Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Two of Lomography's wacky films!

You will never hear me say that the Lomography folks are boring.  While I am not a fanboy of the "shoot from the hip" and "light leaks and sprockets are cool  features" hype, I laud them for bringing interesting low-fi (and some not lo-fi) cameras to market, and their ability to find some oddball emulsions and convince us to buy them.   I suspect that they have been able to buy up stocks of some aged films  in large quantities, and have their brand flashed along the rebate area above the sprockets.  Often, we see an odd film brought to market and warned in advance that we'll see odd color shifts (such as the Lomochrome Turquoise), and the results are so amazingly odd that we almost weep when we find it's out of stock.  Sometimes I come across a roll or two of a film and find that it is discontinued, such as the X-Pro Color Sunset Strip. That doesn't give me much to experiment with, but I know that whatever the results, they probably won't be what I expected.  I know that it's a bit late to talk about a discontinued film, but just in case you find one of these films, you may want to grab it and shoot.

Lomochrome Turquoise XR 100-400

Not to be confused with Lomochrome Purple, which gives a bit of faux IR-look to the images, the Turquoise has amazing color shifts that totally blew me away.  I had one roll to play with, and shot it with my Minolta Maxxum 5 last April.  Some of the images were taken at the Ann Arbor Festifools parade, and the colors are definitely amazing, and odd.  The film is ISO 400 and fine-grained, and as advertised by Lomography "LomoChrome Turquoise lets you explore the color spectrum like you never have before. Warm colors become blue, blue becomes golden and green becomes emerald. Capable of producing picture-perfect photos totally naturally, Lomochrome Turquoise will bathe your photos in lustrous tones from a broader color spectrum."    I can't do better than that hype. It is a C-41 color negative film with oddball color shifts that I find quite endearing.
No longer Maize and Blue!

Lomography Color X-Pro Sunset Strip 100

 Also now discontinued, this is indeed a strange film that is in reality, an E-6 (color slide) film that has no orange mask. Hence the x-pro designation.    I shot the roll with my Minolta Hi-Matic G camera, and developed in home C-41 chemistry.  The film looks very blue, and is also extremely curly, making scans difficult.  I don't know if it is the age of the film, but it is grainy and my best shots were taken with plenty of sunlight. In gray skies the colors are very muted.  The scanner had a bit of a hard time with the color for some of the frames that were taken under cloudy conditions, so I expect that the film has better results when there is plenty of light and good contrast. As the Lomo site advertises, "This emulsion is truly for the bravest of Lomographers."
You can see how odd the film looks after developing

Outside of Zingerman's candy store

See the  wrist strap on the lower right. I need to remove it.

At the Reuse center

Chelsea's famous clock tower

there used to be a bookstore here

Jiffy Mix

reds really are pronounced

not so great in the shadows

A strange film, for sure

So, yes, I enjoy playing with the oddball films from Lomography.  They add an element of surprise and are plain fun.  Try one, such as the Lomochrome Purple (while it is still available) and see what you think.  Definitely a departure from what the digital shooters are doing!  I advise getting a couple of rolls of any of the offbeat films. Test one to have a better idea of its characteristics under different conditions, and then use the other rolls when you know you have the best chance of getting the maximum effectiveness from the film.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Book Review: Vivian Maier – A Photographer's Life and Afterlife, by Pamela Bannos

Giving Vivian Maier A Voice

Vivian Maier – A Photographer's Life and Afterlife, by Pamela Bannos. 2017, The University of Chicago Press, 362 pp. $35.00, hardcover.

For the past eight years or so, many of us have been fascinated with the story and found photographs of Vivian Maier. Part of the fascination has been the stories about Maier – a secretive nanny with an odd French accent; her Rolleiflex around her neck, seemingly everywhere; her trove of images that had never been seen by the public; and her photographic travels in Chicago and New York. The other part of this has been the images themselves. No one can deny that that she made some fantastic photographs that certainly are as good as any other photographer that was known for street photography at that time. Her output was prolific, and of course, since we only know of her after her death, we will never know exactly why she chose to not share her work. Until this latest book by Pamela Bannos, the Vivian Maier story was being told and promoted by those that had much to benefit from the massive find of a lifetime. I don't fault John Maloof for promoting his version of Vivian Maier's story, nor the authors of other books, which I will list at the end. One thing all of them have in common, is that they tell an incomplete story, and the narratives are largely devoid of in-depth research -- partly because of the fact that it was in the self-interest of the owners of Maier's photographs to publish and promote her images. In the rush to capitalize on the popularity of the Vivian Maier story and the photographs, Maloof and others determined the narrative, sometimes obscuring or ignoring information that would have provided us with a more complex version of Vivian Maier. She had to be more than a nanny, and she was not a photography savant.  Don't get me wrong, I love seeing her images in print -- but until Bannos' book, we did not have the sort of arduous and exhaustive scholarly work that was needed to more fully inform us about the actual photographer.

My first inclination to think we were not getting the full story, was when it was reported that she was using a box camera and then went suddenly to a Rolleiflex TLR. Those 6x9 cm images were not of box-camera quality, and were quite possibly done with a 120 roll-film folding camera, which would have allowed for a variety of exposure settings and focusing. That “box-camera” narrative was carried on throughout the Maloof version of events. Pamela Bannos (a professor of photography at Northwestern University) also realized that this was incongruent with what she was seeing, and her meticulous research on Vivian Maier's life and ancestry has provided us with a fascinating read that has the parallel juxtaposition in the text of the arcs of her life and of her “afterlife” – the scattering of her belongings and how they came to our view. She also addresses the issues of copyright and ethics of the factions involved with her estate.

Vivian Maier was far more than a nanny - she was a world-wise traveler, a keen observer, a daring and self-confident photographer, and yet, she chose not to exhibit her wonderful photographs. Bannos' research provides us with a more complete account of Maier's life, and in a way, gives her a voice that was not present in the previous attempts by other authors. In this book, we actually see a timeline of Vivian's whereabouts, and on how she photographed a scene – not with one shot, but with an obvious planned approach with an image sequence that gives us an idea of how she worked. Yes, Vivian Maier was an unconventional person. Had she been famous in life, she would be shoulder to shoulder with all of the other “unconventional” women of her time. There is no doubt of her photographic artistry. We are left with a legacy of work that others have promoted, curated, printed, and sold without Vivian's oversight or background stories. I think Pamela Bannos has given balance to the Vivian Maier phenomenon, and her book is a must-read if you are at all interested in the Vivian Maier story.

Other books on Vivian Maier (in chronological order):
Maloof, John. 2011. Vivian Maier, Street Photographer. Power House Books, Brooklyn, NY.
Cahan, Richard and Michael Williams. 2012. Vivian Maier. Out of the Shadows. CityFiles Press, Chicago, IL.
Maloof, John. 2013. Vivian Maier: Self-Portrait. PowerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY.
Cahan, Richard and Michael Williams. 2014. Eye to Eye. Photographs by Vivian Maier. CityFiles Press, Chicago, IL.
Maloof, John. 2014. Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found. Harper Design, New York.

(Generally, the images from the Maloof collection are in his books, and the Jeffery Goldstein Collection is featured in books by Cahan and Williams.  )

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Some winter scenery on Kodak 2238 film.

a roll of 2238 from the
Ultrafine Online site.
If you have been following this blog for awhile, you'll know that I am always eager to try out some odd b&w films.  A few months ago, I purchased some Kodak 2238 Panchromatic Separation Film from Ultrafine Online.  It has been touted as a "poor man's TechPan!" and after seeing results from my first roll of this film, I am inclined to agree.  The typical use of this film is to make archival black and white positive separations from color movie film negatives. It can also be used to make special effects, panchromatic masters from b&w negatives, and other movie-industry applications. It's on a polyester ESTAR base like Techpan, and has a blue-antihalation dye that comes out in developing.

I loaded up a Nikon F2 with a plain prism, and headed out into the 10 degree F weather at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.  The film is rated from ISO 6 to 50, depending on the use, I suppose, and I followed Ultrafine's suggestion of ISO 25.  Unlike TechPan, this film can be developed as a panchromatic pictorial film in D-76 (1:1 for 10 minutes), which greatly facilitates its use, and not having to use my dwindling supply of Technidol. Photographer's Formulary sells the TD-3 low contrast developer for films like Techpan that would otherwise result in high-contrast negatives using typical developers.   

Winter warrior.
Shooting in winter in northern climates has its share of obstacles - cold temperatures mean low battery life when outside, and I picked the meterless plain prism F2 because it works flawlessly without a battery, and the ergonomics with gloves on make it easy to use. I had an external meter, but generally went sunny-16 for most of my shots.  In full sun, that would be f/16 and 1/30 sec, or f/11 at 1/60, or f/8 at 1/125.  F8 at 1/125 seemed to work pretty well when it was sunny.

I developed the film as I described above, in D76.  Some of the frames were underexposed, and I think that was when I forgot to adjust my aperture when the sun went behind the clouds. For the images that I estimated properly, the negatives looked good.   At ISO 25, I would recommend a tripod for most subjects, but my results were pretty good.
Okay, so if this film is like TechPan, how does the grain stack up?  It is extremely fine-grained, and almost as good as TechPan. I would say that the negatives do remind me of that film, and I will have to experiment with it some more to get an idea of how versatile it is.  Some portraits are in order, as well as some non-snowy scenes.  The film comes in 100 foot rolls as well as 36 exp. cassettes, so for $50, one could do quite a bit of testing with the bulk roll.  It may be advisable to bracket to see how the film performs for your particular use. The nice thing is that it is also easy and economical to develop!

Here are a few images from that roll that I shot earlier this week. 

One of the fun aspects of film shooting is the appreciation for different films and the qualities that each film stock has.  Shooting something new (to me) means that the results may not always be what I expected.  In the case of the Kodak 2238, I think the shots where I exposed correctly have good range and bode well for further testing.  The film is a tad curly drying, but flattened out fine in the scanner film holder. 

I suggest that you give this interesting film a try. There are plenty of examples of it on Flickr. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Happy Holidays

December is the month where the Winter Solstice occurs, and in human history, the end of the shortening days and beginning of longer days has not gone unnoticed. Lights have a way of chasing out the darkness, and while in our modern society we have no lack of artificial light, it is hard to imagine what our ancestors thought a few thousand years ago.  The Solstice became the focus of many traditions, and a celebration to mark the appearance of longer days ahead.  For me, Christmas has always been about the tree and the lights, and the excitement of the season.  However you celebrate this season, I hope that peace and happiness becomes more attainable.

Photography is one of those things that has sustained me over time -- in terms of creativity, activity, and making connections.  I think I have met some of the most amazing people that carry around cameras.  I plan on shooting more medium format this coming year, and also thinning down my accumulation of 35mm cameras.  I still plan on testing and reporting on random cameras -- hence this blog, and my association with the Film Photography Project. 

I hope that more people keep coming to using film and finding how fun it can be.   You can simplify everything down to one body and a few lenses (or just one lens) and yet have a bunch of film stocks that have such different characteristics that will open up the artistic and creative process to all sorts of possibilities.  Shoot at ISO 6 sometime and see how those films determine what is possible.  Black and white emulsions, C-41 color, E-6 color-- there are all sorts of possibilities in 35mm. 120 film has fewer choices, but those bigger negatives sure are nice.  Large format? I rarely shoot that, but of you are looking for a challenge, go for it!
This has been quite a year for me, and on top of everything else, I find myself retired after working for 36.5 years at the University of Michigan.  My career has been in Natural History, more precisely, Entomology, and managing museum collections.  I have some research projects that I want to finish, and that will happen in the coming year.  I plan to devote myself more to doing photo projects as well.  Over the years, I have accumulated enough of a body of work to proceed with some small exhibits, and perhaps some publications on Blurb or elsewhere.   

I hope that you like my cameras on the tree this year!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Out and about with my Zorki 2C.

 Back in March, I purchased a Zorki 2C from a Ukraine eBay seller.  I had seen my buddy Marc's Leica IIIf when we met for coffee, so I decided to find a cheap LTM (Leica Thread Mount) Soviet camera online.  I had previously owned a Fed 5, and sold it to a friend when she was looking for an affordable and reliable manual rangefinder camera.  However, the Fed 5 did not look at all like a Leica II or III.   I found a Zorki 2C and it came with an Industar 61 52mm f/2.8 lens for $28 + $18 shipping.  It arrived within a few weeks in excellent condition.  On closer inspection, there were microscratches on the lens, which would definitely cause some loss of contrast.  I eventually found an Industar 50 lens on ebay for $10 + free shipping.  That lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 and I have the same lens in an M42 mount.  It's definitely a good, but not a fast lens. 

The Zorki 2C has strap lugs, which earlier Zorki models do not.  For me, that was a necessity as I hate never-ready cases.  The Zorki 2C, like most of the cameras from the Soviet era, is built pretty robustly, and has a limited selection of shutter speeds.  B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500 sec.  Which, when you think about it, actually cover most situations with a handheld camera.  It has a separate window for the rangefinder, and both viewfinders are eye-glass scratchers.  Certainly not as good as my Leica M2, but better than an Argus C3!

For me, it was a question that I needed to answer - "How good is a Soviet copy of a Leica II in operation.?"  The Zorki 2C certainly is a compact, manual 35 mm camera that looks very "old school" and requires no battery for anything.  You can use an external light meter or sunny-16 for setting your exposure.  On my outings with the camera, I used sunny-16, and did pretty well. One other caveat that users of any LTM camera that loads from the bottom (as opposed to a hinged back) is that you need to cut your film leader just like the Leicas required them to be.  Otherwise, your film might hang up and you will have problems. 

Other than the film leader issue, remember to cock the shutter before you change the shutter speed.  These cameras are easy to use, all-metal, and easy to find online.  I really like taking it out to shoot with, and overall, I am quite happy with my Zorki 2C.  I may look for a collapsible Elmar-like Soviet (collapsible Industar 50) lens in the future, but for now I am set with what I have. The collapsible lens really makes this a coat pocket camera.

These images were taken earlier this year on Polypan-F film, which has no anti-halation layer, and an ISO of 50.

These photos were taken on hand-spooled Ilford HP-5+ just a few weeks ago.

So, there you go.  The Zorki 2C is an affordable LTM camera that deserves a try.