Happy Birthday to Hugh

Hugh Morton self-portrait, ca. mid-to-late 1930s Hugh Morton self-portrait, ca. mid-to-late 1930s

In honor of what would have been Hugh Morton’s 87th birthday today, I decided to share this set of self-portraits I recently stumbled upon—the only images in the collection I can remember seeing that are both of and by Morton. I love how they capture multiple sides of his personality—the fun, happy Hugh on top, and the Hugh on the bottom that you probably don’t want to mess with.

Dating probably from the late 1930s, these negatives are a somewhat unusual format: a non-perforated roll film with an image area measuring 1 1/4-inch by 1 1/2-inch (or 30 x 40mm). Most of the negatives of this format in the collection are deteriorating such that the film has turned blue, with blue splotches throughout.

Some quick research had led me to think that this might be film for a Kodak 35, the first 35mm camera made by Kodak. Since Morton so conveniently included his camera in the shots, we have more evidence to draw from. Unfortunately, these shots are largely out of focus, and while the camera looks pretty similar to the Kodak 35, it doesn’t look exactly like any of the models I can find online (specifically, the silver plate with squared corners behind the lens doesn’t look right). And, of course, the film size isn’t right either; the only film format I can find that meets the 30 x 40mm dimension requirement is 127. Could this be a half-frame 127 camera?

To further complicate matters, I see in David Horvath’s extremely useful Acetate Negative Survey that, “In Agfa/Ansco products, a blue anti-halation dye which was converted to a luco base during processing was used. It is generally colorless but is turned blue again by the action of mold or acids. Many degraded Agfa/Ansco negatives exhibit this distinctive blue color.” So, this leads me to wonder if this is an early Agfa/Ansco camera—but again, I can’t find any matching models online, and the film maker and the camera maker don’t have to be the same.

As usual, I’ve gotten way more wrapped up in this than I intended to. Any insight from you vintage camera buffs, or from other archivists who may have seen this format before?

5 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to Hugh

  1. There have been many tributes written honoring Hugh Morton. Charles Kuralt, William Friday, Ed Rankin, to name just a few who have expressed their admiration and high regard. Retired Navy Captain Wilbur D. Jones, Jr. of Wilmington wrote, in my opinion, one of the most fitting tributes. Jones, in his 2005 book, “The Journey Continues: The World War II Home Front,” wrote the following about his friend Hugh Morton.

    “A nationally renowned photographer, journalist, author and businessman, his numerous awards and other recognition give testimony to his well-deserved reputation and esteem as North Carolina’s most respected and prominent citizen.”

    I think it appropriate to revisit Jones’ words on this day…the day when Hugh Morton would have begun the 90th year of his life.

  2. In the September, 2000 issue of “Our State” magazine, author-journalist Ralph Grizzle wrote a Hugh Morton profile called “Mountain Man.” Grizzle later wrote an online version of the piece called “Grandfather’s Guardian.” In the latter, he described Hugh Morton like this:
    “Grandfather’s guardian is a giant, as gentle, though, as Mildred the Bear and as graceful as the ravens that ride the currents of fresh June breezes on top of Grandfather Mountain.”

    I think it’s appropriate to recall Grizzle’s words on this day, February 19, 2012…the day Hugh Morton would have turned 91 years old.

  3. Through his lens, Hugh Morton captured North Carolina. It might be a scenic view of Grandfather Mountain, or an action shot of his dear friend Charlie Justice…it might be a close-up shot of Coach Dean Smith or Coach Bones McKinney…or it might be breaking news of a presidential visit to the Tar Heel State. Whatever was happening in North Carolina during a seventy year period, Hugh Morton was there with his camera in hand documenting our history. Now, his photographic work is part of the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library on the UNC campus, and can be viewed at a special web site. On this day, February 19, 2013…the day Hugh Morton would have turned 92, I encourage everyone to take a look at his magnificent work.

    http://www.lib.unc.edu/dc/morton/

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