I Spy: Nick Vlahadamis

Ragged frame edges and a blue-duotone make for a gorgeously moody architectural shot.

A test of the minox B using available light in the Queen Victoria Building, Sydney. “The results were pleasantly surprising,” Nick says.

From Nick’s series My Minox Newtown Essay, shot in the inner-city Sydney suburb of the same name using a 50-year-old Minox IIIs.

“I’m really an ordinary dad with a couple of young kids,” Nick Vlahadamis tells me in an email about his camera habits. That may be true, but Nick’s passion for Minox — the world’s most famous brand of spy cameras — is anything but mundane.

I met Nick through cameraFanplastic, my online shop, and we got talking about what is technically called subminiature photography; that is, cameras so tiny they fit in the palm of your hand. He was thinking about investing in a new film scanner, so I offered to test a few of his teeny (as in the size of your little fingernail) negatives on my gear. As you can see, the results are fantastic, so I thought I’d interview Nick for this blog.

But first, a little bit about Minox….

Walter Zapp, a German born in Russia and living in Estonia, dreamed up this portable and lightweight in 1932. While not as popular as the 35mm camera, it quickly became a niche favourite, first in the luxury “gadget” market, and second in the intelligence community, notably with US, British and German agencies, who used its easy concealed size and close focusing to copy documents.

In today’s world of digital imaging, Minox is alive, well and still in production. In fact, the cameras have a cult following and are adored by collectors. Part of the appeal is the styling — these cameras embody the best of modernist design.

“I love their brushed aluminum construction and miniscule size,” Nick says. “One look at any model and you just marvel at the unique craftsmanship. You just want to hold it, carry it and use it all the time.”

No wonder he owns seven of these beauties: three Minox Bs; three Minox Cs and a Minox IIIs (also called a Minox A). “There is nothing else like the Minox in photography,” he enthuses.

Like many photographers, Nick likes to have a camera on hand at all times. “I always carry the Minox IIIs in my pocket,” say says. “I can shoot anything that catches my eye and if I don’t use it, I just play with it in my hand, like worry beads. It’s so tactile.”

About the length of your average finger, James Bond fans will recognise this particular model from the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. A piece of trivia — star George Lazenby actually holds the camera upside-down!

While Mr Lazenby’s camera technique means he would have shot … well, nothing … Nick says Minox cameras generally are ideal for snapping ad hoc in busy streets. Surprisingly, he adds, “They’re lovely portrait shooters.” In fact, he often uses them to photograph his wife and two children.

Having said this, Nick is coy about his skills, although his images suggest otherwise. “I am really a novice, with a keen interest in something that was once ubiquitous, but is now so quirky,” he says.

No comments: