Friday, January 28, 2011

The mighty little Sears 35RF

Sears 35rf

I don't shoot all that much slide film these days. A decade ago, I was easily shooting 30-50 rolls a year. Now, it's down to less than 10, including the cross-processed stuff. It's pretty simple really, C-41 and b&w are cheaper, and most of my color photography is done digitally. However, the true test of a camera has always been how it handles (and how the photographer handles, for that matter) slide film -- as in how accurate is the exposure system? Slide film has a dynamic range not too different from digital sensors, and depending on the film, the latitude can be only a stop or less in the difference between a good and bad exposure. So, I was a little curious as to what I would get from the little Sears 35RF camera that i have had for a while. These small cameras have a sensor on the front of the lens assembly, so one can use filters and get a proper exposure. I have shot mostly b&w with it, and maybe a roll of color C-41. I put in a roll of Ektachrome 100(probably expired, at that)back in the summer and made a bunch of random shots at different places. Overall, I am pleased with the results, and a few examples are shown below. By the way, this camera was probably made by Chinon for Sears. It's very similar to the Konica C-35.

Echinaceas are among my favorite flowers. I have taken many a test shot in my front yard.

One of the boardwalks at Crosswinds Marsh in Wayne County.

A ton of people downtown at the Ann Arbor Rolling Sculpture Car Show

Last shot on the roll. I think I used the polarizing filter.

As you can see, the little camera did pretty well. It's no Leica, but if you find one, be assured that it's a keeper.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Three Films on the Huron

On January 16, I decided to do a little shooting with a couple of odd films that were in my fridge. I have been gradually accumulating a body of work that features winter shots on the Huron River, and I figured that some high-contrast films might lend some different results. Of the three cassettes shown here, the only one that I have any experience with is the TechPan -- an ISO 25 film that when developed in Technidol developer,produces lovely images with full tonality and imperceptible grain. If you develop TechPan in Dektol, you get high-contrast images with no middle tones. So, while it is a very versatile film (alas, no longer manufactured), it is most highly prized for its "grainless" negatives.

This is an example of TechPan used where it does the most good - a long exposure that does not require the use of ND filters.
movement frozen
Fleming Creek on 1/15/2011. Canon A-1, TechPan, 70-210 Vivitar Series 1 lens.

You can see that TechPan renders beautiful tones when developed in Technidol.

The other two films, Kodak Rapid Process Copy Film and Ektagraphic HC Slide Film are totally diferent from each other and from TechPan. Rapid Process Copy Film (RPC) was most likely used for making 35mm copy negatives. It's an extremely slow (ISO is maybe 3 in sunlight) film that one should probably not think of using for pictorial work. The other characteristic is that based on its recommended use, it creates a positive image (which I did not realize until after I removed the processed film from the reel!). The recommended developer is DK-50 (which I have a bunch of) at full strength for 10 minutes.

I bracketed my exposures at 1 sec, 4 sec, 6 sec, and 8 sec at f/16 using my Nikon FM2N and 35-105 Nikkor lens. Here are a couple of resulting images:

Frozen Huron
Frozen Huron 1

Frozen Huron
Frozen Huron 2

As a copy film, one would expect the RPC to have full tonality, and it does. If you happen to find a roll somewhere, I would start bracketing at 8 sec and go from there. I think be able to have a direct positive is very cool, but of course, this is not a film to be used where objects are moving.

The last film, the Ektagraphic HC Slide Film appears to be nothing more than a variant of Kodalith film, as it was supposed to be used for making high-contrast b&w slides of text (all before Powerpoint obsoleted such uses). The roll I have came from George O'Neal and he has already used part of the roll. I had no idea how much was left -- it turns out I had 6 exposures left, and that was it. I processed the film in Technidol along with a roll of TechPan, and figured with that few exposures, I might learn something. It turns out that the Technidol developer did a pretty good job, though the mid-tones seem somewhat blocked up, and whether that is a film or developer-based result, I do not know. I will experiment with normal Kodalith and Technidol and see what happens.
Herewith is the example:
Across the Huron

It's a challenge trying films for atypical uses. You have to decide beforehand, how you are going to shoot the film and that also determines, in the case of high-contrast films -- what developers you can use afterwords. I am very lucky to have access to a lot of photographic literature, and that has been very helpful when trying to figure out what to do with some of these arcane emulsions. Now I need to find some more Rapid Process Copy Film! I have LOTS of DK-50...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Framing Your Work - Part II

Getting the light spot on
From the 2010 show at the Recycle-Reuse Gallery. Note all the different frames.

As I have been getting ready for an exhibition, I had to choose what type of frame I was going to use. Most of my past shows have been with 11x14 inch frames. That's a decent size for 7x7 and 8x10 sized images, but going larger demands bigger mats and frames. If you have a stock of 11x14 metal frames, they will last for a long time and multiple shows (especially if you do not end selling much of your work). There is no law that says all of your framed work should look consistent, but it sure as hell looks a lot nicer for a show. That's why I stated in the last post to stick to a single color, if possible, or at least use frames that can be easily repainted if necessary.

This time around I have had to look for 16x20 and 20x20 frames. In the past, I have purchased frame kits from American Frame in Maumee, OH, or from Dick Blick online. With a large number of pieces, I looked for something that was durable, inexpensive, and included glass. I have been buying smaller frames from Ikea for years. Their 5x7, 8x10, and 9x9 "Ribba" frames are made of solid wood, and the birch color is very attractive. However, as you go to larger sizes, the frames are made of fiberboard with vinyl overlays. I don't recommend fiberboard frames for temporary shows for a couple of reasons. First of all, they are not very durable with the vinyl covering. You can't easily repaint them, and second of all, inserting a matted photograph has to be done very carefully and rechecked to make sure that little pieces of dust from the fiberboard did not fall off in front of the mat. Believe me, that is a pain in the ass to have to remove the mated photo, clean everything off again, blow away any residual debris, etc. and replace everything the way it was. Third, it is no secret that while in the US, we use 16 x 20, 11x 14, etc., Ikea is a global company, and their frames are in the metric sizes. Therefore, their 40x50cm Ribba frame is actually 15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches. It's not a big deal to have to cut my mats slightly smaller, but it does make for a bit more complexity. Yes, they come with a nice PH-neutral overmat, but my mats will need a 10 x 15 inch opening,not exactly standard.

As I shopped at Ikea, I abandoned my idea to use the more-substantial-looking black Ribba frames at $14.99 (which IS cheap, believe me), and took a look at their Strömby frames. The "16x20" Strömby frames are metal, painted gray, and also only $9.99 each. I bought one of each of the sizes I need to try them out. Remember, they have to be able to be hung in a gallery, be durable, and easy to insert and remove the artwork. After trying them out, I went out and bought the remainder that I needed. I spent $120 on 12 frames, which is pretty darn cheap. The backs are secured with plastic cams that have holes for the hanging wire, and they appear to work quite well. I usually end up not using the Masonite panel that is included, but use my mats instead.

Of course, it helps if you have an Ikea nearby. I only have to drive less than 20 miles, and I don't think they ship the frames via mail-order. I'll take photos of the show once it is hung, but for now I will leave you with some sources:
American Frame - Comprehensive selection, high quality, and fast shipping.
Dick Blick - their cheapest metal frames are pretty good, but they use styrene instead of glass, which I don't like. -- their cheapest 16x20 sectional metal frames are less than $13.00 each, and do not include glass or mats. However, they offer mat boards and other framing supplies and appear to be a great deal for anyone wanting to purchase their frames in quantity. Their 777FSL Economy Metal Frame is "Frosted Silver" and a 12x12 frames is $9.22. That's pretty good, IMHO. - inexpensive pre-cut mats and back mats and Mylar bags for your artwork. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Framing Your Work

I have at least two shows coming up in the next few months, and each will require me to use larger frames than I have in the past. So, I am shopping around for 16x20 inch frames. I am a stickler about matting and framing, which I do myself. Over the course of hanging a number of exhibits, including my own work, I have a checklist of do's and dont's for photographers that exhibit their work. Of course, if all you ever do is upload your images to the web to share with your friends, ala Flickr, this probably won't apply to you. However, if there is one thing you should know, it is that a matted and framed photo on a wall is very different from an image seen on a computer screen. Part of the reason is that a matted photograph stands out from the area around it -- it at once isolates the image and focuses your eyes on the content. There is a very annoying trendy thing going on with photos on canvas. It is trendy, because like many trendy thing, in 10 years they will out of vogue and in the trash bin. A photograph is not an oil painting, or a watercolor, or a sculpture. The mat around the photograph, and a frame, take the image to its own little island, where you can gaze at it and judge its merits. Don't fall for the thumbtacks on the wall approach to show your work, either. That's just a shitty way to present yourself. It says to me that you place so little value in your work that you can't be bothered with making an effort to do the presentation right.

Found Gallery reception 1

Of course, I recognize that apart from the money you may have spent on your equipment, showing your work involves more dollars. So, there you have a choice... cheap or expensive? There is not too much mystery in what is involved in matting and framing photographs. There are numerous tutorials online and in books that spell out the various methods used to show photographs. Some of the techniques, like anything, require practice to get good enough at it (such as mat cutting), and having the proper tools and space to do it right really helps (no surprise here). So, it comes down to mats and frames and glass where the expense comes in. When I first started out, I bought my frames at a local chain of craft stores because I needed one or two at a time. Later, when I needed to have nearly 2 dozen pieces ready for a show, I realized that I needed to shop online for the best prices, buying frame sections in bulk. So, here are a few tips and some guidelines:

matted and ready to frame

1. Be thrifty. It helps to shop thrift stores and the like for used frames. Even if the frame isn't in the best of shape, maybe the glass is worth a few bucks, and can be used later on. You can always repaint frames, too.

2. Size. Stick to a few sizes for your work to keep the matting and framing consistent. 8x10 inches -- I consider that the smallest size to exhibit outside the home. 11x14 is more versatile, and allows you to show 7x7 to 8x11 images with at least 1.5 inches of overmat. 16x20 seems big until you start printing bigger than 11x14. Square frames are less common, but 9x9 is great for 5x5 square images, especially Polaroids. 12x12 and 18x18 are good, too. However, you may decide that another size range suits your style better. Oddball sizes are great when you want to give gifts or experiment with different formats and aspect ratios with your prints.

3. Colors. Black is my favorite frame color, second is silver, third is natural wood. You can mix metal and wood frames in a show if they are all black, but not if they are silver or wood.

Bond in b&w

4. Materials. Avoid plastic frames that look like the metal sectional frames. They usually do not have enough depth for properly matted images, and they have very limited hanging options. I might buy them when they are on sale, but just to use the glass. Aluminum frames are durable, and easy to re-use. Wood frames require more work in that the artwork is fastened against the glass with metal tabs or points that stick in the wood, and some galleries may require you to seal the backs of the wood frames with a layer of kraft paper. However, they look nice, and can be painted to match whatever color scheme pleases you.


5. Glass. This is where the expense can kick in. You can cut sheets of glass yourself, but it's something that I am not good at. That's why it is important to stick with some standard sizes, as you can find pieces of 8x10 glass at a thrift shop easier than 9x11. Plain glass is fine, and there is also special UV glass, and matte-finished glass, too. Stay away from sheets of acrylic. They scratch easily and attract dust.

Part II will cover sources, and why I like SOME of Ikea's frames.