The New Color Photography and the Siciliano 6×9

I’ve recently been enjoying Sally Eauclaire’s 1981 book The New Color Photography. Many critics agree that color photography didn’t really come of age as an art form until around 1970. A little more about the book from the introduction:

The New Color Photography is not a survey, nor a history of color photography of the 1970s, but a critical text that argues for and endeavors to articulate visual and conceptual standards.

A large percentage of the images in the book are fantastic, and the text is quite thought provoking. I was quite interested to read the artist bios in the back of the book, many of which list the camera and film preferences of the photographers. A large percentage of these folks were shooting with 4×5 view cameras, a few 5×7 and 8×10 view cameras, a little bit of medium format, the Polaroid SX-70, and a couple of Leicas and Nikons.

There are three photographers listed as using something called a Siciliano 6×9 camera: Leo Rubinfien, Len Jenshel, and Rocky Thies. More on the Siciliano from Jenshel’s bio (from 25 years ago):

It is a hand made, hand held 6x9cm camera built in Brooklyn, New York by Tom Germano. It takes both 120 and 220 roll film and houses a 65mm (wide angle) Mamiya f/6.3 lens. The camera is simple — a roll film back and a 4×5 inch press camera lens adapter for 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches. There are no mirrors, no meters, no timers, or even a rangefinder. It is sleek and fast for the format and enables me to stalk and maneuver as if I were using a Leica. And because of the larger negative, my prints give me sharp definition and little grain at 13 x 19 inches.

So what ever happened to the Siciliano camera? A Google search didn’t turn up much info. The design site of Cliff Goldthwaite shows a few images, and reports that his camera was built with a 75m lens in an edition of 50 in the late 1970s. Duncan McCosker, an art professor in San Diego, uses a Siciliano.

Thomas Roma, the fellow who built and sold these cameras in the 1970s, went on to put out a few photography books and has been a photography professor since 1983. Not sure why the name is listed as Germano in the bio quoted above. I found a really great article about Roma on ARTnews:

He went on to set up the Siciliano Camera Works, selling the 6-by-9 and a handheld panoramic 35-millimeter he designed (“Good photographers wanted them—Koudelka, Peress, Friedlander,” says Roma), but his head for business was not as keen as his eye.

That’s about all I could find. No photos of the camera. I wonder if Mr. Roma gets email inquiries from camera buffs and historians about these cameras? I’d love to know a little bit more about them.

Update 10/12/2011: One of these cameras was apparently for sale on a Norwegian website, and there’s a photo of the camera Rangefinderforum.

9 thoughts on “The New Color Photography and the Siciliano 6×9

  1. Wow — thanks for pointing that out! It’s been fun to look at this book from 1981, Google the photographers, and see what they’re up to 25 years later.

  2. I’m familiar with the Siciliano cameras. As you said, Professor Thomas Roma, who currently teaches at Columbia University designed and built several cameras in the 70s. They were all hand-built in his machine shop in brooklyn. All in all I think just over 50 of the 6×9 cameras were made. He also made a wonderful panoramic camera that takes 35mm film called the Panoroma.

    I’ll see if I can get you a picture of one.

  3. I agree with Joe about The New Color Photography lots of very good images worth tracking it down if you have never seen it. The Diane Cook, Len Jenshel site is certainly worth a visit, a large number of very strong images.

  4. Joe,

    I was a student of Tom’s back in the mid to late 1980′s when he used to teach at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.

    It may be too late for your interest in this discussion but I used to own one of the 35mm panoramic cameras built by Tom Roma in the 1990′s. Story is that it was a Nikon F camera body that was gutted and served basically as just a film holder. He then trimmed out the film mask on the back of the Nikon (if you look inside an F body, where the film mask area is, there is a lot of extra space that when trimmed can be widened to a 1X3 image mask) Out of aircraft aluminum he milled an adapter to go inbetween the Nikon body and a Mamiya 50m sekor lens. Since the lens has the shutter in it there was no need for mechanisms besides the film advance to remain in the Nikon body. He made a brightline optical viewfinder for it as well. It quite simply is a great camera. he made I think two production runs of 30 (around 60 total) before Mamiya stopped making the 50mm sekor lens. The price was about $3000.00

    A place in NYC K & M used to rent them out. I don’t think they do anymore. My camera, after I sold it back to Tom after six years of use, was sold to them. I bought it originally from the photographer Gilles Peress. It was called a “Pannaroma 1X3″. Tom’s wife is Anna Roma (get it? P-anna-roma)

    Tom said he had originally designed and made the camera for his father in law who is Lee Friedlander when Lee was interested in using a long frame camera.

    I also had a roommate once that had one of the Siciliano 6X9 cameras. It was a bit clunky but a good one nonetheless. Tom also made a 6X8 camera for his own use that he did his Come Sunday project with.

    Tom changed his name in the early eighties from Germano to Roma.

  5. My Professor Steven Raskin of CCSF (City College San Francisco) has one. He brought it to class this past Tuesday he let us see it but we could not touch…it is 1 of only 55 after all.

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