Every time I write a post I think I will update my blog more frequently. Of course it does not actually happen. I have actually been getting a little work done, and by “work” I mean out shooting and printing, though I have not made any new prints in a couple of weeks. What I have been doing is making postcards.

I signed up for the APUG postcard exchange, which is just that–a list of folks who print up some postcards and mail them to each other. I’ve got 47 cards to make, of which I have finished 39. I ran out of postcard paper before finishing. I use the Ilford postcard paper, which is cut to 3.5 x 5.5″, and has the postcard markings on the back. It’s not required, but it’s convenient. Anything that the USPS will accept as a postcard will do.

Since printing 47 copies of the same image sounded a bit too tedious, I chose to do a few different ones. I took it as an opportunity to revisit some negatives I had that hadn’t come out quite as well as I’d hoped to see if I couldn’t make something better out of them by recropping.

Canal Street signage, NYC

Lawn idol with flowers, Somerville, Mass.

Moving van, Cambridge, Mass.

Williams Candy store, Somerville, Mass. Sadly, this has been torn down and replaced by a condo building.


A Shot in the Dark

I made a perfect picture tonight but no one will get to see it. I was out shooting with my Koni-Omega, with two backs, one loaded with Fuji 400H and the other with Acros. I was walking around the neighborhood, starting with the 400H. I ended up over by the river just at sunset, and there was a nice glow on the water under the Longfellow bridge, so I took a couple of shots there, one on each side. Then I walked around over to the MIT campus, thinking I might see something to do with the Stata Center, the Frank Gehry monstrosity that replaced the legendary Building 20.

So I’m looking around the backside, and a security guard walking by asks me if I was getting any good pictures. I said, eh, and he started going on about the moon and how it would nice to have a picture of the moon with the trees there. Now this in itself is sort of an odd response; normal security guard procedure is to hassle anyone with a camera. But this guy actually offers to let me in and find a good place to shoot from. As we’re heading to the door, I see a good shot. There’s a sort of round chrome structure with a pylonish thing behind it, and the moon is over them. It’s getting dark but there’s nice reflections from the chrome. So I decide to set up right there.

Now comes the fatal mistake. I decide to switch backs. Acros is good for long exposures, hardly any reciprocity failure. The guy is chatting about how he’d taken this nice panoramic sunset photo with his cell phone, and was surprised at how good it came out. I’ve got my tripod with me, explaining to the guy that the camera is old and requires some mechanical operation, but meanwhile I’ve skipped one key step. After switching the backs, I forget to pull the dark slide.

Now, as long as there have been cameras with dark slides, there have been photographers forgetting to pull them out. One of the reasons I like to use mechanical nonautomated equipment is that I have to rely on my brain, to make all the decisions about how the shot is going to come out. The downside to this is that I have to rely on my brain, to remember all the steps. As my wife knows, I’m especially prone to being distracted if I’m trying to do something while someone is talking to me. So Mr. Chatty is not actually doing me any favors here.

When I make a mistake like this I tend to curse a lot. It annoys me. I go and walk around for a couple of hours and come back with less than I’d set out to. Hardly a crisis, and neither the first or last time I’ll do something like that. Shoot without film in the camera? Done that. Switch the fixer and developer in the tank? Yep. Hit the light switch before shutting the box of paper? Check. And on and on. The only consolation I have in this case is that the K-O is supposed to have a interlock the prevents the shutter firing if the dark slide is in place (the designers knew about people like me 50 years ago). It would seem that this is not completely failsafe. If the dark slide is out even a tiny bit, it doesn’t lock.

Maybe I need to make a checklist and tape it to my camera bag. I mean, if checklists can work for pilots and doctors and nurses, in situations that really matter, then surely the help me avoid stupid errors. I know we’re supposed to learn from our mistakes, but I don’t necessarily want to have that sort of learning experience every time I go out.


Waiting for Kodot

Just before Christmas I sent off my last four rolls of Kodachrome to Dwayne’s for processing. If you are one of the exceedingly tiny percentage of the population who cares about such things then you may be aware that last week was the deadline for Dwayne’s to accept orders for Kodachrome processing. When Kodak officially discontinued the film, they also stopped making the chemistry to process it, leaving Dwayne’s with a year’s supply.

What this meant was that everyone who had any rushed to use up whatever they were holding and get it to Kansas. I’d been using it up about one roll a month or so, and I held the last four because the return postage is cheaper than sending them one at a time. I sent mine in by express mail, thinking of the deadline and the holidays. I’d hoped that by now I’d have a post up about those last rolls, but I’m still waiting. In the past, I’d get my order back in about a week, including transit time to and from Parsons. But by Christmas there was already 10-day backlog at Dwayne’s.

This is a little nerve-wracking, since once the existing chemical stock is exhausted, there is no more. If some of the film doesn’t get processed now, it never will, at least not in color (it can be done as black & white). As I write this, a week after the deadline, a photographer at Dwayne’s is reporting that they still have another 10,000 rolls to go, but it looks like the chemistry will hold out.

I’ll be sad to see Kodachrome go, but not completely crushed. There really is nothing like it, but today the remaining color negative and slide films are very good. In Kodachrome’s heyday nothing else was even close. And of course, the film I used to like, Kodachrome 25, has been gone for some years now. I don’t even get the film in slide mounts any more. No projector. I’m either going to view them on a light box or put them in the scanner. So it’s easier to just get uncut rolls back. That’s just the way it’s going to be from now on, more and more of our favorite films being discontinued until all that’s left is Tri-X. Or maybe Adox.

Polaroid on Kodachrome:




Early Work

Speaking of old photos saved for no particular reason, there is also this. I suppose I can’t complain too much about my grandmother’s placing a bad photo in the album, since I myself have kept practically every picture I’ve ever taken. In response to a post on APUG, I pulled out the bag I keep some of my early work in to see if I could identify the oldest photo I still have.

At this point it would be impossible to determine with certainty. I first got interested in photography in summer camp. One of the first cameras I got to use was an Argus C3, presumably because even then you could likely find them used for free or cheap (if you go to a flea market or antique store today, there’s a good chance you’ll see one or two of these). I know that some people actually like them, but it’s a terrible choice for a small child, heavy and difficult to operate. I remember that the rangefinder dial was hard to turn.

Later, when my dad got his Nikon (which I still have), he gave me his Agfa Silette (which I also still have). The Silette has no meter or rangefinder, so I practiced guessing distances and set exposures by the information sheets that came with the film. I was about nine when I got the Silette. A variety of cameras came and went in those days. I recall also having a couple of 110 cameras—a Kodak Pocket 10 and a 20 (which I no longer have). Heck, sometimes a camera wasn’t even needed. A scrap of an old film strip could be made into a picture:

So now I have this pile of prints and negatives I made in the early-to-mid seventies. The photo at the top is probably one of the earliest that I still have. The negative is gone, and as you can clearly see, I hadn’t quite got the hang of lining the easel up straight under the enlarger. I think the kid in the photo was named Nina. I think she was older than me. That’s about all I can remember about that. There are other pictures in the pile that are even more mysterious to me.

Actually, they aren’t completely mysterious. I can remember where most of them were taken, and could probably sort them into a rough time order. Names of people are mostly lost. I have a fairly tenuous connection to my former self. Later years, from, say, junior high-school onward, are clearer, but most of grade school is a blur. I’ve heard it said that when we get old and senile, early memories get clearer, and the later ones start to fade. So maybe I should hang on to these photos, and I might eventually get them back.

A message from history

Recently I took possession of an album of family photos, from my father’s side of the family. It’s always sort of weird to look at old family photos. There’s the people you only knew when they were old, and in the photos they are young. Photos of people who died long before you were born. Photos of people with people you know, and you have no idea who they are, and there’s no one around who remembers. The pictures of people in the 1960s and 70s, and you can no longer believe that people ever thought it was a good idea to dress that way. The oldest ones are the best, in some ways, taken in the days when cameras were still not common and posing for a portrait was a special occasion. Later, more people had their own and they became much more casual with their use. But the idea of taking lots and lots of pictures and just keeping the good ones was still far away. Clearly, at least some people, by which I mean my relatives, had the notion that you had to keep everything, no matter what. Like this photo. Someone, probably my grandmother (but I can’t be certain), taped this down into the album, and did not think, this picture is no good, I should just throw it away.

So I wonder, who is this guy? Where is his head? Who are the women at the top of the stairs? The kid at the bottom might be my father. This might be Dorchester in 1947. But apparently the photographer couldn’t decide who to aim at, so decided to split the difference, and also the necks. It is sometimes said that one of the differences between traditional and digital photography is that the archival quality of digital is unproven. Will you or your descendants be able to find and/or read your files in sixty years? On the other hand, your descendants will be spared these enigmas. No one will laugh at your clothes or hairstyle. Does it really matter if the photos are saved, but the meaning is not?

The photo does have a nice sort of surreal quality to it, a guy with no head and a kid with no body. Maybe they go together? Perhaps my grandmother thought this was funny. It was unlikely the intent of the person with the camera, but sometimes that’s the best way.





First Dark

A year and a half after our move, I’ve managed to get my darkroom back together and operational again. The darkroom is basically half of the room I use as my home office. I had most of the stuff I needed already, as I’d been printing in our old apartment. In that room, the enlarger sat on my desk, and I wanted to put it on its own stand so I could actually use my desk for work. After a little hunting around I found a small cabinet that would make a suitable stand and give me a little extra storage. I can keep paper, film, and other supplies in there. My enlarger is an Omega D5-XL, a big beast. So I really wanted to be sure the cabinet would hold it.

In the apartment, I blacked out the windows with blackout plastic and gaffer’s tape. This worked okay, but the tape tended to come off when I didn’t want it to and not when I did. Getting a good seal around the windows was difficult, and then opening the windows after was a pain, too. For my new office, I made inserts for the windows out of black foam-core art board and blackout cloth. These can be slipped into the window frames without being attached to the window. The light seal is actually better than what I had before. The system still needs to be tweaked a bit, but it basically works the way I wanted it to. When I want to print, all I need to do is pour out the chemicals, then wash up the trays when I’m done.

I’ve been trying to get into the habit of taking a camera with me when I am out on my bike. This has meant rejiggering the collection a bit, as the Nikons have proven to be something of a load. I use a sling pack, and having something more lightweight in there would be a good thing. I sold off a couple of pieces of large-format gear I wasn’t getting much use out of and got an Olympus OM-1N, as well as an old Konica III rangefinder. The Olympus is half the weight of one of the Nikons. I also finally got around to having my Koni-Omega serviced. I’ll need to rig up a padded carrier if I want to take that; it’s way too big for the backpack.

The first prints I made were from the first roll I put through the Konica. Ilford FP4+ film. I had it CLA’d by Greg Weber along with the K-O, and when he sent it back to me he told me it would become my favorite camera. I can see what he means. It’s a bit quirky, but in a fun way. It was designed in the 1950s to be a relatively low-priced competitor to the Leica. In 1958, this camera cost $120, whereas at the time a Leica would have been $400-500. The build and optics are first-rate; the cost savings came mainly from it being a fixed-lens camera.

The main problem with shooting while out riding is that sometimes I lose track of exactly where I was when any given picture was taken. This is somewhere out along the Charles River, a spillway for fish to get through the dam. Newton? Watertown? I’m not exactly sure.


A few months ago, we had to have our cat put to sleep. I’d had him for about 15 years, and he’d had various health issues, but in the end it was cancer that got him. It was pretty traumatic, because he’d been a good companion, especially through some fairly depressing times when there were days it seemed my only reason to get up in the morning and go to work was so that I could continue to buy cat food.

I’ve lived with cats more years than not in my life, and this was the first time in more than 20 years we’d been really cat-free. It was inevitable that we would get another cat, but for a while it was hard to even think about it. Eventually the desire for another cat began to outweigh the melancholy. What turned the tide was a practical concern: we discovered that we were being visited by a mouse.

The mouse was coming in and out though the stove top. I saw it coming up through the grates around the burners. Under the stove top is a large, mostly empty space, with a vent in the back that the mouse could get in and out through. We presume he was going down the back and possibly into the basement. I haven’t yet found any signs of an actual mouse nest, but we can’t move the oven—it’s a massive six-burner Wolf range that probably weighs as much as three ordinary ovens (you can see it in this post).

In fact, we think the mouse has been there for a while—before our cat died, he’d taken to hopping up on top of the oven and walking around on the stove, which seemed kind of odd behavior. Of course, as long as the cat was around, we never actually saw the mouse. The mouse was, like a certain former dictator, “contained.”

Which brings up to the last weekend, when the MSPCA adoption center was having a “kitten adopt-a-thon.” All of the kittens they had out in foster homes would brought to the center, and people looking to adopt lined up to see them. It was kind of an odd set up. The cats were all in cages with name tags, and when someone found a cat they wanted, they took the name tag to claim them. People were let into the room about ten at a time, to help keep the kittens from being too overwhelmed. There were about 50 kittens, and they were all really cute. The event was scheduled for four hours, but all of the kittens were claimed in an hour. A few of the kittens were in litters with the mother. We had considered before we went over that we might try to adopt a kitten and the mother together, and it worked out that indeed there was a pair we could take together. So now we have Ida and Sam:

And it has turned out to be a good thing that we did. Sam is very playful but skittish, and he’s clearly adjusting to is new home a lot faster because his mom is here. And Ida is very sweet. And that mouse’s days are numbered.

This is only a test

A while back I was wandering about in the local antique mall. One of the vendors was closing up shop, and marking everything down 80 percent. It was a random assortment of undesirable junk for the most part, but I did see in one case a small cardboard box with two old lenses in it. The price written on the box was $10, so the sale price to me would be two dollars. How could I resist?

The style of shutter and the names Ernemann and ICA suggest that these lenses probably came off of a couple of “pocket” folding-type cameras made between WWI and the late 1920s, when those companies were swallowed up in the consolidation that produced Zeiss-Ikon. Not too surprisingly, the shutters don’t work very well. Slow, by a factor of about 100. They still operate, which means they can probably be cleaned and made well again, but it wouldn’t be worth the expense.

I put them aside for a while, and went on to other things, but the the other day I decided to try to clean up the glass on the Ernemann—probably the better of the two lenses, and would likely cover 4×5. It was fairly dirty, having been poorly stored and handled over the years. I managed to get most of the grunge off—you have to be careful not to scratch the coatings on these old lenses—to where I figured I could actually get an image out of it.

The lens did not quite fit the spare Graflex lens board I have, it’s too loose, but this was remedied with a strip of gaffer’s tape. I just forced the shutter to stay open with a cable release, and figured to make the test with the Speed’s focal plane shutter. Unfortunately, I don’t the correct cable to sync a flash to the focal plane shutter, so I had to make with available light from the window. Fuji FP3000 instant film seemed to be the thing to try here, because patience is not my strong point. I pulled a couple of shots to gauge the exposure, and then added a yellow filter. I had to just hold the filter up in front of the lens; I have no idea what the thread size of an Ernemann Doppel-Anastigmat is, and most of my filters are sized to fit my Nikons. The end result:

Squash, sweet potatoes, green tomatoes, and onions from the CSA on the counter. These instant prints, especially with the high-speed film, tend to be a little soft no matter what lens is used. I’d have to say, not bad for an 80-plus-year-old lens that cost me all of a dollar. So the next test will have to be with real film and better light.

Farm Stand

The other day I was out for my usual Saturday morning ride. It’s starting to turn to fall here, so the early hours are getting chilly. This is okay, though, since I prefer it to riding in the heat, and after an hour or so it’ll be warm enough anyway. A long loop through Sherborn out to Medfield, then back through West Roxbury and Newton. On the road through Newton I went by a place I haven’t seen much lately but was familiar with as a kid, the Angino farm, now known as the Newton Community Farm.

The story goes that when my dad was a kid, Jerry Angino was the truant officer for the Newton public schools, and got to know my dad in an official capacity pretty well. Later, when Jerry took over the family farm (it had been owned by Anginos since about 1917), and my dad was my dad, we’d go over to visit him at the farm. It’s not a large lot—only about two acres altogether—but to a kid it seemed a huge space.

One of my earliest clear memories—possibly the earliest I can be reasonably sure of when it happened—was the day when I was about four years old when we went to the farm to pick out a kitten from a litter that the Anginos’ cat had had. The kittens were in the chicken coop—you can just make it out in the photo, on the left, the squat rectangular shed—and we picked a little calico kitten.

When I was, actually, I’m not sure, maybe six or seven, I got lost in the corn field. I remember that the Anginos kept a row of sunflowers growing along the edge of the cornfield. I always liked looking at them because they were so huge. At least it seemed that way to me—the corn and the flowers were much taller than I was. So I went wandering into the rows, and came upon the scarecrow in the middle of the field, which was quite surprising and actually kind of scary.

We did, of course, take home some of the produce. The Anginos had a farm stand to sell what they grew. The farm was the last commercial farm in the city of Newton. It is my memory that we got mostly corn and tomatoes, proper yellow corn-flavored corn, not the candy corn that seems to be bulk of what’s available these days. Occasionally there would be a tomato worm in the bag, as a free bonus.

The farmhouse at that time did not have central heating (I don’t know if this has been updated since), and much of the heat for the house was provided by an enormous cast-iron wood-burning stove that took up much of the kitchen area. It is said that the house was originally built in 1700 or thereabouts. This plot of land has been farmed more or less continuously for 300 years. After Jerry died his kids didn’t want the farm, but fortunately, they were able to make a deal with the city to keep it as it was. So although the Anginos are gone, the land is still producing food. One day Jerry told my dad that he’d turned down an offer of a million dollars for the land. This was in the early 1970s, and already large open lots in the city were getting scarce. But Jerry wanted to keep farming. He could take the money, he said, but what would he do with himself?

I think this place is part of why I still think it is important to support local farmers as much as possible. If farms like this disappear, then all we will have left is industrial-grade produce from huge corporate farms, trucked in from far away. We still have a choice. Around here, at least, there are an array of farmers’ markets, farm stands, and CSAs offering a pretty wide variety of food products from the region. So take advantage while you can.

Our Sundae Best

Sometimes you have to wonder if childhood memories are better off left as memories, or if you should go and revisit them.

Today the wife and I decided to reward ourselves for doing a pile of yardwork with hot fudge sundaes. The wife in particular wanted to have a sundae in a glass cup, like we used to get at old ice cream parlors. But these days most ice cream shops use paper cups. This was the price of the “premium” ice cream revolution: better ice cream, cheaper service. Paper cups do the job, but they are inelegant, especially for a sundae. In Ye Olde days, paper cups were for cheap ice cream, the crappy stuff sold by street vendors and ice cream trucks, whereas when you went to a nice ice cream parlor, a sundae was special. You got table service and a glass and a spoon. A paper cup is a downgrade.

Meanwhile, I’d had a hankering to revisit a place I hadn’t been to in some few decades, since driving by it last summer on Route 1. When I was little, my grandparents would take my sister and me to Putnam’s Pantry in Danvers. Putnam’s Pantry is a candy shop with an ice cream parlor attached. The novelty of Putnam’s Pantry is the Ice Cream Smorgasbord, a buffet line of sundae toppings for the gluttonous to create their own dish of pancreatic damage.

The process works something like a cafeteria: you order your sundae at the register, and the server writes your flavor on a paper dish and hands it through a window. A dish is returned with ice cream. You then proceed down the toppings line, loading up on whatever toppings you want, limited only by the capacity of the dish. And, to some extent, the paper plate, as you will almost certainly have some overflow, unless you are not doing it right.

Here’s what the buffet looks like, and I have to apologize for the crummy cell phone photo:

Now of course, I remember it as being much more extravagant, though it probably hasn’t really changed that much since the early 1970s. Only my perspective has changed. The toppings choices are pretty pedestrian by today’s standards—hot fudge, butterscotch, strawberries (that looked kinda nasty, so I passed), coconut, jimmies, that sort of thing. If you’re an esthete looking for your basil-fennel sorbet in an white-tea-infused olive oil sauce, this is not the place. This is strictly Food of the Proles. As a kid in the early 1970s, I was not distracted by such notions, only by the thought of having all the toppings I wanted.

I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to make the return trip, because of the fear that it would turn out to be really terrible. And it turned out to be not so terrible. The ice cream itself was all right, basic ice-cream parlor ice cream, not as rich as you would get at, say, Christina’s or Tosci’s, but with all those toppings piled on, that is not really such a drawback. I skipped over some of the dodgier toppings (the canned fruit) and ended up with this:

You might notice that this is not in a glass, but a metal bowl. Only the small sundae is in a glass bowl, and there was no way I was going to drive a half an hour and only get a small sundae. Actually, there’s no way I’m going anywhere and only getting a small sundae, but that’s a different problem. A metal bowl is okay, though somehow it seems to be not trying quite as hard. But at least it wasn’t a paper cup.