My Photographic Time Tunnel – Voigtländer Brillant

During the worst of Second World War, Nahum Valach escaped, together with his twin brother and father from the Polish city of Lodz that was captured by the German army. Just before reaching the border, Kalman, Nahum’s brother, decided to go back to Lodz to bring his girlfriend. On their way back to regroup they were caught by a border patrol that separated them and sent them to prison in Kazakhstan. Kalman and his girlfriend never met again. When reaching safety in Russia, Nahum and his father were sent to Komi ASSR and assigned to hard manual labor. Nahum’s father couldn’t survive the impossible cold winter and died from an illness. After a period of working in the woods, Nahum was sent to work in his field of expertise – accounting. His supervisor at the factory was a beautiful Russian woman called Raya. The two got to know each other and eventually got married. When the war ended they decided it was better for them to escape communist Russia. They bundled their two years old child Lea, and sneaked through the western border. They traveled all the way to central Europe, and by 1947 they’ve reached Munich and decided to settle there for awhile. Nahum worked for a Zionist organization for two years, and by 1949 the family finally decided it was best for them to go to Israel. In Israel Nahum was finally reunited with his twin brother Kalman and his sister Tola. Both of his parents didn’t make it through the war.

(Pictures of Lea and her parents taken with the Voigtländer Brillant in Munich)

Among the few things Nahum took with him from Germany was his Voigtländer Brillant camera. At the early 50th Nahum still used the camera, taking pictures of his growing family. When he and his family settled down, Nahum decided to get rid of all of his German’s possessions.  He didn’t want anything to do with the country that was responsible for his parent’s death. But somehow the Voigtländer stayed in its place, hidden inside the closet. More than 60 years later, Lea, Nahum’s daughter, found the camera stored at the cellar of her house in Herzliyya. Fortunately she decided to give me a call and let me try it out.

(Lea in Israel at the early 50th)

When I first took the Voigtländer in my hands I was very surprised how this 67 years old camera still looks so fresh. After a closer examination I realized the body of the camera is made from Bakelite, which is the first plastic substance that was developed at 1907. As opposed to the body of the camera, the shutter didn’t work properly and the lens was foggy. I took it as an opportunity to visit my friend Doron, who fixed Soskin’s Rollieflex for me. This time it didn’t take much to convince Doron to work the camera. Doron took the little parts apart and cleaned the taking lens and the viewfinder glass and lens. The shutter mechanism was in a bad condition, and I asked him not to dismantle it, in fear it will be ruined. After some adjustments it was permanently set for 1/75. With a maximum aperture of f/7.7 this camera could be used only in full day light.

(Doron fixing and cleaning the Voigtländer Brillant)

Before loading the camera with 120 film, I did a short research about Voigtländer. I was very surprised to reveal that Voigtländer Company was founded in Vienna in 1756! The founder was Johann Christoph Voigtländer who built it originally as an optical company. During the years the company success with camera lenses pushed it forward into making cameras. Voigtländer great achievements were the first all-metal camera in 1849, the first zoom lens (36-82/2.8) in 1960, and the first compact camera with built-in electronic flash in 1965. In 1956 Voigtländer was bought by the Carl Zeiss Foundation, and in 1966 it was sold to Rollei. The brand name Voigtländer is still active, and today it’s owned by Ringfoto, what makes it the oldest name in the cameras industry.

Though making many groundbreaking photographic products, the Voigtländer Brillant is not such a surprise. It resembles a TLR (Twin-lens reflex) camera, but it is just a box camera with non-identical twin lens that serves as a viewfinder. That means you can watch the view through the viewfinder nice “Brillant finder” but you have to do the distance measuring by yourself, and then set the focus of the 75mm taking lens. The Voigtländer Brillant was first introduced in 1932 and went through a series of changes through the years. Nahum bought his Voigtländer Brillant at around 1947, and with some of his camera specifics I can relate it to the V6 series.

(A look through the “Brillant” bright Viewfinder)

Soon after I loaned Nahum’s Voigtländer Brillant I had to go for my annual reserve training. This year it fell on February, probably the coldest month in the year, especially at the area of the Negev desert. Though I really didn’t want to go, the idea of taking the Voigtländer Brillant for a shootout, gave the ordeal a whole new perspective. On the field it turned out to be just an extra weight, having to carry the heavy camera on my back without knowing if it works properly.

Seeing the results I’ve got from the Voigtländer Brillant, it gave me the feeling that I jumped forward in time and the photos I took only a week ago at the desert are at least 30 years ago. I’ve got a similar feeling when looking at the old photos Lea’s father took in Munich at the late 40th, only with the black and white photos the time span is indeed very long.  Once again I was reminded how cameras and photos play with our mind and memories. Lea’s father Nahum died in 1991 but her mother Raya is here with us, and very much alive. Reviving the old Voigtländer Brillant brought back some stories and memories. Old photos were scanned and narratives were re-told and re-written. Though we live the moment only one time, that moment could leave a ghost behind. These stories are about those ghosts.

Voigtlander Brillant on Youtube:

Voigtlander Brillant Facebook Page

The Hebrew version on YNET

The full Gallery of old and new:

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About Royalrat


26 responses to “My Photographic Time Tunnel – Voigtländer Brillant

  • Cassie

    This is such an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Mickey Oberman

    Thank you, Yaniv, for a moving story and beautiful illustrations from then and now.

    Mickey

  • Jeff Baumgart

    Great story, nicely put together as well. I was actually in Łódż a few months ago! Great images!

  • Mathew

    It is nice to see another camera given a new lease on life. I would have liked to see new photos of Lea and her mother to go with the images of the 1940’s and 50’s. CHEERS…Mathew

    • Royalrat

      Thanks Mathew! You are right. I wanted to take a photo of Lea and her mother, but they were too shy to do it. I’m still working on it, and maybe now, when the story is out they’ll be more willing to do it. Thanks for asking for it, it might be what they needed to hear!

  • chuck foreman

    Wow I really enjoyed the Rolleiflex story ! This one is even better. There’s a great mix of photos and the film is balanced. The music choice was excellent too. I love the new (transparencies?) shots as balance to the others. The vignetting looks great. It is real? The Brilliant is like you said little more than a box camera but the construction and quality is incredidible. It will go another 75 years at least!

    • Royalrat

      Thanks Chuck! The vignetting is real. But there are no transparencies. They are 6×6 photos, and I show them like that so you’ll see the shape of the photo. It’s just a transition effects between them that gives the feeling of a slide projector.

  • bitanphoto

    Another wonderful camera revival story, Yaniv. What really struck me the most is the vast difference between the old black and white photos and your recent color images. They look so different due to the dress and fashions of the time, the quality of the light in Europe versus the Middle Eastern desert, and of course the film stocks. The results with the color film reminded me of a Holga, which I don’t believe to be a bad thing at all.

    BTW, I think Chuck meant that the saturation of the colors made the photos appear like they were taken on slide (chrome) film. And I’d also love to see portraits of the two ladies.

  • bolas

    Fantastic review. Actually i came from Lodz and own two Brillants as well. I love those cameras, specialy this first metal model from 1932. I You ever come to Lodz – let me know, i’ll show You the city through Brillant lens 🙂
    In free time enjoy my photos of Lodz – http://fotobolas.blox.pl/html, and here are few pics from my Brillants: http://fotobolas.blox.pl/tagi_b/102970/brillant.html

  • bolas

    Nice review! I actually live in Lodz and love those old camers. Currently i go two of those lovely Brillants – one from 1932 (earluy metal model) and 1939 Brillant-S model. If you ever come to Lodz, let me know – i’ll gladly show You the city … fantastic story. All the best !

    Bolek / Lodz

    P.s.: Take a look at my blog (in polish only) – modern photos of Lodz taken with pre WW2 cameras: http://fotobolas.blox.pl

    • Royalrat

      Thanks! You have a beautiful site with some magnificent photos. I would love to come one day and visit Lodz. I invite you to travel to Israel! I can guide you to some very interesting places. Thanks for writing and sharing.

  • Dave

    Thanks for posting this story and the photos! I just purchased a Voigtlander Brillant 1935 (? – German) Model from a local antique store. It looks to be in fabulous condition. My hopes are that, when I finish cleaning it, I’ll capture wonderful images with it. As well as to have a keen story such as yours. Thanks again! -dave

  • david veeder

    I just bought a Brillant, the inexpensive metal modal which started production in 1932; I went immediately to the internet, curious to find out more about the camera, and found your story and fascinating photos. I was very touched by your story and the history of your camera. I look forward to experimenting with this camera. Thank you again for your inspiring story.

  • Iain Cummings

    I was given a Bright to play with a couple of weeks ago by a friend. I ran a black and white film through it………..Need’s to say, I now own the camera 🙂 Love the Vid and stunning shots 🙂 Off to look for your ‘Rollie’ vid now 🙂

  • John Powell

    Wow! Thanks for bringing this to my eyes. The results are similar to that of the Old Standard Rolleiflex. The photos make me feel warm all over. Many thanks. John.

  • walker

    Hi,

    I’ve stumbled upon your blog while I was searching the web for information on how to disassembly the lens for cleaning it. Your video has been really manna from heaven. Work done. I’ve just taken some photos… cross fingers!

    Thanks a lot!

    Best,

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