Monthly Archives: November 2010

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.