Saturday, March 30, 2019


I've had some inconsistent results from my home film processing lately, so I decided to try to iron out some of the variables in the process. I got a new bottle of HC110 developer and a new digital thermometer from Freestyle along with a batch of TMAX and Tri-X film. I am thinking I will also do more stand and semi-stand developing as that makes time and temperature less important as well as providing some improvement in b&w tonal qualities. The last couple rolls I shot were processed normally in HC110 dilution B, so I'll try the next couple using semi-stand for comparison.

We have had some good ballooning weather lately.  This Stars and Stripes model came slowly down our street last Sunday at just over roof level.  I grabbed the Leica and walked along with the balloon thinking I might get some shots of a landing as that was pretty clearly what the pilot was aiming for.  However, there were really no likely landing spots on the course chosen by the wind, so about six blocks on the pilot gained some altitude and speed and left me behind.

A few days later I took my Retina Reflex loaded with another roll of TMAX 100 to the botanic garden.  I was the first one through the gate at 9:00 AM and it was nice to have the place to myself except for a few groundskeepers doing their watering and weeding.

Today is Cesar Chavez Day in Albuquerque, so I'm hoping to get to the celebration at the Hispanic Cultural Center with the Minolta X-700 and some Tri-X.   Lots of new photo opportunities on the horizon with the arrival of Spring.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Newhall's History

I like reading about the history of photography, but I've been haphazard in pursuing the subject.  I was pleased recently to locate a copy of Beaumont Newhall's The History of Photography at a library book sale for just a couple bucks. This last edition looked nearly twice the size of earlier ones.

Newhall was a pivotal figure in drawing attention to the "straight photography" style as practiced by such notables as Adams and Weston.  His "History" first appeared as a companion publication to an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1939. Besides a stint as a curator of photography at the MOMA, he also got the photography gallery under way at the George Eastman House in Rochester.  Newhall spent years as a teacher at the University of New Mexico and developed the school's photography program.

As an art historian Newhall developed an early interest in photography and brought a scholarly focus to the subject.  His recounting of photography's heroic 19th Century phase gives a clear view of the technical developments of the period along with the amazing stories of the major actors who took their giant wet plate cameras into the wilderness along with their darkrooms on wheels pulled by mule teams.  As a curator, Newhall championed the work of Stieglitz, Strand, Weston and many others whose stylistic innovations dominated fine art photography into the mid-Twentieth Century.

Newhall endeavored to keep his history up to date with four editions after the first, but in reading the later parts of the book questions seem to pile up faster than answers.  An overview is provided of major trends such as the development of documentary and photojournalistic work and some of the major players are mentioned, but there is not the same focus on style and substance which Newhall brought to examining the luminaries of the 1930s and '40s. Newhall lists the well known names of early Life magazine photographers and ticks off the war reporters such as Capa and Duncan.  He pays attention to those who struck out in new directions such as Cartier Bresson, Winogrand and Arbus.  However, in the final edition there is, inexplicably, no mention of the whole Civil Rights era and its chroniclers.  Where, for instance, is Gordon Parks and his history with the FSA and Life?  Where is Roy Decarava who was a fine arts star promoted by Szarkowski with solo exhibits at the MOMA? Based solely on Newhall's account, one would have to assume that there were no black Americans who owned cameras. By 1982 when the last edition of Newhall's "History" appears such omissions are unforgivable.

I think there are at least a couple important factors which contributed to the inadequacies of Newhall's final "History".  Firstly, the book is not really a history of photography.  It is a history of the elitist fine arts establishment; there was a lot more to photography than that by 1982.  The other likely source of problems is that the book was promoted by the publisher as a text book and it was likely used widely in university photography programs.  Such texts are typically updated annually with additions of dubious value to ensure that students buy new books rather than relying on the second hand market to meet class requirements. I do not know to what extent teachers in higher education relied on Newhall's book as a basic source for instruction, but I would hope that they drew on other sources to supplement the view offered by Newhall's text.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

This is not a test

At least it is not a test of the camera or the lens.  The Leica IIIa is ... well, a Leica.  The Jupiter-8 is a superlative 6-element Sonnar design which the Russians appropriated along with the whole Zeiss establishment as reparations after WWII.

The question to be addressed is that of compatibility.  There is a lot of angst expressed in on line forums about slight differences in the lens mount to focal plane distances between Leicas and their Soviet counterparts.  People report making precise measurements with their micrometers and even shimming their Soviet lenses to compensate for the perceived problem.  So, when I confront a matchup of my Leica with a new Soviet lens, I make sure I shoot at a variety of distances to assure myself that both the lens and the camera are performing up to the expected standards.  The following shots are from a roll of TMAX shot on a recent neighborhood walkabout.

I'm not seeing a problem.  In fact, I've shot several Russian lenses with the Leica including FED, Jupiter and Industar models in 50mm and 35mm focal lengths without any loss of sharpness that is apparent to my eyes.  There may be a real problem lurking out there and maybe I'll encounter it one day, but I'm not likely to lose any sleep over the possibility.  I also have failed to find any apparent difference from the results I get when the Soviet lenses are mounted on the Soviet cameras they were built for.

I've had a Jupiter-8 lens for my Contax-copy Kiev IIa for a long time.  That lens is about ten years older than my recently-acquired Leica-Thread-Mount Jupiter, but it is also an excellent performer.  I haven't used it much, partly because I usually prefer to get out with the the Jupiter-12 35mm lens on the Kiev.  However, The Kiev also does not offer the same level of compact precision as the Barnack Leica.
     Besides adding a nice tactile dimension to the shooting experience, the Leica's slick operation instills confidence while also providing some practical enhancement to my shooting results.  For instance, that buttery-smooth film advance mechanism yields a strip of exposures that are very narrowly separated and perfectly spaced, with the result that I can often get 25 frames from a 24-shot roll even with the long tapered leader the Leica requires.

The bottom line for me on the issue of the compatibility of the Leica and Soviet lenses is that the combination provides a practical and economical way to the Leica experience.  If the Leica were my only camera, I would be more concerned with the likelihood that there could be a problem with lenses with a focal length greater than 50mm.  Obviously, I have a lot of other choices of cameras if I feel the need to use long lenses.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Walking the River Trail

Albuquerque's weather has taken a turn for the better and I was able to get in a couple walks this week in the riverside forest.  My first walk went from the Rio Bravo bridge to about half a mile north.  Fisherman take trout from the irrigation channel near the bridge, but there are not many walkers and bikers in the area and I saw no one else on the trail.  I'm thinking I'll try walking the whole three-mile stretch between Rio Bravo and Cesar Chavez sometime soon.  That is about my limit these days, so I'll probably drop off my bike first at the Hispanic Cultural Center to give me a way to get back to my truck.

There is a long unbroken barrier of flood control jetty jacks along this section of the river.  Many of the jetty jacks are far from the river's course now and serve no useful purpose other than as a reminder of the complicated history of water management along the Middle Rio Grande.

I carried along my Minolta X-700 on both walks and shot with all three lenses I have for the camera.  They all performed well, though I still need to get some lens shades, particularly for the 28mm.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Goodbye to Old Friends

Not these two.  They're in good shape and sticking around.

Those were the only shots I liked out of a roll of 12 shots from my Brownie Hawkeye Flash box camera.  The rest were shot outdoors in mostly sunny conditions, but they looked underexposed by one to three stops.  That is an unlikely outcome with any box camera loaded with 100-speed film as such conditions should actually result in slight overexposure.  

Here is the problem:

I'm not sure how long that bottle of Rodinal has been sitting in my refrigerator.  It could be six or eight years.  Acros and Rodinal has long been a favorite of mine for medium format work, but it looks like the end of the line for this combination.  Fuji has stopped making Acros.  I still have a few rolls left, but anything left out there is going to be prohibitively priced from here on in, and I'm going to move on.  I could get a replacement bottle of Rodinal easily enough, but I think I'm better off using a couple other developers that I like including PMK Pyro and HC-110, both of which also have good shelf life.

The reason the two portrait negatives were closer to appropriate density is that I braced the camera on a tripod and shot with a cable release with a best-guess exposure in the neighborhood of a quarter second.  So, the modified BHF got the job done well enough.

Once I've used up my last rolls of Acros I'll likely shoot TMAX 100 in my simple cameras most often.  There are plenty of other choices still available, though, so still some room for experimentation.

I find myself also dealing with some other changes in the way I handle film.  I recently refurbished an IMAC by cleaning it up and adding some memory.  The computer has a very nice 21-inch display and it seems about as fast and responsive as my laptops running Windows 7, Window 10 and Linux Mint.  I'm using the IMAC now for most of my on line activity, so that means I only have to turn on my old Windows XP desktop to scan negatives using PhotoShop and SilverFast.  Down the line I'll probably have to look for a scanner and some software compatible with the IMAC.  I'm currently taking a stab at learning to use the free GIMP photo editing program, but it has what seems like a nearly impenetrable user interface.  Such is life, I guess.