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.


Jim Grey said...

I've occasionally purchased Kodachrome slides on eBay, always ones in which cars feature, especially those with their owners/drivers. I'm not sure why, but I'm drawn to them.

I'm also drawn to the family photos my mother has hung on her bedroom wall for as long as I can remember -- family I never knew because they were all gone before I was born or old enough to remember them.

I've finally convinced my mother, who's now 71, that it's time to document those photos, tell me all the names and any stories she can remember. And to do the same for the boxes of photos she took with her Instamatic of us. Will anybody care in a generation? I don't know, but what a shame if somebody does care and these photos aren't documented.

Mike said...

It is interesting that many people believe that family photo collections need an historical narrative to be meaningful. I understand people having a feeling of loss when information is unobtainable about a known or suspected personal connection to people and events pictured in family photo collections. On the other hand, there are clearly opportunities for learning about our collective past from even the most random collection of images. Of course, sorting through just one family's accumulated photos can be a gargantuan task.

Mike said...

That's a great present. The 1A Kodaks are capable of producing really nice images, and 120 film can be used in them with very little effort.

Mike said...

Angela left this comment, but it was inadvertently deleted:
My father recently gave me a Kodak 1A Junior as early birthday present. Searching for ways to use 120 film with it (so I can hopefully use it) I found your blog, and I am glad I did.

These photos are beautiful and I understand why these were the only ones that made it in to your collection. I cannot explain why but they make feel a little sad. Maybe it is because these people are so full of life, their whole life ahead of them and now they are long gone. Thank you for sharing.

Angela said...

Hello Mike - thanks for replying. I did put a notification on so I could see follow up comments but did not get it - maybe beacause the comment was deleted. I found some links regarding modyifing the camera to use 120 film and they went to but the page seems to be gone now. Are the details in your book?

All the best, Angela.

Mike said...

Hi again.

I did take my web site off line. I'm in the process of getting much of that info put into my blog so that it will be generally accessible again.

I'm going to try emailing you a copy of the information about the Kodak 1A Pocket from the web site. I'll send it to the address listed on your blogger page.

Mike said...

Here's the text in case the email did not get to you:

The No.1A Pocket Kodak was in production from 1926 to 1931. Mine is an Autographic model with a Kodex No.1 shutter having speeds of 1/25, 1/50, T, and B. The Kodar lens is a three-element anastigmat design with apertures from f7.9 to f45. After pulling out the bellows to the locking point, focus is achieved by turning a thumbwheel so that the distance indicator on the bed is moved to the estimated distance from camera to subject. The viewfinder is a magnified brilliant design that swivels for either vertical or horizontal framing. There are two tripod mounts and a cable release socket.

Kodak's 1A cameras all used 116-size film which yielded 2.5" by 4.25" negatives. That format was discontinued in 1984, but one can shoot with the cameras using still-available 120 roll film. As the 120 film is a quarter inch narrower than 116, pictures made with it will have a panoramic appearance with the image extending out to the film edges and having a length of 4.25".

It is possible to use 120 rollfilm in the No.1A Pocket Kodak with no special modifications. The pressure plate in the camera back has corner cutouts that will easily accomodate the narrower width of the 120 reel, and the box-like structure of the body of the camera holds the supply and take-up reels securely in place. The tongue of paper backing leader should be secured with one full turn to hold it tightly. The supply-side reel is placed in the other end, and the camera can then be closed up. At that point, the ruby window on the camera's back must be covered with black tape as the narrow 120 film would otherwise be fogged. The film advance key is then turned eight-and-one-half rotations to bring the film into position for the first exposure. For the next and subsequent exposures, two-and-one-half rotations of the advance key will provide proper framing with no image overlap. Using this method, six frames will just fit on a roll of 120 film. (Film and backing paper thickness as well as leader length varies from one brand to another, so some experimenting with advancing to the first frame should be done with the film you intend to use.)

The one remaining problem is avoiding unwanted light exposure on the film when removing it from the camera. Since the 116 take-up reel is wider than the 120 film, the film edges remain exposed and vulnerable; the easiest way to deal with that is to unload the film and get it into a developing tank in complete darkness. If the film is to be processed by someone other than the photographer it can be rerolled in darkness from the 116 reel back onto an empty 120 reel. Below are some sample photos from the camera using 120 rollfilm. * * * More results from the camera are posted on my blog.

Mike said...

I've added a post to my blog about shooting my 1A Pocket Kodak.
Let me know if you have a different model than the one I show there.

Angela said...

Mike this is very kind of you. You have taken so much time and replied in such detail. Thank you so much - I really appreciate it. My camera is not the Autographic model. I believe it is called - Kodak 1A Junior Pocket camera. I received your email also. I need to read it all carefully and digest the information. It is lovely to 'meet' someone so passionate about these beautiful old cameras and so generous in sharing their knowledge. The photos are beautiful. I also found your Flickr photostream - more lovely photos on there too.

Mike said...

The main thing to look at in regard to using 120 film in a 116 camera is how the film roll is held in place in the camera. In some of the old folders there are little pegs that fit into the ends of the film reels to hold the film roll in place. In those cameras, people usually add some kind of adapters to bridge the gap between the length of the 120 film rolls and the greater length of the 116 rolls. I've successfully used little plastic wall screw anchors for this purpose.

The newer folders like my 1A Pocket model do not have any pegs to hold the film rolls in place. In that camera you open it by moving a sliding bar on the lower front of the camera below the door and then sliding out the front with the lens, giving you access to the back film chamber. Then, you just lay the film roll into the supply side, carry the film leader over to a 116 reel on the other end, insert and center the leader and put the front of the camera back in place. The film is held in place by the box-like structure of the front portion of the camera. Now, you must be sure to cover the ruby window so that light does not leak in around the too-narrow 120 film roll. So, advancing the film to the first frame and subsequent frames must be done by estimation as I described in the blog post.

Angela said...

Thanks again Mike. Mine does not have pegs. I had a little play with it this evening and tried using the wall screw anchor as suggested. I tested with an empty 120 reel. It seemed to hold it in but not very steady. I also noticed the winder (not sure of name) did not go down the whole way - it did not fit snugly into the top of the 120 reel. I have seen a kit for sale and am considering buying that.

I have taken some photos of the camera itself this evening. The light was not great so some are a bit grainy.

There are some light leaks in the bellows. Also, what I thought was a problem with the bellows not being folded in correctly actually looks like a repair. I have tried to photograph it as best I can. I don't think this repair will affect things too much, but the light leaks will. I will probably cover the bellows with a dark cloth when I make my first attempt.

Mike said...

Your camera is like mine in most respects. Do you have the original 116 spool that could be used on the winder side of the camera? That would simplify things considerably as it would enable engaging the winder key with the reel to advance the film.

The light leaks in the bellows can be eliminated with the application of small dabs of black fabric paint which can be obtained from craft stores. In the US I buy Tulip brand fabric paint which is opaque and flexible. To detect the pinholes, you can take the camera outside and point it toward the sun and swivel it around to see all the pinholes from the open back. An alternative is to get a small LED light with a flexible neck which you can insert inside the bellows to reveal the pinholes.

Angela said...

Yes Mike I do have one original 116 spool. So if I put this on the winder side and the 120 film on the opposite side - the 116 reel would be the take up spool? It would probably be best then to wind the film back onto the 120 spool when done because there's no way I'd like to gamble on leaving that spool with anyone when I take it to be developed. Thanks for the advice about the fabric paint. Weather permitting I might be brave and give it a go this weekend.

I've tried something similar with a Kodak Brownie 127 and 35mm film - but not with very successful results.

Mike said...

I answered this in email, but I'll add a few words here in case others are looking at a similar situation. I've had pretty good luck with getting old film reels back when I've given over my film to a commercial processor. The reason is that I've only dealt with small local concerns. Mostly, it is not an issue for me as I normally do my own processing. That also means that I can immediately load my film from the 116 reel into my little processing tank inside a dark film changing bag. The need for doing that arises from the fact that the 120 film rolls edges are exposed on the too-wide 116 reels and the film would be ruined by light exposure if taken out into the light of day. So, for those not doing their own processing, rolling the film in the dark back onto the 120 reel is definitely a good idea. I know this all may sound a bit overwhelming to someone looking at the process for the first time, but it seems much more feasible with practice.