If you have followed this blog long enough, you know that Ann Arbor, Michigan has a camera museum. Argus cameras were produced here from their inception in the late 1930s to their demise in the early 1960s. A pretty good run for a bunch of cameras manufactured in a small town. The Argus Museum is located in the old factory building on 525 W.William Street (now much renovated, of course) that is owned by C3 Partners and houses offices for ONeal Construction, among others. Although the museum is private, it is open to the public on weekdays from 9 to 5, and by special appointment on weekends. The Argus Museum Curator, Cheryl Chidester, has been quite active in getting exhibitions and gatherings at the museum, and I was quite happy with our 2008 exhibit there. Last fall, the Argus Collectors group help sponsor the Everett Kuntz exhibit at the museum, and it was well-received.
Historical Radicalism: Renegades with an Argus Camera
20th century photography cannot be discussed or reviewed, without the mention of the importance of “small camera” photography and the use of film. Before the invention of the medium format and 35mm film cameras, photography was a laborious and expensive enterprise.
In the 20th century, the camera became democratized and anyone could own and record their lives. The Argus camera, made in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was one such camera company that produced these types of cameras.
The Wayne State University 20th century photography class alumni and the Henry Ford Community College directed study class were charged with exploring the idea of “following their muse”. The students were only requested to use an Argus camera as their tool of expression. We used the Argus models: A2b, C4 and the Argus 75. We chose black and white film, color transparency, copper toning and cross-processing techniques in the production of our images.
We let the divine elements of chance guide us in our conversations with our muses and let our muses reveal themselves to us in these visual apparitions.
Many students chose not to perfect their images. They were interested in the “snapshot aesthetic”- to quickly capture and not refine the image- to retain a “pure” image. Others let their muse take them by the hand and explore vanishing small towns and to reveal the life remaining- past and present.
I chose to participate with my students in channeling my muse.
Through the viewfinder of an Argus the sublime was revealed and imprinted onto our hearts. It was then that our images made themselves visible and can now be seen.
Professor Deborah R. Kingery, Ab7102@wayne.edu
My first impression of the exhibit was that it was great to see some students using quite old cameras and shooting film AND producing gelatin-silver prints! Talking with some of the exhibitors, I learned that for some, it was the first film camera that they had used. Imagine growing up in the digital camera age and someone hands you an Argus 75 and tells you to go shoot some photos. I think that is pretty interesting and challenging. My second reaction was that the images represented a wide range of vision. Some images were quite excellent compositions, and others left me feeling, "meh." But that's me, and I don't have to like every photograph I see on a wall, and I expect the same from others that view my work. I think the images were well-presented and flowed through the museum quite well. The print size was perfect for the space, too. The Argus Museum has some limitations for its exhibition space, and it's a pretty intimate atmosphere. Given the parameters of the artist's statement, I think they fulfilled their mission. The show is definitely worth a lunch hour trip if you are in town during the week, and since the exhibit ends September 17, don't delay in seeing it!