Saturday, October 30, 2010

Canon TX

My latest thrift store acquisition, a Canon TX.

The Canon TX went into production in 1974. This sturdy SLR was an economy model with a 1/500 top speed and a center-weighted CdS meter. The standard lens was an FD 50mm f1.8. The mount was also compatible with the Canon FL-mount lenses. The lever on the camera front looks like a self-timer, but it is actually for dof preview, and it also permitted metering in stopped down mode with the FL lenses. The camera's meter was designed for a 1.35v mercury battery, but a 1.4v 675 hearing aid battery seems to work just fine.

I bought my Canon TX in a thrift store after verifying that the basic functions seemed to be working. The only obvious problem was an inoperative frame counter. The jamming of the counter was clearly due to the glue having dried up on the window, letting it fall down onto the counter disk. So, I proceeded with the removal of the top to remedy the problem.

Top deck removal proved to be pretty similar to most cameras of this type. After taking out the four small screws holding the top in place it is necessary to remove the winder, the shutter setting dial and the rewind crank. Under the retaining disk holding on the wind lever, I found a second disk which comes off in a clock-wise direction. Before removing the shutter dial, I set it to 1/500 and the ASA to 25, following some advice I found from Rick Oleson, also noting the position of the actuating post and the slot it went into.

The rewind knob screws off easily, but one must be careful in the process not to lose two small parts. There is a small brass washer just under the knob. There is also an exceedingly small ballbearing which will fall out when you remove the shaft by pushing it down into the camera, so it is important to do this over something that will catch the little devil.

Fixing the frame counting window just required a small bead of glue. When I proceeded to reassembly I was a little apprehensive about where that ballbearing was going. Shining a light down into the hole for the shaft, I could see that there was a hole in the brass casing that looked like it would fit the ballbearing. I put a little grease on the ballbearing to make it sticky and easy to manipulate, and eased it into the hole on the end of a toothpick. Then, I was able to insert the shaft without difficulty and, as I suspected, the ballbearing served as a detant to hold the shaft steady in both its extended and closed positions.

As with most Japanese cameras of the same era, the light seals were badly deteriorated. I didn't see any leaks in the roll I put through the camera, but it seemed prudent to at least replace the seal that is adjacent to the back hinge. The mirror bumper was falling apart too, so that also got replaced.

A final precaution about using the TX: a lens cap is essential to keep the meter's battery from running down as there is no on/off switch for that purpose. 

Some photos from the TX:

The Canon TX Manual is at the Butkus site.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thinking about Chaco

Before we made our recent trip back to Chaco Canyon I browsed through the currently available literature on the subject in Albuquerque book stores. Chaco Canyon has inspired a huge body of work which in some ways has made the picture more confusing. In my opinion some of the most-read experts have contributed more to obfuscation than to clarity. Among those I include Jared Diamond and John Stuart. Both authors have considerable writing skills and records of accomplishment in research. Diamond's trasgression is using Chaco as a vehicle for arriving at an explanation for everything. Stuart proposes parallels between a speculative history of Chacoan society and our messy political and economic present which inspire little confidence.

Fortunately, there are authors of recent books on Chaco-era subjects which have stuck to more modest agenda, attempting to cast some light on the intriguing mysteries without blinding us with glaring blasts of ill-founded synthesis. A most entertaining and informative look at Chacoan society which I read just before our trip was House of Rain by Craig Childs. He has spent years walking through the Southwest to find the traces of a culture with Chaco Canyon at its center which is much larger than is often realized. Childs is not an academic archaeologist, but his combination of acute observational powers, stamina and logical rigor produces a chronicle of discovery with great credibility.

As luck would have it, a few days after our return from Chaco, Craig Childs showed up in Albuquerque to promote his latest book, Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession. We spent an enjoyable two hours at the Library listening to the author talk about his wide-ranging investigation into how we so often destroy our opportunity to appreciate the distant past by giving in to our acquisitive urges to possess its remnants.

Childs makes the case that the artifacts which illuminate the ancient past are an unrenewable resource, and context is integral to their value. While that is not a new idea, it is one which he would have applied much more widely than has been done up to now. It is not just the commercial pot hunters who rob the past of its value; archaeologists who have built great museum collections and all those of us who have ever pocketed an arrowhead or an ancient shell bead must also confront complicity. Childs concedes that there is no easy, clear path to what he advocates; there are often convincing arguments in favor of protection, restoration, and even personal acquisition. At the same time, all such actions entail an element of destruction through changing or obliterating context. So, whatever the justification, some careful thought needs to enter into the process of examining the past at every opportunity.

Another genial source of information about Chaco that I have found recently is a blog called The Gambler's House, hosted by a precocious grad student who is a talented writer, and who has worked as a volunteer guide in the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. His regular musings about Chaco-era archaeology really make the discipline come alive in a way that very few professional archaeologists achieve. If any of my anthropology professors had shown a fraction of his communicative talents I might have continued on with my early aspiration to join their ranks.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Una Vida

Una Vida is the Chaco Great House that is nearest to Fajada Butte. Its construction was initiated around the year 850, at about the same time as Pueblo Bonito, which is three miles up Chaco Wash. Unlike the larger Bonito Great House, Una Vida was only slightly excavated. The few exposed walls appear to sit on a hill, but that is actually the remains of the collapsed Great House covered with a thick layer of sand.

The general form and size of Una Vida is revealed from above by the surrounding trails and the shadows cast by the morning sun. Tree ring dating from surviving wooden beams indicate that the Great House was built in stages over a couple centuries. It is estimated that the final structure contained about 150 rooms and reached a hight of three stories.

On the talus slope behind the Great House a narrow trail leads to a depression in the sandstone rim rock containing many petroglyph images of both human and animal figures, as well as the ubiquitous spiral design.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chetro Ketl

With over 500 rooms, Chetro Ketl is the second largest of the Chaco Great Houses. Construction was begun about 1010 and continued in stages over the next century. Like near-by Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl suffered considerable damage in the 1940s as a result of catastrophic flooding. As a result, more reconstruction was undertaken than at most of the Great House sites in order to restore the walls to their appearance as first uncovered during the early Twentieth Century excavations.

Even without natural disasters, the ruins are subject to natural deterioration through the action of wind, rain and invasion by the roots of desert plants. Since the late 19th Century, teams of skilled Navajo craftsmen have been constantly employed in maintaining all the major Great House sites.

The back wall of Chetro Ketl is 470 feet in length, attained a height of at least four stories, and all surfaces would have been smoothly plastered. Although the ruins are impressive in their size and architectural sophistication, the intact building complexes would have had an appearance much different from what is apparent to today's visitors to the site.

The Great Kiva at Chetro Ketl, sixty feet in diameter, is built below ground level like those of Pueblo Bonito and Casa Rinconada just across the arroyo. However, the site also features a unique tower Kiva and a number of smaller round Kiva-like structures.

The finely-crafted masonry walls are built up with relatively small blocks of sandstone. It seems likely that the finished surfaces would have borne murals and designs similar to the petroglyphs and pictographs seen on the canyon walls, but none have survived

The human effort that went into construction of the Great Houses of Chaco is hard to conceive. What kind of social organization supported such massive undertakings -- including dragging thousand-pound log beams across fifty miles of desert -- can only be guessed at.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Wijiji is the last-built Chaco Great House; it is about a mile-and-a-half from the main canyon complex.

We took our bicycles along on this trip to the center of the Anasazi world, so the trip out to the Wijiji ruin from the campground was an easy 20 minute ride. I went alone the following day, but there was a spectacular thunder storm the night before and the dirt road was impassible to the bike after the first quarter mile.

My boots picked up a lot of Chaco mud on the walk in, but it was well worth the extra effort to visit the ruins again and to see the fine rock art panel a hundred yards further up the arroyo.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I was honored to have a selection of my pinhole work included in the Pinhole Days exhibit at the 591 Photography Blog.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dorothea Lange

Chronological organization is nearly unavoidable in biography, I suppose, but it always seems to undermine the story at the beginning because the author often is wrestling with the least well documented part of the chronicled life. When I started reading Linda Gordon's book, Dorothea Lange; A Life Beyond Limits, the language seemed somewhat stilted and there seemed to be a focus on gossip. A few more pages inward though, the story of the remarkable Lange, her peers and her time began to emerge with great clarity.

Lange's life of stuggle and accomplishment seems ready-made for a biography. Her "Migrant Mother" is possibly the most recognized photograph from the past Century, but I think the details of her life have remained a bit obscure. Some of that is due to the fact that her Farm Security Administration work was often not attributed when published, and much of it was deliberately suppressed. Although the bulk of her best work from the '30s and '40s is in the public domain, it was still a little difficult to put that work into proper perspective until now.

The reproduced photographs in my paperback copy of Godon's book are adequately representative of Lange's best work, but they are really too small to allow appreciation of the luminous quality of the work. The collection on line at the Library of Congress site is comprehensive, but poorly presented. There have been shows and picture books which do justice to Lange, but for immediate on line access the only good collection I have found is at the Shorpy site where the thumbnail images can be enlarged to full-screen size to display the exquisite detail and tonalities emerging from the large format negatives.

Although Gordon is the first to admit to being neither a biographer nor a student of photography, I think she has done a very good job of showing how Lange's body of work emerged from her own innate competence, surrounded by an extraordinary group of artists and thinkers. The historian's perspective also does justice to the formative importance of the time in which the photographer lived, and facilitates vivid connections between the Depression years and the current state of the world.

The style of Lange's FSA work derived from her earlier career as a very successful studio portraitist. She used big heavy cameras, usually on a tripod. and she had little trouble in getting people of means to pay her well to make them look their best. What the FSA's Stryker found compelling about her work was that Lange applied the skills she taught herself in her studio to her field work in portraying the urban and rural masses of displaced people trying to survive the Depression years in California.

The revolutionary impact of Lange's work resided in her ability to find beautiful people everywhere among the mostly rural poor and to photograph them beautifully. What did not really emerge at the time the pictures were made was Lange's skill at putting the people -- men, women and children of all races -- into the context of the Depression-era economy through her photo captions and the documentary sequencing of her images. Those overarching messages of her work were effectively obscured by constant censorship by the right-wing leadership of the Agriculture Department and other government entities. Gordon's book goes a long way toward correcting that distortion.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fiesta Color

click the image for a slide show
(opens in new window)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Albuquerque Landing

Sitting at my computer reading the NY Times this morning, I heard a low roaring sound out back. It was a balloonist pumping some hot air into his envelope to stay above the trees and rooftops. I snapped a few pictures with my digital through the window and went back to reading the paper.

A short time later, the neigbor's dog started barking, signalling another balloon going by. This one looked like it was heading for a landing nearby, so I grabbed my camera bag and walked toward the descending balloon.

In the bag was my 95-year-old Kodak No.1 Autographic Special loaded with TMAX 400, and a point-and-shoot Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim with a roll of Fuji Superia 400.

If our good weather holds, I may head over to the Balloon Fiesta field early tomorrow to try a few more pictures.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Working at Home

geranium with fruit

counter clutter

More play than work, I suppose.

My old Epson 2450 scanner still does a reasonably good job with my negatives, but it is really slow. While the scanning arm crawls across the images I usually pass the time by browsing the web. In producing this set of images I came across a nice piece in the NYT Opinion section by Michael Cunningham entitled "Found in Translation".

Cunningham, a novelist, sees himself, his translators and his readers as all sharing a piece of the creative process in similar ways. He also dissects the common delusion that we create primarily for ourselves. In the teaching of writing Cunningham urges his students to write for a specific individual. In his own case, the person he selected for the job was someone he worked with who was a voracious reader, not burdened with constraints of academic opinion. Cunningham wasn't looking for criticism, but rather for an open-minded sensibility that could perceive his intent without prejudice.

It didn't seem from Cunningham's account that he ever explicitly revealed his choice of a muse before writing about it in the Times piece. That is probably a good strategy because there is an obvious pitfall to tailoring the creative product too specifically to a particular set of tastes. I'm thinking in this case of commercial artists who work in portraiture or advertising. Some can maintain creative integrity in the face of editorial and customer pressures, but I think that is much more the exception than the rule.