Russian Panoramic

In an Italian border town amidst a railway strike, we found ourselves disembarking the train into a village Flea Market. Just near the train station on a table filled with Soviet military watches and insignia, was a Soviet built panoramic swing lens film camera. These cameras have a lens that swings 180 degrees from left to right and the moving shutter exposes a thin slice of light across the film as it swings. The negative (on 35mm film)is about twice as long as a normal negative, and subject to all kinds of distortions and blurs from the notoriously unpredictable mechanical operation. It is a drab, gray brick but perched on top is a beautiful full frame rectangular  bubble glass eye piece.

I stood there for a moment, contemplating the possible complexity of bartering with a Russian in Italian, then dived in. “quanto costa?” his heavy forrested eyebrow lifted showing a twinkling blue underneath. Then accelerating turbocharged from a standstill, he launched into a detailed and fantastic explanation of what this camera was and why it  was, “fortunate that I had arrived just at this moment and why therefor he would only charge me 60,000 Lire, ” then noticing the slight crumple in my expression (The exchange rate at that time was so volatile that I really had no idea what he was offering in terms of dollars) “no 50,000 Lire” he added. My Italian so slow,  I felt on the entire trip as though I was living in a stuttering 15 second delay, (like those they insert in live television shows to spare us, boobs or profanity). He was waiting patiently for my brain to catch up when I blurted out “20,000 Lire”

What came next I could barely trace but he talked about Soviet engineering and the rarity of the camera still having the eyepiece mounted and the fact that it was unused yet 40 years old. “Never a roll” he said, “not one roll!”

I offered him what I thought was about $50 bucks “25,000Lire?” (it was in fact less then $20.) He had offered it to me to begin with at less then I was willing to pay. In Italian and exasperated he said,”but do you understand? I went to Germany? I took the train?  yes, I stayed with friends but , 25,000 Lire ? What am I to do with this?  I want you to know what I am going to do for you now, I am going to do this because you do not know,  you are nice but unknowing, yes 25,000 Lire …ok.” It was only later that I fully appreciated what a kindness he had done for me.

Here are some shots taken with the camera. If you touch the swing mechanism (often inadvertently) it slows the lens and creates both blurs and slurs in the image. If you swing the camera in the same direction as it is swinging while the shutter is tripped, images can be elongated, or conversely condensed if you swing it the other way. When you look at the developed film with the sprocket holes all around it has a magical quality, like a weird portal.

These photographs are available as beautiful aluminum prints and mount directly on the wall (with 1/2inch standout)

Russian Panoramic

swing lens Russian Panoramic Camera

Russian Panoramic Camera

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