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Robstown Slugger: 1942

January 1942. "Saturday morning baseball game. Farm Security Administration camp in Robstown, Texas." Photo by Arthur Rothstein. View full size.

January 1942. "Saturday morning baseball game. Farm Security Administration camp in Robstown, Texas." Photo by Arthur Rothstein. View full size.


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The Camera

This was most likely shot with a Graflex RB , and probably a 15-inch tele optar. That was the go-to combo for action shots with that negative size. I shoot with a Graflex RB 3x4 (converted to 4x5), and it is a great camera for that type of thing. Also good for portraits.


That is one tough kid as it seems to me that his bare feet would get pretty cut up from the rugged Texas terrain. Great photography though.

No tricks necessary

I think it's a very good picture, but I think that it's pretty straightfoward technically. I think people tend to underestimate what sort of capabilities people had in this era. This is early 1942, at the time there were many highly capable 35mm cameras that could do anything just about as easily as you could now, as long as you are willing to focus and set the exposure yourself. The film was reasonably fast (Kodak Super XX was around and it was about ASA 160-200 depending on the era and developer). This picture requires nothing like view or field camera movements, it looks like perfectly conventional parallel planes with very thin depth of field.

I have no idea what equipment was used, but I am sure I could reproduce the technical aspects with a 35mm camera, a 90-135 mm lens, and Panatomic X out of my freezer. Figure 135 mm F4.5 Elmar on a Leica, at f5.6, maybe 1/200 of second. That would give about the right exposure, grain, depth of field, and motion blur Many other combinations would give similar results. If I had a guess I would say a press camera like a Speed or Crown Graphic with some medium/low speed film of the day, but it could be a 2 1/2x 3 1.2 or a lot of other things, even cropped 2 1/4.

[Negative is 3-1/4 x 4-1/4 inch sheet film. -tterrace]

Yes, I dug it out from the LOC and found that. I tried to find the notch code, but all the lists I have for that notch configuration show some color separation film, which this isn't. Have you run across a late 30's -40's era notch code list so the film can be identified?

[Going by this document it's likely Panchro Press Super-X. See pages 54 & 63. -tterrace]

Very useful reference! If I read correctly, Panchro Press Super-X was introduced in 1942 (not discontinued in 1942) so it is more likely Super Panchro Press. One was the replacement for the other, so very similar otherwise and the same code. The negative in question was definitely acetate (since it says Eastman Safety Film) and is definitely panchromatic (since the sky is not blank as it would be with ortho). It came in the usual press camera sizes like 2 1/4 x 3 1/4. The LOC entry says "3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches or smaller". Just looking at the relative size of the notches, it *might* have been 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 but I would guess it really is 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 - the notches look to large otherwise. Too large for 4x5 for sure, I compared the long V notch on a negative I had in 4x5 to the scaled negative and it was much smaller. The Graflex is a very good possibility and the 15" Optar is also a good guess and would explain the very shallow DOF, but you could get something similar with half that focal length. That is all equipment that would be available and common to Rothstein at the time, sort of an advanced press photography setup. There might be less grain that I would expect, its certainly not Super-XX where you can almost see the grain just looking at the negative (and it has a double-small-V code instead of double-long-V xx = VV, Tri-X is xxx=VVV...)

BTW, this particular negative and the cropping don't show it, but the full negative and the others taken the same day definitely do show distortion of the moving parts (like the bat) characteristic of a focal plane shutter, which is also consistent with a Graflex and definitely not leaf-shutter camera like the Crown Graphic, Rolleiflex, etc.

Back to the original point - almost anything you could do in 1985, you could do in 1940, as long as you were willing to work at it. People tend to *grossly* underestimate the state of the art at the time. Film speed, in particular, only increased by a stop or two since 1940, exceptions like TMAX 3200 notwithstanding. Super Panchro Press had an equivalent speed of about 200-250. This type of quasi-action photo (camera pre-focused/zone focused and set on the ground aimed at the home plate area and fired when it looked about right) was no problem at the time.

Sandlot Ball

Sandlot baseball at its best! Lots of action in this one.

I am always impressed at the action shots taken with film cameras of that era. Especially think that the photographer is really lucky that the ball is not headed directly at his lens. What a pic that would be!

Swing and a MIss - but not for Rothstein!

Excellent use of tilt/shift with the lensboard to isolate the subject, and perfect timing!

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