Jim Domke v Billingham, Bag Review
The Domke Bag :
More than three decades ago photojournalist Jim Domke designed a revolutionary new kind of camera bag. This is his story. “In 1975, when I was working for the Philadelphia Inquirer as a full-time photojournalist and editor, the rules of the game suddenly changed.
“Instead of each photographer having his own private company car, we now had to sign out cars from the press pool. As a result we could no longer use the car’s boot as a camera case for storing and organising our gear. Now we needed a sturdy, no-nonsense camera bag that could hold enough stuff and also function as a portable base of operation.
“At the time, there weren’t any bags that would fill the bill. The carry gear of the day was based on the concept of a hard case. You had to stop and set it down to get at your equipment, and with the foam-lined cases, you had to cut out shapes to fit particular lenses, flash units, etc. These box-like bags were also made of stiff materials, which were heavy, and the equipment tended to bounce around.
“I was confident I could come up with a better bag and I was lucky enough to be given the chance to do it. The newspaper said they’d pay for 20 bags if I designed them myself and had them made at a reasonable cost! My inspiration was my fishing bag. It was made of heavy canvas and it had some of the features I was looking for, but it was far too small and had tiny compartments. I knew we needed a bigger bag that had pockets on all sides and compartments large enough to get my hands into to get a good grip on the lens.
“I also realised that the compartments had to be flexible to accommodate a variety of equipment. It was beginning to dawn on me that in my own modest way I was creating the ideal bag for the working pro, a bag you could work out of, not just stuff equipment into. I made prototypes and tested them on the staff. One veteran photographer said ‘make it like a six-pack’ so lenses can stand up; another suggested movable inserts; a third wanted a ‘gripper strap’ so a loaded bag didn’t slide off his shoulder. All these ideas were eventually incorporated into my Domke bags. It was an instant success and word got around so fast we were soon besieged with orders. By summer 1976 we had already sold 800 bags. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Domke bags are available in the UK from major suppliers.
The Billingham Bag:
Billingham was founded by Martin and Ros Billingham, who were both keen photographers and had worked in the industry before setting up their bag company. Billingham is still a family-owned company but is now run by Martin’s son Harry. This, however, is Martin’s story.
“The Billinghams mirror my own personality. I believe that to achieve the best results, a fastidious attention to detail is necessary. “Once upon a time, I made fishing bags. They were very beautiful, but I am not a fisherman. My love is photography. So, I was very excited to learn that New York photographers were using my bags to carry their equipment. This was the opportunity I was looking for; it meant that I could combine work with pleasure.
“What I wanted were bags that were functional, durable and good-looking. Living in England, I knew the bags had to stand up to inclement weather and so I chose only the sturdiest, most comfortable – and most waterproof – materials.
“In designing the camera bags, I rejected a box-like construction. Photographers were asking for more tailor-made bags to match their own meticulous work-style. I also wanted deep, soft bags capable of keeping expensive equipment safe and dry.
“My bags would mould to the body and take the pain out of carrying around heavy equipment. Our dividers would provide a kind of suspension system, while allowing the user to customise the interior to suit individual taste. The unique double-grab handle system would make for easy pick-up whether the bags were open or closed, and loop fixings would allow for accessories to be fastened securely to the bags.
“I chose rubber-laminated cotton canvas because it swelled when wet, closing around the stitching on seams and further sealing against leaks. Binding with waterproof tape gave even greater protection.
“Today, I still select from the finest materials, taking advantage of developments in textile technology. Two materials, however, have remained unsurpassed and these have become a hallmark of Billingham – the leather and brass trim.”
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