By the time Voigtländer released the Vitomatic I in 1957, Silver Springs had been Florida’s premiere tourist destination for almost 100 years. Over 500 million gallons of pristine water flowed every day from a series of springs to form the Silver River, and promoters crafted glass bottomed boats in the 1870s to take tourists from around the world over the wondrous caves.
It was so striking that William Bartram’s letters describing the springs and rivers of Central Florida inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘River Alph’ and the “caverns measureless to man” of Xanadu in ‘Kubla Khan.’ Silver Springs provided the setting for many of the classic Tarzan movies, it terrified teenagers as the home of the ‘Creature of the Black Lagoon’, and in 1958 it was the location for Lloyd Bridges’ ‘Sea Hunt’ – the TV show that inspired a generation of Americans to take up scuba diving. In its prime Silver Springs had glamor, thrills, and breathtaking beauty drawing tourists from around the world.
The Voigtländer Vitomatic I is exactly the sort of camera that the discerning German industrialist would have taken with him or herself to Silver Springs on a Florida holiday in the decade before Disney: compact, streamlined, built like a tank and made for travel photography. It is simple in operation, and yet precise and capable of crisp images with striking color definition.
Time has not been kind to Silver Springs. The water output from the springs dropped to half of what it had been in the 1950s. The water flows murky greenish blue, not gin-clear, and algae coats the riverbeds. Feral packs of Herpes infected Rhesus monkeys, introduced in the 1950s as part of an ill-fated jungle cruise attraction, now roam the banks and have been known to attack swimmers and hikers. Alligators sun themselves on floating mats of dead river grass and algae, prohibiting any swimming in the spring. A waterpark added in the 1980s sits abandoned in the parking lot, rotting away in the Florida sun. The glass bottom boats still run hourly, listlessly spinning over the few shallow springs that run clear.
There is a real melancholy with visiting Silver Springs now, even if it is a fascinating location to shoot. It seems to be the appropriate place to shoot a roll of Kodak ColorPlus 200 through a Vitomatic I. Both Voigtländer and Kodak were iconic brands during Silver Spring’s glory days. Now both are shadows of their former selves. This particular Voigtländer Vitomatic I was picked up in an auction lot that included a Vito B, the Vitomatic I, a Vito CLR, and a Vitoret, all for $100. Each one was so pristine and clean they looked like they had been unboxed yesterday.
Of the four, the Vitomatic has become my favorite to shoot. The selenium meter is still spot-on, and I’m in love with the images that are produced by the Color Skopar f2.8/50mm lens. Although it is likely you can find one for yourself as an artifact cast off from some relative’s belongings, theVoigtländer Vitomatic I deserves to be held up as the pinnacle of a sturdy, reliable travel camera.
Some more photography taken with the Voigtländer Vitomatic I can be found here