Saturday, March 30, 2013

Personalities in Photography

I am midway through yet another book about Edward Weston, Artful Lives, by Beth Gates Warren.  It is a rather rambling account of his early, formative professional period around the time of the First World War.  Some of the same ground is covered in Weston's memoirs and in the book by Charis Wilson, but Warren's account provides some of the missing links needed to explain Weston, who went to considerable lengths to expunge crucial details of his early professional and personal life.

The thing that seems the most difficult to understand about Weston is his capacity to attract the affections of a string of extraordinary women coupled with an inability to to sustain a commitment to those relationships.  It appears that Weston learned a lot about life and photography from what he described as his first significant relationship with Margrethe Mather.  Weston then went on to teach photography to Tina Modotti who accompanied him in his fruitful developing years in Mexico.  Finally, he consolidated his photographic style  and his reputation as an artist with the assistance of Charis Wilson who was his model as well as an extraordinary writer, editor and publicist.  All of these relationships ended in shipwrecks on the shoals of Weston's egotistical competitiveness.

The subtitle of Warren's book provides an important clue to an analysis of Weston's life and personality: ...Edward Weston, Margrethe Mather, and the Bohemians of Los Angeles.  What that is pointing to is the fact that, while Weston nurtured a public image of domestic rectitude, his circle of friends was made up of a cast of characters for whom social non-conformity was the norm.  They were politically radical, promiscuous, assertive, and often very talented as artists, performers and writers.  A personality profile which seems a good fit with many of them can be found in some well-publicized recent psychology studies which focused on the attitudes and character traits of porn actors.

Of course, any discussion of porn actors is going to place a primary emphasis on sexuality, or more exactly sociosexuality which refers to a person's willingness to engage in sexual relations outside of a committed relationship.  However, there is a constellation of traits which accompany sociosexuality that is relevant to both the porn actor group and the early-Twentieth-Century cohort of Los Angeles Bohemians.

In a Psychology Today blog article, Scott McGreal says:

"A number of studies have also linked high sociosexuality and having a large number of sexual partners to certain antisocial traits in both men and women.  For example, people high in sociosexuality tend to rate themselves lower in the traits of honesty, humility, and agreeableness... Additionally, sociosexuality has also been linked to a group of traits known collectively as the "dark triad", namely psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism... Briefly, psychopathy refers to willingness to violate the rights of others, Machiavellianism to willingness to manipulate and use others, and narcissism to an inflated sense of one's own importance and superiority."

McGreal goes on to point out that the picture is not so black as it initially looks as there is actually a range of interpersonal warmth exhibited by the groups being examined which attenuates the antisocial aspects of the personality profile subsumed by sociosexulity.  It is not clear where Weston was to be found on the continuum of warmth, but he does seem to have had a talent for selecting partners who were at the warm end of the scale.

The psychological studies do not make a link to artistic creativity, though they may point to the propensity for self-promotion which is certainly a useful skill for people wanting to make a living from their art.  There is also another mystery in regard to Weston, which is how he made the leap from being a skillful hack to a sublime artist with the camera.  Perhaps I'll find some clues to solving that mystery from the second half of Warren's book.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blogger Lightbox Fix

Clicking on an image in any of the preceding posts will display the full-sized image on a black background with the normal Lightbox display to which users are accustomed. The fix for the Lightbox display failure is a small script which is easily inserted in the blog's template.  The script and the instructions for inserting it will be found a the Real Blogger Status site.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kodak Flash Bantam

I have added a page to my vintage cameras web site on what I've learned about shooting the Flash Bantam.

Here are three more Flash Bantam shots from my recent visit to the Botanical Garden.

I was going to include a link to the Wikipedia page about 828 film in my vintage cameras page about the Flash Bantam, but the information there really seems to miss the mark in my opinion.  For instance:

"828 cameras never achieved widespread popularity and the format had a rather limited run."

In fact, Kodak produced 828 film for 50 years, as well as half a dozen camera models in the Bantam line between 1935 and 1947.  The 828 format certainly did not enjoy the popularity and longevity of the 35mm cassette, but it did have a very respectable run, and it inspired some excellent compact camera designs including the Bantam Special which many consider the most beautiful small film camera of all time.

PS: I was looking for some film to shoot in the Flash Bantam today and came across some TMAX 100 for $2.99 for a 36-exposure roll at Adorama.  Ordered ten rolls, so I should be good for quite a while. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

The usual suspects

I've put six rolls of film through my Kodak Flash Bantam, and I'm pretty sure I've got all the issues sorted out.  What a great little camera.

I had some good luck with the first roll of Tri-X I used in the Flash Bantam and was able to see the potential of the little camera.  I then ran through five rolls of TMAX 100 with very mixed results.  Some images were very nice, but others lacked adequate contrast and sometimes showed a hot spot in the center of the image.  Between rolls five and six I finally figured out what needed fixing.  I'll try to put together a page for the Flash Bantam on my vintage cameras web site shortly to recount my experience with the camera.  Let me just say now that the problem was not the lens, the film or the processing.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Albuquerque Color

When I dropped off my film today at Walgreens I was told by the lady at the photo counter that they would be stopping film processing next month.  I'm not sure if that means all of Albuquerque, all Walgreens, or what.  I guess it's time to get serious about DIY C-41 color development.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Bosque Cottonwoods

I've been working on my Kodak Duo Six-20. I painted out the last pinhole in the bellows which gave me better image contrast. After removing and cleaning the lenses, I soaked the shutter in lighter fluid and got the B and T settings working properly. The solvent also floated away some of the black paint characters on the front of the shutter, so I may go back and try painting them back in.

About half the pictures from my last roll through the camera were grossly out of focus.  When I looked at the camera again I realized that I had set the focal plane target on the wrong rails, putting it about 2mm too far forward for proper infinity focus.  I've redone the collimation again, so we'll see shortly if I got it right this time.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Engine 4

The crew of Engine 4 often stops for coffee at La Cocina Azul a couple blocks from my place.  When I saw them there this morning, I grabbed some shots of the truck with my Voigtländer Brilliant.

The Voigtar 7.7 lens is a three-element Anastigmat design. It is a little lacking in contrast, but yields excellent sharpness across the frame if you can hold it steady at the shutter's maximum speed of 1/50.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Verichrome Pan

A row of fire trucks across the street from the BIA headquarters seemed like good excuse to use up my forty-year-old roll of 828 Verichrome Pan roll film in the Kodak Flash Bantam.

I shot at the rated speed of 125 ASA and processed normally in HC-110B.  The negatives were pretty thin, and I probably could have opened up a couple f-stops.  It is nice to be able to take advantage of the full frame area offered by the 828 format, but the little seventeen-inch strip of film only yields eight frames. In the next round I'll try some fresh TMAX 100.