Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Roadtrip: Thoughts on traveling with a pinhole camera.

The film I used on this trip was Portra 400 in the Evil Cube and Long John Pinhole, Lomography 100 in the Variable Cuboid and Kodak Gold 200 in The Populist. They are quite different and I got sick of messing with color balance to get them to look the same and gave up.

Rock and Rochester • Blue hills, blue water, and black humor • Art is what you can get away with in Western Pennsylvania  The other side of Lake Michigan It sure is hard not to overexpose Portra 400 on a sunny beach, even at f362. It’s hard to make long exposure decisions about film use during a quickly changing sunset. Some of the exposures were measured with Pinhole Assist, some guessed and some for as long as I could get away with leaving the camera with the shutter open. I'm continually amazed that I always get a usable negative, although that sometime takes a little work. When I said that the Classic View at Fallingwater was the only view, I mean by a few inches either way or something was obscured. Guess who people had to wait for during a 1 minute exposure? Eastman House was a great review of the history of photography, despite the limited gallery space. The current history exhibit was a survey with just the work of women photographers. Unlike some fields that included one of the greats in every era. It was cool to see a disassembled No. 1 Kodak that's set up much like the Variable Cuboid including just having sighting lines for viewfinding. It gave me an idea for a new shutter.
A full size tripod is a heavy thing to walk around with, dangerous in close quarters and possibly in someone else’s way but maybe a deterrent to muggers. I wish I could have tried to get pictures in five lanes of traffic at a dead stop. I have done it before. I momentarily thought about it but this time my attention was already fully engaged. Driving in stop-and-go traffic really takes concentration. This has nothing to do with pinhole, but it sure is nice to have 305 horsepower and brand new tires at your disposal when you need it. On the hotel parking forms, I never listed it’s make as Ford. It was always Mustang.
Museum benches are usually located in the middle of the gallery facing a significant art work, but the pinhole view in the other direction often yields a more interesting photograph. I try to avoid putting the camera on the floor because it's too noticeable. Also people tend to look where they're sitting in a public place, but they don't always look where they're walking, expecially in an art gallery. Once you do find a place to put the camera, getting multi-minute exposures is not all that hard when you’re looking around a gallery of paintings. It was weird to lose the New Glarus Populist. In a busy place like the Philly Art Museum steps, it was probably noticed soon because of the shiny bronze-colored tripod, especially since people often watch their feet when walking down a monumental stairway like that. I wonder what they made of it. Last year in Strasbourg I almost lost The Populist and tripod when they fell out of my jacket in a taxi. The driver found it and came running after us. It pays to tip. People do recognize them as cameras because they’re mounted on a tripod but I’m still stunned about how unextraordinary my pinhole cameras are. One assumes people at George Eastman house are interested in photography. We weren’t the only people photographing the Lake Michigan sunset. At Fallingwater they had to wait for me to take a picture with their SLR’s (only a minute). No one said anything. The concierge/desk clerk in Michigan who watched over the Populist never said “Wow, Pinhole! How’s that work?” He just cheerfully agreed. At the toll road service plaza, I looked among the phone accessories for a new tabletop tripod but no luck. Except at the Kodak Kathedral, I never looked to see if anyone had film. The Andy Warhol Museum had Polaroid film and cameras. I saw pinhole camera kits in several gift shops, usually in the children's section. The pinhole photography sure was fun. It makes you look really closely at things and the environment around them. The long exposures and limited frames of film make you really carefully consider whether and from where you want to take that picture.
We’re thinking of airplanes and trains again for our next adventure.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Roadtrip: The other side of Lake Michigan

Since most of our stops were in large cities, we thought a little lakeside resort experience would ease us back into normalcy.

 Previous episodes:    Rock and Rochester      Blue hills, blue water, and black humor       Art is what you can get away with in Western Pennsylvania

Until I was 11 years old, I lived in South Bend, Indiana. About twice a year, we would go up to Warren Dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan to frolic in the waves and the towering dunes. Sparked by that memory, Sarah began collecting a series of Art Deco posters that are in regular rotation in our kitchen promoting Warren Dunes as a getaway from Chicago on the South Shore Line railroad. We decided to make it our last featured destination.

I tried to find accomodation along the lakeshore, and specifically not a chain motel in a cluster alongside the interstate. It was a Saturday night and everything in our range seemed booked with weddings but one of them had a second smaller hotel linked to from their web site. It seemed just the thing, and they had rooms available.

The Gordon Beach Inn, "a casually active, rustic and historic 1920's Inn."  I'd also throw quaint in that description. Both of the men who staffed the desk could easily have been cast in Bob Newhart's innkeeper role, but were much more cheerful. There are separate metal keys for the rooms and the outside doors which they secure at 11:30 pm on weekends. They sent us a letter in the mail confirming the reservation. It was very nice.

Variable Cuboid with 45mm front  - rising pinhole

I had to get a picture of the back porch in the evening sun. My Aunt Stana's cottage on Christy Lake looked exactly like this.

Variable Cuboid with 45mm front - rising pinhole

The Inn is about two blocks from the lake but they have their own private beach accessed by a narrow path between two private homes and a stairway down the bluff. Until the sky cleared while we were on the Ohio Turnpike, it hadn't occurred to us that we would be there for the sunset over Lake Michigan.

I hate to get all Claude Monet about this, but it was notable how the light changed minute by minute as the sun went down. I began with Long John Pinhole to concentrate on where the sun hit the horizon.  It was cloudy in that direction, but The Photographers Ephemeris gave me the accuracy to point with the narrow angle camera in case the sun peeked out. Low tech photography, ya know.

The sun never actually appeared through the clouds, but the sky kept changing. f362 isn't really where you want to be when the light is fading, so I switched to the Variable Cuboid.

A more shoreward view

I think the shoreline, the reflection of the sky in the moving water and how the pinhole records that last wave are more interesting than the sky.

I switched to the Populist to see if I could keep following the more intense visually, but technically dimmer show.

The display just kept getting more intense. We had dinner reservations for our last night on the road so about twenty minutes after the sun had actually set, we headed back toward the hotel. It must have been sunny in Wisconsin because when we got to the top of the stairs, the underside of the clouds was illuminated creating a flaming red psychedelic sailor's delight.

I can't believe how bold I'm getting. After enjoying breakfast in the adjacent dining room, I decided to try to get a picture of the lobby. I put the Populist on the big tripod behind one of the leather couches and explained to the gentleman at the desk what it was. He said he'd watch out that no one bumped it. I went back to the room, finished packing, hauled our stuff out to the car and after exchanging pleasantries about our plans, closed the shutter just as we left. This should help you understand my reference to the Overlook Hotel in a previous post .

Warren Dunes is just a few miles from the Inn. It was still fairly early with the sun low behind the dunes.

We climbed one of the lower dunes. A favorite activity as a child was to climb the steepest face of Tower Hill, the highest one, and run down with our arms windmilling to keep our balance until we fell and rolled down in the sand. A group of 10 year olds demonstrated this while we were there.

Down near the lake this one giant clings to the sand.  The wide angle makes it look a little more isolated than it really is.

It's been there a while from the look of it's gnarly roots. Think I played on it as a child?

It was a brisk October day and there were more people around than I expected. Still, the nearly empty beach and overexposed Portra 400 give it the look of an Antonioni film.

A sailboat passed by just off shore.

I have to conclude with a tribute to our noble steed - union made in Michigan.  It brought us through nightmare congestion on the Boston Beltway in rush hour (starting in Albany!), New York City crossing the George Washington Bridge and downtown Chicago over the Calumet Skyway. We went into the middle of Cleveland, Rochester, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. We went over the Appalachians in continuous drenching rain. It did everything it was asked including escaping from a few tailgaters in almost 90mph traffic. Also seered in memory is the high fidelity voice of Siri over the car audio system, with her omniscient and insistent description of where to go.

There's always the sweet conflict of having a few frames left in the camera. We returned on Sunday night and Camera Casino's weekly trip to the lab happens at 10:00 am on Monday.

On the way downtown, I took a photo of the Oshkosh Publish Museum to make up for leaving and dallying with other museums.

And then to Miller's Bay and Lake Winnebago to make up for flirting with two great lakes and Cape Cod Bay.

Next, random thoughts on traveling with a pinhole camera.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Roadtrip: Art is what you can get away with in Western Pennsylvania

The evening after we returned from the Blue Hills Reservation, I took my little Promaster tripod out of my pocket and one of the legs had broken off. It has been almost constantly with me since 2011 and has been the support for half the photographs on this blog. Farewell, trusty old friend.

I had brought a spare along, the foot of which you can see in the lower left hand corner of the image above.

I had two 35mm Populists with me, The Populist and The New Glarus Populist. Both were loaded so when one ran out of film, I could just switch to the other without everyone having to wait for me to reload. This occurred while we were visiting Cape Cod.

We went back to Wisconsin through Pennsylvania.

We spent a day in Philadelphia. I had great fun photographing some notable sights including interiors of Independence Hall, a sunbeam in Betsy Ross's bed room and lunch at the reproduction of the historic City Tavern. I finished the roll at the Philadelphia Art Museum on their evening hours night. Can you see where I'm going with this?

Exhausted after a day of history and art appreciation in 86°F temperatures, we sat down at the bottom of the famous Museum steps to call an Uber. Since I had been on the prowl for opportunities, I had the camera on the tripod in my back pocket. When I sat down on the concrete step, I took camera and tripod out and set them down beside me. After clicking Confirm Pick-up on Uber, it said the driver's arrival time was one minute! I looked up and saw him waiting in the drop-off zone rolling slowly ahead looking around for his fare. Fearing he would drive away, I jumped up and ran toward him. When we got to the hotel after a 15-minute, 2-mile drive through bumper-to-bumper traffic, I noticed I didn't have the camera. Or a working desktop tripod.

I have this fantasy that someone will find the New Glarus camera, discover pinhole, and submit a picture with it to Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.

The next day we drove through the mountains in copious falling water for about four hours.

Our first destination on the other side was Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece of domestic architecture.

We purposely arrived early to have a snoop around the grounds and get some photographs at our leisure. I took along the medium format cameras and the big Manfrotto.

On our way to the Classic View, we accidentally went to the Bird's Eye View instead. Despite being partially obscured, it probably gives the best look at the general layout of the place.

The Classic View, which the guide later described as the image on the cover of every book about Fallingwater ever published. It's about the only view in the steep, winding and heavily forested Bear Run Valley. Everyone expected Wright to build the house here to get the view of the waterfall, but he thought he could get away with hanging it above the stream. I love that the trees form an opening that seems to perfectly frame the house and then turns to follow the creek. It's probably managed to look that way, but a nice touch.

We returned our cameras and tripod to the car. Camera bags and tripods were specifically discouraged from being carried on the tour. I'm not complaining. You get to walk right into every room. No velvet ropes. I've had to manage a tripod among precious artifacts and it's not my idea of a vacation. Photography is allowed on the grounds but not in interiors and not on the terraces. I'm sure people would fall off taking selfies. Inspired by Wright's structural and design uses of the environment and Andy Warhol's cheeky quip, which I saw on a book cover in the gift shop just before we started, I went ahead to see what I could get away with by resurrecting my little recently created bipod and making do with whatever surfaces I could find to support The Populist.

The Visitor Center, designed by one of Wright's students, echoes his intention to make sure you notice that you're out in the woods.

The tours meet their guide on a little bridge across Bear Run, which offers the second most photographed view of Fallingwater. Wright used semicircles as accents in many places including the tops of the railings on the bridge which makes it an unstable place to try to hold a bipod against. In addition to the pinholey movement, the not quite parallel camera results in some classic wide angle stretch of space which gives a little instability to Wright's geometric arrangements.

After the tour, I of course took a picture of the back of the house. What got me about this scene was how Wright used a big native rock outcrop to support some of the structure of that terrace.

There are many woodsy paths to wander through the grounds. About half the trees near the house are rhododendrons. It must be crazy in the spring.

Going back to the Visitor Center over the bridge, I got a little more rectilinear, but still pretty shaky, version of the cantilevered terraces.

Now on to Pittsburgh for the giant retrospective of the quipster himself, The Andy Warhol Museum.

The presentation is mostly in chronological order which begins on the seventh floor. This is the top of the stairway.

There are three large galleries per floor, plus a central hallway.

The stairs on the rest of the floors are different because they have to go both ways.

One gallery contained his piece Silver Clouds, a black room with a dozen or so large pillows of silver mylar filled with something to make them neutrally bouyant, being moved around by a fan with spot lights shining on them making really bright highlights, occasionally escaping out into the hallway. Do you think he thought of pinhole photography when he designed that?

Otherwise he didn't do much sculpture, and he didn't do this one. It's by Keith Haring, probably inspired by Warhol's Elephant series.

To get the camera to tilt up a bit, I was leaning it against my jacket, another sort of unstable support. In this gallery, trying to be gentle, I didn't quite get the shutter pulled out all the way, and blocked part of the pinhole.  But it works pretty well graphically, so let's see if I can get away with it.

Next, sandy shores in the Midwest.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Roadtrip: Blue hills, blue water, and black humor.

The destination for our epic roadtrip was Andy and Kristin's new home in Weymouth, Massachussets. We spent an enjoyable time just hanging out watching YouTube, getting splendidly fed by Andy, visiting a few lovely parks, and one weird museum.

Cushioning Boston's bottom on the southeast is the Blue Hills Reservation, a really big nature preserve in the middle of such a megalopolis.

We went for a walk around Houghton's Pond.

Some rocks floating in the sky.

Leaf-peeping season was just beginning but occasionally we passed an autumnal scene, enhanced in this case by overexposure.

Our guides silhouetted against the lake with the Great Blue Hill and it's historic Public Broadcasting transmission tower in the background. As any good guide should, Andy provided us with the interesting trivia that the tower's location was the source of WGBH's call letters.

On Sunday morning, we drove down to the Cape to visit the illustrator Edward Gorey's home in Yarmouth Port. I read somewhere that an apt contemporary comparison of his oeuvre was to Tim Burton. In the last room on the tour, there was a small desk with some art materials to keep children busy. Andy and Kristin were the only ones south of 60 in the place so it seemed like a safe place to set the little tripod.

When I found myself alone with everyone else two rooms away, I took the opportunity for another view from on top a stack of brochures for the charitable organizations Gorey had left his estate to. The titles to the PBS series Mystery were playing in a continuous loop which gave an appropriate sound track to my surreptitious tripod use.

I first encountered Gorey's work when I processed his compilation Amphigorey in the cataloging department at the UW-Stout Library. It was one of those books where you turn over the title page to check that the call number has been recorded correctly on the next page (go look at a library book) and end up guiltily reading the whole book to see what outrageous thing is going to come next. This tree outside the house was particularly Gorey looking.

Kristin is a major horror movie fan, and Sarah just mined Steven King's stories for one of her contributions to the Haunted Hump Day festival, so references to King's works came up a lot on this trip.  Particularly the Overlook Hotel.  Here, with random application of a shaky tripod, I turn the vaguely disturbing Edward Gorey House into a royal horror show.

We followed with lunch at Longfellow's, a charming Cape Cod pub. I felt it was necessary to have fried seafood.

We stopped on our return for views of the tidal flats of Cape Cod Bay.

Next, Pennsylvania, or not.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Roadtrip: Rock and Rochester

Andy and Kristin bought a house, so Sarah and I decided to pack some family stuff and his Fender Blues Junior Amp in the trunk of the Mustang, and drive out to see them. We took the opportunity to indulge our museum and historic site habit along the way.

I took five cameras: The Populist, The New Glarus Populist, The Variable Cuboid with the 45mm front, The New Evil Cube and Long John Pinhole, all loaded with color film. All the images below are with the Populist except where otherwise noted.

Our first night was in a cluster of chain motels in the country, just off the Ohio turnpike. Oshkosh is on the eastern end of the Central Time Zone and Ohio is sort of on the western end of the Eastern Time Zone. We noticed that, according to the clock, the sun came up later. The sky was still pretty dawnish when I went out to the car and took this photo.

Then, I got Long John Pinhole out of the car to get a little closer.

Cleveland was our first big city to drive into. Regular readers may recall my naive descriptions of the Raulf Hotel and the First National Bank in Oshkosh as tall buildings. It was kind of neat to see some really tall buildings, although we didn't spend much time among them.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Space-age architecture from I.M. Pei.

The building actually sticks out into Lake Erie and looks a lot different from the side than it does from the front.

The exhibits seemed a little hit or miss, but the music was always loud. It was interesting. I had sort of a Punk reaction to it. Maybe I was just frustrated that there was no way to take pinhole pictures in the dark and benchless underground exhibit hall. When I encountered the nicely lit and tidy men's bathroom, I set the camera down on the floor and opened the shutter.

We drove on to Rochester. 

Our first visit the next morning was to George Eastman House, the St. Peter's Basilica for the photography enthusiast. The guide made the point that of course photography is encouraged inside, but no flash and no tripods.

A guided tour was beginning shortly after we arrived and as we sat down to wait at the end of the hallway, I set the Populist on the little tripod next to me on the bench. There were two docents looking right at it during most of the exposure.

If you're leaning on a railing holding the folded tripod legs under your hand, with the camera pointing into the room below, it doesn't really count as using a tripod, does it?

The private garden beyond the windows in the room above is open to visitors, with many convenient places to put a tabletop tripod.

It's bordered by a shady pergola.

There was a neat exhibition by Gail Albert Halaban: Out My Window. She uses social media to coordinate the action of the residents of buildings and to direct them to exact poses and positions for her images. I don't think I'm doing her prints much justice here. This was an inner room in the gallery not visible from the hall and we were all alone, so I set the little tripod and camera on the bench while we looked around the exhibit. We weren't alone long, several visitors came through to look at the photographs, one of whom is faintly recorded looking at the right hand picture. Nobody seemed to notice the camera at all. I just read a photography blogger's post where they went out with a pinhole camera and were immediately approached and engaged in conversation about it. One of the comments was something like: "That's what happens with pinhole." It's only happened to me twice. I was amazed on this trip that although dozens of people looked right at me taking pictures and a few even made some photography related remarks, no one mentioned the cardboard boxes on the tripod.

I had this strange fantasy that to cater to the fanatical photographers making a pilgrimage, the gift shop would have a huge display of all kinds of Kodak film you could buy. It was a little disappointing that they only had 35mm rolls of Portra 400 and a few Fun Savers. It might have been quite appropriate to old George's ideas to buy a Fun Saver there - it works much like a No.1 Kodak. I confessed my delusion to the clerks. They said the film usually got outdated before it sold but they usually also had Tri-X.  A while later, just as we were about to leave, one of the clerks saw me down the hallway and ran over to let me know they had just received a fresh shipment of Tri-X.  Now I have a $13 roll of Tri-X that I have to do something significant with. 

They also had a few pinhole camera kits similar to what you can find on-line. There was no rule against tripods on the grounds, so I got out the medium format cameras and the big Manfrotto.

The front facade of the house facing East Avenue.

The Porte Cochere.

A leafy wall in the back with a cluster of utilility pipes under a cover. What did you expect from me?

We next drove across town to Susan B. Anthony's house. A very interesting and inspiring tour.  The bump-out bay on the left edge of the frame and the entire third floor were built to accommodate the National Suffrage Movement. Normally, I'm a little critical of wide angle cameras tilted up making verticals converge, but in this case it gives the house a dynamic stance that makes it look like it's ready to go out and take on The Man. It was a little hard to hear about all this during the last throes of the Supreme Court confirmation. I know that about 80% of my readers are from the U.S. Go out and vote next month. Smash the Patriarchy.

Later, we took advantage of the evening-hours night at the University of Rochester Art Gallery, conveniently just around the corner from our hotel. A cool feature was that they displayed a contemporary work of art in almost every gallery. It was related to the historical period of the room with the caption: "What's this doing here?."