I’m Reuben Stanton. This is an intermittent blog of relatively random things: thoughts about technology, reflections on my life and work, and some historical stuff.

My ‘real’ website is here, and I tweet intermittently @absent

Monthly Archives: February 2014

Cameras I own: Konica Hexar AF

Part four in a series. Read parts three, two and one.

Somewhere in Western Australia, 2006

Now here is a camera that is truly close to my heart. When I’m asked the inevitable question (as a visitor looks up at my collection on top of our bookshelf) “which is your favourite?”, my answer is always “the Hexar”. I first became aware of the existence of the Hexar while taking photos at the Meredith music festival with my Canonet—I noticed another photographer with a few vintage cameras, and around his neck was an amazing looking one: like a Leica, but sleeker, more modern, with a neat little LCD showing the shot count on the top. I didn’t manage to speak to him, but my quest had begun.

I found my Hexar my first time in Japan, partly because I knew that I wanted to buy a camera in Japan, and partly because my good friend Pete (who was living there at the time) convinced me (after some single-malt scotch) that this was the one. He was right of course.

Akihabara, Tokyo, 2004

The Konica Hexar is a truly special 35mm rangefinder: it sports an incredibly sharp fixed 35mm f2.0 lens, aperture priority and program settings (or fully manual if you desire), fast and precise autofocus, solid construction. I have heard it called “the perfect street camera” because of it’s fast wide angle and extremely quite operation. Plus it just looks awesome with its sleek lines, sci-fi looking reflective autofocus array and LCD screen.

ACCA, Melbourne, 2006

I bought the later (1997) model “Silver” edition, which (apparently) comes minus the Hexar’s most lauded feature: Silent Mode. Silent Mode slows down the motorised film advance and autofocus to whisper quiet, and combined with the very quiet leaf shutter turns the Hexar into one of the quietest motorised film cameras around. Now, I said “apparently” because of a fact that was pointed out to me by Pete: the missing feature is just a software setting—it is actually possible to override it and restore Silent Mode to the camera by performing a complex sequence of button presses (which I managed to do, after a few aborted attempts). Pete explained this fact to a salesman at Map Camera, and it was listening to this conversation that I first learned about the existence of “Japanese” words that are strangely warped English words: “Onnu-offu” (on-off switch), “cunningu” (cheat, as in “cunning”).

Kyoto, 2004

But I digress. I continued to use this camera right up until I bought my Lumix GF-1, as none of my other digital cameras could do quite what the Hexar did (and the Lumix is still louder than the Hexar). There was something about the combination of size, speed and lens quality (I still think it has the best lens of any camera that I own) that made it, for me, perfect. The Hexar is retired now (the cost of film is sadly not worth it anymore), and I have managed to damage the hotshoe (now held in place with gaffer tape).

I took some of my favourite film shots with this camera over the years, and I am still a little sorry that it just sits gathering dust now. A note to all digital camera manufacturers: I’m still looking for a true digital replacement for the Hexar, so when you release one, I’ll happily be your first customer.

Documentation, not things.

What if the video archive isn’t a ‘video archive’, but an archive of ‘events that are recorded on the videos’? What is the difference? The current Circus Oz video archive is quite literal: a cupboard full of VHS and Mini-DV tapes. But once they are digitised at stored ‘in the cloud’ (as it were), it won’t be the video-object that exists in the archive (to the extent that we can say that digital objects ‘exist’ in any real sense), what will exist in the archive is a subjective record of a performance. Or less academically: you aren’t watching ‘videos’ anymore, you are watching a certain record of someone’s perspective of an event.

Here’s how it works: There is a performance. This is a real event, verifiable, happening in the world. The events of the performance are captured on video (in some format). This video is transcoded into a series of digital copies: one ‘archive quality’ (theoretically lossless), one ‘working copy’ (optimised for web streaming) for general access, others, probably stored in the nebulous cloud. Other data is associated with this copy (archive metadata, descriptions, images). Together these make up a record of a performance: a representation of the event. Documentation, not things.

How does this change the way of thinking about a video archive and archive practice? Is it because we are not concerned with preserving objects but with preserving perspectives?

In “the serendipity of the unexpected, or why a copy is not an edition”, Sarah Werner notes a problem with the digital archiving of manuscripts: that the process of digitising a copy of a text can destroy the history of the artefact. It is common practice, for example, to leave out blank pages when digitising text:

[..] their surrogates start with the frontispiece or title page, then move to the dedication/preface/letter to the reader/start of the text. But you know what’s missing? The blank verso of the title page. Does that matter? I don’t know. It might. It depends on what you’re looking for. But you’ll never know that you might be looking for an answer that depends on that blank presence if you don’t know that it’s not there.

Regarding the video archive, this point is still relevant: the representations of performance were originally on VHS and transcoded via SAMMA, so we should keep evidence of this. Does that matter? I don’t know. It might. It would be great to be able to see who’s handwriting is on the original videotape. It depends on what you’re looking for. But regarding a performance archive, I would argue, it is not so important that physical attributes of the record object are kept, what matters is the performance itself. We also have to deal with the fact that the physical aspects of the record are actually becoming harder to preserve as all steps of the archiving process move to digital: Circus Oz are shooting digital video now, writing show reports and tape descriptions on a computer, not by hand.

This is where the ‘living’ part of the ‘living archive’ comes in: To archive a performance, we need multiple perspectives from primary sources (ie, people who were there) to be able to clearly interpret the contents of the archive. If we are concerned with a record of perspectives, not a record of objects, then allowing people to add content (memories, stories, …) to the archive makes perfect sense.