Rembrandt Portrait Camera by Burke and James

The Missing Link and the Rembrandt Portrait Camera
The Missing “Link” and the Rembrandt

 In 1982 I did a portrait study of my grandfather “Link” to explore the many aspects of his persona. When it came time to depict his connection to photography it became clear to me the Rembrandt Portrait Camera was the ideal choice.

He had started his exploration of portraiture in a large spare room in his home as his studio and this Burke and James camera. The subjects he practiced on were readily available family members and special requests from friends and aquaintances who had heard of his camera work. It was the mechanics of using this camera that allowed him to hone his skills in working with subjects. The time involved with the setting up for an exposure required the photographer to learn how to keep the persons interest and attention. A mixture of captivating small talk, whispering to yourself and exagerated movements when making camera adjustments seemed to capture their attention.  It was this aspect of learning how to work with your subjects and keeping their mind off of “Posing” brought the fun into portraiture.

The camera itself was an exercise in nostalgia. The shutter was bulb actuated to reduce vibrations and gave the photographer freedom of movement away from directly behind the camera. It had the standard 4×5 inch sheet film back which had to be changed at each exposure, and a roll film attachment that held a roll of bulk 120 film for faster exposures. Viewing your image for composition and focusing before inserting the film was done on a ground glass plate at the rear. Thus requiring the large dark cloth that you stuck your head under that was draped over the back of the camera.

 As his need for flexability increased it didnt take him long for the desire to upgrade his equipment brought him to something he could use both inside and outside the studio. His choice for this upgrade was the Hasselblad 500CM.  The same camera I used to take this portrait.

I will update this page with more photographs of the camera and some examples of photos it produced.


2 responses

22 07 2011
B. Brown

I found an old Rembrandt Portriat Camera like the one above in my deceased father’s belongings. The shutter and bulb haven’t been found yet, but there is a wooden tripod. I was wonderng if you could tell me the approximate year this camera was made, and if there is a market value even with the missing pieces. Thanks for your assistance.

6 07 2013

Not Exactly but I did find the following:
Burke & James Inc. was a Chicago-based camera manufacturer established in the 1890s. In the 1960s it was bought by Ilex Optical Co.

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