Matt Denton Interview

Graphic artist Matt Denton writes and edits Matt’s Classic Camera Collection, one of the best known websites about collecting and using “classic cameras.”

Wayne: What started you on the road to camera collecting? Any idea how many you own? Besides camera accessories, what else do you collect?

Matt: I must have always had a bit of the collecting bug—at one time or another I’ve collected comics, CDs, books, DVDs, tools, musical instruments, and of course cameras. You could probably call my rather full bar a collection! But I think what got me started on the road to camera collecting was my growing interest in photography and the fascination with the multitude of available used equipment, and in turn the quest for good bargain cameras and lenses.

Beyond that, I find that I’m not only interested in cameras as tools, but also as objects of engineering and craftsmanship, and am fascinated by their historical context as well. Along the way I got involved in learning about the history of each camera and the company that made it; that’s just a symptom of my knowledge-hungry brain. As far as the number of cameras I own, I’m sure it’s in excess of 100 cameras. I usually say 100 as a round number as I stopped counting somewhere along the way.

Wayne: Which do you use most heavily, and why? When you last updated the “Additional Notes” section of your web site, you said that you often carry a Lomo, Olympus XA2 or “the Camera of the Day.” What is in your daily carry kit now, and why?

Matt: I still carry the XA2 just about everywhere I go, it lives in my attache along with a host of other things like my iPod and a notepad. It’s just a great little take-it-out-and-shoot camera. Good metering, small and has a great lens. If I have a ‘new’ camera to test or get an urge to pull out an old favorite I take that around in a little SLR bag. My travel kit for our last few out-of-town trips has been either the Minolta XD5 with Rokkor 2.0, 2x extension and 28mm or the Nikon N6006 with 28-80 zoom. Both are relatively lightweight and versatile, and both take excellent photos. I also use the FED-2 a lot on trips, it’s good to have a fully mechanical camera in case you get in a spot where batteries are a problem.

Wayne: When did you first start collecting cameras? Which ones were your first, and why did they catch your eye? How has the market in secondhand cameras changed since you started collecting?

Matt: The first camera I ever bought myself was the Pentax P30t, new, in 1991. It was supposed to be my end-all-be all camera and served me well for years before I added my first secondhand camera, a [Pentax] K1000 in about 1996. I quickly adopted the K1000 as my primary camera. Around that time, after simply dabbling on and off for a while, I really got into photography as I wanted to know as much about taking good pictures as I could before our first child arrived. I took a couple classes on printing and studio lighting, and started shooting a lot more. At some point later, on a whim, I did some research which led me to start what would eventually become a collection, beginning with a Kiev 4 from ebay. It’s a very well-made copy of a Zeiss Ikon classic, and so my first cameras tended to be Zeiss Ikon because of my initial research. I branched out from there but still have a fondness for the German-made classics of the ’30s and ’40s, including the ones made for Kodak by Kodak AG (formerly Nagel Kamerawerk).

Wayne: You have called Ruth Bernhard, one of the former members of f64, one of your favorite photographers. How has she influenced your work in nudes, specifically? Who are some of your other photographic influences? How much of a connection is there between the photographers you admire, the cameras they used, and the cameras you collect?

Matt: Ruth’s photos are like love poems to her subjects and the beauty of the light that falls on them. They are so sensual and have such visual depth while maintaining a focused simplicity. I only wish I could take pictures like that, or could at least see the way she did. Other favorite photographers of mine include Peter Basch, Patrick Demarchalier, [Henri] Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston, Michael Kenna, Cecil Beaton, the list goes on and on. But I can’t limit my influences just to photographers as it’s about the whole picture, not just the craft. I’d also have to include artists such as John J. Muth and Chris Van Allsburg, and directors like [Akira] Kurosawa.

As far as the cameras, I would say there’s very little if any connection between the cameras I’ve collected and the cameras other photographers have used. In fact I don’t know what most of them use or used. Part of the point of my collection in a way is that it’s not the camera itself that makes the picture worth looking at, it’s the person behind the camera and knowing when and how to take the photo. Box cameras can take really nice pictures, depending on your intent! To bring it full circle to the original question I have to say that with many of my own favorite pictures, I feel like I was compelled to take them, as if the subject demanded it, not me. That’s something Ruth always said about her own work. I know I always regret whenever I’ve not listened to that little voice that says ‘click’.

Wayne: How did you go from studying writing to working in the graphic arts?

Matt: Well, there’s no direct line there. As long as I can remember I’ve been writing, drawing, painting, designing and photographing in one capacity or another. When I got to college and had to pick a major, I found that my chosen school lacked a commercial arts program (they have a nice fine arts program, but I didn’t feel it would be marketable). So I chose to concentrate on writing, my other passion at the time, and attempted to parallel my academic studies by pursuing graphic arts as a career, with mixed results. My specialties were logo design and illustration. I have also designed a couple of typefaces, one of which (called A.D. Mono) shows up in Linux distributions and on the occasional website. Design did eventually lead me into computers, and later systems administration, my day (and sometimes night) job. And of course the design experience and classes are reflected in my website design and some of my photographic compositions.


2 responses to “Matt Denton Interview

  1. I just love the classics!

  2. Beverly Hills, CA – World-renowned, British-born, photographer Michael Kenna and Brazilian-born Hollywood author and actress Bianca Rossini collaborated to create a book of 45 black and white photographs and poetry titled “Love in black and white” Published by Nazraeli Press in Summer-2009.

    “Love in black and white is a work of extraordinary collaborative passion” – Don Heckman.

    Read more:

    Watch video:

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