Monday, December 30, 2013

Another Pentax ME Post

For my birthday, I bought myself a nice Pentax ME, SE version from KEH.  I had one a few years ago and it broke when it fell from the back of my Ford Escape onto cold hard, asphalt.  I have always like the compactness of the ME, the nice viewfinder, and the simplicity of operation.  In short, a great camera for street shooting, and most everything else.  Even though most of my gear is Nikon-oriented, I have a soft spot for the Pentax ME.  I also ended up buying a nice 28-80 Pentax zoom.  I had one of those about 13 years ago, but got rid of it when I sold a bunch of gear to switch over to Nikon.
Pentax ME SE
I loaded b&w film and have been shooting with it for about 2 weeks, and finally have developed the rolls.  One roll has some fogging issues that happened perhaps while doing the bulk rolling, or perhaps via the cassette, as the camera has good light seals.  The other roll I exposed at 400 ISO, thinking I had put that speed film into it, only to realize afterwards that it was ISO 125 film.  See, even after doing this for years, I can still screw up.However, at least a few of the images were happy accidents, with the more contrasty image looking somewhat like moonlight at the observatory.
Abandoned observatory..shot at ISO 400!

Jenny, also at 400.

chair, Michigan Union

Ann Arbor Parking Structure

Argus C-4 with 300mm lens.

The next roll IS a 400 ISO film, and I will shoot it today and hopefully , all will be fine.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Plastic Craptastic Find

The Cortland CX-7, mint in box!
Last month, my mother-in-law told me she found this camera, still in the unopened box, while cleaning out some belongings that had accumulated in the garage.  It felt heavy, so she wondered if it was a valuable camera.  She gave me the name, and I looked it up. I told her that the Cortland name was yet another version of the timeless "Time camera" and that its value was about that of a McDonald's cheeseburger and fries, and that she should send it to me when she had the chance. Well, yesterday, the annual Christmas package arrived, and in the box was the Cortland CX-7.  It was heavy, and after I opened up the box and removed the plastic wrapping from the camera, I took off the bottom plate and yes, there is a pot-metal weight there, as well as weights either on the lens barrel or behind the front grip area.  I put it back together, and marveled at the attempt to make a cheap plastic toy camera look and feel like a more expensive SLR. The manual was also printed in 4 languages, making it much thicker than it ought to be.  The Cortland Optical lens?  Just like all the other "optical lenses" in this type of camera.  There is a somewhat adjustable aperture, and the shutter speed is about 1/125 sec.  There was an offer inside the box for a matching flash for $17 + $3 shipping.

I have had many of these cameras over the years end up at my door, and all are variants on the same basic specifications.
the Original TIME camera

The Sceptre 800
The great Photoflex MX-35

None of them would be called a good camera, and I believe that even the most basic Kodak Instamatics took better quality photos.  However, one never knows the results until a roll of film is put through one.  I'll slap a roll of b&w into the Cortland and see what results I get.    They do accept a manual flash unit, so they can be used indoors.   The actual value?  While there are those on ebay that might describe these types of cameras as something else, these are cheap plastic toy cameras.  Perhaps slightly better than a Holga 35. They are not worth much, but if you find one at a thrift shop for a buck, buy it and have fun.  I do have results on this blog for another variant, the CMYK camera.  Your results may vary, just as mine did.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Busy in the Waning Days of November

For some reason, I have not posted anything in a month on this blog.  I blame it on the time of year.  It's not that I haven't been shooting, because I sure have.  I have some posts in progress, but I haven't developed the film yet, or I have the film scanned, but haven't written the article.  However, I think my biggest excuse is that I have been busy getting work ready for two exhibits, as well as finishing some printing and, matting, and framing for some sold pieces and for gifts.  I don't know about others, but getting ready for a show is for me, an emotionally draining experience.  I do all my matting and framing, and while not exactly rocket science, it does require care and planning and proper technique for a good result.  One show I am in (which I will post details on at the end) has six other photographers, and I have 7 images in that show, which is appropriately called "Seven Views."   My color prints are done by MPix, which are the largest prints so far that I have done for an exhibit - 12 x 12 and 12 x 18 inches. All frames are 18 x 24 inches.  My dry mount tissue is 11 x 14" so I had to carefully use two pieces under each image.  I have hundreds of sheets of 16x20 dry mount tissue, but it is not for RC color prints.  I ordered 7 18x24 frames from Dick Blick, which arrived quickly in perfect condition, and in fact, it was several weeks after I first received them that I used them.  They came 3/box and one single frame done separately.  That single frame turned out to not be 18x24, but 20x24!  A good thing I had something hanging in the house in the same frame style and in 18x24.  Of course, this was all less than a week before the show opened.   I also had to buy more mat board from Dick Blick.  I have to say, that it was well-packed, and I am really impressed by the care the company takes to make sure the customer is satisfied. The second exhibit, in which I have two pieces, was a lot simpler, except that my frame size was 14 x 18, so I had to get some glass cut for the frames.  Why 14x18" ? Well, with a 3" mat border for an 8x12" print (I am one of those people that fill the frame to the edge), that makes 14x18", if you want a uniform border.  This also means that most pre-made frames are out, as most of those are 16x20 - which is an awful lot of white space for an 8x12 print. Trust me on this, I have done a lot of those.
one down... six to go.
What about the exhibits?  The Seven Views opening was wonderful.  Raymond James and Associates is an investment firm in Ann Arbor that sponsors a rotating artists' series, and the show is on the walls inside their building.  Mike Myers coordinated our show and herded the cats, and it all came together Friday, 11/22. At least 130 people attended the opening of the show, and our hosts put on a great feed with catering from Jefferson Market.    Lots of great comments and interest in my work, and in the work by the 6 other photographers.  I didn't sell anything the first night, but it is up until the end of February, so hope springs eternal.  There were 5 sales that first night, though, which I think is pretty good.
7 views show setup
The second exhibit is a little different - 50 Shades of Green at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, which opened just before Thanksgiving.  I have two photographs in the hanging art part of the exhibit, which of course features displays in the Conservatory, which has green growing things -- something to enjoy this time of year!
Green 1 and Green 2.

I have a pet peeve about shows featuring natural history subjects, and get ready for a short rant.  If you, the photographer (painter, etc) put a name on a description of the animal or plant (or other object) in your work. Make sure it is correct.  Calling  Switch Grass a Bluestem may not seem like a big deal, but it's no different than calling a vulture an eagle, or a butterfly a moth, etc.  Your audience is by large, going to be more discerning of such things than a more general population at a different venue. If you identify a subject wrong, it takes away from the photograph, as some people will think that you don't know your natural history, and in a venue that attracts a lot of folks knowledgeable about plants and animals, you are going to look bad.  If you are not sure about an ID, there are lots of online resources as well as books.  You can always ask someone more knowledgeable than yourself to check it.  If you want to waffle a bit, then title your work without identifying the life form. End of Rant.

The Seven Views can be seen at Raymond James, 350 S. Main Street, Ann Arbor, MI. Hours are 8:30 am - 5 pm, M-F.  It will be up until Feb. 27, 2014.

50 Shades of Green is located at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 N. Dixboro Road, and is up until Jan 5, 2014.  The hours are 10 - 4:30 daily. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another Roll From the Rollei (35TE)

Back in July, I posted a story about using my Rollei 35TE for the first time in a long while. The compact design and solid feel of this camera has made it a joy to use.  It is quirky, for sure. but once one gets  used to the controls, it's a no-brainer to use. Back in August/September, I put in a roll of the Kodak Hawkeye Surveillance Film -a  C-41 color film that looks like a 400 ISO Ektar.  I took a few shots around town, and even used the flash once at a meeting of the Ann Arbor Area Crappy Camera Club.  All the exposures came out great.  That film is really something, and worth trying out.  You can get individual rolls from the Film Photography project store.
T Paul at the A3C3 meeting, back in September.  The hotshoe is on the bottom of the camera, so you need to hold it upside down for a more appropriate flash position. I doubt that many ever used a flash with this camera.


State Street

morning in the UM League courtyard.

Marcy Merrill, the queen of Junk Store Cameras, in Ypsilanti, September.

Looking towards the Ruthven Museums Bldg.

Ingalls Mall

You can see that the Color Hawkeye film is excellent.  I did not adjust the scans from the processor. The excellent lens  on the Rollei and the  latitude of the Color Surveillance Film  really made these images pop.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Finding Your Photographic Voice

Back in 1999, when I started to really get back into photography, I was quite intent on doing macro-photography.  I read a lot of books and manuals and found the books written by John Shaw to be very helpful.  I fell into a trap though.  You see, I confused technique with style and with the "eye" that one develops with experience.  I wanted to shoot photos like John Shaw.  Yes, I got very good at doing macro and nature closeups, but I was essentially trying to produce images like those of Shaw.    I eventually got over that and started reading more about general photography, the history of the medium, and so on.   Being very good at something technically does not equal artistic success or photographs with emotion.
wrenching 1
I see people ask questions like "how do I get the look that (insert name here) gets with his images"? Or "Does anyone know how this photographer achieved this look?"   Of course, those are valid questions about techniques and materials (supposing that was on film), but usually the posers of the question want to shoot images just like the ones they are seeing. They are confusing technique with ability; methods with seeing. My usual response to such questions is to tell the person to (a) ask the photographer, and (b) read as many photographic books as you can, go to galleries, and shoot, shoot, shoot, and shoot, some more.
wooded path
I understand why anyone would want to emulate something that they like.  However, the thing a photographer should be doing is asking herself (or himself) why is she doing this?  Why do you photograph anything?  There are more answers to that question than I have patience for on the keyboard, but a glib one would be "because painting takes too damn long."  It has taken me many years to figure out that I have a style, or voice, if you will.  I have my standard-bearers -- Walker Evans, Edward Weston, David Plowden, Paul Caponigro, Stephen Shore, and others -- photographers whose work I admire and appreciate greatly.  I don't ask "how did they get that shot? or what film they were using.  That is unimportant to me -- what matters is -- what were they trying to say, and what effect does that image have, what message does it convey?  This may be the hardest concept to grasp for a beginner.  One may as well ask what paper Mozart wrote his operas on.  What inspired Mozart (who was a musical genius) to write them, and what did they mean to him?  What effect does the music have on you?  Did it affect others the same way at the time he wrote it?  While viewing a photograph, what does it mean to you?  What did it mean to the photographer? Are there elements to it that when scrutinized, give the image more meaning?  What do you see?
I was reminded about how people look at images last night while watching the movie Smoke.  Harvey Kietel's character (Auggie) has been photographing the same street corner in New York at the same time every day, and has hundreds of images in albums.  William Hurt's character (Paul Benjamin) is flipping through the pages and tells  Auggie that they are all the same. Auggie tells him that he's not really looking. Every one is different, just the location is the same.  Finally, Paul finds an image on the corner with his deceased wife in the frame, and breaks down.  It was a great scene, and I think shows part of what photography is about.  Auggie shoots the way he does because it means something to him.  Because the street corner  is shot the same way, same time, every day, there is an absolute honesty to the images.  The only thing that changes is whatever happens to be passing by, the weather, and the light.   Each image has its own story, if we look and actually see what is there.
dismal prospect
So, back to the beginning of this lengthy post.  How do you develop your own voice, your own vision?  It takes time, and it may change over the years.  We are all influenced by our mentors, favorite photographers, the media, our choice of materials, etc.  Shoot every day, or at least try to.  Find out what subjects or situations attract you the most.  Experiment with different techniques and lenses.  Maybe you  will find that a pinhole camera is what you were destined to work with. Maybe not. Try it, anyway. Read. Go out and shoot with a goal in mind.  Go to photo exhibits at museums and be inspired.  Pick up a copy of Lenswork magazine and be inspired.  Don't confuse gear and technique with the final image.  Some of the best images have been taken with fairly simple equipment.  It was a matter of the photographer seeing the image.  If you are using a digital camera, it costs nothing to shoot. However, it will take time to go through the images, so think about what you are doing...slow down.
Wild Carrot
Lastly, I want to plug a book that I found to be very interesting.  It's perhaps the shortest book on photography that I have read, and it took me a while to read it and digest it in small chunks.  Why Photography Matters by Jerry L. Thompson, 2013, MIT Press.  92 pages that are worthy of attention.
Yes it does.
Other books that deserve mention:
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Tao of Photography - Seeing Beyond Seeing by Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro
Monochrome In My Pocket by Mark O'Brien (just to show it's NOT the camera).

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Building A Nation...Again.

If you appreciate the work of Lewis Hine, you may want to buy this sheet of stamps from the US Postal Service.  While these images celebrate the people and the machinery that helped build America, it should not be forgotten that Lewis Hine exposed the system that treated workers and especially immigrant workers, as commodities, not human beings. From the tenements in New York City to the coalmines of Pennsylvania, and the fabric mills in the South, people were left with no social net, no healthcare, no schools, low pay, child labor, and more.  Hine helped raise awareness of the plight of those people through the use of his camera.
It should not be underestimated how bad conditions were at that time.  Striking mine workers and their families were shot by National Guardsmen in Colorado (by order of the Governor) in the late 1800s.  People in New York tenements were dying of diseases caused by overcrowding and lack of sanitation. Girls were working 14 hour days with a few minutes off for a meal.  Ultimately, public opinion was swayed by popular articles and photography, as well as by marches and strikes for better pay and a decent workweek.  The good old days were only good if you had money and social status.
The job isn't finished yet, as GOP Congressmen and certain right-wing groups demonize unions, demonize the poor, deny a living wage, healthcare and more, while the ultra rich get ever more rewards.  This is not too different from what happened a  hundred years ago.  We should learn from history, and yet we don't.  

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Polaroid Joy

Last weekend, Adrienne and I made a trip back to Amenia, NY to visit her family, and to photograph the family cottage on Twin Lakes, CT which was about to be sold.  I brought my Nikon D90, Nikon F3HP, Hasselblad 500C, Nikon 1J1, and my Polaroid 250.  While I spent a lot of time documenting the cottage with my D90, I used the Polaroid quite a bit with the people.  Now, in case you have forgotten, the Polaroid 250 Land Camera is a bellows camera with a nice rangefinder focus, and takes the traditional Polaroid pack film for 3 1/4" x 4 1/4" prints.  Wait! Didn't Polaroid stop selling film? Yes.  But Fuji makes color and black and white pack film for these cameras.  It's Fuji FP100C and FP3000B films that work with the old Polaroid pack film cameras.

As soon as I pulled out the 250, I got all kinds of comments, from "Is that an old Polaroid?"; "That camera must be really old!"; "I used to have one of those."; to "Can you still get film?"  Even better though, was the immediacy of the results and people's appreciation on seeing something they could physically handle.  To me, that is one of the great things about Polaroid images.  They are nearly immediate, and TANGIBLE.  Not some file sitting on a smart phone that's hard to show off, not a file on a hard drive, but a thing - an object - which obviously has substance and value, and can sit on the shelf or on the fridge, or in an album, as a reminder of an event, a person's love, or a place.  There is only that ONE image, and you have it.  (Well, of course, they can now be scanned in, etc., but not if I gave one away.)  I shot 3 packs of the color film, and gave some of the prints to people, and kept the rest to share electronically.   The people that received prints were so appreciative.  That's one of the underestimated things about photography.  The power to capture a moment is one thing, but to hold that moment in your hand as a 2D representation, unchanging, independent of any other device, is one of the reasons photography became so popular. Especially since a drawing takes way too long.
It used to be that people shot Polaroids all the time, and they were a regular part of parties, gatherings, etc.  Today, everyone uses their cell phones.  Oh, you can go to the Internet to see the photos, etc., but having a print of your very own is a more precious thing.
I like the palette of the Fuji color pack film.  It's colorful, and self-limiting -- you don't have to worry about leaving the positive/negative together for too long.  I hope Fuji keeps producing it for quite a while, as this 250 still has a lot of life left in it.

A few examples from the weekend:
 Nick and his dad, Bill, looking over at a Polaroid I had taken of the two of them just minutes before.  Bill carefully took it back to his truck so as not to lose it .
 Blue doors at an old building in Millerton, NY.
 The Murphy clan - all the children of Charlotte (87) and Jim (deceased) Murphy.
Top row - Brian, Andy, Charlotte (my mother-in-law)
Middle - Cathleen, Adrienne (my wife), Elizabeth
Bottom: Bob, Larry.
 Larry and Bob share a story.
 The Amenia Library.  Amenia is in Dutchess County, NY - a largely rural and hilly part of the state.  It took a while to get used to driving there, compared to the flatness of Michigan.
Amenia Burial Ground - a cemetery that is populated by graves from the late 1700s to mid 1800s.
Anastasia, caught in the gravity well of a hammock. Her mom really appreciated a Polaroid.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Nikon 1 is a good tool to have in your toolbox

I am serious about this.  Like a lot of  Nikon users, I initially derided the Nikon 1 system as a marketing gimmick - small sensor (when we were clamoring for FX sensors, they gave us what?); no viewfinder (well the IV1 does have an EVF); different colors?, etc.  Now, I won't claim that my 1 J1 is perfect -- the dial is fiddly, and we don't need the red button, etc.  However, I have gotten used to the menus and controls, and I am very pleased -- sometimes astonished -- at the results from this little camera.  I agree with Thom Hogan that the camera was marketed poorly -- and to the wrong group.  Instead of Pros carrying an iPhone,  a Nikon 1 with a 10 mm lens (= 27 mm in 35 mm format) will give you some really great images.  This system should have been designed and targeted for those of us that love photography, but carrying something smaller, lighter, and more robust than a P&S with a tiny sensor would be a good thing.  There are numerous complaints online about the faults of the Nikon 1 system, but few complain about the images from the cameras.  Lately, I have been carrying my 1J1 in my camera bag along with whatever film cameras I have that day.  Slapping a polarizer on the lens has given me some of the most dramatic shots I have taken, and cropping the shots to square format afterwards has not detracted from the results.  A few examples:
Today, at Cranbrook --
Cranbrook 3
Cranbrook 1
Cranbrook 4

Yesterday in Dexter:

At the Brett Weston Exhibit in Ann Arbor:
Brett Weston Exhibit

At the Rolling Sculpture car show in July:
In Chicago:
rush hour
I'm not saying the Nikon 1 system is the only tool you need, but with a 10mm, 18.5mm, 10-30mm lens set, it will do a lot of shooting quite well, and like any camera, the more you use it, the more comfortable you get with  it.    I picked mine up as a refurb from Nikon, and it has been a very good tool to have. Go online and buy a set of 40.5mm filters for yours if you haven't done that yet.  I also have a 40.5 to 49mm adapter so I can use close-up lenses and other filters.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Expired Film...Kodak Royal Gold 1000

A few weeks ago, I picked up a bunch of film and a camera, the Canon Z115 for five dollars.  One of the rolls of film turned out to be Kodak Royal Gold 1000, one of the faster C-41 films that Kodak pushed out the door -- which I wonder if it was later called Kodak Max 800.  Seeing that the film expiration date was 1998, I rated the film at ISO 400 and shot it in my beautiful Nikon F3HP around town and in Dexter.  It was only 24 exposures, which can be somewhat infuriating when you want to try out something special.  Anyhow, I finished the roll up on Saturday in Dexter and dropped it off at Huron Camera.  I stopped by this afternoon to pick up my CD and the negatives.  Overall, I am pleased with the results in that my estimation of ISO 400 was pretty close, though in the scans one can see the shadows blocked up.  It's grainy, which is to be expected for a high-speed expired film, but the grain looks interesting in some of the shots.

Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger's last day was the day before I shot this.  It's located in a block of houses that UM has purchased and will be razed to make way for a graduate student dorm. While the closing has gained a lot of press and brought thousands here for a last burger, I am ambivalent.  It's the kind of place that people should eat at sparingly if they value their arteries...

 Last year, Lena replaced the Parthenon Restaurant which had been at the corner for at least as long as I have lived in Ann Arbor - 32 years.  I like the old facade and the color scheme they chose.  Lest anyone think things don't change, the building was a drug store back in the 1950s.
 I just can't resist shooting bees on sunflowers. What can I say?
 George Borel in Dexter.  He's behind the counter at Huron Camera and is a very knowledgeable photographer and a good person to know. You can see the shadows blocking up in the expired film.  The highlights look pretty decent, though.
The Beer Depot is another iconic place in downtown Ann Arbor.  The neon sign fell over a couple of years ago, and the store owners were able to convince City Hall that the sign could be replaced.  It does look pretty good, though I confess I have to see it at night.

Most of the shots on the roll were decent, and these are just samples from the roll.    People ask me why anyone would want to shoot expired film.  It's partly a challenge to see what I can coax from those old films, and a gamble, as one never knows how these films were stored. I'm not into trying to prematurely age films by subjecting them to high heat, etc.  I'd rather wait until something comes my way and see what happens.  A rule of thumb is to reduce the operating ISO by one stop for each decade, and the faster the film, the more sensitivity it loses over time. I'd say my guess of ISO 400 worked pretty well here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Premium Point and Shoot - Canon Sure Shot Z115

A few weeks ago I purchased a a camera with a box of film, etc. for $5 at the Recycle/Reuse store in Ann Arbor.  Mostly, I bought it for the film, but once I got the Sure Shot Z115 home, I realized it was a top-notch P&S in its day.  That day would have been 1993, and the 35mm P&S cameras were abundant.
The Z-115 features a 38-115mm zoom, with a maximum aperture of f/3.6 and f/8.5 at each end of the range.  It features 7 camera modes, a precision AF system, auto-DX film setting, various flash modes, and a silent winding function.  I inserted 2 CR-123 cells into the camera, and it sprung to life.  The camera had been kept in a case, and it was free of dirt, etc., and ready to use.  As a P&S camera, this one is quite feature-rich, and well-made.  The front shell is aluminum, not plastic, and it fits in the hand very well with easy to use controls.  I put in a roll of expired Kodak B&W C-41, and took the camera to work one day and shot the roll during my lunch hour.  I mostly shot over near the medical campus and on the way back to my office.  One nice thing about the camera -- is zooms very well, covering the typical range one might use in most situations.  It's quiet in operation as well. The photos all came out well, even factoring in the expired film.  As far as automatic 35mm P&S cameras go the Canon Sure Shot Z-115 is certainly a desirable model.