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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Peter Gowland is 90

By Oren Grad

The multitalented Peter Gowland—Hollywood bit actor, renowned glamor photographer, camera builder extraordinaire, and all-around fun guy—turned 90 last week. I leave it to the more scholarly types to opine on the esthetic and cultural significance of the Gowland photo-oeuvre; his cool cameras are just as worthy of celebration.

Gowland developed at least five distinct large-format designs—a lightweight monorail view camera, an architectural camera, an aerial camera, a single-lens reflex and a twin-lens reflex—most of which have been offered in multiple formats and with a wide array of custom variations available to meet the needs of each purchaser. Perhaps the most exotic are the 4x5 Gowland SLR and the monster 8x10 Gowlandflex TLR. (Click here and scroll down a couple of rows to see the 5x7 TLR in action on the beach, photographing Raquel Welch.) At the other extreme is the ubiquitous 4x5 Gowland Pocket View monorail, co-marketed for a time by Calumet, which turns up regularly on eBay and on used equipment shelves and which can still be purchased new from Gowland.

I've owned three Gowlands over the years. My first, a very early 8x10 monorail purchased used, was a truly spartan design—little more than a bellows riding on a pipe. (With time, the Pocket View design was refined to make it easier to use and more functional.) Later, Peter built for me an ultralight 5x7 short-rail view camera intended for field work with a 180mm lens, and then a bag-bellows version of his 6x9cm "baby" monorail. Each time, it was a pleasure doing business. Peter would answer the phone himself, and spend the time to understand what I was hoping to accomplish and brainstorm about what he might cobble together in his shop that would be a good match.

I've linked to a few pages from the Gowland website, but it's worth the time to explore the whole thing, starting from the top. It's chock full of fun stuff about his life and work, with plenty of surprises for those who don't already know about him. Have a look and join me in a toast to Peter Gowland: a very happy 90th, and best wishes for many more years of good health and photo fun!

Posted by OREN GRAD


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter Gowland has got to be one of the hardest working photographers ever. You've gotta admire him simply because he does what he loves, his way, and he really looks like he's been having fun over the years doing it. I still remember his ads in the old Popular Photography magazines from when I was a kid. Happy Birthday Peter!

4:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I had the privelage of meeting Peter and Alice, a number of years ago in Vancouver British Columbia, and will always remember them as a MOST delightfu couple of fun people. We took a gondola ride to Grouse Mountain for a meal and view of Vancouver. I only wish I could have spent more time with them and would have kept in touch.
All the best Petre, God bless.
Regards, Frank Learning

10:01 PM  
Blogger Joe Ownbey said...

Thanks to my late friend Leon Kennamer I had an opportunity to meet and spend two days with Peter Gowland in Los Angeles in 1980. I was in L.A. for a photo shoot and called Peter to see if he had time to meet. Not only did he pick me up at my hotel, but he also showed me his "apartment studio" and his home studio and darkrooms. Of course I had a chance to see the evolution of the Gowlandflex cameras too. Peter had a color and black & white darkroom. In the B&W one there was a black and white TV that had a safelight filter over the screen so Peter could watch TV while he was printing. Peter was quite willing to share his philosophy on photography, women and life. I thoroughly enjoyed the two days he gave me, and I am honored that I was able to meet and hang out with this legendary figure of glamour photography.

12:28 AM  

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