Jeff Bridges has been a photographer all his life. However what many people may not know is that his camera of choice isn’t a high end DSLR, or even an iPhone X. It’s a fully mechanical, 35mm film shooting Widelux.
I owned a Widelux camera once. They’re a funny, quirky camera, called a ‘swing lens’. Fully mechanical, shooting 35mm film and working like an obscure Victorian timepiece, they’re tricky suckers to be proficient with. The Widelux shoots panoramic images onto 35mm film stock using a slit-lens that swings through an arc using springs and gears. Small and compact, with cool art deco styling, I bought mine used of eBay.
With hindsight, I bought it at the wrong time in my career. I’d just moved into a fully digital workflow, which was taking up a lot of my patience back then. I didn’t give myself time to learn it and the Widelux sat in my camera bag alongside my Canon EOS digital bodies, never being used. One day, I succumbed to an offer from a colleague for it, which I now regret.
For Jeff Bridges, his love of the Widelux has spanned many decades. On his website, he talks about his love if this small, rangefinder style panoramic camera
“Most of the photographs I take are done with a Wide-Lux camera. It’s a panning, still camera. I use the 35mm version. It’s got a 28mm lens that pans nearly 180 degrees. Instead of a traditional shutter, it has a slit that, as the lens pans, exposes the film.
The first time I came across one was in high school. We had been gathered together to take our class photo. The photographer had a Wide-Lux. He explained how it worked. Some kids figured if they ran very quickly, they could beat the panning lens and be in the picture twice. They were right. Years later, I started using this technique to take pictures of actors creating the theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy. The result was someone frowning and smiling at himself – all on one negative.
The Wide-Lux is a fickle mistress; its viewfinder isn’t accurate, and there’s no manual focus, so it has an arbitrariness to it, a capricious quality. I like that. It’s something I aspire to in all my work — a lack of preciousness that makes things more human and honest, a willingness to receive what’s there in the moment, and to let go of the result. Getting out of the way seems to be one of the main tasks for me as an artist.
Jeff has continued shooting with his Widelux across his entire career and over on his website, he shows the books he created for each film as a gift for the crew at the end of the shoot.
In 1984, when I was doing Starman, Karen Allen saw some of my Wide-Lux shots and suggested that we combine them with Sid Baldwin’s (the unit photographer) to make a book for the cast and crew. Karen’s brainstorm marked the beginning of a series of privately published albums. These were given, in appreciation, to the cast and crew of 16 of the films I’ve worked on since. Each album celebrates the work we did together. The book, ‘Pictures’, is a collection of some of my favourite shots from those smaller albums.
Jeff Bridges has owned his Widelux for more that thirty years. I recall a Sunday Times Magazine feature about his on-set Widelux photography a few years ago and found it fascinating. In this video, he talks about his thirty year journey with his Widelux, his books that he creates for the crew of every feature film he works on and some of the moments he’s captured. A great short video, take a look, he’s got a great voice and he’s a true photography enthusiast.
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