I have known Rick Malkames for most of my adult life. In fact, I can honestly say, for all of my career. Rick and I first met during my days as a junior camera tech with Carl Schietinger way back in 1979. Rick was a cameraman for CBS 60 Minutes and a regular at Carl's NYC service company TCS, shooting segments on his 16mm Arri SR.
So when Rick dropped by AbelCine NY in the Fall of 2015 with the rarest of all cameras in existence, his 1895 Lumiere Cinematographe #419, I was probably the only person in the shop not surprised or somewhat bewildered.
I knew the rich cinema history of the Malkames family. I met Rick's dad, the late Karl Malkames ASC, on a number of occasions when I was young. Karl began his career behind the lens as a newsreel cameraman with Warner Pathe News, and went on to become an accomplished feature and commercial DP.
From the 1970 through the 90s, Karl was one of the premier camera technology historians and film preservationists around. That's because cameras had been part of the Malkames family his entire life.
Karl's father, Don Malkames, had a passion for film since he was a young boy. He worked his way into the industry, first as an assistant and eventually as an accomplished ASC and IATSE cinematographer. Don was so taken with the moving image that, by the late 1930's, he began collecting the cinemachinery that shot the films that inspired him the most.
Today, the Malkames Collection of cameras, projectors and cinema paraphernalia, residing in Lakeville CT, is among the most extensive and historically important private collection of early cinema tools found anywhere in the US.
That Fall day, when Rick was at AbelCine NY, he was working with techs Jeff Marzigliano and Milos Necakov to test the aperture rings that our team machined for his Cinematographe. Rick was preparing to shoot tests for the independent feature project, The Operators, in which footage from this 120+ year old camera (in perfect working condition) would be used in the film. Imagine that!
Milos machined three aperture rings that, when dropped into the rear of the lens, would provide effective F stops of F13.1, F16 and F22. This provided Rick with the flexibility he needed for his shoot. You can check out some of this test footage here.
After the rings were inspected and a few tests were shot along the Hudson River Greenway a few blocks from AbelCine, Rick was gracious enough to hang around the shop the rest of the day with the Cinematograph on the AbelCine showroom floor so that Abel customers and staff could ask questions, and get up close and personal with the camera that started it all.
This was the day that really sparked our imagination.
Rick and I began discussing the importance of exposing the Malkames Collection to more working professionals. And how wonderful it would be if we used these historic tools as primary elements in presenting the history, technology and people that shaped early cinema. To create a connection to source for those who would appreciate it the most.
So an idea was borne: to bring the most important pieces of the Malkames Collection to the new Brooklyn home of AbelCine at Industry City, and expand its scope into a free, permanent, interactive exhibit.
What could be more fitting?