Sunday, December 10, 2017

East Meets West

My combination of Soviet lenses with a classic German Leica IIIa has worked out pretty well; I am expecting it will be more successful than the infamous 1939 German-Soviet Pact which lasted just over a year.


The Industar 22 and the Jupiter 12 lenses seem to be performing equally well, though I have mostly shot them so far in bright light conditions and at small apertures.


The last roll of film I put through the camera was Kentmere 100 which I processed in Rodinal at 1:50 dilution.  I'm looking forward to trying some other films and developers, including some PMK Pyro.


I have ordered a replacement beam-splitter mirror for the Leica.  It turns out that the mirror coatings used on the Soviet Leica copies was actually superior to that used by Leitz in the Barnack-style cameras, and my IIIa has no better rf contrast than most of my other cameras from the same era.  If the surgery goes as hoped I'm expecting I'll have more confidence in using the Leica in low light, and that should provide a more significant challenge for the German-Soviet alliance.


I check the lens listings on ebay every once in a while, but the chances of finding a good Leica lens at a reasonable price remain slim.  In any case, I'm happy enough with the experience so far, and it is nice to have an excuse to get back to using all my rangefinder cameras more.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

New eyes on new gear

I picked up the Nikon EM at a yard sale for ten bucks a while back.  The camera worked ok, but I didn't like the Tokina zoom lens it came with so I set the camera aside after shooting just a roll or two of film.

The Tokina zoom made nice enough images, but the f3.5 maximum aperture coupled with the zoom feature seemed to create a problem with the viewfinder's focusing spot; it tended to black out if the eye was not positioned just right.  The problem was less noticeable when zoomed back to 35 or 50mm.  That got me thinking that I would be better off with some kind of prime lens.  So, I started looking around for a Series E Nikon lens that came standard on the EM.  One turned up recently on the local Craigslist at a price of $30, so I met the seller in a McDonald's parking lot to get the Nikon prime.


The Nikon Series E 50mm 1.8 lens made the Nikon EM into a nicely compact and rather light-weight system.  The images from the lens were unsurprisingly sharp and undistorted.  I don't think the pictures are noticeably better than many of my other lenses on the Spotmatic or other cameras, including those with the older Tessar-type such as my Vito II or the Contessa.  I did find that having a bright view in the finder and a clear focus did encourage exploring more subjects in depth.




It turned out the guy I met at McDonald's had brought along several other Nikon-mount lenses.  The one that interested me was an Aetna Rokunar MC Auto f2.8 28mm for twenty bucks.  Well, why not?


I found a few derogatory comments about the lens on line later, but the results I got from it seemed excellent to me, comparable to the Nikon prime.  Also, the Rokunar gets me seamlessly close to macro with a minimum focal distance of less than a foot.




The meter on the EM reads a stop low, and some of the images show a small amount of shutter capping.  The camera is not particularly friendly to diy repairs and I doubt I will try to correct the small defects.  I like aperture-priority automation, though it would be nice to have the option to over-ride that at will.  Over-all I can't complain about the camera's performance in view of what I have invested so far.  I would like to try the lenses on another camera for the sake of comparison.  I may have to hunt down an old Nikon F body.  Darn.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

upgrade

Yesterday I needed to wear two pair of +3 reading glasses together to read a book.  Even then, I was unable to read  New Yorker-size print.  I had cataract surgery on both eyes about 1:00 pm.


I stumbled around the house in a dense fog for a couple hours, but by 8:00 pm I was able to dispense with one of the pair of glasses.  This morning, I'm at the computer with no glasses.  The eyes are throbbing a bit, and I see a rainbow-hued halo around bright light sources, but I'm optimistic about progress with my vision at this point.  It will be nice to be able to see the controls on my cameras again, and the final products of my photographic efforts seem likely to more closely resemble my intentions.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Three more from the Foth Derby

I've used about half the bulk roll of my 127 bulk Portra 160, mostly in the Foth Derby.  The film needs about an extra stop for proper exposure.  It performs pretty well except for some spots on the negatives that I have to stamp out each time.  I'm not sure if the fault is with the film or my C-41 developer.


The KIMO Theater is Albuquerque's Art Deco landmark.  It was built in 1927, and bought by the City in 1977, at which time it was extensively restored.


We had perfect weather for our Thanksgiving Day in the Mesilla Valley.


Making pictures with my old cameas always gives me a sense of connection to past times.  Making a self-portrait with the Foth Derby adds an additional dimension with a hint of time traveling.  I don't usually use the self-timers on my old cameras as it often jams the shutters, but the Foth Derby's shutter seems quite robust, and I decided to take the risk.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

History

I think this is the first picture I ever made of myself.  It took me a long time to get around to doing a self-portrait.  Still, the shot was made quite a while ago, as you can tell by the fact that there is a watch on my left wrist.  I'm activating the shutter of my pinhole camera with a cable release in the atrium of our house in the desert south of Hatch, New Mexico.


I got a little more creative soon afterward in taking advantage of the pinhole camera's capacities.  I entitled this one "Self Disclosure".


Time goes by.  We moved to Albuquerque.  I acquired more cameras, including the Argus A2F which I used to snap this shot at arm's length.  It is kind of brutal self-imagery, but I liked it because it shows the surprising quality which the old Argus can deliver.


The last shot I made of myself was about four years ago while attending a Caffenol workshop in Taos conducted by Becky Ramotowski.  Since the negatives would be hung up to dry with those of all the other participants it was suggested that one of the frames on the roll should be a self-portrait to help identify the photographer.  I set my Argoflex on a newspaper vending box and tripped the shutter with a cable release which got me far enough from the camera to be in focus.


I have never been inspired to make a mirror image of myself.  Partly, that is because what I see looking back at me does not correspond to my internalized self-image.  That impression is most acute when I catch a glimpse of myself in my peripheral vision in a shop window; it always comes as a shock.

My thanks to JR Smith for the idea to revisit this subject.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Remembering Arbus

I was browsing through the photo books recently at Barnes and Noble when I came across Arthur Lubow's biography of Diane Arbus.  There is a picture on the cover of Arbus made by Tod Papageorge.  It is one I recalled seeing in the past, perhaps many times.  What came as a surprise to me on this occasion was that I realized had never before recognized the camera Arbus has hanging on a strap in front of her.  It is a Mamiya twin-lens reflex, similar or identical to my own Mamiya C330.  Hers is fitted with large, square lens shades and a monster flash gun, as well has a case strung on the strap wich either contains another lens set or an an eye-level viewfinder.  Arbus also has a big camera bag hanging from her left shoulder, likely containing additional gear which possibly included a couple more lenses.


The cover picture got me to thinking about the fact that a small person like Arbus had chosen such a large and rather awkward-handling camera to lug around the streets of New York.  It seemed important to know something of how she came to the decision to choose that camera system, so I bought Lubow's book.

Lubow's biography told me a lot more about Arbus' personal life than I felt I needed to know, but it did also provide quite a lot of information about her photographic techniques and decisions.  She got started in photography working with her husband, Allan, doing studio fashion work.  He did most of the lightng and camera work while Diane took on more of a directorial role, selecting costumes and creating the story lines for the photo shoots.  Both of them disliked fashion work; it paid the bills, but Allan really wanted to be an actor, and Diane moved toward working out of the studio with smaller cameras.

Arbus early on used a Nikon F, probably when she was developing her own style under the guidance of Lisette Model.  She next got a wide-angle Rollei, but ultimately replaced that with the Mamiya tlr which could accept interchangeable lenses.  The big flash which she usually attached to the camera gave her the rather stark look she favored, and it also permitted shooting fine-grained film at small apertures to get the wide depth of field and ultra-sharp images which essentially duplicated the high-definition which she had gotten with the studio view cameras.  In most of the pictures of Arbus showing her with a camera, it is the Mamiya, and it seems likely that camera accounted for most of her well known images.  One thing I thought particularly interesting about those pictures of her was that the strap of the Mamiya is adjusted  to the last position, bringing the camera up close to her face so that she just had to lean her head forward to achieve the final fine focus using the flip-up magnifier in the viewfinder.  Arbus expressed great enthusiasm for a Pentax 6x7 acquired toward the end of her career, but I don't recall Lubow identifying the subjects it was used for.

Arbus only learned to process her own black and white film very late in her career, and then mostly because it offered a financial advantage to a life that was always beset by economic anxiety.  She did make her own prints in the darkroom and was meticulous in maintaining very high quality standards to produce the final prints for display or for reproduction.  Even with those high technical standards and her unique artistic talents, she never made a comfortable living from her chosen profession.  She did get a couple substantial grants to support her work, and her unique abilities as a photographer were praised by many of her contemporaries including such luminaries as Avedon and Szarkowski.  However, she rarely got more than a hundred dollars for a print, even from the great museums of Europe and the U.S. which sought to add her work to their collections.

In regard to recognition in her lifetime, a 1967 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art mounted by John Szarkowski was the high point for Arbus.  Szarkowski's aim was to introduce the museum-going public to an emerging trend in fine art photography which focused on highly personal, idiosyncratic portrayals of life as opposed to the agenda-driven work of earlier documentarians who marched to the tunes devised by mass media editors.  The New Documents show also featured the work of Lee Friedlander and Gary Winogrand, but it was Arbus' confrontational style that captured the attention of public and critics alike.


I was not at the opening, but I did get to view the New Documents, 1967 exhibit at MOMA.  I had just finished a course in commercial photography and I was taking a stab at getting started in the field.  I sold a few pictures to newspapers and a portrait session with the children of friends had earned me a membership to the Museum of Modern Art.  My memory of the exhibit is pretty dim all these years later, but I do recall being greatly impressed by the powerful, unique and large images in the gallery devoted to Arbus.  Lubow mentions that Arbus liked to lurk in the background at the exhibit, listening to comments on her pictures by the exhibit crowd.  So, I might have been elbow-to-elbow with the artist at some point.  Of course, I had no idea at the time what Arbus looked like, and I really did not have the preparation at that point to really appreciate the importance of her work.

A 2005 exhibit in Scottsdale many years after Arbus' death found me better prepared to appreciate her contributions to the art of photography.  The show was very nicely organized and mounted.  Arbus' big prints were placed high on the wall and their impact in that setting was extraordinary.  What came through very clearly was the fact that her images were the end product of a uniquely intense engagement with her subjects.  She always got very close to the people she photographed, and she made many pictures, often over a period of hours and sometimes in multiple sessions over years.  From the large number of exposures she made of each subject she chose to print just those few that seemed to extract the essential qualities of her subjects, many of whom resided in society's ragged margins.  I had been alerted to the Scottsdale show by the fine, Phoenix-based photographer Michael Ging.  Another on line friend, Jorn Ake, saw what I think was the same show at the Met in NYC and wrote a very nice little critical review of it in the photo.net classic cameras forum.

In an effort to refresh my memories of the 1967 MOMA exhibit I acquired the book about the show published by the museum just this year.  It turns out that a catalog was not produced at the time of the exhibit.  The MOMA book is therefore an effort to accomplish what I am trying to do -- to piece together a picture from a disparate collection of memories, halftone reproductions and old critical reviews.  One does get a sense of the times and personalities, but the pictures from the exhibit reproduced in the book fall unsurprisingly short of the effect of the originals seen as they hung on the gallery walls.  To get a little closer to that  I will look for a copies of the three volumes produced by Aperture Magazine on Arbus published after her death in 1971.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

El Tecolote

Tecolote Mesa is fifteen miles west of Grants, New Mexico.  The name is associated with a geological feature on the mesa's rim thought to resemble the eyes of an owl.  On the slopes below there are the thousand-year-old remains of Casamero Pueblo.   The site, administered by the BLM, is a few miles off of Highway 40.  We have been the only visitors during our two visits.

The main pueblo structure is said to have contained about twenty rooms and possibly a second story with a few more.  A nearby depression marks the site of a large unexcavated kiva.  Casamero is one of the southernmost outliers of the Chaco Canyon complex, which is about forty miles to the north.



The camera used to make these pictures was my FED 1g, fitted with the 35mm Jupiter 12 and an accessory viewfinder.  This Barnack-style bottom loader has made some nice pictures for me over the years, and also provided me with numerous opportunities to learn about camera maintenance and repair.  I have had the shutter crate out of the camera several times, the last to try to figure out how to keep it from chewing up film.  I've also had to adjust the shutter tension and seal up some pinholes in the shutter curtains.  I did manage to get through a whole roll of film on this occasion with no advance or framing problems, but I am seeing some evidence again of shutter capping in the form of dark edges on the images.  Judging by the near complete absence of paint on the camera's back it has had a long and productive life, so it is not surprising that some of the fixes are breaking down.  Luckily I have several other Soviet-era rangefinder cameras including a Zorki 2C which functions perfectly, so I am still able to easily put to use my fine FED, Jupiter and Industar lenses.