We were given samples of photographs from the Museum Archives to be inspired by for the Reimagined Rephotographic exhibit, now titled “Then and Now.” There were many examples of interiors of businesses with the employees posing for the camera. I’ve rarely asked people to pose for my pinhole photographs and when I did they were participating in some sort of public event. Also in those cases the exposures were outside and only a few seconds long. Getting people to stay relatively stationary for interior exposures seemed like a big thing to ask for.
Chatting about this to the curator organizing the exhibit, I mused that it might make it easier to get access to business interiors and getting people to pose for me if I start out with “I’m working on a project for the Oshkosh Public Museum. . .” She said that sounded like fun.
So one day I walked around downtown, measuring exposures and asking a few people if they would participate in a pinhole photograph. The response was pretty positive.
About a week later, I loaded the Variable Cuboid with Portra 400 and started my quest.
I began at Camera Casino. They’re naturally curious and encouraging about photography. They know me and my odd methods. I set up facing the main counter near the windows. One discovery is that everyone fills the windows with merchandise so they contribute very little to the interior illumination. I held my phone with the timer running near the camera so they had something to concentrate on and kept up a running conversation so they would appear somewhat natural (and of course, also somewhat blurred.) During the exposure I learned that the guy on the left is the son of the owner.
My next stop was the Natural Foods store just down the block. One of the archival photographs was a grocery store on Main Street. I had originally intended to photograph the produce section in the next room, but when I entered from the back, I was taken by the vintage lamps and the tin ceiling contrasted with the modern arrangements of the supplements and herbal remedies. There was clerk behind the counter to the right, but she moved too much to appear on the negative.
One of the archival photographs was of a bike shop. Winnebago Bicycles took care of my old beater Timberlin for years and I bought my new bike there so I know them fairly well. The owner is the one in the foreground. That’s my bike on the repair stand behind him. He’s holding one of my new studded winter tires. It helps to be a customer.
These exposures in fairly well lit spaces were in the two to three minute range. I went into a couple other places and measured exposures that were twice as long. I had ordered some Lomography 800 and decided it would be worth while to wait for that to continue. When it came, I loaded it into the new Variable Cuboid back so I could use up the Portra where exposure time wasn’t an issue and use the Lomo to reduce the time people had to stay still.
A hardware store interior was included with the archive images, so I went to Kitz and Pfeil. There’s not an obvious owner or boss who could give permission to let their employees pose, so I just went ahead and tried to get a picture without asking. I set up with the camera back against a shelf where it was as out of the way as I could get it. Just before I opened the shutter, a customer asked me what I was doing. I explained about the Museum project and pinhole photography. He was a life-long resident of Oshkosh and kept me in conversation for quite a while. He had been standing right in front of the camera but eventually he moved to the side and I opened the shutter. One of the employees came by and I expected to be told I was right in front of something they needed to get at but instead she said she overheard us and loved pinhole photography. She asked me if I knew about some other pinholer whom she said created “real art.”
The patron told me that the building originally had been a JC Penney’s. The stairs used to be an escalator. He loved to ride it when his parents had brought him there as a child.
Mojo’s is a vintage video game, VHS tape and DVD store. I told all the people who agreed to be in my pictures that if a customer came in, they should just forget about my photograph and take care of business. This was about the darkest place I had to deal with and about a minute into the exposure a father with his little boy came into the store. It turned out it was the father who was looking to get games for his original NES system, which were in the locked cabinet right behind my camera. The clerk had to leave my composition and she deftly retrieved the items without bumping the tripod.
Satori Imports is in the former Spoo Brothers Clothing Store. There is the interior of a men’s clothing store in the archive, but it’s not specified which one. There’s also an exterior picture of one of the Spoo brothers when he was a young man working at the Continental Clothing Store. Satori offers a little bit different style clothing and accessories.
It was still early and some of the smaller shops downtown weren't open. I stopped to get coffee and a pastry at The New Moon Cafe which was originally Bauman’s Drug Store in the corner of the Beckwith House Hotel. The woman whose face you see on the left asked if it was a pinhole camera as soon as I put it on the tripod next to me. We conversed for a moment and I opened the shutter and sat down. Almost immediately she and her husband stood up to leave. He's putting on his coat during most of the exposure. This was with the 35mm front. People just don't realize how wide angle pinhole cameras can be.
Despite the wideness of the angle, I decided it needed the 20mm front to really take in the scene. It felt kind of odd with my hands in the changing bag in my lap under the table. I used to work with one of the women in the red coats at the University. She was having an important meeting about the Oshkosh Food Co-op at the coffee shop.
Across the street is the First National Bank building. It’s cavernous lobby is featured in several images in the museum archive. All the offices around the perimeter are working businesses but they also use the space for events. During the exposure, two workers were setting up for weddings that evening and the next morning. They told me if I came back then the place would be really decked out and full of people. Everybody I dealt with seemed really proud of the place they were working.
There are at least four CBD stores in Oshkosh. Their presentation varies from just better than a bait shop to this one downtown, which is very neat and fashionable and reminiscent of a tourist attraction I visited once in Massachusetts. The clerk was a well dressed young woman, probably a college student. The cannisters on the table contain buds of what look exactly like the other type of cannabis, down to being labeled as indica or sativa. I asked her what people do with it. She said they make tea. It’s very relaxing.
Continuing down the block is another person I already knew, Jim Evans who owns the Art Haus, an art supply and framing store. Instead of a doorbell to announce customers’ entrance, he has a dog, who woofs casually to let him know someone’s there. It’s amazing that with the 20mm, I could get a full length portrait in the narrow aisle. Unfortunately it’s barely well exposed in the middle and barely there at the edges and it shows. I liked this angle because you can see some of the vintage cameras over his shoulder. He used to have 300 of them displayed, mostly folders, but he said he’s gotten disciplined and now has only about half that in the store. He’s been shooting 4x5 with a Speed Graphic lately.
A little unsure of myself with the 20mm in this situation, I also did one with the 35mm from another angle.
Several grocery stores on Main Street are in the archive. Today, in addition to the Natural Foods Store, there is Ski’s Meat Market, kind of a boutique grocery with lots of special brands. I was concerned about this point of view because of the east side of a cow facing west over the cheese display until Sarah told me farmers know that’s the end you have to take particular care of.
The front is the recorded music store, with the same kind of categorized bins we’ve been flipping through for years. As with the view from the back, it cracks me up that LP’s are the theme of one of the “now” photographs.
I had found out that a lot of the addresses I had been scouting of the exteriors of buildings were different from the ones in the museum archive descriptions. Prior to 1885, every builder did what they felt like but then the city enacted a uniform addressing code. The only way to find out where an older address is now is in a binder in the local history section of the Oshkosh Public Library. This is the dome in the original building with a big artificial tree underneath it waiting to be decorated.
The arena is on the site of the Buckstaff Furniture Factory which was in operation until 2010 and razed two years ago. I searched the archive before I went and found a picture of a woman working there amid a maze of belts and pulleys. I thought the contrast of people selling vegetables and handcrafts in the same location might be interesting. I’ve since gone back to get a closer view of some of the vendors.
This was all a little bit out of my comfort zone so I was getting impatient to get the film developed. Since I was going there anyway I took along the Cuboid kit to the Public Museum. I got there about 10 minutes before they opened. The estate was given to the city specifically for the Museum in 1922. One of the archive images is of the Grand Staircase. This was the morning after the Museum Auxiliary Gala. The exposure was going to be about 20 minutes. I opened the shutter and ran upstairs to let them know where I was and ran back down to babysit the camera. At least two staff members passed it while I was gone but they both assumed it was something I was doing.
One of the other pictures was of the library, now the venue for most of the public events and lectures.
I find myself with an embarrassment of riches with too many pictures. There’s five photographers involved and the gallery is not all that big. I’m going to have to do some gleaning before submitting archive/contemporary pairs for the exhibition.
I think they might have unleashed a monster.There are lot’s of places around downtown I want to photograph and my reluctance to ask people for cooperation seems unwarranted. In three cases, I had offers to go into parts of buildings the public normally doesn’t have access to.