Saturday, October 31, 2009

de Havilland DH.88 Comet

A new addition to the list of blogs I visit daily is James Kightly's Vintage Aeroplane Writer. I thought his photos of the spruce-clad racer some of the finest aircraft photos I've seen.

A quick search on "de Havilland DH.88 Comet" turned up a good wikipedia history of the plane. Three were developed specifically for the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia. Two finished, and the red one was the winner. Two of those are still in existence, and there are a couple replicas in progress.

The search also found some fantastic Movietone news coverage of the Air Race showing many of the race planes in flight as well as interviews with the pilots.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Everlasting Moments

I don't go to many films, but I couldn't pass up this one.

Director: Jan Troell

Set in early 1900s Sweden, a young working class woman, Maria, wins a camera in a lottery in an era of social unrest, war, and poverty. The camera grants her the eyes to view the world, and empowers her to raise and nurture her family of six children and an alcoholic, womanizing and sometimes violent, although ultimately loving, husband.

Watch the Trailer

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

blue and yellow

The camera used to make these photos was the Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim. I got my first one on ebay for $10. The next two cost 99 cents each at a local thrift store. The price of the camera soared when production was stopped for a time. Even though production has now resumed, people are still paying $30 to $40 for the camera. The construction of the camera is pretty flimsy, though it is light-tight. The 22mm lens is extraordinary, being a two element design that is very sharp, with little distortion for an ultra wide-angle.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The three portraits were made with my 1950 Argus Argoflex 40. This model looks like the later Argus 75, but it has a full-focusing 75mm Coated Varex Anastigmat lens. The shutter has variable speeds from 25 to 150 plus B, and an aperture adjustable from f4.5 to f22. The brilliant viewfinder makes the camera a real pleasure to shoot.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Truck Stop

These images from a local truck stop were made with my No. 1-A Folding Pocket Kodak Special, which is about 100 years old. Like my No.2 Brownie, the 1-A has the Rapid Rectilinear lens which is very sharp provided that it is stopped down to f16 or smaller. All the the photos above were shot at f32 and 1/100 sec.

The 1-A Kodak was originally designed to use the now-defunct 116 film format. I have modified the camera slightly to permit the use of standard 120 rollfilm, so the negatives are 2.25 inches by 4.25 inches.  The camera is working very well at present, with no light leaks. The brilliant finder provides a nice view of the subject, and the ball bearing shutter seems accurate. I don't have the original bulb-type shutter release, so my next step with this camera will be to devise some kind of adaptation to permit the use of a standard cable release.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Vivian Maier Photographs

The photography of Vivian Maier was recently discovered by John Maloof who purchased an archive of her photographs at an antiques auction in Chicago. Maloof has been showing examples from the archive on a blog where he reports that:

"Out of the 30-40,000 negatives I have in the collection, about 10-15,000 negatives were still in rolls, undeveloped from the 1960's-1970's. I have been successfully developing these rolls. I still have about 600 rolls yet to develop..."

Judging by the photos that Maloof has published so far on his blog, Maier was one of the very best photographers of the Twentieth Century. The photographer's skill at capturing life on the street in Chicago has been recognized widely already on line. The question now is: What will happen with the Vivian Maier archive? One of the determinants in providing an answer to that question will be the establishment of a monetary value of the collection.

In my own mind, there is no question about the world-class quality of the work, but the market for photo art is more complicated than a simple esthetic judgment. Candid street photography does not currently attract a lot of market-place interest as a genre. The classic practitioners like Cartier-Bresson have a secure place in the art's history, but later practitioners are less noticed, and there are no doubt many fine street shooters working today who, like Maier, will never make a living from their art.

The negatives and undeveloped film currently in Maloof's possession are an example of another value issue. There is a vigorous market for found photos. Collectors avidly seek anonymously produced photographs in yard sales and junk stores which are unusual because of their esthetic qualities which may include bizarreness, humor or special subject matter; often the qualities for which such photos are recognized were quite likely unintended by the anonymous photographer. Found negatives and undeveloped found negatives are a different story; at present there seems to be virtually no market for such images. A possible reason for that is that found photographic prints are one-of-a-kind items, while negatives are infinitely reproducible. Additionally, in the case of a deceased photographer, the manner of reproduction of images at a later time affects collector value. A Weston photograph printed by a Weston family member or some other esteemed darkroom technician will have added value provided partly by clear provenance.

Another wrinkle in assessing value in the case of undeveloped exposed film images, known as latent images, is that the final resultant images are the product to a large extent of serendipity. Undeveloped silver-based photographic film inevitably deteriorates over time -- the more time, the more deterioration. The rate of deterioration depends on many factors including storage conditions and film composition. Even under ideal storage conditions there will be image degradation due to the constant bombardment of the film over time by background cosmic radiation.

And then, there is the issue of the skill of the person who develops the latent images. Coaxing quality images from old stips of found film requires very specialized skills and extraordinary dedication to the challenge. Most found film when processed reveals nothing, or images of little quality or interest. People who succeed in rescuing old latent images must have a fanatical devotion to the practice of a craft in which failure is a regular, unavoidable component. It is encouraging to see that Maloof is a skilled photogapher himself, but it is not apparent at this time if he has developed the skills needed to get the best possible images from the unprocessed rolls of film in the Maier archive. Even if Maloof has acquired those skills, it must also be recognized that applying them will result in images that are a collaboration between the film developer and the deceased photographer.

Maloof's handling of his extraordinary acquisiton of the Maier archive to date is very encouraging. He has posted the images publically on his blog accompanied by comments that indicate a genuine appreciation of the importance of the photographs. I am especially pleased to see that he has chosen to display examples of the work at a size that permits on line viewers to appreciate the photographer's artistic and technical mastery. My hope would be that the next steps would be to extend those good intentions further through well mounted exhibits and publication, perhaps by one of the major players such as Taschen. As to the ultimate disposition of the archive, we will have to hope that it ends up in the hands of some institution that will honor the priorities of preservation and public access.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shooting Brownies

The early Kodak Brownie folding cameras are very capable shooters, but one doesn't see many pictures made with them, even by vintage camera enthusiasts. I think this is probably due mostly to a design style that today seems very quaint. In fact, however, the camera's design is highly functional. The Brownie is one of the most compact medium-format cameras ever built; folded up, it easily slips into a pocket. Features include variable aperture and shutter settings, standard tripod mounts for vertical and horizontal orientation, a cable release socket, and variable focus.

The swiveling reflex finder is unmagnified and a challenge to use; for that reason, I have added an eye-level finder to mine from an newer junker. A great virtue of the No.2 Kodaks is that they all take currently available 120 roll film, so there is no need for any modifications of film reels or cameras. Because modern films are a good deal faster than those of the early 20th Century, it is a good idea to keep a flap of black tape over the ruby window on the back.

My camera is a zone-focus model, the distance being set by drawing out the bellows to lock at one of three settings marked in feet as 100, FIXED, and 8. My guess would be that the "Fixed" setting is equal to about 25 feet; in good light and at the smaller f-stops, that will produce good results over a range of distances from a lens that has a focal length of 90-100 mm. It is a good idea to create a depth of field chart using one of the on line calculators in order to achieve good focus under a variety of conditions.

The front of the shutter housing is cluttered with a wordy jumble of lighting condition descriptors and suggestions for shutter speed settings. All of that can be safely ignored. The aperture settings are marked with "Universal System" values. That means that the 16 is the same as f-16 in the current-day system, but the values below and above are just numerically halved or doubled. So, while the scale on the Brownie shows values of 8,16,32 and 64, the actual exposure values corresponding to what would be indicated by a modern exposure meter are 11,16,22 and 32. That sounds more confusing than it is in practice. Just bear in mind that going a stop wider doubles the exposure, while a stop narrower halves the light getting to the film.

The ball bearing shutter is quite reliable and smooth in operation, but I generally like to use a cable release with mine even when hand-holding the camera in order to reduce blur-inducing movement. Better yet for stationary subjects, putting the camera on a tripod is always good insurance for the sharpest possible images, particularly for exposures less than the 1/50 second maximum speed. For low light, indoor shots, I generally find I can estimate exposure time adequately from about a half second and slower, and selecting a small aperture produces good depth of focus.

With some care given to technique as described above, the folding Brownies can deliver wonderful images. The big 6x9 centimeter negatives will yield an astonishning range of tonal values, and the lenses are capable of surprising sharpness with little distortion or aberration. Kodak sold the No.2 Folding Brownies in 1917 for $6.00 equipped with a single meniscus achromatic lens located behind the aperture. For a dollar-and-a-half more you could get the Rapid Rectilinear lens which had two elements symmetrically arranged fore and aft of the aperture. Since most users at the time would have been looking to get contact prints, the meniscus lens was fully adequate in terms of sharpness, and it will even support considerable enlargement. The Rapid Rectilinear design can produce image sharpenss rivaling much more modern and costly lenses; it was the choice of many of the great classic era photographers including Stieglitz, Steichen, Weston and Cunningham.

The Rapid Rectilinear Lens

Monday, October 12, 2009


The little Zeiss four-lens kit at the lower left was used for both of the above photos. The leaf litter shot was made with the 0.2m. The cougar was shot with the 0.3m or 0.5m through a window in the enclosure when all three of the family were resting together at mid-day.

Friday, October 09, 2009

snow leopard cub


This saltwater croc and another just like it were put on display recently at the Rio Grande Zoo. It is about fifteen feet in length.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Kodak Design

I came across an interesting little article while browsing through the blog of the Western Photographic Historical Society about Kodak designers. One of the most productive was Arthur Crapsey, Jr. whose many designs from the '40s and '50s included the Brownie Hawkeye Flash and the Signet 35.

I would like to recognize the designers of all the cameras shown on my web site, but such information is hard to come by. If you know the designers of any, I'll appreciate it if you will pass on that information to me.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


I acquired two more nice examples of the Voigtländer Vito II.  I have some film in one of the Vitos now and hope to have some new photos to show from it soon. Meanwhile, it has been interesting for me to look back on my previous experience with the camera. I was impressed from the beginning with the extraordinary qualities which the Color Skopar lens could impart to the images from the camera. The Vito II also seemed to me to embody the best qualities of German craftsmanship refined from the past.

Most of the pictures I made with the Vito II date from May 2005 when Margaret and I traveled to Greece. That was a marvelous experience, and I liked the pictures I made there, but that is largely a reflection of my feelings for the adventure, rather than any objective evaluation of the resulting photography. I mounted a small show of the photos on our return at the Las Cruces Library. It was fun to lurk in the background and listen to comments; I was pleased to find that viewers were able to perceive some of the sense of discovery that Margaret and I enjoyed on the trip. Looking at the photos from a greater distance now, I have rather more mixed feelings about them, as I often do when going through past work.

I see now that I had a lot yet to learn about the craft of photography then, particularly in regard to translating the images from their analog to digital forms. The cameras, films, computers, scanners and software I used also evolved quite quickly during the time since our trip to Greece. It is a little tempting to try to retrieve the negatives from rather haphazard storage and do them over. I'm sure I could make some technically better images in the process, but I doubt that I could recapture the original impressions and feelings that went into creating the photos. Better, perhaps, to move on, taking what I can from the past without trying to recreate it.