use of mirror device w/large format ala Evans&Levitt : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

hi,i was just perusing work by helen levitt and walker evans and realized that for a number of shots both these photographers used a mirror mounted to the front lens so as to photograph scenes at a 90 degree angle from where they were facing. i know there were such devices in the past for 35mm cameras and i believe also for some old graflex cameras. i am wondering if this could be possible with large format and if so if anyone has experience or suggestions regarding a

-- robert lyons (, February 04, 2002


Evans did it with 35mm, and Levitt just pointed her Rollei sideways, but Paul Strand did it with a Graflex type camera. Many of his Mexican Portfolio pictures were made that way. (The earlier series including the Blind Woman were done with a false lens screwed to the side of his Graflex, a technique which Strand himself described as unsatisfactory.) The mirrors sold by many photo dealers for 35mm will fit LF with a series adapter, the only catch is that they will usually only cover the entire negative if used with a longer focal length lens, due to cutoff of the mirror tube.

-- Doc (, February 04, 2002.

Sinar makes (or at least have made) both semi-transparent and fully reflecting mirrors (front surface covered) which are of the same size as their lensboards. (There are some bigger ones as well.) I've seen them mentioned on Ebay, as well as on other places.

The semi-reflecting mirrors are really useful for trickshots, like for creating an impossible background.

-- Björn Nilsson (, February 05, 2002.

Walker Evans used a "periscope" attachment. This is a tube with a 90 degree bend in the middle where the mirror is placed. The tube attaches to the eyepiece of the camera. In this way the photographer's can point the camera at the subject while being perpendicular to it. I use one made by Nikon that it calls a macro accessory. Adorama also sells a 90 degree viewer that is screwed onto the front of the lens and looks like a teleconverter. These have a tendency to vignette but are still effective. They also mirror the photographer's eye to the subject. My understanding is that Leica also used to (and perhaps still does) make a "periscope" accessory. The easiest option is to buy a TLR like a Rollieflex or Yashica and point it sideways, or use a mild telephoto and pull back a little from the subject. You can also use a periscope like attachment for the ground glass of a view camera, but it is doubtful that you will not be noticed.

-- Andrew Held (, February 05, 2002.

If I'm not mistaken, all these devices where used to sneak photos of an unsuspecting or shy subject. Right? If that is what Mr. Robert Lyons is interested in, isn't it a bit of a useless endeavor now that absolutely no one will publish a photo of a recognizable individual without a signed model release? I don't even think you can publish photos of native tribesmen without a signed release. Even if the photo is never submitted for publication or never worthy of publication, even putting it on your personal website might expose you to lawsuit if the website is accessible to the public. I'm not a lawyer, but I know that the legal issues here are pretty well established.


-- Paul van der Hoof (, February 06, 2002.

Perhaps Mr. Lyons shoots for his own satisfaction? At some point these candids will no longer be cause for a lawsuit and they will be invaluable historical records.

-- Andrew Held (, February 06, 2002.

Paul wrote, "Absolutely no one will publish a photo of a recognizable individual without a signed model release."

With all due respect, this is simply wrong.

Street photography of perfectly recognizable people is alive and well (type those two words into and you'll see what I mean). Unless you portray someone in a slanderous fashion--or use their visage to sell a product without their permission--there's nothing in any law I know of to prevent you from taking, and publishing, pictures of people going about their daily business. If there were, newspapers could only show individuals who signed releases, and that would mean no parade spectators, no sporting events that show faces in the crowd, no crowds at the beach on the first day of the summer, no lines of commuters or people waiting to buy tickets-- well, you get the idea. Shoot away, and good luck!


-- Terry (, February 06, 2002.

Because I got kidded offline by a dear (ahem) friend, let me clarify: I meant you'd type the words "street photography" into google, not "alive" and "well."


-- Terry (, February 06, 2002.

Got it Terry. A l i v e a n d w e l . . . . .l

-- Steve Feldman (, February 06, 2002.

Sorry, with due respect, to burst your bubble -- but it's quite a bit more complicated than that. Simply stating that "Street photography" is ok as far as negelecting model releases if very naive. The whole topic of photography and the Law is very extensive and very well commented on by a large body of legal experts. Due to the large number of lawsuits over the use of individual's images, and even paradoies of images, most, if not all publications will require a model release for ANY recognizable image you submit for publication, unless it involves a clearly and purely news item. Since the definition of "commercial" has become very, very broad, even so called "fine art" images are treading dangerous ground if they depict images of people without releases obtained. Amateur legal opinions about "street photography" are totally meaningless against the extensive body of law and legal precedent.

The National Press Photographers Assoc. for one has a great deal to say about it. I know this is quite a bit to read, but I want to post a few excerpts concerning the legal issues involved in using people's images without prior consent.

One Opinion on Model Releases:

Model Releases: Who should be concerned with them? Obviously, photographers and models should familiarize themselves with the law behind model releases. However, photographers and models are far from the only people who must concern themselves with this information. Indeed, professional photographers shooting professional models may have less liability to worry about than others do. Often, litigation of model releases involves the publishers and producers of media in all its forms - advertisements, magazines, newspapers, films, television programs, and web sites, to name only a few. Anyone who deals in the likenesses of others should be informed of the laws behind model releases.

Wise media publishers should know when they will need releases and will seek to protect themselves from litigation. They do this by requiring photographers to produce valid model releases before compensating the photographer for the photos. Therefore a photographer generally needs to provide publishers with a valid model release in order for her work to have any commercial value. In other words, no release = no sale. This is particularly true when dealing with stock photography outfits whose business revolves around the licensing and reselling of photographs and video footage.

Excerpted from:

Another Opinion:

The key here is that the image must be used in a strictly news editorial context. The courts have said that the use of news photograph or video in a news editorial context does not constitute a commercial use of an unwilling individual's image. Any photojournalist who can also demonstrate that the image was taken in a public setting and that its use amounted to nothing more than an incidental use of a person's likeness should have little trouble in this area of the law.

The only legal difficulties one may run into in this area is when an image is used in a truly commercial context such as an advertisement or an endorsement of a product. If a person's image is to be used in an ad, then written consent must be obtained. Standard model release forms are often used in this situation. Undoubtedly some individuals were disappointed to learn that their images were not that commercially viable, at least when used in a news editorial context. So much for fame and fortune.

Public officials and public figures along with those private individuals who actively seek public recognition in some way know that much of what they do can be considered newsworthy. Even private individuals who are caught up in newsworthy events have seen their sense of seclusion shattered when they are captured in images that capture noteworthy information. As long as potentially troubling images are gathered and presented within standard journalistic practices and procedures, photojournalists will most likely be working within the law. Only when journalistic conduct moves into an negligent or even outrageous category will the litigation prospects of those outside of the newsroom look a bit brighter. Whenever legal questions are raised about troubling images, the courts will look beyond the visual to consider the entire editorial package. The question of context is something that everyone in a news organization must keep in mind. It is not enough to rely on the truthful stories told in news video or news photographs. More than visual, the verbal information as well must also present an accurate, honest and fair account of newsworthy information and events. Without a complete package prepared and presented in an acceptable fashion, trouble awaits.

In any libel suit, a key point of concern will be the issue of fault on the part of anyone involved in gathering and communicating the image in question. If the person filing the suit can prove that there was some degree of fault in the way the image was gathered and/or used, then there is there is a good possibility that the person bringing the suit will win. The question of fault is a two part issue. If the person bringing suit is classified by the court as a public figure or public official, then that person will almost always have to show that the photojournalist acted with malice when communicating an image. Malice means that one knew that the information communicated was false or that one had serious doubts about whether the information was true but chose to publish or broadcast the material in spite of those doubts. Malice can also be thought of as lying.

The malice standard that must be met by public officials and public figures provides photojournalists with a lot of breathing space. Simple mistakes can be made in the gathering and use of images of these individuals without a real fear of loosing a libel suit. The key here is that the mistakes were not made with the knowledge that the information told with the images was either not true or that the photojournalist had serious doubts about whether the information told was true yet decided to use the images in spite of those doubts. If, however, the person filing a libel suit is classified by the court as a private figure, then the photojournalist is looking at a much more difficult defense. A private person is someone who has not willingly sought public attention nor has taken an active role in trying to influence the public's view the issue that is illustrated with a damaging image.

For all who wish to fully understand how the law influences the quest for newsworthy images, perhaps Mark Twain's opening comments in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn might be worth noting. Twain wrote, "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." Having spent many years searching for that one solid sensible path to intellectual nirvana in this area, this author can say with certainty that the law is anything but certain. What may be "legal" in one situation may not be so in another situation.

Photojournalists can avoid a lot of problems by simply not using generic images of unidentified people whenever possible. This is especially true with images of individuals who are not actually involved in stories that could cause harm to a person's reputation or intrude into an individual's sense of privacy. When images gathered for one story are later used to tell stories that convey different messages, troubles often arise.

Be sure to avoid using unrelated images as video wallpaper of editorial filler, especially when dealing with potentially controversial subjects. Those in the images, even if not specifically identified by name, can sometimes successfully argue that their reputations were damaged by the implied association these stories.

Excerpts from: Articles By Prof. Michael Sherer: News Media and the Law

Privacy Law

Note: Although our First Amendment to the Constitution includes Freedom of the Press as a provision to encourage the free flow of information, there are instances where a photographer can come up against existing privacy laws. In the next four issues, we'll cover some of those situations.

Model Releases

In New York Civil Rights Law (Sections 50-51), using a person's photograph for advertising or trade purposes without his or her prior written consent is an invasion of privacy. In matters of public interest, where the nature of the photograph is "newsworthy," the New York law allows usage without written consent, as long as the use is not advertising or trade. Editorial photographs used in magazines and books generally fall into this category. However, if the photograph creates a damaging implication or is inaccurate, the person photographed may contend that the use of the photograph created emotional or other distress such an action may be valid in some states. When in doubt, try to get a broad written consent from your models even though the pictures are intended for use only for editorial purposes. Dealing with publishers who have a track record in publishing also helps since they are less likely to make privacy law errors. The cover of a magazine or an advertisement for that magazine which includes a photo from the content of the magazine may in some instances be construed to be advertising and therefore requiring a consent from the person photographed. By the way, in most, but not all states only living individuals can make privacy violation claims. There is no universally accepted privacy law. Each state has its own variation. Many states look to New York State law since many media cases are resolved in New York.

Excerpted from:

And this one:


A verbal agreement is usually enforceable--if you can prove it. Nowadays, however, with faxes and e-mail, there's little excuse for not getting your agreement in writing.

When shooting commercial stock photography, you may encounter situations that might end up in litigation. Be prepared. To protect your rights during a photography project, leave a paper trail. Important points to establish include determining who is responsible for decision-making, for payment procedures, and for change orders. Get that party to "sign off" on all matters involving creativity or funding, or anything else material, and to acknowledge his or her authority in writing.

On some shoots, you may sense or anticipate problems. Resolve them first in writing and get someone on the set with appropriate authority to initial it.

A proper paper trail should also include accurate licensing rights. For instance, define the terms (i.e. "buyout") before you sign the contract: Are you giving up use of the image for merchandising? Stock? Copyright transfer? Specific geographic areas? You should spell out the terms in simple language.

I always try to avoid complicated legalese; so should you.

Excerpted from:

Please also see:

-- Paul van der Hoof (, February 08, 2002.

I've heard an interview with Levitt, and she describes using an angle-finder on her Leica, which attaches to the eyepiece, rather than a mirror-tube on the lens (which obviously wouldn't be terribly useful on a rangefinder camera).

You can be fairly inconspicuous with anything that has a waist-level finder these days, most people not being familiar with it.

-- David Goldfarb (, February 08, 2002.

Right angle finders for the Leica were the early WINKO (image reversed right to left) and later WINTU (unreversed image). These were standard Leitz catalog items. The camera was pointed at the subject in a normal manner, while the photographer appeared to be looking off at 90 degrees to the subject's right. It could be used in horizontal layout only. They were made in both black and chrome finishes.

-- (, February 09, 2002.

Paul's long followup answer above seems to confirm what I said earlier: if the photograph depicts people going about their daily business and is not used in a defamatory or commercial way, there should be no problem. On the other hand, if you think you might use the image in a borderline context, well then, sure, get a model release.

In 20 years of street shooting in public places I've never gotten a model release and I'm not going to start now (there's lots more on street shooting in the Leica forum:

If that means my next post will come from the penitentiary, well, I guess I'll just take my chances.

Happy shooting, everybody!


-- Terry (, February 14, 2002.

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