Friday, July 29, 2005

The Spirit of Weegee Endures

Wednesday evening, one of the flyover ramps in the spaghetti junction here below my office suffered expansion-joint failure.
(Strictly speaking, it was contraction joint failure: the temp dropped from about 88F to about 66F, so the highest, longest, curviest span in the I-787/Dunn Memorial Bridge/Empire State Plaza ganglia decided to contract, and one end of the roadbed slipped off its pillar, and dropped 2-3 feet. I use this ramp when I come back to the office from my lunchtime visits to Bethlehem. I'm told this ramp is 89' in the air. Someone discovered this discontinuity the hard way, by driving over it. That must have been electrifying.)

So ALL the ramps were closed for a while for inspection; now some are open, but it's still a mess.

Anyway, this provided an excuse for me to dust off my long lenses and go out to play city-paper photojournalist. So I went out at lunch and poked around downtown, looking for a nice vantage point.

I learned that there ARE uses for a 300mm lens.

It was fun.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

“Color slides make you feel like a hero.”

's'funny. As I contemplate the impending death of Kodachrome (and maybe of all 'chrome film...), I’m only now recalling what a huge ‘Ektachrome’ geek I used to be. Back in the years of my young adulthood (the late 70's through the '80s), color prints used to be pretty ferociously expensive, and I could keep costs down by processing my own slides. So I did, several gallons’ worth - probably 100 rolls or more.

Then parenthood happened, and, like, everything else in my life, Everything Changed. As a new, proud parent, you quickly learn that you simply cannot inflict Baby Pictures upon your long-suffering relatives - even the relatives who want to see them - in the form of slides: no, the social contract obligates a parent to pass around snapshots. So I switched over to C-41. And so, for the last 13 years or thereabouts, I’ve shot slides only occasionally. Most dramatically, there are a few rolls of Alice and maybe even Adam shot on 120 roll-film Kodachrome. (But soon I would be so distracted by the trials of "living with autism" that I didn't even notice when Kodak discontinued 120 Kodachrome.)

And while I was shooting print film, the price continued to drop. At some point in there, it became cheaper (and it was always easier) to shoot prints rather than slides.

With slide film now in the final stages of its lifespan, I realize how much I’ve missed it, and how much I will miss it. As Phil Greenspun notes in his review on loupes and light tables called “evaluating photos”:

“Your pictures will mostly look gorgeous because slides can hold at least twice as much contrast as prints. You will pat yourself on the back for being a photographic genius. “

Or, more succinctly, from his review of films and film types:

“Color slides make you feel like a hero.”

And he's right. I find that crappy color prints lower my standards: I stop caring about printing quality, color balance, resolution, about any of the attributes that are usually needed to make a noteworthy photo. Photography becomes "Just grab a point'n'shoot and get some snapshots". Whereas, when I shoot slides, I find that it stiffens my resolve to do good work: I reach for my more serious cameras, my best lenses, I work more carefully, etc.

(Too bad that My Best Work is still so damn mediocre....)

Slide projectors: gone, last year. 120 Kodachrome: gone, years ago. Kodachrome 25: gone. Kodak's own K-14 processing: gone.
Local E-6 machines - Motophoto closed their line last summer (a few weeks after I brought them my Transit chromes).

Right after Fair Lawn closed (Sept. 2004), I dropped a roll of Kodachrome off at Eckerds (because I had no idea where to mail it...). And I had a huge fight with the clerk, who kept asking me "How many prints do you want?" and when I kept insisting that this is slide film, "I don't want ANY prints!", he filled in the special instructions with "do not print" or something - and my roll dutifully came back uncut and unmounted. I had to explain what happened to the manager, and they had to send it back to the lab to be remounted - - sorry sir, no charge. But think of it: in 2004, a kid working in a photo lab did not even recognize the very concept of slide film. (. . . Durn young punk. . . I hope he stays off my lawn, at least.)

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

That's enough, already

Eckerd is closing out their inventory of Kodachrome, at 75% off. Now, I happen to drive past two Eckerds on my way to and from work, and I drive past about six more in the course of various errands.

But now I have a Quest.

I already see outdated K64 on eBay for fully twice what I'm paying for fresh. There are 22 Eckerds in the phone book (which goes out as far as Chatham, but which doesn't include Saratoga). Since discovering the close-out last Sunday, I've been going out of my way to hit all of them that I can: three rolls here, five there, here's a big score of ten. It starts adding up.

Which would be fine, except that I went through the very same round of obsessive behavior a couple months ago when CVS closed out their Ektachrome 100 - - so now I have TWO hoards of slide film....

So now I need mailers...

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Forward, Into the Past! II

To run the Welti, you really need a lightmeter. It's cumbersome enough to operate such a primitive device with its fiddly little levers without carrying a second camera and using that to meter, and then transfering the settings over to the Welti. (If you have to bring along a more capable camera, then why even bother carrying the Welti?)

So: my father's Luna-Pro? The mercury batteries are finally dead. Replacing the mercury cells with incorrect (higher)-voltage (but legal...) batteries and then re-zeroing it would be certain to give me existential white nights of Doubting the Eternal Verities such as the Truth of My Reference Meter. (And if you can't trust your Luna-Pro, what on earth CAN one trust?) Gossen sells a step-down voltage adapter - - but it's something like $40? bucks. For forty bucks, you can buy a whole new meter. And once again, turning to eBay, we find a $15 bag of junk that happens to also contain a Gossen Scout.

There's a certain elegance to using a selenium meter, not least of which is being reminded of Einstein's explanation of the photoelectric effect every time you pick it up. This Scout also happens to agree with my various Nikon meters, which is a comfort. So I trust it enough to run a roll of Kodachrome through the Welti. Now I just have to trust the shutter speeds of a 65-70-year-old Compur Rapid.

But for now, I've rediscovered the joys of hand-held lightmeters - - and it's back to eBay to buy a newer Luna Pro, one that doesn't need mercury cells - their SBC uses a nine-volt. Oh, and might as well pick up a new-in-box Pilot as long as I'm thinking of it. So, now I seem to have accidently acquired a whole bagful of meters, but at least I didn't buy the voltage adaptor...

[And the best thing about Gossen is that they put up a statue of Ohm at the factory gate.]

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Monday, July 11, 2005

Forward, Into the Past!

The Teenager recently picked up the household digital point'n'shoot.
This seems to have sent me to even older tech, in some sort of equilibrium reaction.
(Part of which seems to have a "These kids today, they have it too durn easy" component.)

My father (b. 1919) graduated from HS in 1937. He started college, but the Depression and family responsibilities forced him to quit school and go to work. He was accepted into the GE Machinist's Apprentice Program. A couple years later, and he was at the pinnacle of the working-class ladder: 21 years old, living at home, with money to spare. Not a bad circumstance to be in on the eve of Pearl Harbor. As a master toolmaker, he would be utterly immune to the draft: (essential defense work). A toolmaker by day, a radio wizard by night: someplace in here he also picked up a First Class License, and went to work on GE's experimental FM station. He bought himself a car, and a fancy camera.

The camera he bought himself was a German-made Welti, a collapsible 35mm that's basically a knockoff of the Kodak Retina II (which EK was having built in their new German Nagel plant),with the same astounding Schneider 45mm/ f/2 Xenon. (Uncoated, of course, but still: f/2! Back before WWII!) and a sophisticated Compur-Rapid shutter (speeds from 1 second to 1/500). Typical wages were on the order of 35-40 cents/hour (the new Federal mim. wage had started in '38, at 25 cents/hr - - my father was apprenticed at something like that, but as a Master Toolmaker, I wouldn't be surprised if he was making more like a dollar an hour, with or without OT). But in those days, a decent camera like, say, the Argus A was $12.50 (more
than an average week's pay); a Leica was up near $200, which was a good fraction (1/4?) of the price of a decent car. The Welti was likely to have been well over a hundred bucks - - say, roughly a couple month's pay for him. And in those days. you could put an f/2 lens to good use: those were the days of Kodachrome 8.

After the war, he and my mother (m. Feb 1945) were on a delayed-honeymoon trip to Montreal in the summer of '45 or '46 - and his Welti was smash-and-grabbed out of the glove compartment. My father never quite got over it, and talked about the Lost, Lamented Welti until he died. With family obligations (new wife, then a new house, soon a new baby) he couldn't consider replacing it, so he consoled himself with an Argus C-3 'brick' and a Kodak Pony Bantam. When we settled his estate, I found that he had kept the empty Welti box among his effects until he died.

Part II Fast forward to the 21st Century.

Six months searching, and I found an f/2 Welti on eBay, being sold by the editor of Camera Shopper magazine in CT. (I suppose that the f/2 version in particular was probably scarce enough that there's a chance that this might be the very same camera that my father had stolen from him. There probably weren't more than a few score of them sold in America before the war changed everything.) Today, any not one Welti in ten is seen with the fast lens: it probably cost fully twice the price of the standard f/2.9 Welti.

I just got back the trial roll of XP2. The lens is a little hazy, bellows seem ok, guesstimated exposures are in the ballpark, so the shutter is likely to be somewhere close to nominal. Regardless of its age and problems, this Welti - pushing 70 years old! - makes acceptable pictures. Again: This camera is very nearly as old as 135 film.A six element double-Gauss is comically optimistic in the days before anti-reflection lens coatings, though. It is, shall we say, a little bit flare-prone? a little soft contrast? Basically, all high tones blow out, seemingly regardless of aperture. (F/8 doesn't seem a lot better or worse than f/2...) It'll be interesting to take a better look at what it's capable of.

So, I guess the next step is to load it up with Kodachrome 64 and go out on a Photo Safari with my daughter and her newly-adopted digital camera.

[Next stop: glass plates!]

Part III.
Well, I dug up a little selenium Gossen 'Scout-2' meter, checked it against my F3 meter, and I've loaded up the Welti with K64.
(Note that K64 is fully three stops faster than original Kodachrome....) Now to go out and shoot some film.
(It occurs to me that this lens is soft enough that it might look better with a high-contrast film. Hey! Why, I just happen to have the Worlds' Supply of Tech Pan....)

Working with a pre-war folder certainly makes one aware of what you're doing. And we learn why The Wisdom of the Elders has come down to us as: "Stand with the sun at your back and shoot at f/8": with uncoated glass, this is pretty much mandatory.

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Not as easy as it looks, now, is it, Mr. Smarty-Pants?

I just spent an hour poking around the template code, trying to tinker with the details (well, mostly with the color scheme) of the place, and I've learned a couple things:

1) These "rounded corners everywhere" are quite pesky: their colors have to be carefully set to match. or they stand out much like photo-mount corners in an album.

2) I have some ideas for re-decorating the place in a new color scheme, but tinkering with the default settings involves more thought than I've ever given in my entire life to the question of color-coordination.

In my ordinary life, I'm just a guy; I might flatter myself that I know a little bit more color theory than the average guy, but I can't quite say that I've ever lost any sleep over questions of home-decoratation or wardrobe colors. In my day job, I have an entire Art Department of trained, professional Graphic Designers on hand to think about this stuff for me. (Not so easy, now, is it?) Even I can see that the intermediate steps (changing a single piece here, then another there) are noticeably uglier than the default settings. (Especially with those damn rounded corners lurking around with their camoflage now glaringly revealed.) So I'm going to have to read and master the entire template and change it at once; either that, or inflict a wincingly ugly blog on any innocent readers who happen by during the change-over. Which leads to the third thing I've learned:

3) Mere mortals can use and possibly even master HTML.

All I need now is another six hours in the day, say, and I can someday find the time to revise the layout here.


Welcome to Weimar

Well, that was interesting.

One wonders why the American public isn't griping more about gas prices. Yes, I'm numerate enough to know that the current price of gas isn't nearly as dear as it was in, say, the early '80's; but then, just five or six years ago when Bill Clinton was president, I was paying under 90 cents/gallon. (But then, I am not among the half of Americans who were lulled by low gas prices into buying something monumentally stupid, like an SUV... no, rather, I seem to be among the few Americans cursed with a long-term memory. . . .)

A year or two ago, I once noticed a day in which the corner Mobil station had raised their price midday. (Usually, a gas station will have the decency to change their prices while they’re closed.)

Sunday, I realized that we’re about to see another surge in gas prices, and so I might as well top off the Home Fleet before the price increases hit. So, I filled the Miata (aka “the Red Menace” ) at about 5:30 pm at the cheapest station near me, the Rotterdam Hess: 231.9. As I was leaving, I noticed that the Hess gasoline truck was pulling in.

I went back with the minivan at 7:30, and only after I started pumping did I notice that in the intervening two hours(!), the price had been bumped up 2 cents/gallon to 233.9. In the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Noticing the new price gave me a bit of a 'runaway-inflation' frisson, it did.

Welcome to Weimar, Mr. Isherwood.

ADDENDUM, 8/11/05: The corner Mobil station was $243.9 earlier this week, 249.9 yesterday, and 253.9 today.
That's a rise of a dime/gallon just this week, and (I think) the first time they've gone over the $2.50 mark.
LATER: 263.9 on 8/13; 265.9 on 8/14. Ten cents in two days?! Twenty cents in a week??

Oh, and I was wondering above "why the American public isn't griping more about gas prices"? Well, the gas-price protests have started: truckers in Florida, but it's scarcely made the news.

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Charlie Tuna's creator has died

Tom Rogers, 87, a retired advertising copywriter whose beret- and sunglasses-wearing hipster tuna became an icon of pop culture, died June 24 in Charlottesville, where he lived with his son's family. He drowned while swimming alone in the family's backyard pool.

Charlie the Tuna was the likably obtuse deep-sea striver who never lived up to the taste standards of Starkist Tuna. ("Sorry, Charlie. Starkist wants tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste.") The character was based on an acquaintance of Mr. Rogers's who was an habitue of the beat scene in 1950s New York City, said his son, Lance Rogers. A beat musician and part-time actor who called himself Henry Nemo, the man personified one of Mr. Rogers's favorite aphorisms: "The straightest distance between two points is an angle."

"Everybody knows somebody like that, an appealing character who's totally confident but totally wrong," Lance Rogers said. [Emphasis added]

Mr. Rogers had a hand in creating other memorable ad mascots of the 1960s and '70s, the cookie-baking Keebler elves and the finicky feline in the 9 Lives cat food ads, Morris the Cat. He didn't originate the characters, his son said, but he infused them with distinctive personalities based on a lifetime of observing human nature as a screenwriter, aspiring novelist and copywriter.

Thomas Russell Rogers was born in Minneapolis and grew up during the Depression in a household run by his single mother. At times, he stayed with his grandparents in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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Last one to leave Kodak Park, please turn out the lights.

It was not so very long ago that I used to take pictures of The Teenager on roll-film Kodachrome 64.

I’ve been on a Death Watch for Kodachrome ever since they killed 120, and then K25. Kodachrome has been increasingly hard to find in the shops: Target and Walmart stopped carrying ALL slide film last summer. Last September, Kodak closed their FairLawn lab, and Eastman Kodak now contracts out their Kodachrome development. I understand that there are now only three K-14 lines left on the planet (Kansas, Switzerland, and Japan). (Though I would hope that EK still has a test line to check the film as it comes off the line; I presume that line is in Rochester, but I suppose they might have moved that to China, as well.

K64 has still been in the local drugstore chain Eckert, though; that is, until today, when they started closing out their stock at 75% off. I hit two of them this afternoon, and snared nineteen 24 exposure rolls @ $1.68.

That should hold me until Process K-14 is gone. I give it until the end of 2006.

(Words & music by Paul Simon, 1973)

When I think back
On all the (crap) I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of ed-u-cation
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

If you took all the girls I knew
When I was single
And brought them all together for one night
I know they’d never match
My sweet imagination
And everything looks worse in black and white

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
(repeat and fade...)

(Addendum: Kodachrome is still around as of April 2007.)

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Thanks, Dad

As I mentioned somewhat obliquely below, in about the summer of 1976, my father returned from TDY in Europe and handed me a Konica T3 SLR, fresh from the Weisbaden A-V Club. I was twenty, and, up to that point, had not shown a remarkable avocation for photography. I had taken some pictures, including some surprisingly technical work as a kid, a odd roll of trip snapshots here and there, but my father and my sister had been the primary family photographers.

Having had a pretty decent camera drop into my lap totally out of the blue, I felt I was under some moral obligation to learn how to use it. One of my college chums (Hi, Rod!) taught me how to develop film, and off I went. Within a year or two, I was doing my own 4x5 sheet film. And this was also the era when E-6 was replacing the older, more difficult E-4 Ektachrome - so I was quickly doing my own color slides. (I actually watched guys run their last E-4 - that’s how old I am.) I joined the college photo club, I was on the staff of the school newspaper. I photographed everything.

We tend to forget how expensive photography used to be. The mid-70s were the age of the introduction of the One-Hour lab on every corner, which, surprisingly, helped drive prices down - but before that, it was both expensive and time-consuming to get prints back. When Fuji 400 came out about 1976, it was probably about $4 a roll, and a DP-36 mailer was probably close to ten bucks. So a roll of color prints probably ran close to 40 cents a print.

Being obsessive, I could probably work up some real numbers on this topic. Umm, I was paying 18? bucks for a can of Tri-X, less for Ilford, that's under 3 cents/frame for film; chemistry was pretty cheap, especially when I used the student paper's darkroom. A can of Ektachrome was about 40 bucks for 19-20 rolls, that's 6 cents/frame, a gallon of E-6 chemistry was also about 40 bucks for 32 rolls, so add another 4 cents/frame for development, plus storage. So what I seem to recall is that I was getting pictures as far as B&W negatives for 4 cents or so, with a contact sheet adding another penny a frame? And I was doing (unmounted) color slides (bulk film, souped myself) for just about a dime a frame. Of course, this was a long time ago - multiply those figures by a factor of four or five for today’s values.

[Cf. today: I'm doing a significant amount of work at 2 cents/frame for film, + about 8 cents/frame for EK processing (4x6 + an index print) = just about 10 cents/printed frame. Adjusting for inflation, that's cheaper than I was making B&W negatives in the old days. Photography is so cheap that home processing can no longer be justified on economic grounds: that is, even ignoring your time investment, it's now substantially MORE expensive to do your own darkroom work. (Which rather explains why my own darkroom has been sitting idle for nearly a decade.)]

So most of my work made it only as far as contact sheets - I had decided very early in the game that my limited funds were better spent on making more negatives than on expensive prints. Thirty years ago, I already realized that in the future, I could better afford to make prints - but that the photo opportunities themselves were always slipping away. I figured that someday I'd be in better circumstances to catch up on my printing. I may even have been anticipating the home scanner; even though that was completely SFnal in 1976.

And I was right: here in the future, photography is cheaper.

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Can't Stop the Tide From Flowin'

I’ve been fighting an increasingly lonely rear-guard action against digital photography for about a decade now. Until the last few years, there has not been much wrong with a strategy of Waiting Until the Bugs Are Out Of It: each successive year has seen better resolutions, shorter lag times, AND lower prices. By now, even I can’t argue that digital photography hasn’t Arrived. Still -- having never even bothered to make the jump to autofocus -- I’ve had little motivation to jump in at the deep end of digital photography. (Quite the reverse, in fact: as everybody dumps their film cameras on eBay, film gear has never been cheaper.)

This weekend, The Teenager discovered the little Olympus digicam that I picked up on a clearance table last summer. And I think I’ve lost her to The Dark Side.

Last summer, I had given her a little Nikon EM to get her started with Serious Photography. (This is just about how I started, thirty years ago: when somebody gives you an SLR, you’ve been placed under a geas to at least learn how to use it.) I can’t exactly say that she has caught fire with the hobby. But this weekend she decided to help her mom start selling stuff on eBay - which pretty much necessitates putting up digital photos.

So, all on her own, she got the little Oly out, installed it on the kids’ iBook, and started snapping away with it. Pouring photos into iPhoto followed immediately.

Now what am I going to do with all this film?

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Department of "Man, I love the 21st Century" (I)

Another reason to love the 21st Century:

take a look at the wikipedia article on the 7/7 terrorist bombings

and then realize that this is much, much better news coverage than you've seen in any other news source.
It's drastically better as a round-up than you'll see in the newsweeklies or even in the Sunday NYT.

Now obviously, the Wiki article is a compilation of 'main-stream media' sources, but one merit it has is that it does not make the assumption that the reader is a complete idiot.

Addendum: George Bush went to the British Embassy in Washington to repeat his untrue remark that "This is why we're fighting them in Baghdad - so that we won't have to fight them at home."

How many in his audience, um, call London home??

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Shirley, light of my life

Back in the late Pleistocene, when photography still involved silver and gelatin, Kodak used to publish a Color Darkroom Photoguide. And bound into each and every copy of this book was an original negative (with a matching print) of a pleasant-looking young woman traditionally referred to as "Shirley". As Kodak brought out new materials, each edition got a different 'Shirley', although Kodak worked hard at giving them a uniform 'look'. With a proper neg/print sample in your hand, and a sample 'ring-around' printed in the book, you got a running start at making your own prints with a tolerable color balance.

But Shirley's existence meant that somewhere in Rochester, there's a no-longer-young woman - several women, in fact - who, decades ago, earned a few bucks by posing as "Shirley" for hours while one of Kodak's house photographers blew off a few thousand original negatives of her. (If you look closely, you can see that her pupils are quite contracted - they're using a lot of light on her.)

I wonder where she is today.

I wonder if they have an alumni association, and reunions?

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That was easy

I found how to re-set the time for Eastern Time (where it belongs...).

Sometime I'll figure out how to change the template colors.

(Of course, now that I've re-set the clock, Blogger thinks that this post came before the actual second post.)
[Nope - as Master of Space and Time, I successfully moved this post to its proper temporal location.]

And, despite the Windows-centric instructions, it was actually pretty easy to add a photo. They could have mentioned the 50k size limit up front, though. Would have saved me from wasting time on a higher-res scan.

Ok, we're going live

Well, to a first approximation, Blogger seems to work.
The first disconcerting discovery is that if you give Blogger your DoB, it then looks-up and posts your astrological sign as one of the most important features of your profile. It would seem that this is supposed to appeal to the set of people who a) are credulous enough (or badly-educated enough) to take astrology seriously; and b) are too dim to remember the dates of the signs of the zodiac. (It strikes me as though this could be a relatively small set.) In my world, giving credence to astrology counts as a major negative attribute for Blogger. I dunno if it's enough to make me take my business elsewhere.

The second discovery is that this particular template doesn't allow a full range of colors - unless you go down and putter around in the template code, which is nicely spelled out, at least. I'm not sure that I care enough about the background colors to bother learning their secret code numbers.

And third - we see that Blogger keeps California time. Oh: I see that it's trivial to just fake the posting time.
That should fix the out-of-sequence post. And as you can see in the next entry (above), that in the near future, I'll soon find how to re-set the blog's default time.

None of these are deal-breakers, I suppose. (The price is certainly right.)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Is This On?

Hello, test. One, two. One, two. Testing, testing.