Sunday, November 29, 2015

Visiting Andy in Quincy

My son recently moved to a surprisingly large apartment in Quincy. Although we stayed overnight with Andy in Iowa City a few times, this was the first time in Boston he had room for us in his apartment.

One truism is that people always gather in the kitchen, and we were no exception.

The first day we went down for a look at Beacon Hill and the Massachusetts State House (which would be called the Capitol in any other state). This is the Governor's office used only for public events. I set my little tripod on the ledge of a bookcase, but nobody noticed, although I had to reach around another visitor to close the shutter.

The Senate Chamber, directly beneath the golden dome.

We returned to Quincy on the T.  They have very convenient displays letting you know how long the wait is for the next train, so I knew I had time to make an exposure. The only place I had to put the tripod where it wouldn't be in the way on a very busy platform was between my feet. Thousands of people passed by on both sides of the platform, but one or two stayed put long enough to be recorded.

It was rush hour and the train was really packed, but luckily I got a seat so my wonky knees wouldn't give out. This is the entire trip from Park Street to Wollaston.  Most of the time there were several people directly in front of me, mostly wearing dark clothing, but occasionally there was a gap so I could see Sarah sitting across from me. One of those rare occurences where a really long exposure works out exactly as I had hoped.

Back in Quincy, Andy prepared us a fantastic dinner of Pork Tenderloin en Croute. Very tasty.

The next day we dedicated to the south shore.   First stop was the USS Salem Museum, a heavy cruiser in service mostly in the Mediterranean from 1947 to 1960.  People always note the difficulty of long exposures with pinhole cameras, but with a simple sliding shutter very short exposures in sunlight are equally problematical. It's tricky to open the shutter without slightly moving the camera. Here you can see a ghost of that left hand gun where the highlight on top it it got recorded in the small part of a second before the camera stopped moving.

One way to avoid this problem is to cover the shutter with something when you open it,  in this case my finger, and then make the exposure by removing it without shaking the camera.  However in this case, I didn't move my hand out the frame fast enough.

We then went to give Jeremy, their little dog who usually moves much too quickly for pinhole a break in some of the seashore parks.  Here is the view of Boston from Nut Island. Although it's kind of obvious looking at a map, I was surpised that nowhere in Boston do you get a view directly out to sea.  I guess that's how it got to be such popular harbor.

As a midwesterner, tides are always something I find myself surprised about.  When we visited, it was almost exactly at low tide. The rocks the camera is sitting on are just about at the level of high tide.

More to come from Quincy and Boston.

All these photographs with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.

The Glenmorangie Evil Cube

6 x 6cm, 6cm from the pinhole.

This is the other camera I built for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day this spring.

It's evil, not just because of the dimensions, but because of the plethora of little issues. There's a stereotype of the pinhole camera maker that says they view every container they encounter as a potential camera, and I've obviously yielded to that periodically, but I have to say, it's a lot easier and more reliable to make your camera from scratch so you can design purely for function and not be limited by the measurements and other characteristics of a ready made box.

Wayne, captured with the
Glenmorangie Evil Cube
This particular box came my way after I had done a favor for a guy I worked with (Hi, Wayne!), and he responded with a very generous gift.  (I took over a couple work assignments so he could go see his first grandchild on the east coast.) Sometime in the past he had googled pinhole cameras and my name and come across an image of the Glenlivet Vertical Populist.  When he was picking a token of appreciation, he said he thought this black box looked the most like a camera. The two previous Scotch box cameras I had made,  Sarah gave me with a similar sentiment.  Well, I hate to disappoint anybody.

I had been meaning to build a Hasselblad sized 6x6x6 cubical camera for a while anyway, so this was a good excuse, and I like to do something special for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.

The shutters are identical to the Chanel No. 5. Three layer sliders with the actual moving shutter cut out of brass (with a Dremel tool in case you were wondering) so it would match the gold lettering and again mounted inside with the slider coming out through a slot in the box so as to not have to glue a shutter over the box design.

The tripod mount is a square 1/4" x 20 nut inset into a piece of foamcore that's glued to the bottom.

A piece of foam core is glued into all four sides. Note how the shutters are under the foam core so it blocks any light coming through that slot.

The pinhole is mounted in between the foam core and the front shutter.  I wanted to get it as far forward as I could so I could cut the smallest hole possible in the front and I could make the hole in the foam core layer as big as I wanted, but I also wanted to put it behind the shutter.

The pinhole is .32mm and hand drilled, by the way, the first time in a long time I've done that.

The shutter in the back is only as tall as necessary and when the foam core was glued in front of it, that leaves a gap for the flap of the top of the box to insert into.

I built a film carrier out of foam core and card stock, with a box camera style film path with the film reels in front of the camera, wrapping around dividers which make the 6x6cm image plane at the back.

One problem is that between the width of the box and the angles necessary for the 6x6 frame and the film reels in the front, that leaves a very narrow slot for the image to go through, and since the pinhole was permanently mounted between the shutter and the foam core, I couldn't make sure it was perfectly aligned with this narrow slot.  So I cut an opening in the dividers.  Originally it was an oval but in the first role of negatives it blocked part of the image, so for the second role, I squared it off. In what has to be my top duh! moment in camera building, It didn't occur to me that now the image could get behind the dividers and expose the film as it wrapped up and back the sides of the camera, so I got an overlap of an image on each side of every frame.  This was not some sort of creative multi image process like a Blender. It was just awful.

So I added these curving baffles that wrap around the film reels and block any light sneaking up the side of the camera but still allow me as big a slot for the image as possible.

I also inserted these cut off nail heads (from a collection left by the former owner of my house over thirty years ago) through the bottom of the film carrier to keep the reels parallel.

The film carrier is then inserted in the box.  The top of the carrier sits on those four pieces of foam core lining the front, back and sides and seals the exposure chamber.

The winders are 3/8" dowels with the end whittled to insert into a 120 reel with a collar from beverage can aluminum to light proof the holes and with the top of the box closed over them they keep the winders from falling out.

Film advance is a two step affair – first loosening the supply reel a little and then tightening the take-up reel. It takes about four of those cycles to advance a frame.

Viewfinding is with some beaded pins to define the angle secured with superglue.

It is a pleasure to use in the field.  Those beads make it really easy to determine the limits of the image pretty accurately and the film advance, though a little tedious, is smooth and reliable, but then pinhole is a slow process in any event.

On Pinhole day, I really took a lot of shots that were either close ups fatally blurred by the wind, or just plain boring.  Here's the image I submitted to the WPPD gallery.

And a test shot of a sunbeam in the living room from the last roll.

The rest of the roll turned out to be kind of a nice themed series so I'll post that separately.

You may have noticed that these images aren't exactly square. It looks like that slot between the film reels isn't wide enough and the image only ends up to be about 49mm wide. I really hate to waste that 11mm per frame, and I already have a 6cm camera with a 6x4.5cm format.  Kinda disappointing. I'm not really sure anything can be done about it.

It also still has a light leak.  In most of the images it's faint and easily burned through.  I think it only happens when sitting in the west kitchen window for long periods, but I'm not sure.   This scan is rotated to appear as though you were looking through the pinhole toward the back of the camera, so it's probably related to that slot the film counter shutter goes through, but with all that foam core, I'm not sure how.

On Monster Garage, Jesse used to theatrically destroy the creations that didn't work out.  I don't think I'll go that far, but I think I might be making an evil cube from scratch so I don't have to be constrained by the dimensions or preserving the design printed on the outside.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

East coast road trip

The east coast of Wisconsin that is.  We took a day trip around Lake Winnebago to Two Rivers to see the Hamilton Wood Type Museum and then, to lunch and the John Micheal Kohler Art Museum in Sheboygan. Biographical note: I was only in Sheboygan once before – to attend the Junior Classical League State Convention.

In another vein that betrays my age, both Sarah and I have had professional experience with wood type. Sarah worked for the Dick Blick Company who had a product line called Sign Press (I was the hand model for the cover of one of their catalogs), and at both institutions at which I spent my career, I had to make prints on a Sign Press. Metal type only comes in sizes up to about 72 point.  Any bigger than that, it's wood, and it was probably made at the Hamilton Manufacturing Company.

The process begins with this fearsome saw which slices maple logs into pieces exactly as tall as the type will be. It's actually kind of an interesting process. Individual characters of various sizes are carved from a template reduced with a pantograph, and finished by hand with a wood chisel.

In addition to the wood type manufacturing process, the museum includes all sorts of presses and press room peripherals like multi-ton hydraulic paper cutters and a collection of millions of pieces of type.

It included a couple of complete linotypes.  These things are really monstrous and fiendishly complicated. Part of the process involves casting molten lead. Sure glad I don't have to use one of those to create this blog. I've been aware of linotypes and how they worked as long as I can remember, but I'd never actually seen one before.

Major highlight of any road trip is stopping by a smashing little restaurant for lunch and Field and Feast filled the bill quite well.

They're paired with an upscale Italian restaurant in the same building and you can get their Tiramasu for dessert. This negative is kind of underexposed.  You know how sometimes the length of the exposure is determined by how long you can stand to wait?

After buying some of what my son characterized as the best cheddar he's ever had it's on to see some art.

Like a lot of small art musems, the oldest part is the home of the original benefactor,  in this case the founder of Kohler Manufacturing. They display some of the possessions of the Kohlers, but it's not set up like a preserved home.

Except for the dining room, which has a life-size sculpture of a horse over by the windows.  That's a contemporary addition, not part of the the Kohlers dining room decor.

There was an exhibit of Asian textiles that included these kimonos with really fantastic batik prints.

There were actually three photography exhibits, including one that had an art/science mashup theme. These large prints were part of a series of the oldest living things on earth.  The closest thing to pinhole were photograms of various sorts.  There were several prints from Abelardo Morrell's Tent Camera but I think there's a lens involved creating those images.

Although I sometimes sneak shots in museums where it's not allowed, in this case it was and I had a nice conversation with the security guard who was very curious about pinhole photography. I photographed him while he was taking photographs of the paintings on the ceiling of this room to send to a relative who was coming to visit using his 15 year old cell phone which he keeps because he likes the camera.

Before heading back to the other side of Lake Winnebago, we took a cruise on the lake shore drive and were treated to a very nice sunset over the Lake Michigan shoreline.

All with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Winter light and wildlife

We went to Mosquito Hill twice in the first half of November on successive Sundays.

It's pretty difficult to find anything of any color except the reddish brown of decaying leaves.

On the way up the North path, you encounter this erratic rock that's covered in day-glo green moss (when the sun hits it anyway). It's been here a long time.  Until last year it looked like the rock had just rolled down and gotten stuck between two trees, but the larger older tree on the right came down last fall. It didn't take much inspection to see that the trees had grown around the rock which was there first.  One spring day two years ago, we saw two grapefruit sized rocks roll down the hill, but things this size don't break off the cliffs very often (in human time-frames anyway).

There are some subtle colors if you look closely.  These pale blue fungi were normal mushrooms several weeks ago.

The real excitement the first week was the wildlife.  With the Populist, I've photographed frogs, a snail, turtles, fox snakes (who don't care if you get near them until they strike when you get too close), deer (who blend in with the background but you can find them under magnification), frozen beetles and dragon flies and a mosquito feeding on my leg. You of course see a lot of small mammals, birds and garter snakes, but they move way too fast for pinhole photography.  But this week was the first time I got several fauna shots on one visit and a couple of the most extraordinary.

The first one was caught in my greening of the hill series shot of the switchback, with a North American Blonde Artist in her dark winter plumage just up the path.

When we got up to the top of the hill we encountered a garter snake.  You see them all the time especially when they're migrating up or down the hill, but what you usually see is one slithering away in the undergrowth.  Last year for the first time I got a picture of one on a variably cloudy day who had been moving around while the warm sun shown, but got slowed down considerably when the clouds came over and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees while it was coiled up out in the open. This time we caught this guy in the leaves next to the path. It held quite still for a bit, then slithered under a fallen log and froze when it came out from under and saw I had placed my tripod in its path.

Here's a full resolution detail.  I just left the shutter open as long as it remained still which was about 10 seconds, during which it stayed absolutely motionless holding its head up in the air. Pretty cool.

Less than five minutes later on our way back down the hill we found this fox snake hanging out at the edge of the path trying to soak up enough warmth from the low November sun to get moving again.

The most impressive sight of the day were a pair of Red Tailed Hawks as nearly as big as eagles which were riding the thermals on the south side of the hill.  It was a pretty windy day, and occasionally one would appear to be hovering motionless as they flew into the wind.  When we were on the top of the hill, one of them did this about 20 feet over Sarah's head.  I completely missed it as I was fussing setting up what turned out to be a disappointing shot of the rocks.  Later when we were crossing the meadow and I was doing my other greening of the hill meadow series, I could hear Sarah say something about thirty yards down the path, but the wind was blowing toward her and I couldn't make it out.  When she got up near enough to me,  I heard "You missed it again."  While I was counting out the ten or so second exposure, both hawks had put on a show over the meadow. However when I scanned the negative of the wide angle view of the Populist, I noticed this dark spot in the sky on the right side if the image.  I'm not saying I never have flaws on my negatives, but this is the right shape and in exactly the right spot for a hawk.

We had also seen some deer that day. When we went again the next week, it was pretty lifeless and even more colorless. What was really notable was the seasonal low angle of the sun.

The switchback, totally in the shadow of the hill. 

Some skinny aspens forming the warp to the ground, meadow, lowland forest and sky's weft.

A side lit and much less orderly tangle of sumacs on the southeast end of the hill. 

On the north side of the hill, in the pines where, as Leadbelly tells us, the sun never shines, especially late in the day in November when the sun hardly makes it over the hill, we came across this sunbeam projected through a low spot of the hill.

The sun sets pretty early in mid-November and the low sun leaves long stripes of the shadows of trees across the forest floor

Even later in the day, the sun sometimes aligns with one arm of the oxbow pond and shines a beam on a few naked trees where it turns around the bend. 

By now the sun was almost set but the highest tips of the prairie grass and, of course, the hill, were still all lit up.

All with the Populist.  .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36 frame.