From the ASC Museum: Walker Comparator Makeup Meter

Hand-crafted by the great Joseph B. Walker, ASC, this unique device of his design was destined to become part of our collection.
Joseph B. Walker, ASC

In 1994, I was captivated by a book written by Joseph Walker, ASCThe Light On Her Face. It’s a tale of early Hollywood and one cinematographer’s journey. It also detailed many of the inventions that he patented, such as variable diffusion, a unique zoom lens for television cameras and the spot meter. 

One day, a friend insisted I travel to Long Beach, Calif., to look at an early Mitchell camera. While I wasn’t interested in the camera, the current owner had a photo of its original owner, Alfred S. Keller, ASC. In the background of that photo, was my hero Joe Walker. I told the current owner that while I wasn’t interested in the Mitchell, I would be interested in anything from Joe Walker. He was gobsmacked. As it turned out, when Joe was close to death, and realizing that at that time no one was interested in his inventions, he gave everything to longtime friend Al. Time passed and so did Joe, on August 1, 1985.

Surprisingly, in a matter of a few years, so did Al Keller, on September 6, 1989. Al’s widow not knowing what to do with all of Joe’s stuff, gave it to the current owner in hopes that he would find a home for it all. I quickly made a deal and found myself owner of the remainder of Joe Walker’s inventions and massive lens collection. During this time, I was working in my free time to bring some order to the ASC Museum’s enormous collection.

After that was in a place, when I could afford to take a break, I began to look at what I had. There were dozens of Cooke, Zeiss, Dallmeyer, and Goetz lenses. Also, lots of things that I couldn’t identify. One was a small tweed box with Joe’s handwritten label that reads “Comparator Makeup Meter, Walker.” 

It’s a handmade wooden box with a taking lens, some knobs, neutral density filters, a battery compartment, and an incident meter. This was clearly his prototype spot meter:


When I placed it back in its case, I noticed a note tucked into the lining. It reads “Walker Comparator Makeup Meter. I used this one a lot.” Then, in his much older-person, shaky handwriting, “Give to Al Keller” and finally “For ASC? Museum.”

The meter found its proper home. It is now in the ASC Museum collection. 

I couldn’t be happier!!!

Steve Gainer, ASC, ASK
ASC Museum Curator

Walker’s credits include It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, It's a Wonderful Life and Affair in Trinidad.

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