In a sport known for cars that top out over 230 mph, it’s hard to catch one on a modern smartphone camera without it being a blur. But one photographer lugs a seven-pound camera that’s over 100 years old around Formula One circuits, all to shoot with its two “‘slow’ and ‘kind of slow’ shutter speeds.”
The camera, a Graflex made in 1913, doesn’t even fully work. A mentor gave it to photographer Joshua Paul in 1996 with the sentiment that he needed to “loosen up,” and Paul told Jalopnik he used the camera commercially for years. But his clients found its photos to be too “moody,” so, eventually, he just put it away.
It wasn’t until 2001 that Paul got the giant, leather-clad wooden camera back out. Paul said he got a call from a photo director on Sept. 12 of that year asking him to shoot the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and that’s when he got the idea to capture the scenes with the Graflex.
He called right back.
Paul said he went to Ground Zero on assignment to catch the firefighters “emerging from the rubble of the World Trade Center,” which you can see a photo of to the left. But, after its work that day, the giant, mirrored camera again sat around—this time, for more than a decade.
Paul, who started shooting professionally after college graduation in 1997, said he spent his first 10 years in the business working and traveling globally with different magazines. He photographed food, gardens, portraits and travel for years before meeting an automotive journalist while traveling on assignment.
“I was born with an innate love of cars,” Paul said. “We became instant friends. He was test driving a Lotus one weekend, and invited me to ride along. I did, and he’d subsequently call with more and more cars.”
As Paul continued to get calls about Porsches, Ferraris, Aston Martins and the like, he started shooting the cars. It was his second season photographing F1 when Paul decided to bring the old Graflex out—nearly 13 years after Sept. 11.
“I thought, what can I do different this season?” said Paul, who’s spent the last four years shooting F1 and publishing Lollipop Magazine with his photos. “So, I unpacked it, cleaned it and brought it to the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix to shoot the race in period.”
Shooting the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix in period meant hauling all seven pounds of Paul’s Graflex around, holding it at the base with two hands and looking down into the camera to frame a shot. From the outside, it certainly doesn’t look easy—just check out Ferrari F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen giving it a try.
Paul said he carries 10 film holders around with the camera, and that the quality of his shots often depends on the circuit he’s at and the weather that day. To keep the race cars from being a blur on film, Paul said he has to find a slow spot on the track, take his time and “hope it all comes together.”
“It’s all about trial and error, because the shutter speeds and apertures are so limited,” Paul said. “I just shoot a lot and hope all the stars are aligned.
“[The Graflex is] not ‘hard’ to shoot, but it takes some patience and there are about five steps to each shot. I have a lot of blurry, unusable frames, but I do when I shoot digital too, so it’s just part of the deal.”
The camera is “a great friend-maker” at F1 circuits, since Paul said people are generally impressed upon seeing it. Paul said he’s gotten to know journalists, other photographers, drivers and mechanics just by using it, and calls its age and mechanics a “great juxtaposition to the modern F1 cars.”
But it’s not like those friends—or Paul himself—can see the shots from any given weekend right then and there. You can’t exactly hook up a camera from 1913 to your MacBook’s USB port to show everyone your shots from the first turn, but for Paul, getting the negatives back after a wait is “like [his] birthday.”
Paul said he equates photography to cooking, and that he’s “one who likes to pick his own vegetables, chop, sauté and braise.” He doesn’t see the process as difficult at all.
“I really enjoy it, and I want to keep this medium alive,” Paul said. “I love the still image, love my old gear and I love the anticipation of shooting film, having to go to a lab and wait for a day to have it processed.
“It is as much about the process as anything else. I also shoot with a digital camera, but theres nothing sexy about a memory card.”
Below are more photos from Paul, all shot on his 1913 Graflex.