The 4 x 5 Speed Graphic, the camera of choice for almost all newspaper photographers in the era when I entered journalism was not for wimps or lame brains either.
It was a long way removed from the no brain all automatic cameras available today. For one thing they were heavy when you had a flash gun attached with two D size batteries. The film was in slide holders that were made of wood and bulky and were responsible for destroying a lot of suit coat pockets in their day since that is where they were generally carried.
The other suit pocket was reserved for the number five flash bulbs which sometimes had the ugly habit of pre igniting just as you were screwing them into the flashgun socket giving some fingers a good scorching.
The Speed Graphic had two shutters, one the traditional lens shutter and the second, a back curtain that as it released could attain shutter speeds of 1/500th of a second or greater.
When you took a photo with this camera there was a lot to remember, shutter speed and aperture; cocking the shutter: manual focus, a number 5 or 25 bulb in the flashgun; and remembering to pull the slide on the film holder once it was in place.
And here is the story. The photographer hasn't been born who did not forget to pull the film slide at some time or other, generally when there was a particularly impressive or important photo to be taken.
I had been with the publication I was working for in San Francisco only a short time when an important photo assignment loomed. One of our best advertisers was being honored by the Mayor and a photo had to be taken.
The publishers and my Editor, after evaluating my work with the speed graphic up to this point, decided that this was too important an assignment to be trusted to the cub reporter and photographer currently employed by them. You see I had already been guilty of forgetting to pull the slide a time or two.
Deciding they wanted no slipups like that they decided to pay the head photographer for one of the City's daily newspapers, someone my Editor knew well, to take the photo of the Mayor and our client.
As it happened the Mayor had a very busy schedule that morning with some unexpected City business so the photo session had to be on the wing as it were. So with the photographer in tow my Editor lined up a quick picture and the Mayor was out the door and gone.
Gone too was the much needed photo. That ace and veteran photographer had forgotten to pull the slide.
In due time another appointment was set up at the Mayor's office with our client and this time they let me take the pictures.
One of my biggest bloopers was that damn curtain shutter in the back of the camera. It was not a work assignment. Our advertising manager had yet another new born son and being Irish this called for a gala Christening party where all the friends and relations were in attendance.
I was invited with the "bring the camera so we can take some pics of Kevin and the relatives." Irish Christenings are wet affairs and this photographer fitted in nicely at the affair that went on all afternoon and into the evening.
Besides listening to grand Irish stories and sipping a drink here and there I also took quite a few photos. The next day the advertising manager was eager to see my results which were zilch. None of the film had been exposed. A quick check showed that the curtain shutter had been down.
I never heard the last of this from the advertising manager. Years later I would still get the needle with "I hope these come out better than Kevin's Pics."
It did teach me one more lesson. I never slipped another film holder into the camera without checking to make sure that curtain was up.
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