The Junk Whisperer. Part III

My folks had discovered an actual camera store in Dover, New Hampshire at some point and when I told them about the Brownie, they were kind enough to stop in and pick me up a couple of rolls, ready to meet my sander and get resized to fit. Now with everything I needed to go put this old beautiful box into action, only one question remained: Color or Black and White.

Hmmm.

Black and White film holds a special and dear place in my heart. Many years ago, a much younger and substantially more awkward version of me could often be seen stalking interesting shadows and high contrast compositions with my trusty steel body Minolta. It had belonged to my father when he was young and now I had taken to it with enthusiasm. It shoots 35mm and though it only has one lens and is not a snazzy SLR, (i.e., Single Lens Reflex, meaning that the range finder lets you look right through the lens of the camera and not out a separate little range finder in the upper left corner of the camera) it still took the best Black and White photos I’d ever seen. I spent many a happy hour, late at night in the campus dark room developing and making prints of my black and white images.

Color though, offered another, special possibility.

In this crazy-fast, laser like perfected digital age, the phones we have crammed in our collective pockets can take pictures of stunning resolution and clarity and for some odd reason, this ability has kicked off the craze of the “retro-ing” of pictures. The ability to saturate the colors, fade the edges and fake a little light bleed at a corner here and there has become increasingly popular. I have to admit, I find it somewhat perplexing.

I’m looking at you, Hipsamatic and Instagram.

Without a doubt, the images made with these bits of software do indeed look genuinely old school and  the filters and effects used on each uploaded image are often dutifully stamped into the accompanying text of the Facebook post by the shooters.

Lens: Edward Q

Film: Kobe’s 1971

Flash: strobe

…Or some such thing.

I mean no offense to the legion of happy iPhone photographers out there, but when I see these images, my mind quickly drifts to of all the actual filters and lenses that still lurk to this day in dark and dusty, forgotten drawers and backs of closets in homes across the world. They sit unused and unloved and it somehow seems a cheat to let the computer oldify the photo if you have the tools to do it the right way from the very beginning. To me, it feels like buying carrots at the store, sticking them in the ground only to pull them out and call them homegrown. Sometimes, doing something the hard way makes the end product that much better.

To my mind, anyway.

It also makes me slower on the draw, so I guess victory can be claimed on both sides.

Carefully loading the black box with my precious eight frames of ISO 200, color film, I carried the Brownie out side, trying to look at the world with my dusty, rusty photographer’s eye. Something I hadn’t done in far, far too long.

What initially came thundering back to me was the realization that I had eight shots and that was it. For the first time in a long time, I had to really consider my shot rather than just blaze away. It was going back to hunting with a muzzleloader after having used what is essentially, a machine gun. I had become used to snapping off a double fist-full of pictures, looking at what I had, and the culling the duds. In the end, I’d still have three or four pictures that were worth keeping of any given object or situation. Unless your funds are limitless, it doesn’t work that way with film.

I thought about subject

I’m drawn to photographing stuff. I like stuff! It doesn’t move, it’s timeless and you can fiddle with it to get the best effects. The problem is that it can also be impersonal. A photo of a boat on a beach is great and all, but it doesn’t get coveted by your great grandchildren, it doesn’t solve a family mystery and it probably won’t be attributed to you if you’re not there to claim attribution. This time around, I was shooting for something to go in a family album. I was remembering the picture that Great-Grandma took of her child and husband

Scooting around in the flower garden next door, a fancily dressed fairy princess and a serious butterfly hunter caught my eye. My son, Shortstack is six now and his sister Lulu Belle is four and to our great relief and enjoyment, they are each other’s best friend as well as sibling. I also tend to have a slightly biased eye when viewing them. They were the perfect subjects

In this case, their near constant movement would only add to the image. It is how I see them nearly all times unless they are asleep. Blurry.

Holding the camera at chest height and looking through one of the range finders, I lined up my subject.

The shutter swings. SNAP!

What a sound.

I catch her again as she flies along at the edge of the garden.

SNAP!

After a few seconds of cajoling and kindness, I get both of them to stand still long enough to line them both up, capturing a moment of their youth to celluloid.

SNAP! Number three out of eight taken.

The day is beautiful and breezy as the chilly afternoon wind kicks up off the Atlantic and blows the treetops. The three of us head out for some adventure and the Brownie comes with us.

As my two dear children enjoy their time with some kites at a nearby field, I stand off to squeeze them into the tiny field of my camera lens.

SNAP!

Sun at my back and turning the Brownie on its side, I look through the landscape range finder and take one more picture, just to be safe.

SNAP! Number five.

The kids are very interested as I take each photo and are more than a little bugged that I can’t show them the image like on my phone. I wonder if they think I’m making it up. To temper them I take a few more with my digital and we talk about which ones came out best.

That evening, I can’t resist the siren song of low angle sunlight and I joyously give in and search out my last three images. These are for me.

SNAP!

SNAP!

SNAP!

In the end, it wasn’t that long a wait to get my film back from the photo place in town. The hardest part was just getting around to driving it over, and then back to pick it up. I had forgotten how exciting it is to open that little glued envelope. Things could go so wrong. You won’t know until you fan them out and see for your self. There is no going back.

The Garden Series:

The Kite Series:

The Boathouse:

There they are. All eight in all their glory.

I still have the roll of black and white, but that will have to wait for another time and a different method of printing. The photo place I had brought this roll to only develops and prints black and white about every six months, so I’m left with a problem. I could leave my used rolls of film with them and wait like a patient little soldier, or…

It’s a thought to terrifying to think.

Should I?

I know how, after all.

There’s really not that much to… developing it all… my self!

 

All I need is an enlarger.

Oh, and a developing can.

Well, I need the chemicals too. And lets not forget the baths and a timer. Not to mention tongs, a water supply, drying racks and a bunch of other minutiae I’m no doubt forgetting.

I wonder what corner of the basement would make the best dark room?

 

Uh oh…

The Junk Whisperer, Part II

The word, “camera” is a squishy little noun. It can mean so many totally different objects these days. To my children, the word, “phone” is synonymous with camera. To them, it’s something that lives in your pocket at all times and is capable of taking movies as well as stills and then send them effortlessly to the other side of the planet as fast as your wireless carrier can charge you. When I was their age, the manifestation of the word “camera” might have meant the Polaroid. It was capable of taking hideous, blurry, square snapshots that faded dully with the passing years, BUT let you actually see what you had snapped a photo of with only a few minutes of mindlessly waving the picture in the air in the strange and vague hopes that this would somehow produce a better image. They were great!

What I had picked up was different.

Hanging in my living room is a picture of my Great-grandfather and my Grandpa. It was taken in about 1917 and in it, my Grandfather, whom I only knew as an old man, is perhaps three or four. My Great-grandfather, whom I never knew, looks to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He would not live to become an old man like his son.

There are several reasons beyond the obvious why I love this photo. One is that my Great-grandfather is an unbelievable match for my own Dad when he was that old. If you had shown me that picture as a child, I would have wanted to know why Daddy was wearing those funny clothes. Another reason is that my Grandfather and my own son don’t look alike. They look identical.

Seriously.

There is no question in my mind what my little boy will grow up to look like. The match is pretty much perfect.

All this is enough to crank up the voltage on the sentimentality-o-meter but the last reason for my attachment is the photographer. It’s my Great-grandmother. Saying that they didn’t have much money is a huge understatement, but one of the very few indulgences they enjoyed was a Brownie camera, and from what I understand, she enjoyed it mightily.

For those of you who’ve never seen a Brownie before, it is quite the interesting little box. Made for much of the twentieth century in one incarnation or another, it brought photography to the masses. They only cost three or four dollars and took, if not wonderful, then reasonable pictures. For the first time, almost anyone could chronicle their lives on film. It was a huge change and really started in earnest photographic record keeping for average families.

Now Great-great uncle Horace wasn’t just a name in a list, but a face you could spot familial connection with. I know that’s what it does for me, any way. The moment I bought my very own Brownie on that internet auction site, it somehow made me feel that much closer to the people in that family portrait as well as my Great-grandmother. I liked that. My problem, I knew, was that there was no way I was going to be contented with simply leaving it on the book shelf to gather dust.

Don’t get me wrong. It’ll do that too! But I was going to need to take this little bit of history out and see what I could get with it as well. It needed it to work.

A handful of days later, it arrived. The auction photos had been less than clear and the item description was seriously… sparse, so it was with some trepidation that I opened the package. It’s probably the main reason I has no competition in buying it. TO my elight, other than some surface rust on the front, some smudgy optics and a sticky shutter, it looked surprisingly sound. Like a giddy eight year old with his father’s pocket watch, I quickly took it down to parts, cleaned everything that looked cleanable and added a little bit of thin lubricant to the moving bits. After reassembly and a few dozen cycles of the shutter release to break it back in after who knows how many decades of neglect, everything was moving happily and snappily! Now all I needed was film.

Ah… film.

It’s a little startling to realize that the word, “film” is very quickly becoming a forgotten word that will eventually slide into anachronism. Buying film? Whoa! Do people still do that?

A few do, as it turns out.

Film for a camera built in nineteen-thirty-something though, is harder.

Back in the celluloid days, film came in a zillion different sizes and formats and the choices were aplenty. The Brownie’s particular type is called 620 and it was sold everywhere and even cheap, compared to the more modern 35mm which most of my contemporaries are familiar with. 620 is a large format film with each negative bigger than some prints that I own and a fresh roll providing a paltry eight exposures. It has also not been commercially produced since the 1980’s.

I never let stuff like thirty-five years of obsolescence deter me. That just makes it more satisfying when you get it all running.

Many professional photographers still shoot actual film in their cameras and for really posh portraits, they use a format called 120. Luckily it’s almost exactly the same size as 620.

ALMOST.

The film its self is the same, but the spool that the film is wound on is just ever so much bigger. Just bigger enough, in fact, to not allow it to work in a Brownie. Don’t think for a moment that this didn’t happen by design.

Ugh.

Solution number one is to strip off the film and hand wind it onto an old 620 spindle. It sounds simple except that it needs to all be done in perfect darkness, there’s a finicky little tab at the end of the film that you need to get in just the right placement and… you need some old 620 size spindles. Solution number two is to ever so carefully use a belt sander to grind down the oversized spindle without ripping the film still curled around it.

Given a choice, I will always go for the belt sander. Always.

Who wouldn’t?

So, a little time in the basement and a scun knuckle or two and, poof! Film for an eighty year old camera!

How would it work? Would it work at all? Does it leak light? I had no idea. Even if the pictures didn’t come out, snapping them would be part of the fun.

The Land Before jpegs

The lights go off. My whole family is sitting in the dark facing one wall. There’s a faint humming and then a blinding flash! KA-Click! And up comes the first image!

These are fond memories for me. Actually, memories of memories. The family slide shows were always fun despite the hoots from the audience that the projector runner was going too fast, too slow or that the picture was out of focus. That big silver screen was magical and the “Zoooop!” sound that it made as it was extend up, ready for the show to begin was always so appealing to hear.

The piles of carousels from vacations past. The pictures of aunts and uncles who looked impossibly young. The popcorn!

It’s interesting to think back to a time not so long ago when I was carefully picking out the right ASA film for the picture taking that I was planning to do. The special holsters for the telephoto, macro and zoom lenses. The equipment was fun. It made you feel professional. You knew what you were doing and the fourteen pounds of camera equipment lashed to your torso proved it.

When I was young, like so many other kids, I got a little Instamatic 110. It even had the pedestal for the flash cubes, supposedly to cut down on redeye. That little black rectangle and I went all over the place. It was dragged to camp, hiking and Disney World. I vividly remember taking “pictures” even though I knew it was out of film, just for the satisfaction of hearing that “click” of the shutter and the ratchet sound to advance the film.

The 110 naturally, took print film and in various dusty boxes are zip lock baggies with piles of thick prints, corners neatly rounded and going sepia with time.

Then at some point, I got my Dad’s old 35mm. It was a Minolta. Its steel body made it weigh a ton and there was only the one, do everything, lens. It was fully manual and the as far electronics went, there was built in light meter. That’s it. I loved it, used it well and if the lack of lenses made it difficult, if not impossible to take some photos, it made up for it by taking the most exquisite black and whites of any camera I’ve ever owned.

On one particular trip to the Middle East, we took a long bus ride and I foolishly put it in the pocket of the seat in front of me. Naturally, being a kid, I forgot it when we disembarked. I realized it just as the bus was pulling away and started going bananas. My Father quickly left me with the baggage and managed to chase down the bus after a few blocks. To this day, I’m totally astonished that he managed to get the camera back. I also NEVER put personal belongings in the seat pouch again. I still have the camera.

For some reason, taking slides always seemed to be the realm of adults. My Father, Grandfather and uncles took them by the pound. Somewhere there is a picture of me on a family vacation, holding up a plastic bag full of shot rolls of slide film. There are easily fifty rolls in that bag. Over the years and a few cameras later, I too took some slide photos, but never like they did. I still preferred the prints. I could flip through them as I pleased and it was never too fast or too slow. If they were out of focus, you tossed them.

The other day, I went down to our local landfill. I hate going there, not because I dislike the duty or the smell, but because right next to the entrance, there’s a little hut. That hut is where you can leave stuff that still works but that you don’t want. I’m a packrat by nature and places like that call to me like a siren’s song. Despite my best efforts, I looked as I passed by. My eyes popped and I hustled to the different bins, metal, plastic, lawn clippings, in an effort to ditch my load and claim my prize before it was nabbed by some other, speedier packrat.

Quickly trying it out to make sure it was not broken, I happily toted my brand-old, slightly dented, but other wise perfectly good, projector screen back to my now empty trunk. With childlike glee, I snuck in into the basement in an effort to avoid the “What did you bring back now?” that would likely get lobbed my way from my very understanding, but not infinitely patient wife. I can’t say that my dump-return track record gives me much room to argue the point.

So… Now all I need is a functional projector and once again we can turn out the lights, sit down and argue that the pictures are going by too fast, slow, out of focus, backwards, where they were taken and by whom. The meager number of slides that I have will make this a slightly less lengthy experience than the family slide shows of yore. I’m betting that my Father’s collection alone is in the several thousands.

Still… there are more than enough to make an few evenings out of it. The real question is whether I’ll be able to resist getting my old 35mm back out and picking up some fresh slide film.

So, who’s making the popcorn?

Lost Memories

So, with Father’s day breathing down our collective necks, it’s time for those of us with the obligation, to start thinking about a gift.

My particular style for finding the perfect Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, anniversary, or birthday gift is to,

A: Remember what day it is, ON the actual day of the intended gift giving, and then…

B: Run around at the last minute like an idiot, trying to find a gift that doesn’t come across as one that wasn’t gathered up at the last minute by an idiot.

I rarely succeed.

Surprise, surprise.

The problem is usually not that I didn’t think of anything in the previous weeks. The problem is more likely to be that I had a bunch of GREAT ideas that would take way more time to get up and running that I actually have, and thus, were shelved.

I’m long on great ideas, short on time and funds. My Mother likes to point out that I should have been born rich; then I could have great ideas and pay others to actually finish them. I think prodominatly, my Mother likes this idea because that would ipso facto, make her rich as well. Hey, if you’re going to play “If I had a million dollars”, you might as well share the fictional wealth!

This brings me to this years brilliant “You don’t have time for this foolishness” gift for Dad.

A few weeks back, my family and I went to visit the old homestead in New Hampshire. While I was there, I spent some quality time rooting around in my old room. In the bottom of a jar of pens, pencils, mummified erasers and dead bugs, I found a long forgotten slide. The image took me a minute to discern. The celluloid was in rough shape after who knows how long knocking around at the bottom of all those writing implements and various types of ick. Then, it came into focus. Not only did I figure out the picture, but I remembered it being taken as well. It’s of me… from long, long ago. In the photo, I’m five and at the family cottage looking over the deck rail with the sun is behind me. As I figured this out, my eyes widened as I vaguely recalled having my Dad call up instructions to me to set my head a certain way and look off in a particular direction. He was an avid amateur photographer and loved trying out “art shots” and new lighting techniques. In this case, I think the desired effect was a sunny halo around my five year old mellon.

The slide is out of focus and I have the feeling that he might have considered it a failed attempt. That might explain how it escaped from its carousel at some point, ending up kicking around in my room. At any rate, I scooped it up and brought it back with us when the vacation was over. I had to bring it to a photo developer to get a scan good enough to attempt to repair the image. When I started working on it, I had confidence in my abilities with Photoshop and thought that it might take an hour. It took a lot longer than I expected. After a three hours, I was starting to think that this, like so many of my great ideas, was going to turn out as yet another “almost finished it” gift. Today, with not much time left, I decided to knuckle down and finish or go blind and loopy trying. It took a lot longer than I thought it would…

But I did it.

I had it printed on eight by twelve, matte paper and I picked up a glass clip style frame for it to go in. I’m very pleased.

It’s hard to get gifts for my folks now. They don’t really need more stuff and the stuff that they want, they go get. My goal is to not get them “dustables” or nick-nacks if at all possible. This will take up some wall space somewhere, but all in all, I think it’s a good Father’s day gift. The fun (and new part) is that I’ll be getting something from my children too!

I’d love a framed picture of my kids.

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