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Popular Photography - June 1974

Uri Through the Lens Cap

Yael Joel

I might accept Uri's power to repair watches, bend table utensils, and sketch hidden chairs. After all, these are not my fields. But photography is another matter. Photography is my profession. And as a "Life" magazine staff photographer for some 25 years, I have obviously taken more pictures than Uri ever psyched out. I also teach a photography workshop in my own studio. And I know what a camera can do. I know you can't take a picture - any kind - with the lens cap sealing the lens. I have tried it several times myself, accidentally. It won't work.

Yet I must report that Uri attempted to make it work.

Here is what happened:

I was on assignment photographing Geller in New York in color and black-and-white, assisted by my son, Seth. After several hours of spoon-bending and other amazing feats, Uri may have become bored with performing the same old routine for my camera. He peered into my shoulder bag. "Do you have a spare camera for me to take pictures through the lens cap?" he asked matter-of-factly. Did I have a spare camera? That bag was literally spilling over with cameras and equipment of my profession. Two Nikon-F's, with a fast 35-mm f/1.4 medium wide-angle; a 24-mm f/2.8 extreme wide angle; and an 85-mm f/1.8 medium tele-lens. Also a Pentax equipped with a 17-mm Takumar f/4 extreme wide-angle "fisheye" type lens with a 160-degree field of view.

"How about the Pentax?" I suggested. (That lens has a real solid lens cap to protect the somewhat bubbly shape of the front element.)

"Okay, tape the lens cap for a secure seal, and load the camera with film," he answered. As I threaded the Tri-X onto the take-up spool, Uri admitted this would be a tough assignment for him. But he felt Seth and I were sympathetic guys who responded positively to his seemingly amazing powers, and therefore, the chances of a successful lens-cap-penetration were greatly enhanced.

Uri told Seth to choose a large picture book off the shelf and find a poster-like full-page picture. Seth settled on a striking close-up of an Eagle. Uri's idea was for Seth to sit across the room staring at the eagle with maximum concentration, while Uri would try to transmit the eagle through the sealed lens cap onto the film.

So Seth concentrated on the eagle.

I concentrated my Nikon on Uri.

Uri raised the Pentax with cap swathed in black tape, lens practically touching his forehead. His tightened facial muscles and closed eyes testified to his intense effort. He proceeded to click off 12 or so exposures. (I had set the camera for 1/60 sec at f/4, a perfect exposure for pictures in the given light, but without a lens cap.) Along about the fifth or sixth exposure, Uri intimated with a gurgle that he had established contact with the eagle. "I can feel it getting through," he cried, as he urged the image through the lens cap.

I was busy shooting him with my Nikon, and keeping pace with his exposures. If Uri got a decent image on that film, I could see the Kodak ad…"Now you, too, can shoot psychic pictures without a camera or lens - on Kodak film." I also wondered what mysterious ASA speed he was shooting at. Frankly speaking, I didn't take this lens-cap photography seriously. Yet, I found myself caught up in the crazy atmosphere that Uri generates when he performs. It's a kind of frenetic, exciting, child-like, "out-of-the-world" nimbleness: bending spoons, fixing watches, busting keys, all presumably accomplished by an enthusiastic, engaging superpsychic.

Meanwhile, Uri set the Pentax on the coffee table, and we flew to the next experiment.

Uri said he would attempt to receive telepathically a drawing which we were to make in an adjoining room. At this point, Seth and I went into the bedroom and closed the door. Seth decided to sketch a chair, and I photographed him at work. We placed the drawing inside two envelopes as Uri had instructed us and returned to the living room three to five minutes later, where Uri was waiting for us. Uri had no trouble in duplicating the chair which Seth had drawn. Then I reloaded my Nikon with color for more sealed lens-cap pictures. Uri once again held the same Pentax, still with the original roll in it, to his forehead while I shot him in color this time. When he had finally completed the roll, I Immediately unloaded the Pentax and placed the film in my pocket to keep it apart from the others. There was no way Uri could have gotten to the film after that point.
 By this time, I could see that Uri had shot his bolt. In fact, we were all slightly exhausted from the bizzare happenings. Enough was enough. After all, I had Uri's hot roll of Tri-X in my pocket, and I could hardly wait for Seth and me to get home to develop the psychic film in my workshop darkroom.

So off we went.

Next scene is well after midnight at my photography workshop. Seth's faint incredulous voice echoing from downstairs, "Come on down, I see an exposure on the film!" "Is it sharp?" I yelled, grabbing my magnifying glass. Seth was holding the film as though it were radioactive.He was really shook up. So was I when I put the five-power glass to the one and only exposed frame. The image was well-enough exposed, a bit thin, clear and sharp, except for the empty blob on the center. Not a bad try for an amateur, I mused. Finally, the enormity of what had possibly occured with the film hit me!

Do I have a transparent lens cap?

Had Uri Geller accomplised the impossible?

Who the hell would have thought....

This was a traumatic moment in the history of photography.

Here am I, a recognized professional photographer, years of experience with lens caps, and Uri one-upmanships me with my own lens cap, my very own Pentax, even my film. I couldn't believe it. And yet, there was an image on that crazy roll of Kodak film!

Seth hung the film to dry as I prepared the enlarger for a 11 x 14 print of that mysterious image. Meanwhile, filled with awe (it was well past midnight), I telephoned Uri to tell him the amazing news. Yasha Katz, his manager, answered the phone. I blurted out the earth-shaking news to Yasha, and asked for Uri. Yasha told me that Uri was asleep, and he would not awaken him even for this bombshell event because he had a performance that evening at Town Hall, and besides, even a psychokinetic needs his sleep. I was stunned by Yasha's blasé acceptance of Uri's picture of the century, but knowing managers, I told him I would phone Uri at 10 A.M.

Back to the darkroom. By this time, the film was dry. I examined it critically under the light of the wide-open Focotar lens of my Focomat enlarger. No dust embedded in the emulsion. Good. Clean negative. Fine. Carefully, I slipped the frame into the film holder. The image on the easel, slightly flat. Needs a #4 Polycontrast filter to bring out full contrast, I judged. Seth developed the test strip while we pondered the mysteries of photography. What's left to explore after this caper? Finally, a print emerged in the developer. Both of us were literally spent. Here it was about 2 A.M. I made an extra print for Uri, and we went to bed. Even photographers need rest.

Promtly at 10 A.M. I was on the phone with Uri. "Uri," I asked, "what were you thinking about when you did it?" His answer - "To tell you the truth, I was concentrating on a star in the sun." I told this pearl to Seth, who promtly remarked, "I guess he was thinking of himself!"

That day, at the Time-Life building, on the twenty-eighth floor (where most all of the ex-Life photographers now rent office space) I showed Uri's picture to the dean of photo-journalism, the venerable Alfred Eisenstaedt. I asked his opinion of how the picture was taken. He took a quick look at it, and opined that the center blob looked like someone had held a lens cap in front of the lens. I then told him how Uri apparently shot it through the taped lens cap, and the picture was therefore the product of a supernatural phenomenon. Eisenstaedt's eyes blinked like a shutter. "Impossible!" he exploded.

I ran into Ralph Morse in the photographer's lounge. Now, Ralph is an expert photographer-technician type. He has taken every conceivable technical kind of picture of the astronauts for Life. What a fertile, imaginative photographic mind Ralph has! The only possible picture he may have missed up on shooting is the astronauts through a lens cap. So I showed him the Uri picture. Ralph's reaction? "How did that lousy lens cap get in that picture?"

George Karas runs what's left of the old Life lab. By this time, my euphoria about Uri's supernatural photographic talent was fading fast. So I asked George, as I showed him the picture, "Who the hell would take such an awful picture, George?" He glanced at it and offered, "If whoever took that picture had held the lens cap further away from the lens, it might have been a decent photograph."

Could Uri, or somebody else in the room, have surreptitiously removed the lens cap while I was in the other room photographing Seth? That was the only time when Seth and I were out of sight. It was our feeling that he could have, and perhaps did. Assuming this is the case, Seth and myself and the editors of Popular Photography closely duplicated Uri's "through-the-lens-cap" pictures without resorting to supernatural means.

Uri, I'm sorry to say, the consensus of expert photographic opinion, including my own (after due reflection), is that your lens cap is showing. (I mean my lens cap.)
 You really didn't reckon with the extreme depth of field of the extreme wide-angle 160-degree 17mm Takumar f/4 "fisheye" lens.

Besides, what the hell happened to the eagle?

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