If one does film, video, or computer work, the machines one works with become extremely important in one's life. László Haris once said to me: you can't go crazy lusting after each new and expensive machine that appears on the market, but you are not a real photographer if you can walk by the latest, exquisite Leica without at least gazing longingly at it. (In reality he expressed this statement more figuratively but I'm afraid to write down what he actually said.) Recently I've been wondering - and ultimately this is why I wrote this article - is to explore whether there still exists a real relationship between the professional and his machine: the kind of connection a virtuoso has with his piano or the copperplate engraver with his carving instrument of twenty years. Here are some examples of personal relationships between man and machine.

The first machine I felt a serious attachment to was a Leica 8mm camera. This came about at a very early age, perhaps around nine. I have even earlier memories though. I remember, my father once allowed me to snap a whole roll of black and white film on his 6x6 Rolleiflex machine. The apparatus was affixed to a stand. I had built a castle out of toy blocks and created various scenes with plastic soldiers. I had wanted to produce slides like the ones my mother projected for me at story-time every evening. The photos of course turned out pretty bad - out of focus, underexposed, not to mention that the roll of film was the wrong kind, not meant for slides. Basically the whole undertaking should have left me with a feeling of failure, but instead it turned out to be a life-changing experience. When I looked into the Rolleiflex viewfinder I saw an upside down, miniature, enchanted world which to me appeared more beautiful than reality. There was this magic mirror inside that machine, and all the mistakes of the developed film were completely irrelevant.

However, the above mentioned Rollei didn't belong to me; the Leica, however, was my very own. There's a big difference here when talking about relationships. My dad had bought the Leica from a German hunter who I imagine wanted to preserve for posterity the vast number of pheasants he had murdered. I also think that my dad wanted to use this camera for his own purposes but had no film-worthy goals just then. On the other hand, I had come to the decision round about that time that I wanted to be the next Walt Disney so the camera somehow made its way into my ownership. In reality, I had no idea what a treasure I possessed. It had this amazing lens. Again, I saw the magical world when I looked into its viewfinder. Ah, true Leica optics with ground glass lenses! It had a zoom lens with moving parts that weren't too wide so there was no distortion. Its steel frame was cool even in summer and pleasant to hold, with a weight that gave the impression of a professional apparatus. In retrospect, it is difficult to talk about the form design of an old camera from a computer ergonomics point of view. Anyway, it had a rectangular steel exterior with the lens in front and a viewfinder in back. Even so, there was nothing uncomfortable about it when in use. All the technical details were superiorly designed, truly a machine made for years of use. I worked with it with great intensity for about six years.

During my high school years, György Pálos also fell in love with the Leica. He abandoned his Eumig Super8, and used the Leica to make several amateur films which were very important to us then. So for the next three or four years we took turns using it, and the Leica resisted the strain. Not to mention the fact that I was just a kid of 9-10-11 back then, so that machine endured a lot of wear and tear. I can only recall two problems. Since the only thing I used the camera for was cartoons and stop motion productions, the contact spring that made single, individual shots possible wore out in three years. My father wrote to the Leica company and in no time they mailed us three additional new parts. We simply removed the defective one and the problem never reoccurred. The second problem emerged around the end of our amateur filmmaking phase. The machine sometimes didn't rewind the film properly so the film ended up all scrunched up inside. Apparently, with a little attention this defect could have been solved too. But by this time, Pálos and I had started to get involved with other things and we weren't much interested in making repairs. I still have this machine and it works (except when it scrunches up the film, of course) and it's still beautiful. Once it almost disappeared from my life but luckily I could turn things around. As it happened, my dad saw how I was completely and irreversibly mad about animation. He bought me a Chinon Super8 camera. This was a top notch, state-of-the-art machine. The Japanese engineers put into that machine everything they could imagine at the time. For a while then Pálos and I forgot about the Leica, and we filmed everything with the Chinon. So Dad gave the Leica away to somebody. After a while though, we started losing interest. The camera certainly knew how to do everything, but the image in the viewfinder was somehow not as magical. There was no true depth to it or something. Filming with the Leica was a spellbinding experience while with the Chinon it seemed like cold professionalism. In those days the Super8 was technically advanced. Developing and cutting too was simpler. So obviously it was the thinking man's machine of choice. Nevertheless, I missed the flavor the Leica gave to things. Fortunately, I got the Leica back and have no intention of being separated from it again.

When you have a personal relationship with your machine you are able to do things with it that its designer never even dreamed of. I was very proud that I could lighten, darken and even make dissolving shots with my Leica. These little tricks were not a part of the standard functions. Actually, there were very few built-in standard functions. It would take up too much space to explain my methods but if anyone's had a similar problem please don't hesitate to contact me. It's not very complicated, by the way.

Of the many cameras that I have owned in my life I have been especially attached to a certain two. There was one by the name of Yashica Mat 6x6 and I don't really know why I liked it so much. There wasn't anything amazing about it, yet I preferred it to the Zenza Bronica 6x6. Maybe it was because it reminded me of my childhood Rolleiflex. I guess this shows how unprofessional I really was and still am. My other machine was a 35mm Asahi Pentax Spotmatic. The body of this Spotmatic was like a field worker's hand: time left nice, characteristic marks on it. On one side of the viewfinder my father had even scratched a "+1" mark, indicating that the built-in semi-automatic light meter was slightly inaccurate. On the opposite side I had stuck on an ineradicable yellow paper with the mysterious letters "EPX" (if I remember correctly) which served to remind me of the mini battery type this camera required. The underside of its body was decoratively scratched from the innumerable fastenings to the tripod. Other than that it was a well built little mechanism. This machine too had a magical lens. The Pentax company had applied what's called an SMC layer on its lens and (maybe/maybe not) it was this layer that set it apart from the rest. In any case, when you compared photos taken with 50 and 120mm lenses with the photos of similar theme made by other cameras, the difference was astonishing. I used this machine for 26 years and gave it away not too long ago to a talented young guy. To this day he takes really great photos with it.

How strange that I never had any real personal relationships with video machines. I actually don't care too much for video techniques and use them out of necessity only. I preferred the unusually constructed Sony Videodisc Recorder VD 6000. This recorded professional quality onto a template continuously or frame by frame, backwards or forwards. Back in the golden days of computer animation (a few years ago) this was the best machine for the purpose. Of course I never dared to dream that such a machine would or could be mine some day. It was a very expensive professional studio equipment. My relationship with it could only be called a working one. I've owned a DV camcorder for about a year now. I use it and am amazed at what it can do, but it's too early to talk about any deep connection. We'll see what happens as we become better acquainted.

I'd like to talk about one more machine: my first PC, an ATARI ST 520. This is the machine that changed my whole life and made a "media artist" out of me. Before its appearance I had worked on the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 but it never occurred to me that anything artistic could be done on a computer. I worked with computer graphics for a living because I needed the money and because the Caesar Studio was the best job I've ever had. However, I considered myself a painter and painted whenever I had any free time. Then along came this machine and changed everything. The 512 colors and 320x240 resolution seemed unbelievably rich back then. To this day I consider the ATARI one of the best designed computers. Its engineers created a good balance between processor speed, picture resolution, and color depth, as well as memory. To comprehend this fully it is necessary to think of "top-heavy" graphic design PCs where a high-powered graphic card was put on a slow processor resulting in incredible richness of detail in which high-resolution pictures could be generated if you didn't mind waiting around for two days. Of course only a technician could imagine that something worthwhile could be created in this way. During the process of composition, it is difficult to clearly see what one wants, so one ends up changing things over and over again; you get new ideas while you work, and you have to play with the material. If you have to wait two days in between each change, all creativity and originality will be nipped in the bud. The ATARI was perfect in this sense. The picture quality was good enough to call it a picture at all, and it was compact, so the machine could make quick calculations. Its memory was small enough to make it affordable for the average person but big enough to store animation lasting a few seconds. The processor was fast enough to make the calculations for the animation then play it back in "realtime" at the speed of motion pictures or video tape. And I haven't even mentioned the ATARI's musical capabilities! But we'll leave that to real musicians. In sum, to me this was the machine that was the perfect tool, something I had always been waiting for. My ATARI had other features which make it unique as well. We (the boys at the Caesar studio) installed a video output, and I built up its memory to 1 megabyte, which didn't fit into the box properly so the top could never properly be put back on it again, so I built it a new, modified carrying case.

I don't know whether a personal bond can be formed with today's machines. Progress doesn't seem to be going in this direction. I can't really say I have a personal relationship with the PC on which I'm writing this article. For any relationship to develop, a certain amount of time has to be spent together with the machine, so you can get acquainted with its quirks and become a good owner. But by the time you would develop such a relationship, the machine would become obsolete and useless. Presently my PC is a steel box that has its insides changed on a regular basis. This is its third mother board, its fourth processor, I've lost count how many memory-boosts it has had, and I'm ready to change the CD-ROM any day now, and so on. I won't even mention the software. I'm a slow and faithful kind of a guy. For example, I was still using Windows 3.1 while others were on Win95 but there comes a time when you have to let go of your stubbornness. There comes a need for change if I want to continue what I'm doing. And the need for change crops up continually. These machines are no longer real in the way the Leica camera was real. The Leica was an instrument created for a given purpose with a truly pronounced personality while the newer models tend to be kind of wishy-washy. When I purchase a machine today I am not really buying an object but rather an obligation. From that day forth I agree to buy new parts for it at regular intervals, to freshen up its software biannually and to uphold the continually changing ideals of PC ownership according to the dictates of fashion and development.

I can't image what someone reading these lines must think about me. I know certain individuals will find what I write unimportant while others reject anything to do with art. I see things in a different way. There was a phase in my youth - and quite a long phase it was - when the "Amateur Filmmakers Handbook" was my book of choice over story books. The technical parts, like depth calculation and so on, where what excited and inspired me the most. I'm sure the quality of each machine I use in my work, its form, even the sound and smell of it influences me in what I do.

Tamás Waliczky, 2001

Translation: Zsuzsa Nagy