras into storage (not to see them again for a few years) left Canada for the States, and my days as an actor/photographer at the Stratford Festival were over. …Maybe one day I’ll work there again and reignite the flame. I’d like to think so. Recently, I brought my mock-up “book” of photographs out of storage, showed it to friends in the business in New York, and they said “My God, you have to do something with this”, so maybe I still will.
Below, a few photos that I took with the Rolleiflex at the Stratford Festival of Canada. Shot backstage, on the fly, during performances. Documents of remarkable actors in memorable roles, and reminders to me of old friends and a very special time.