by BILL ROSAUER
I’M not sure when I met Tom, as it seems like we have been friends forever. It must have been back in the late 1980’s and I’m sure it was at one of the LHSA annual meetings. Tom’s enthusiasm for photography and all things Leica struck a chord in me and we soon became great friends.
Tom and I would travel to Photokina and the LHSA annual meetings and some Spring shoots together on many occasions. Trains, planes and automobiles. Several times we did the trans-Atlantic flight to Germany together, back in the days when smoking was still allowed on airplanes. I’d sit with Tom in the smoking section, despite being a non-smoker myself, just to enjoy his company. Tom was never without his pipe and strike anywhere matches (Streichholz). He amused himself by testing whether you could truly light them on anything, including the top of his then-new Titanium M6 or various surfaces of the Leica meeting rooms at Photokina, much to the horror of the Leica people! We also made the trip to several of the LHSA meetings by car at embarrassingly high speeds here in the States or over in Germany. In his early days, Tom had been a rally car driver and was quite at home behind the wheel of a fast car. Tom was a great story teller, and made the time pass quite pleasantly while travelling with him. I learned about his early years in Sweden, and his adventures as a professional photographer, and his trips driving across America and Australia. A favorite story of his was about being asked if he had anything to declare crossing the border from Canada into the US. His deadpan response to the customs officials was, “No, only the Three Nuns in the trunk” – Tom’s favorite pipe tobacco!
Along the way, Tom met and became friends with my wife and kids, my parents and sister and my relatives in Germany. I, of course, became good friends with Tom’s lovely wife Tuulikki. In time, Tom introduced me to the movers and shakers in his photographic world. Kobayashi of Cosina Voightlander, Erwin Puts, Jem Kime, Reinhardt Muller, Kjell, Terrance Dixon and Arthur Krick. Tom had an amazing ability to make friends everywhere he went. And of course, he would always call and give me a report of what was happening on the Japanese camera scene after his yearly trip there. I vicariously became familiar with Shintaro, Joseph Yao, Lemon Camera and the discussions at the Zen Cafe in Vancouver. From Tom’s vivid stories, it was like I had been there with him myself. I was so fortunate to finally go to the Zen Cafe with Tom at the LHSA meeting in Vancouver last year, in the company of our mutual friends Ed Schwartzreich, Henning Wulff, Stefan Daniel, Bjorn Dietzler and Lars Netopil.
Tom was my partner in crime in the conceptualization of the LHSA Black Paint camera. This grew out of our common admiration for a well brassed black paint M2, M3 or M4. Then there was the Holy Grail, the unobtainable original black MP. Tom had a few M cameras done in black paint by his friend in Japan, Shintaro. Why not do one for the LHSA membership, we said? So began a four year odyssey to get it done. Meeting with Sonke Peters of Leica Germany in the beginning and then Stefan Daniel, we lobbied for the black paint camera at every PMA and Photokina. ‘Why would you want such a thing, our black chrome finish is superior?’, the folks at Leica said. We convinced Leica to make the top plates in brass once again, so when the black paint wore off with heavy use it would obtain its beautiful patina. Black paint was a lost art at Leica, and they had to re-learn how to do it. But finally, they saw the light and as they say, the rest is history and now black paint is once again a regular finish for Leica. Stefan Daniel became a good friend, and I remember Stefan asking Tom and myself at one of the LHSA meetings, what would you think of a black and white only digital M camera? Audacious, even crazy we said, but why not! And sure enough, Leica did it with the Monochrom. And then there were the crazy ‘special cameras’ Tom would bring to annual meetings, such as the ‘Purple Haze’ M camera in honor of Jimi Hendrix, in purple paint and leatherette!
I remember sitting with Tom and brainstorming with him about his softies and rapid winder years before he brought them to market. He would explain the theory of a smoother release using a softie with your first finger joint rather than your fingertip. Tom came up with a better answer too, with his Rapid Winder, it being much simpler and more reliable mechanically than the original one made by Leica.
Writing for Viewfinder, Tom would always excuse his grammatical lapses with, ‘You know, English is my fourth language!’ Sometimes his German failed him too, like the time he ordered chweinehaxen at the Fruh am Dom restaurant in Cologne. He was really looking forward to the roasted pig shank, only to be disappointed with the boiled version he had actually ordered! This was good for a laugh for many years afterward. Tom had a wicked sense of humor, and would often make fun of himself or life in general. I remember when he was diagnosed with his rare form of cancer, he would joke, ‘You know, I have film in my refrigerator with an expiration date older than me!’
Most of all, Tom was always generous with his time and eagerto share his vast knowledge of black and white films and developing solutions, optics and cameras and all things mechanical. Tom would draw a crowd whenever we walked around Cologne or Photokina. Total strangers would come up to him, many of them Japanese. Tom-san, Tom-san, they would cry as they approached him and reverently touched the ever present M2 with Rapid Winder hanging on his chest. I dubbed them ‘Tom’s Groupies’. We would always get together at every Photokina with our good friend Sal Dimarco, who many in the LHSA also fondly remember. Of course, we would enjoy our Kolsch beer and discuss everything Leica. I miss those times. Tom had his own sub-forum on Steven Gandy’s Rangefinder Forum, and this venue gave him a chance to make thousands of more friends around the world. Tuulikki has been overwhelmed with all of the people letting her know how Tom had befriended them in person and on-line, and how sorry they were for her loss. She wants you to know how touched she has been with all of the kind thoughts from the well-wishers. She is having a special edition Softie made inTom’s honor. I will miss my hour-long phone conversations with Tom on a semi-regular basis between LHSA meetings.
Tom was one of a kind, literally one in a million as the old saying goes. A true Renaissance Man. Always smiling, always helpful, always thoughtful. He was a true friend and the older brother I never had. I’ll miss you Tom, we all will! – Bill
TO TUULIKKI, FROM S. WILLIS WRIGHT
TULIKKI, our heart goes out to you on hearing of Tom’s passing, he was a friend, a mentor, and enthusiast, a landmark in my small view of photography, he simply loved it as a process. His enthusiasm for film in particular kept a whole generation of us going. He was one of the few around the LHSA crowd that really knew how things worked. We’ll all miss him. – S. Willis Wright•
IN MEMORIUM: TOM ABRAHAMSSON & HIS RAPIDWINDER
by ED SCHWARTZREICH
THE third time I ever spoke to Tom, years ago, we were sitting down to a nice dinner in a Boston restaurant with our spouses and the topic turned to Tom’s development of his Rapidwinder for M cameras. Tom launched into a discussion about what was wrong with Leitz’s Leicavit, how he had greatly simplified and strengthened the design, the various materials involved and so forth, like the engineer he was.
He then said something like this:
“Most people cannot bring to mind an object in all three of its dimensions, but I am able to. During the development of the Rapidwinder, and still now when considering improvements, I might take a hour in the evening and shrink myself, so that I can walk around the inside of the winder, listen for problems like parts rubbing, and check out the mechanism. Sometimes I may even bring a chair with me and sit there for awhile.” Tuulikki broke into the conversation here and said, “we call these, ‘Tom’s Walkabouts’.”
I soon learned that the startling and unexpected were part of the man that Tom was.
At the 2015 Washington, D.C. LHSA Annual Meeting, I was tasked to give a talk, and did so on non-Leitz Leica accessories, including Tom’s winders for various models. For the presentation, I put together a little montage of Tom sitting inside of one of his winders. Tom and Tuulikki could not attend that meeting, but they seemed to like the image when I sent it to them afterwards. I wanted to share it now, at this sad time, as it catches some of the liveliness and spirit of Tom, dear friend and Leicaman extraordinary. •
by JIM LAGER
TOM Abrahamsson’s efforts to permit the LHSA to inspect a Leica M Postkamera assembly. The camera, camera holder, sliding/locking contacts, flash sync cable, electronic flash (polarized), pistol grip with cable release, and truncated pyramidal shaped positioning housing are components for this special application. The Leica M Postkamera was used to photograph telephone call counters in Europe. The ALOS firm of Zurich, Switzerland provided the main components and obtained the Postkamera from Leitz Wetzlar.
The camera is fitted to a black metal plate surrounding the fixed focus lens (typically a 35mm 1:2.8 Summaron set for a ration of 1:10). Two protruding pins are positioned to the left and right of the lens. These pins align to the receiver housing where the camera is secured via two sliding/locking controls. Electronic flash within the receiver housing illuminates the telephone call counters. Polarizers are fitted over the lens and flash. The lens aperture is variable whereas the shutter speed is fixed for X synchronization (1/50th second). The shutter is fired by pistol grip and cable release.
Our LHSA Viewfinder 49-3 contain an article by Pierre Jeandrain discussing the Leica M Postkamera. Pierre refers to the pyramidal shaped component as the “funnel”.
It is worth noting that Leitz Wetzlar provided components for recording telephone call counters in the mid 1930’s. See Leica News and Technique #11 November 1935. The M Postkamera represents a continuation of this pioneering effort.
Well over 30 years ago while at a “photo swap meet” in New York City I was shown a double stroke black finished Leica M3 916153. Information available then suggested that original black M3’s would be single stroke. I thought this particular camera may have been converted by Leitz Wetzlar from original chrome to black lacquer. Years later during a conversation with Tom, I mentioned black double stroke M3’s. He smiled and remarked he knew about this variation. Very few were prepared probably at special request for photojournalists who wanted to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Tom showed me his well worn sample 917479.
In the Leica Historica publication VIDOM, #105, 06/2013 Lars Netopil reports on the black finished double stroke M3. Citing Leitz Archive records he confirms this original factoryproduced black M3 indeed exists. Between serial numbers 746571-919162 are listed 77 cameras. The two cameras shown here are among those listed.
There is common thread at work here. It is our friend Tom Abrahamsson. Tom knew about Leicas, he cared about Leicas, and most importantly he willingly shared his knowledge. LHSA and the worldwide Leica community he touched will long remember his generosity and willingness to spread the
Leica gospel. May he rest in peace. •
JOURNEY TO VANCOUVER by JIM LAGER
IN 1999 my wife Carole and I visited Tom and Tuulikki Abrahamsson in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Before we returned home to New Jersey, Tom handed me a beautiful wood box containing an Abrahamsson creation celebrating a 30th wedding anniversary. Carole and I married in 1969.
The illustrations show a Leica M with six framelines, special finish, and of course, an Abrahamsson RAPIDWINDER. Close inspection reveals it is the Lager M30 (for the 30th anniversary) equipped with the Lagervit winder. CJL denotes Carole and Jim Lager. LAGER EIGENTUM signifies Lager property. Tom and Tuulikki enlisted the help of Shintaro Yaginuma (paint), Gary Blakely (engraving), and Reinhold Mueller (parts).
Fully functional the Lager M30 reminds Carole and I of the gracious friendship of Tom and Tuulikki. An extraordinary present from an extraordinary couple. •