A Rolleicord Vb camera sitting on a book shelf
5 frames with...

5 frames with Rolleicord Vb in Iran – By Kamil Leszczuk

September 11, 2022

From fellow backpackers I’ve ever only heard great things about Iran and Iranians. Initially I was going to travel there in early 2020, however the pandemic shattered those plans real quick. I finally flew to Tehran in July 2022, almost two and a half years later. That delay has changed how I got to experience Iran quite a bit. In part because of the camera I ended up travelling with. Let me explain.

A curved road next to high, steep cliffs.

A Qeshm island.

In 2020 I was just begining to shoot film. Strangely enough, the only film camera I had at a time was a large format camera for 4×5 sheet film. So had I gone to Iran back then, I would’ve taken my digital camera with me.

But a lot has changed over those two years. I’ve virtually stopped using digital camera. Instead, I began shooting with Rolleicord Vb and (purchased more recently) a Leica M2. Between those two, I’ve decided to take Rollei with me. I just enjoy using matte screen a lot, and I like simplicity and a challenge of having just one lens.

And that camera – Rolleicord – has given me so many memories in Iran!

The exotic looking camera like Rollei draws attention of almost everyone. This makes it a pretty terrible choice for photographers who want to be invisible. However, it also makes it a terrific conversation started and ice breaker. People are just very interested in it. Some want to know what it is in the first place: a stills camera? a video camera? an entirely different device? Some other folks share memories of using a TLR camera in the past. Some asked if they could hold it and take a selfie with it. Some even offered to buy it from me right there on the spot.

Young male riding a motorcycle with no helmet on narrow streets of the old town.

Rolleicord might draw attention to the photographer but it’s still adequate for street photography. All photographs here were shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 with the exception of this one which was shot on Ilford Delta 3200.

I could give countless examples of conversations that started only because of that Rollei. I’ve met a physicist how worked on Iranian nuclear program back in 70’s who used TLR cameras himself at the university. I’ve met Amin, a terrific cab driver from Yazd and a photographer himself, who having seen my camera brought his own from home and took a great photo of me climbing a dune on a desert – a great souvenir! I’ve meet bazaar merchant who showed me and old photo of himself using a Rollei camera couple of decades ago.

A boy supporting a large appliance that looks like a washing maschine. Few meters behind him a man on a motorcycle talks to another standing next to him.

Taking this photograph was followed by a short conversation with the two men on the left. They were interested in my exotic looking camera.

Sometimes a camera like this can also prove to be an asset from a purely photographic standpoint. One evening I was trying to photograph a tomb of Hafez in Shiraz. A very busy place, with crowd of folks paying respects to the great Persian poet. I’ve decided on a very long exposure in an attempt to blur out the crowd. Corrected for reciprocity failure, it was going to take seven minutes. While I was setting up a tripod, measuring light and mounting an ND filter, an Iranian named Behnoud walked over. Initially, he was interested in the camera. We started talking and in the meantime I’ve began the exposure. After only two minutes a security guard approached us. He didn’t speak English, but it was immediately obvious he wanted me to remove the tripod. But I still had five minutes to go… Behnoud, being a great guy, told me in English to relax and carry on. And he went on to chat with the guard in an attempt to buy me those precious minutes.

A man sitting under an arch and singing. Other people also sit there reading or listening.

This was photographed under a bridge in Isfahan. Few seconds later a mother of a young boy gently pushed him towards me to encourage him to speak with me. She wanted him to practice speaking English. The boy was however, quite understandably, shy. After all I was a complete stranger to him. So I took Rollei off my neck and offered it to him. I showed him how everything was visible on the matte screen. He got quite interested in that because the camera was so unique.

If all that sounds great, it’s because it was. However, it’s also worth remembering that travelling with just one medium format film camera comes with a price too. Price of film, sure. But also the inability to change film when light conditions change (unless one’s willing to waste a part of the unexposed roll) or being constrained to a single focal length. Just to name a few.

A sand dune on a desert with mountains in the distance

Switching between black and white and colour film is usually done only after a full roll has been exposed. Otherwise film is wasted. I’ve always preferred monochrome images, so usually I just don’t bother and shoot everything this way. In Iran I only used colour film three times.

How much different that trip would’ve been had I gone to Iran in 2020 with a digital camera!

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37 Comments

  • Reply
    Erik Brammer
    September 11, 2022 at 10:23 am

    These are absolutely fantastic photographs. Chapeau!

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      September 11, 2022 at 10:33 am

      Thank you!

      (You’ll find a few more frames from Iran on my website)

      • Reply
        Behnoud
        October 16, 2022 at 9:45 pm

        You are a great photographer that I have seen in my life so far!
        I miss you my dear friend. 🙂

  • Reply
    Don Goodman-Wilson
    September 11, 2022 at 10:55 am

    What a beautiful and inspiring story. And of course wonderful photos to accompany it. Thank you for sharing!

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      September 11, 2022 at 11:21 am

      Thank you!

      • Reply
        Johan
        September 13, 2022 at 12:42 am

        Really enjoyed these pics and the stories. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Patrick Medd
    September 11, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    Really great pictures Kamil, and a great way to travel. Removing choices and travelling light nearly always improves our photography I think. Thank you for sharing.

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      September 11, 2022 at 4:56 pm

      I agree. And it also allows for a light, less “serious” photography experience, which is refreshing.

      Back when I was shooting digital, we went on a family trip (myself, my wife and two toddlers) to Thailand. Because we had small kids, and backpacking, I had to keep my photo gear to a minimum. I took a camera, 35 and 85 mm lenses. And that’s it, not even a tripod made a cut. I also decided to only shoot square and only black and white. I had a blast!

  • Reply
    Joe Van Cleave
    September 11, 2022 at 3:43 pm

    The photo of the Qeshm Island, and of the young man working on the evaporative cooler, certainly reminds me of the mesas and swamp coolers of the American southwest. Very evocative images, thank you.

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      September 11, 2022 at 4:59 pm

      I’ve only been to the US twice, but I’ve been on a road trip in the southwest and I agree. There were a few moments in Iran where I thought to myself it (the scenery, small towns etc) reminds me of the US.

      You can see some of my shots from the US on my website.

      Thanks for your kinds words 🙂

  • Reply
    John Fontana
    September 11, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    Beautiful images, Kamil. Square format really sings!

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      September 11, 2022 at 5:00 pm

      Thank you! Yes, two of my favourite aspect rations are square and 5:4.

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    September 11, 2022 at 9:15 pm

    A great story and photos Kamil. TLR Rollei cameras are a very clever design the way the viewfinder and film mechanism fit together in a simple but precision way. I bought a secondhand Rolleicord VB in 1962 when it was only 7 years old and it is still like new. It got me started in professional photography shortly afterwards.
    I also have a similar vintage Rolleiflex 3.5 also like new. There is an excellent data base of Rollei cameras serial numbers and years of manufacture available online. They certainly create a lot of interest when I use them, when intending to take photographs, turns into a discussion about old cameras instead. As with your experience some folk want to know what it is and others have nostalgic memories
    Keep up your good work.
    Keep up your good work

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 7:34 am

      Yeah, the fact that my Rolleicord was made circa 1970 is something I sometimes tell to folks interested in it. It’s amazing it still works as well as it does! Do you remember how much did you pay for your Rolleicord in 1962?

  • Reply
    Steve B
    September 12, 2022 at 1:26 am

    For several years I shot exclusively with a Mamiya C33 and your wonderful photos have reminded me of those years and the interesting perspective a TLR affords. Though not a small bit of kit the fact that are you looking down into the camera seemed to offer some anonymity? It was as if you were not looking at what you were looking at. I liked too that I wasn’t shooting at eye level but inches below. Lovely work and thank you for posting.

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 7:38 am

      I shot exclusively with Rollei for almost two years. Then I bought Leica M2 with 50 and 90 mm lenses. It’s my first 35mm film camera. It’s beautiful and a joy to use, but to be honest I do prefer using Rollei. It’s such a great experience.

      Good point about looking down. I think it does offer a bit more anonymity indeed.

  • Reply
    CHRISTOF RAMPITSCH
    September 12, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    The Rollei is such a work of art! I have it’s uglier stepsister, the Mamiya C330… also wonderful to use. Aside from complements on the pictures – especially Under a Bridge in Isfahan which might have been difficult to expose correctly – one thing that struck me about your article is that it looks like you got into film using a 4×5, and then worked your way “down” to 35 mm. This is a fantastic approach and more people should do it: you learn so much from 4×5, exposure, film development, composition – all of this makes shooting roll film easier. Kudos for going and making those photos!

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 7:42 am

      The actual path I took was even less conventional 😉

      I bought 4×5 camera not to shoot film, but for wet plates (you can find a few my plates on my website: https://kamituel.pl/en/albums/wet-plates/).

      Initially, I didn’t plan to shoot film at all. But since I already had a camera, I figured I only now miss some film and one or two holders, so why not try?

  • Reply
    Robin Gray
    September 12, 2022 at 2:26 pm

    Really excellent photos Kamil, and a wonderful story to accompany them, thank you for sharing them. It shows what can be achieved with a fairly simple, but top quality camera, and some black and white film. I have enjoyed looking at the photos on your website too.

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 9:26 am

      Thank you Robin!

  • Reply
    Jochen Utecht
    September 12, 2022 at 2:40 pm

    nice writeup, kamil,
    i have been living in iran for 3 years and i agree with every word about iranians.
    the last picture from the desert is great. brings me back to one of the most beautiful countries with one of the worst government in the world.
    cheers, jochen

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 9:32 am

      Oh, I envy you having an opportunity to live in Iran for so long!

      And yes, it’s an amazing country and people. Hopefully, recent developments show Iranians will never give up.

  • Reply
    Tobias
    September 13, 2022 at 5:01 am

    Thank you for sharing these Kamil. Your photos are beautiful. Looking at your website you must have had a hard time choosing your five frames for this article! Very inspiring

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 9:34 am

      Thank you 🙂

      For this article I tried to pick photographs that I liked, but also were connected to the story I chose to focus on. If I were to pick the 5 frames I like the most, it’d be a different set.

  • Reply
    grain_frame
    September 13, 2022 at 12:56 pm

    Great shots! Very well done. I especially love the one with the motorcyclist that you shot on Delta 3200.

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 9:38 am

      This photograph took a bit of patience. I stood there for 15 or 20 minutes, hoping that someone interesting will eventually appear in the right place. I also have another take, from the same spot, with a woman dressed in chador riding a motorcycle in the opposite direction (away from the camera). I didn’t choose it as I didn’t want all my photos to include the same theme (women in Muslim clothing).

  • Reply
    Alexander Seidler
    September 13, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    Very beautiful photographs and an exciting little story.
    Thanks Kamil !

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 9:42 am

      Thank you Alexander!

  • Reply
    Michael Maliner
    September 14, 2022 at 12:03 am

    Beautifully written story surrounding your beautiful shots. Well done! Your point about the way people react to the Rolleicord — and by extension how they would react differently to different cameras — is an interesting one. It highlights the role that we as photographers play in staging the images we capture. Even though it’s not featured in the frame, the camera is a prop that sets the stage from the wings.

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you Michael!

  • Reply
    Steven G
    September 14, 2022 at 2:11 am

    I really enjoyed the article and photographs. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you 🙂

  • Reply
    Michael J
    September 14, 2022 at 10:52 am

    These are wonderful pictures- I use a Rolleiflex quite a lot and it’s mass appeal is immediately evident, when people who would object to having a DSLR or an iPhone waved at them straighten up and actively want you to take their picture. You also touch on the relative inflexibility- which itself makes the pictures as you learn (or re-learn) the instinctive semi-subconscious decisions of how to set exposure for what’s in front of you and what film you have loaded.
    I love the story of the guy buying you time off the security guard… more power to your shutter!

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 7:12 pm

      Yes, people are keen to be photographed with such camera. I was asked to do just that on several occasions.

      Thanks Michael!

  • Reply
    Chris Barrett
    September 14, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    These are so good. Great eye. Great everything.

    • Reply
      Kamil Leszczuk
      October 4, 2022 at 7:12 pm

      Thank you Chris 🙂

  • Reply
    Kamil Leszczuk
    October 4, 2022 at 1:07 pm

    Exactly! On several occasions I was even asked to take a portrait of folks I didn’t otherwise know. They would never asked me had I been using a more mainstream camera.

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