Saturday, August 1, 2009

Argus Camera Museum, Ann Arbor

There was once a time when Ann Arbor, Michigan, had a place on the map in the world of photography. This was roughly from 1936 when the Argus model A became an immediate hit, to 1962 when production of the Argus C3 "brick" ceased in Ann Arbor. The model A had much to do with the popularization of the new 35mm format, and the various models C were the all time most popular 35mm camera.

There is a nice little informal museum in Ann Arbor with a great collection of Argus cameras and gear on display. It is in the very building where so many Argus cameras were made. The building itself predates Argus, being built sometime in the late 1800s for the manufacturing of furniture. When Argus left the building in the late 1960s it was taken over by the University of Michigan which used it for storage and insect research. Now it is gentrified and has a number of offices both for the University and private businesses. The museum is tucked into an L- shaped lobby on the second floor. Its industrial heritage is apparent.

A number of worn glass and wood display cases hold the cameras and assorted photo equipment. The museum is open to anybody who happens to wander in and there is no admission charge. It is a bit dark inside. The location is 535 W. Williams St, Ann Arbor, MI 48103.

The building is owned by two prominent local businessmen, William Martin and Joe O'Neal. They call their enterprise C3 Partners, after the Argus C3 camera. C3 Partners assembled a fairly comprehensive collection of Argus cameras and opened the museum in 1987.

None of these cameras was designed for the professional photojournalist or wedding photographer. Rather, their natural market was the amateur photographer who looked for value.

I had a happy coincidence during one recent visit to the museum. I struck up a conversation with a white-beareded man who worked in an adjacent University office. His name was Bill, and in the early 1950s he worked for Argus in this very building grinding and inspecting lenses for the Argus military periscope.