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.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Agfa Synchro Box

A friend gave me this pretty Agfa Synchro Box just after I had decided to go on a nearly year-long sabbatical from photography.  So, it has taken me much longer than it should have to get some pictures from the camera.  This '50s box resembles the earlier Agfa Shur Flash, but the case and the inner cone are all metal and the front plate sports a natty deco design.  As the name implies, the camera has a couple contacts on the top deck for attaching an accessory flash.  It also has two aperture settings, a built-in yellow filter, a tab which permits a choice of instant or time exposures, and both tripod and cable release sockets.  The viewfinder windows are small, but bright.

The Synchro Box yields 8 frames from standard 120 roll film which is still easy to find on line.  I shot two rolls of Lomography 100 color film in the camera.  One roll was used mostly on a trip to Phoenix, the other on a morning walk through the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens.  I like the results from the film just fine, but the gray numerals on black backing paper present a real challenge to read through the ruby window.  The only way I could see the frame numbering was to hold the back of the camera so that the sun shone directly on it.  I hate doing that as there is always a risk that some light will bleed through or around the paper backing.

The adjustable aperture does add some adaptability to different lighting conditions, but I selected scenes that would allow using the smaller f16 setting as I felt that would likely give me sharper results and better depth of field.

A manual for the Agfa Synchro Box is available on line at the Butkus web site.


Albuquerque has been getting different weather every day lately, not unlike much of the rest of the country, I guess.

For most of the pictures on the second roll through the camera I used a Kodak No.13 accessory close-up lens which is a perfect fit to the Agfa lens ring.  That lets the camera get within nice portrait range of about 3.5 feet, and I think it also adds a bit of sharpness to the resulting images.  The little garden sculpture which is a favorite test subject compares nicely to other camera images I have made at the garden.

The wagon wheel in the garden's demonstration farm yielded the sharpest result in my close-up series.  Some of the other shots were a bit fuzzy, either because I misjudged the distance, or perhaps because I didn't have the accessory lens seated quite properly.

I was surprised to come across this porcupine enjoying a breakfast of low-hanging tree twigs near the entrance to the Japanese Garden.  He stood still for his portrait, but didn't look particularly happy about the opportunity, and the shot is not a very good likeness.  Still, it was nice to get a chance to do a bit of nature photography with a box camera.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Ansco published a magazine entitled Portrait from 1909 to 1921 to promote its photographic products, particularly the Cyco line of photo printing paper. Ansco's magazine targeted advanced amateurs and professional studio portraitists. Articles dealt with aesthetic and technical topics of interest to those groups, as well as effective marketing strategies. The publication's cover photo often featured a prominent portrait photographer, and an article was devoted to the photographer's work along with a brief biography. Articles on aesthetics and technique were frequently the work of prominent critic, Sadakichi Hartmann.  Many issues of Portrait are available on line at the Internet Archive site, and a good overview of the publication has been prepared by Gary D. Saretzky.

The cover of the July,1912 issue of Portrait featured Gertrude Kasebier, one of the original founders of the Photo-Secession movement along with Alfred Stieglitz.  Examples of Kasebier's work had appeared in the first issue of Camera Work in 1903, and Stieglitz again paid tribute to her extraordinary talent in the April,1905 issue.  The two parted company around the time this article appeared in Ansco's magazine.  Stieglitz accused Kasebier of putting commercial considerations above the aesthetic ideals of the Photo Secession, and Kasebier left the organization.

The 1912 Ansco article had a fawning tone and the portrait that was included as an example of her work had a rather bland character which seems to give some weight to Stieglitz's assertions.  Taking a broader view of Kasebier's long and productive career, however, makes Stieglitz's judgment seem short-sighted and uncharitable.  Still, it is interesting to compare some of her commercial portraiture with the kind of pictures that first brought her to the pages of Camera Work.

This portrait of Evelyn Nesbit by Kasebier was made about 1900 and published as a photogravure in the first issue of Camera Work in 1903.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Phase One

I uploaded a proof copy of my publication to Blurb yesterday.  The 30-page softcover in magazine format was put together with Blurb's BookWright application.  For free software, I thought BookWright was really pretty nice in that it lets you combine text and pictures easily and provides what looks to be a good approximation of what the published document will look like.  There were a few small glitches and bugs in the process, but it is clear from reading on line chatter about the program that it has undergone a very rapid period of development in which a large number of the complaints of users have been responded to.  My guess is that my own comments here are going to be dated very quickly.

The documentation for some features is a little sketchy, but most of that is taken care of by a bit of experience in using the program.  For instance, I had a little trouble discerning at first how to save my images in PhotoShop in a form that would be acceptable for printing.  Getting the images and text boxes lined up properly was a little challenging as there is no snap-to function and the grid display is not very helpful.  While there are a large number of fonts available, there is not a very good way of establishing a user-chosen default, and I found I had to keep checking to make sure the program was using the choice I preferred.  None of these issues was a deal breaker, however, and I think one is likely to face similar problems with about any software package of this type.

The question that remains unanswered for me is whether or not the Blurb final product is going to meet my expectations in regard to quality and cost.  I thought I might get some idea about those issues by looking at examples in the on line store where users' publications are shown.  It turns out however that somewhere in the neighborhood of 99% of the Blurb self-publishers don't seem to have a clue about making books.  Most of the photo book offerings lack any clear message and often seem to be rather randomly assembled collections of pictures, usually with no textual context.  Prices for hardcopy books very often exceed $100, which is way, way beyond what I would be willing to pay, even for something very well produced and by a known artist.

So, I am relying at this point mostly on my own experience and perceptions for evaluating the Blurb possibilities.  I decided to keep costs in check by selecting the better quality magazine format and limiting the page count.  I was pleased to see that I could produce a publication that presented some coherent ideas at a base cost of under ten bucks.  However, when I placed the order for my proof copy I was shocked to see that the shipping charge for that single issue was over six dollars.  That, for me, makes the total cost just barely acceptable.  As it turns out, you can get up to five issues of the publication shipped for the same amount, but I'm not sure that really offers me anything useful.

My impression at this point is that the most practical outcome of my Blurb efforts will be some kind of ebook, probably in pdf format.  That could be made available on line, and the production cost is neglibible.  I will probably put together a package of options including hardcover offerings, but my expectations at this point fall quite a bit short of the self-publishing hype that presently saturates the web.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Better Photos

Sears Roebuck & Co., in the early years of the Twentieth Century, may have been Kodak's stiffest domestic competitor in the marketing of photographic technology and services. The mail order company's giant catalog had a large section devoted to cameras and darkroom equipment. The items sold were from domestic and imported sources, and were similar to Kodak's offerings in regard to features, quality and pricing. Sears imported some high quality cameras from Germany including models from ICA A.G. which became a part of the Zeiss Ikon conglomerate in 1926. At the lower end of the consumer scale, Sears relied initially on cameras from the Conley Camera Co. of Rochester, Minn, which were sometimes marketed under the "Seroco" label.

Sears and Kodak competed for the affections of amateur photographers with magazines published monthly and sold for five cents a copy. Both publications, appearing first in 1913, were twenty-five or thirty pages in length and very similar in regard to design, layout and subject matter. The Kodak offering, KODAKERY, was published at the company headquarters in Rochester, NY and had somewhat of an edge over Sears' Better Photos in terms of design style, as well as in the quality of the typography and photo reproductions. Articles in both magazines focused on photo technique and photo subjects of concern to the amateur audience including hints on making portraits of family members, children and pets, along with sports, landscape and snow scenes. Sears offered film and plate processing from its Chicago headquarters, as well as the making of prints and enlargements; an 8x10 could be had for fifteen cents, and for another six cents, you could have it mounted.

Until "miniature" 35mm cameras started to get popular in the mid 1920's, most consumers were content to get their snapshots made into contact prints. While Sears and other companies offered enlarging services, few amateurs in the first decades of the Century would have had the capability of making their own enlargements. For the advanced amateurs with adequate finances or mechanical skills, however, there were options available. An article in the Vol.1, No.2 issue of Better Photos illustrated a method for using a folding camera as an enlarger for making prints from glass plate negatives. Mounting the contraption on a window with a light-gathering mirror was probably a very practical idea at a time when electric lighting still had limited availability.

The editorial staff of Better Photos also conducted a twelve-lesson Correspondence School of Photography which was often advertised on the inside front cover of the magazine. The ad ended with the assurance that
"The student will not be hurried nor urged to complete the course in less time than is necessary to secure a thorough knowledge of the principles of photography, and lessons may be returned for criticism and correction as many times as the student desires, or until proficiency is attained."
The price for all of that was $3.00. Even after applying the 20x factor for inflation since 1913, it seems a pretty good deal.

The range of prices for cameras adjusted for inflation seems very similar to what is offered to consumers today. In 1913, box cameras sold for the equivalent of about $40 in today's inflated dollars. Domestic folders with faster lenses and multi-speed shutters went for about $200, while top-of-the-line imports sold for around $1000 in current dollar value.