Saturday, February 13, 2016

Three Women, Lost and Found

Family photos are not meant to be ephemeral or disposable; they are meant to be enduring keepsakes. Over time, however, people are careless with family photo collections. Memories fade about the people and events depicted, and a loss of meaning accompanies the loss of the people to whom the images were important. The albums and shoeboxes of snapshots end up on garage sale tables and in junkstore bins. I have looked through thousands of such photos over the past few years, but only these three have made it home with me.

A woman stands beside a new car. Who doesn't have such a picture in the family photo album? In addition to the classic subject, this one initially caught my eye because of the unusual color shift; only the car has retained something of the original color; everything else in the old Kodacolor print has faded to yellow-gray.
    Turning the photo over, I found a penciled inscription noting that it was made in nearby Canutillo, Texas in 1949. And, the subject's full name was given; it was an unusual surname, and I had little trouble tracking her down on the web. She was buried in an El Paso veteran's cemetery beside her husband after a long, distinguished career as an educator. I was pleased to have rescued an image that had recorded a moment in a life of dignity and accomplishment.

There are fewer women these days appearing in public in large, funny hats, other than The Queen. Of course, at the time this portrait was made, big hats looking like heavily-frosted chocolate cakes were probably not uncommon at all. This young woman looks comfortable under her adornment, and likely quite pleased to be both where and who she is. On the back of the brown cardboard mount she has written:

    Aug. 25 1898
    To Papa

I like this portrait because of its very nice photographic qualities. The lighting and the tonalities seem nearly perfect. The picture appears to be in near-original condition, in part no doubt because the cardboard mount has a paper flap that covered the surface, protecting it from the bleaching effects of light and surface contamination.
    People I have shown this photo to sometimes remark that the subject looks rather severe in her demeanor. To me she seems an attractive young woman, perhaps not yet beyond her teen years, and the expression to me seems enigmatic. Her dark outfit does lend a serious note to the portrait. I wonder about the limp, artificial-looking corsage; perhaps it was taken from the photographer's prop box in hopes of enlivening the composition. Surely this was some special occassion; a birthday, graduation or wedding.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Shooting the Kodak Flash Bantam

The Kodak Flash Bantam is a strut folder and one of the company's finest cameras in a line that originated from a simple design by Walter Dorwin Teague in 1935. By 1947 when the Flash Bantam appeared on the market, the shutter allowed speeds of 1/25 to 1/200 plus B and T. The four-element Anastar f4.5 lens had an anti-reflective coating and provided sharpness comparable to anything available at the time. The flip-up viewfinder is very bright and easy to use, and when folded down contributes significantly to the little camera's pocketability. The lens is fully focusable by estimation.

Kodak stopped producing 828-format film in 1985, but it is still easily possible to use the 828 cameras today, including the Kodak Bantams and the Argus M. Expired rolls of 828 film are often available on eBay and some new custom-rolled is sometimes available too. In either case, the film is a bit pricey, particularly since the little 828 rolls yield only eight exposures. Some ambitious enthusiasts cut down and re-roll 120 film to fit the 828 spools; while that nicely reproduces the original experience of using the camera, it is pretty labor intensive. A much easier alternative is to use standard 35mm film with no backing paper. The sprocket holes on the 35mm film will protrude slightly into the image, but the ease of use and increase in film length will compensate for the slight loss of image area.
The method I arrived at for using 35mm in my Flash Bantam requires two of the original 828 metal spools. I trim the protruding film leader square and tape it to one of the reels. The film is placed in a dark film changing bag and rolled onto the reel. The film is then cut loose from the cassette and taped onto the second reel, at which point it can be loaded into the camera which has had the back window previously taped to prevent exposure of the unbacked film in the camera. Advancing the film between exposures is done by rotating the winding wheel one-and-one half full turns for the first six or eight exposures, and one full turn for the remaining exposures. A 24-exposure roll of 35mm film will yield 15 to 20 frames per roll using this method. I develop and scan my own b&w film, but it is also possible to use commercial processing by putting the film back in the dark bag, taping the film end to the stub of film sticking out of the cannister and rolling it back in.

In addition to securely covering the frame window on the back of the camera, there are a couple other very simple camera modifications to the Flash Bantam which will greatly enhance the use of the camera with 35mm film, and also improve the images that will be captured by the coated Anastar lens. The little movable pawl that engages a toothed wheel allowed easy frame positioning with the original 828 film, but it is not needed and is a nuisance when loading and advancing 35mm film. To keep the pawl from slipping into the film sprocket holes you can easily introduce a small piece of foam rubber between the pawl's lever and an over-hanging tab on the camera body.
Some of my first 35mm film images from my Flash Bantam were lacking in contrast and showed a hot spot in the middle of the image. The image problem looked initially like lens flare, but the real origin was reflection at the time of exposure off the plastic framing window on the back of the camera. The simple fix was a strip of black paper cut to fit between the springs behind the pressure plate; if made the width of the camera back it will cover the shiny screw heads there as well as the reflective inner surface of the plastic window.
In shooting the Flash Bantam it is a good idea to aim a little high with the viewfinder in order to properly center the image between the film's sprocket holes.

My Flash Bantam needed just some cleaning of the lenses and a little squirt of electrical contact cleaner into the shutter to get it working properly. An excellent tutorial on Flash Bantam shutter repair can be found at the Camera Collecting and Restoration site.

A manual for the very similar Bantam 4.5 can be found at the Butkus site.

Numerous examples of images made with the Flash Bantam are available on the blog.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Don't miss these on line exhibits

  Seventh Avenue | Berenice Abbott 
Manhattan in the 1930's
Berenice Abbott's great portrait of fast changing NYC (in The Week)

Moving Freely, and Photographing in Marseille
Joan Liftin's street photography (in The NY Times)

These are two terrific photographers of the urban scene who are polar opposites in terms of technique.  Abbott's expansive, minutely detailed views of The City were made with a large format camera, often from precarious heights.  Liftin works fast and close to capture movement and emotion with the nimbleness of  a modern dancer.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A couple more pinholes

I took the pinhole for a walk through the Piedras Marcadas rock art site on the west side of Albuquerque.  I was pleased with the pictures, though I don't know that I'll find a use for them in my current book project.

I had a great walk.  The sun was warm enough to make me regret wearing a winter coat.  Half way to the bear shaman glyph I was greeted by a coyote chorus.  Also saw lots of birds: road runners, doves and rock wrens.

I like the pinhole camera for the way its pictures reflect my feelings as I stand in front of the work of the ancient image makers.  I always have the sensation in such places that the great expanse of time since the images were made is really part of an unbroken continuum in which those original artists and I somehow exist simultaneously.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Albuquerque On Wheels

I took my pinhole camera for a walk in the neighborhood. It is the first time I've shot b&w in nearly a year. I had to go back and read the directions on processing. There were some odd looking clumps of stuff floating around in my year-old hc-110 developer, but it seems to be working ok.

I'm getting together some ideas for another book, this time about pinhole photography.  I don't really need more pinhole pictures as I've got at least a year's worth of images, but I did need to get in touch with the process again.  I learned some things about book making from my last experience, and I'm looking forward to trying out some new tools in the next round.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Book

I have completed the process of creating a photo book using Blurb's BookWright application.  I uploaded my efforts to the Blurb site and received the proof copy about two weeks later.  It all looked pretty good, but I decided to adjust the contrast in a few of the pictures and corrected a couple errors in the text.  I resubmitted the material and ordered three copies for my own use, along with a pdf which I will redistribute myself.  The book is now listed in the Blurb bookstore where it can be previewed and purchased.

I have no complaints about the quality of the results I got from Blurb.  The images look as good to me as what I could do myself on a good quality inkjet.  The layout and design seems exactly as I specified.  Most importantly, as a newcomer to self-publishing, I think the Blurb experience provided a very good basic introduction to the process of book design.

Where Blurb comes up short in my opinion is in regard to economic feasibility.  Going much beyond the 32 pages of the book I produced results in a product that will be priced beyond what I think most people are prepared to pay for a photo book.  I think a book of the size I made could be used effectively as an exhibit catalog, and that is actually something I had in mind in its creation.  For something more substantial I think I would look to other possibilities.

I have put together a page on my book on my blog with a link to the Blurb bookstore.  I also made the pdf ebook available on the page which contains all the text and illustrations of the hardcopy at a cost of five dollars.  However, for the remainder of the month of January I will email a copy to anyone interested at no charge.  I would suggest that people wanting the pdf contact me directly by email rather than posting a message in the blog comments.  My email address is mike dot connealy at gmail dot com.

The pdf file of the book is viewable on any device, though big screens are going to be a better choice.  Web browsers can handle pdf display, but a dedicated viewer like Adobe Acrobat Reader will do a better job of displaying two pages simultaneously as the book was designed to be viewed; there is one double-page photo spread where that is particularly desirable.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Your Lens

I posted this article originally on my web site because it gives such a good explanation of the complete process for making lenses.  The article by Walter E. Burton was published in the Aug. 1939 issue of Popular Photography.

I made the copy using my digital camera as it is contained in a bound copy of the issues from July of that year.  There is some distortion as a result due to curvature of the pages.

The photos that accompanied the story are at the bottom of the article; click on them to display at full size.