From Yesterday to Today: Conley Folding Cameras


My Great-Grandfather, Howard Gessaman, was born in Indiana in 1889 and moved to Montana to homestead in 1910. I’m not sure exactly what model this camera is, but it is a Conley folding camera with (as you can see from the photo)  a Conley Safety lens. The camera has a folding bellows and is approximately 18′ from lens to the back cover when unfolded. The above photo was a classic moment to capture: me discovering Great Grandpa’s vintage camera with my compact Nikon digital slr

Here’s a link with some of the different Conley models: for those who are also intrigued by elderly cameras (so cool!)


The camera itself takes 5×7 plate-glass negatives. When I was a tweenager, or possibly younger, I remember my mother finding  boxes of Great-Grandpa’s plate class negatives stuffed away in the attic of the farmhouse on Howard Gessaman’s original homestead. It was the most interesting experience to see 5×7 glass negative images of fancy ladies in big hats on boardwalk, tree-lined streets, contrasted with his homestead pictures of the barren prairie land of eastern Montana. My mom discovered ways and places to print the plate-glass negatives and compiled a book a few years back. Here are a few samples of Howard Gessaman’s photography:

I can’t say that Grandpa Howard’s photography was what inspired me to become a photographer. However, it was an interesting moment to come full circle to: me taking a photo of myself taking a photo in the reflection of the lens of Great Grandpa’s old Conley Safety. And once again, the past meets the future. It’s like  the circle of life, or something. 😉


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