Saturday, May 28, 2022

Late Medieval Pinhole Photography

I recently watched a video from the National Gallery in London on the early 14th century painting Healing the man born blind by Duccio.  The message of the talk was the narrative nature of late medieval painting and the wonder of miracles, but all I could see was the cityscape in the background with it's perfectly parallel verticals. It looked just like the product of a camera with a rising front.

To seize the inspiration, I loaded two cameras with rising fronts. The Variable Cuboid with the 35mm front since it did such a good job as a closer after Pinhole Day, and Long John Pinhole since I was so impressed with it's new Gilder Electron Microscope Apertures. The different angles of view - 81° with the Cuboid and 28° with Long John - should result in recognizably different images. In most of these it is obvious, but on some it's hard to tell - and I'm not going to tell you.

What caught my attention with this one was the line of impregnable bollards protecting the front of the Teen Center of the Boys and Girls Club. This isn't some loading zone where trucks may back up badly, it's the regular parking area. Maybe they're worried about new drivers putting the car in drive instead of reverse when they're leaving.  There are certainly dangers in America where this wouldn't be any protection at all.

As well as me being influenced by the painting, St. Mary's (now Blessed Sacrement) is also inspired by the 14th century. It was built in 1886 when Oshkosh was the new hot-shot boom town and they expected it to be the diocesan cathedral, but the bishop stayed in Green Bay. A few people have told me recently that my photographs remind them of the 1950's. I'm almost surprised that's not a '58 Pontiac parked next to it on Monroe Street.

Just across the street, a large apartment complex with a glass block grin I couldn't resist.

Probably the doors train passengers went through to get out to the platform.

Unless you're in the utility truck business or military, Oshkosh B'Gosh is probably why you've heard of Oshkosh. It might be embroidered on your kid's chest. They moved to Atlanta in the 90's. They have an outlet store by the highway and I'm not sure what is still in the old world headquarters downtown.

A nice composition of doors, windows, stairs and air conditioners. While I was setting up, a very fit young man with a trim beard and a tight t-shirt came out and asked me what I was doing. Before I finished telling him I was taking a photograph, he said "OK, I just wanted to make sure you weren't doing anything malicious" and went back in. I wonder if he would have been concerned if I had a Hasselblad on the tripod? Is brown cardstock threatening?

There's a big hill the developers left just behind this old carpet factory converted into apartments. I could get half way up on that and have a level camera without using the rising front.

The aforementioned berm. I think they put it here to modify the sound from the railroad just to the right which is loud from our house five blocks away.

The back of Schultz's Pharmacy, a long time fixture of downtown which closed suddenly without warning last month. I was only in there once.

The corner behind the buildings on Main and the buildings on Waugoo Avenue.

The following day I spotted Doctor Benzie's from two blocks away with it's metal roof looking like an alien communication device. About once a month we get a pizza delivered from there, but I've never been inside.

I've photographed almost exactly this same scene before with the 200mm front on the Variable Cuboid, but the clouds and the hazy sunlight got me again.

The public recreation gym, originally built for the Oshkosh High School.

As I was setting up next to the stop light at the busy corner of 9th Avenue and South Main for a picture I ended up not taking, a young man in a red pickup rolled down his window and asked me if that was a pinhole camera. I said "Yes it is." The light changed and he drove away.

Oh, look! A giant machine sticking out of a factory.

Somewhere I read that fully diffused light was good for subtle textures.

This Victorian fire station on the south side always frustrates me because it's surrounded by wires and other buildings and is too close to the street to get with even a wide angle camera.

The 35mm front on the Variable Cuboid has a .25mm pinhole on a continuously adjustable rising front. Long John Pinhole has two .40mm Gilder Electron Microscope Apertures 120mm from the film, one on the axis and one 10mm above it. Both have 6x6cm frames. The film is 100 semi-stand developed in Caffenol.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

On Solargraphy.

Several things have gotten me thinking about Solargraphy lately.

First, in a backwards sort of way, I forgot to put out a camera for the recent lunar eclipse. The weather was iffy, and I couldn't open the shutter until after astronomical twilight about 9 pm. We got involved in a very dramatic series on Netflix and didn't think of it until mid-totality when we were ready to go to bed. Partly cloudy skies may have been interesting. At least I didn't have to go out at 4 am to close the shutter. That made me think of streaks across the sky. 

I've also been collecting 14 ounce food cans with the tops removed with a can opener that splits the seam between the can and the top very neatly, which makes them easy and safe to make light tight. If I ended up with an empty half hour in the workshops that may occur this summer, we could make a couple quick solarcams.

In the same meeting of the Fox Valley Photography group where I expounded on "What Pinhole? Why Pinhole? and What, Me Pinhole?,"  Bobbi Hague gave a demo on building a classic pint beer can solargraph camera, which from some of her comments I think she learned from watching Justin Quinnel's video, which I had also watched most of recently.

Then I listened to the Lensless Podcast. The guest was Sam Cornwell, who makes and sells loaded-and-ready-to-put-out Solargraph cameras. Both Andrew and Corey were hosting. At least they didn't talk about cameras with lenses much. It was one-time-use 35mm cameras that came up. Actually, Sam is just completing a really impressive project with those cameras. I'd love to see the pictures.

Sam also brought up his current use of the Chroma Cube (again, 24x24x30 is not a cube.) The design and it's maker were much praised by everyone. Andrew concluded that segment saying that to him, using a 24x24mm camera would be "soul-destroying." I must not have one of those. I kind of enjoy the freedom and spontaneity of 35mm pinhole.

A discussion of Solargraphy finally came up. Andrew interrupted Sam's enthusiastic mission statement for everyone to experience this phenomenon. In case listeners might not know what Solargraphy was, he queried Sam for a description. I suppose I understood what he was talking about, but it seemed a little brief. He said that you really didn't need much understanding to experience it. (Did I just imagine someone said "and not have to figure it out for yourself"?). They did mention that the little book that Sam supplies with his cameras may be the best part. What really got to me was his conjecture that the people who had the most trouble understanding it were photographers, particularly wet photographers who couldn't imagine a world without development.

Haven't you ever left trimmings by the paper cutter in the darkroom and watched them turn dark and change color? Didn't leave a sheet out in the sun with a coin or some other object on it just to see what happened? I tried this with an 8x10 negative in a contact frame with Ilford Multigrade IIRC once. It got dark pink after about 4 days. Printing out papers were mainstays of contact printing proofs until the 1940's. I remember having WWII era boxes of surplus contact paper around. The idea that the direct action of the sun over long periods wouldn't affect paper isn't very alien, especially with an image formed by a lens or a pinhole. Any one familiar with exposure determination can see how much faster a direct image of the sun is than just reflected illumination. Talbot's first negatives were printing out materials. His exposures were hours long. I'm surprised he never accidentally got a solargraph streak in a window. He was acutely aware of where the light was coming from. 

Well, instead of being a just grumpy old codger snarkily complaining about the lack of detail in the description of solargraphy, I'd like to explain how I understand it, and my limited experience with it.

The basic principle is that light bludgeons the silver halide crystals in the emulsion with such force and persistence that enough silver gets busted out of the crystaline grip of the halides that it forms grains, although much smaller and more distantly spaced than the grains many people complain about with developed 35mm negatives (oops, I said I wasn't going to do that). 

The various colors of the image are a result of the size of these grains based on how much exposure they got. Different sizes of grains spaced differently inside the clear emulsion scatter different frequencies of light passing through it and reflecting off the white backing. It's exactly why the sky looks blue and why the infrared James Webb Telescope will see the center of our galaxy better, and radio telescopes even better. Talbot noted the varied colors in his negatives with different exposures and silver halide formulas.

Everybody comments on the sky being blue on a Solargraph scan with the color inverted. It just turns out that heavily exposed areas like the sky appear reddish on the negative, and if you invert that color you get blue. 

My first experience of Solargraphy as an image making discipline was Tarja Trygg's project in about 2005. She was mailing 35mm canister cameras loaded with a piece of paper all over the world and having them sent back. We probably corresponded by email based on a discussion in f295. I told her I could supply my own canister and paper and I would send her the image and the data.  

The film can was connected to the west-facing side of my house near the top. You can see the overhang of the roof. This sort of camera with a curved back is really wide angle. This is at least 180° horizontally. The exposure is from October 2005 until September 2006, almost from equinox to solstice and back again both ways.

 We must have had some really cloudy periods in the fall and winter. It was fastened really solidly. Our garage, the neighbors garage, and the house behind them are rendered fairly well, although the wide angle makes them small. This was a .15mm Gilder Electron Microscope aperture. You can even see the telephone line stretching across the back yard. The sky is blue, the trees are green, but note that the garage roof, which has red shingles, is light green. What I don't understand is what are those cloudy looking streaks at the left that mirror the curve of the sun's path that continue into the overhang. Long term flare?

The next March, I put out a flat image plane Altoids tin and left it there 9 months. Looks like those cloudy bands in fall are a regular pattern. There's a dot at the right side of the garage. I think that's the bane of Solargraphers, a wet spot. Moisture tends to collect from condensation inside the camera and I think that's something alive.

I once put out two beer can cameras and the emulsion completely dissolved off the paper from moisture getting in through the pinhole. 

The same time I put up that second camera, I also put one at the peak of the back of my garage. Getting the cameras off the house was easy because I had to go up to change the screens twice a year, but there's no reason to go up to the top of the garage until I had to paint it 20 months later. Regina Valkenborgh, who put one of these up in an observatory, just made headlines for longest exposure ever when it was found again after 8 years, so I'm not even close. Interesting that one streak of the sun is a different color.

I didn't try it again until 2017 when people were starting to submit solargraphs to the Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day exhibit (as long as the shutter was open on Pinhole Day). In order to be a little different, I made a camera out of an Oaks Candy box which took a 4x8 inch sheet of paper with a makeshift septum dividing it into two chambers with a pinhole centered on each half. Unfortunately it turned out the sheet of paper got a little curved when I closed the box so the paths of the sun don't match. This is set up for crosseyed viewing. The 3D effect is there, but the sky gets a little confused.

Solargraphy has become wildly popular in one day workshops. It has a serious advantage. No wet darkroom. No darkroom at all. It's not exactly a discovery experience because participants have to take them home and expose them for at least a week, if not months. I've heard solstice to solstice mentioned as almost a standard.

I have several points of disinterest.

They usually use curved back cameras and I think it's hard to compete with the barrel distortion. They all look the same to me.

I have the same objection I have to any one day workshop experience. Cheap, easy and quick is good but it's limiting. Most of the exposures in these kind of workshops are a technical demonstration that you can get an image this way. No one is really working toward making a good photograph.  It'll be pinholy! A lot of them end up looking exactly the same. I'm all for discovery but to lodge myself in codgerdom – Been there. Done that. Just using that phrase dates me pretty badly.

It's pretty common to display the entire negative like I've been doing. It's less interesting technically and meteorologically, but a cropped detail may be a little more interesting pictorially, which I very rarely see done. Here's less extreme wide angle of view from the middle of that 20 month negative. Kind of Gum-Bichromatey. Kind of reminds me of Steichen's The Pond - Moonlight.

I have seen some creative work done. Seeing the solar track through a window or framing a significant architectural feature can make an interesting solargraph. My favorites recently were done by Radek Rogalski in Poland, really using the barrel distortion to entwine a foreground structure with the solar track, and Chris Peregroy of Pinhole Blender fame where he bolted small figurines in front of a several cameras. Chris's exposure included Pinhole Day. I can't wait to see which one he picks to submit

I think I have saved enough cans for any wildly optimistic number of partipants in a workshop, so I should think of something to do with them.  Maybe two stereo pairs at a baseline of a foot or two, one with a curved back and the other, a flat plane. They just cut down the tree that is so prominent in my stereo attempt above, so it would be a very different image, especially if I did it over the summer.

Part of the issue here is a bit of conflict between my arty photographer side and my pinholer and generally-inquisitive-person side. I'm probably going to be bored with the pictures, but I'm really curious to see what they look like.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Mystery Film in the Manic Expression Cube.


When I was getting a 40 year-old box of 4x5 Plus-X off the top shelf in my darkroom, I noticed there was a bulk loader in the shadows next to it. When I picked it up, I was surprised that it was full of film.

There's two possiblities. I may have brought it to Oshkosh from Galesburg in 1985, in which case it's probably HP-5. I was getting into Panatomic-X at the time, but probably wouldn't have bought 100 feet of it. The loader looks in too good a shape to be mine which was in continual use for about seven years. It might be from when we got rid of the freezer in my department in 2003. I threw away a mountain of Photomechanical Transfer Paper (my former boss was a sucker for a quantity discount), gave away a shrink-wrapped block of 24 rolls of 35mm Panatomic-X and took home the 4x5 Plus-X which nobody wanted. I may have also brought this bulk loader home. The only film I remember ever bulk loading was Kodalith, used for "word" slides. It's hard to believe that the last person to have used the film wouldn't have labeled it including a note that she was the only person allowed to touch it. (Thank you Steve Jobs, Aldus and Adobe Systems!)

The old Plus-X turned out to be fine, but a fast film like HP-5 even in a cool basement sounds like a long shot. If it's Kodalith, it can be developed to a continuous tone but still pretty high contrast negative with dilute developer. It's about ISO 12.

I loaded a roll and put it the Manic Expression Cube. I decided to measure as ISO 200 (not very carefully though) and see what happened when I semi-stand developed it in Rodinal 1:100, as everyone recommends for unknown film. Convenient - that's the way I do it all the time.

There does seem to be more background fogging than I would expect, but otherwise the negatives look surprisingly normal. Digital processing can essentially edit the background out and stretch the dynamic range back to normal, especially at 16-bit greyscale.

The way the little camera exposes the entire width of the film, it was hard to see legible edge marks.  I finally found one.

It's Tri-X. I've never been a big user of Tri-X.  Just before I started here there was a big, nasty split up of the AV department between it's Instructional Technology arm and the Graphics and Photography arm, which became a new department in a different division, University Publications. My conjecture is this bulk loader was filled just before that happened and along with the other black and white film, just never got handed over to Publications even though we no longer had any use for it. That would make it also about 1983.

For the past few years, I've been obsessed with using multiple cameras for back-up on Pinhole Day in case I screwed up really badly. (I have done this before.) I started with a self portrait on the back porch.

A second version. When people ask me how I decide what's in the picture, I have this vision in my head of taking out a giant cookie cutter and chopping out a piece of reality. I was really intent on just finding out if this film was any good and it's like I quickly previsualized the picture, then closed my eyes and went at it with the cookie cutter. Occasionally this results in an interesting composition I never would have thought of. In a movie, there would be someone following me.

Your basic curtain equivalent.

A nice looking loaf.

A scene also recorded with medium format.  When my album comes out, use this for the cover art.

Carl Schurz's boot.

I went up to the Trout Museum of Art to deal with some issues well before the summer workshops. I made the mistake of asking about registrations, and it's now become the workshops that may occur this summer.  They've just done another marketing push, so we'll see.

I was involved with other cameras and although this camera was usually in my pocket, it never got used. One day I had a major conflict of whether I wanted to go on a bike ride just for the ride, or go out and take pictures. I decided to take just the camera and the little Joby tripod, and try to finish the film quickly then hit the road.

I couldn't pass up the courthouse being serviced by two cherry pickers. I held the camera against a street sign.

What had been the blighted industrial Universal Foundry District is now occupied by giant rectangular apartment buildings. This one had a little more dramatic double stairway entrance.

I think this might have been the convent at the Catholic Church downtown. It's now some kind of men's dorm.

Trying to hold the camera against my bicycle handlebars, with the rising front as high as it would go. Are those streaks something to do with the venerable film or a leak in the camera coming through the sprocket holes?

I did use the Joby once, on the ground, again at maximum rise.

The Manic Expression Cube has a .17mm pinhole 24mm from a 24x24mm frame. The film is no longer a mystery.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A Hazy Rabbit and the Bars on North Main Street

I had to build another camera to try out some of the pre-made internal parts that are being made with a laser cutter for the workshops that may occur this summer. It turns out I have a little more experimenting to do. Everything fit great, but the laser power for scoring the fold lines needs to be reduced and the internal assembly could use a little thicker cardstock. Of course, more cardstock, tape and glue allowed me to finish a solid and reliable camera.

The objective in building this camera was not about reducing the time to completion or anything else about the process. I took my time and made a fully tricked-out camera with graphics matching on the shutters and body on both sides, a full set of viewfinders, an axial and rising pinhole with a double shutter, and a spacing layer under the middle of the WinderMinder so it doesn't pinch the winder collars. It took me all day. I bought this carton of Lakefront Brewery's Hazy Rabbit IPA because the rabbit was funny and it would be fun to make a camera featuring it. I shouldn't have been surprised that the beer turned out to be a lot hoppier than I hoped.

I had the hare-brained idea that the bars on North Main Street would be an appropriate subject for this camera. The wide angle 30mm would get most of the facade of a two story building in with the tripod still on the sidewalk. All the restaurants on North Main serve some kind of alcohol, and most of the bars serve food. The dividing line between a restaurant and a bar is a little indeterminant, so this is a slightly selective survey. I think I got every establishment that primarily identifies itself as a pub, tavern, bar, or "a drinking place."

Beginning at the intersection of Irving and Main. Alone on the northwest corner is Mabel Murphy's, a historic college bar (since 1974) which has just recently been rebuilt after burning down. I've photographed it from the back before. The sign is the only thing that survived the fire.

Across Irving is the Calhoun Beach Club. It's been a bar since the 30s and has had this name since 1984. There's no Calhoun Beach anywhere near Oshkosh.

Twisted Roots is in the adjacent building to the South.

Terry's Bar is across Main on the Southeast corner. During all this, across the street was a crazy panhandler with a hand lettered card board sign with rather crude language to the effect he was saving to procure the services of a prostitute. He continually shouted this phrase as the cars passed by and seemed to be enjoying how much he was offending everyone. I wasn't about to allow him to intimidate me into stopping what I was doing, but his presence and noise were unnerving. I forgot to advance the film after photographing Terry's which I remembered just after opening the shutter for the next picture. Not soon enough to prevent a double image.

Christine's Bar next door, without so much Terry's in it.

Crossing Main Street again and a few doors south, The Barley and Hops Pub.

Moving down to the 500 block. The neoclassical Wenrich Granite Company is now occupied by Fletch's.

Peabody's is two doors and parking lots down. As I was setting this up, a young man in a cook's hat and apron came swiftly walking by, told me I had nice camera as he passed and kept on truckin.'

The thrice identified Distillery Pub is across Main near the intersection with Church Street.

At 430 Main is the unimaginitively named Bar 430. In nice weather the whole front opens up with seating on the sidewalk. We had lunch there once right after it opened.

Next door is Oblio's, a favorite of the university faculty, the only one of these places I've ever been in to get a drink.

Then I ran out of film. As it happened, U-Club, an informal group that meets monthly, was gathering the next day at Oblio's. I thought it would be cool to take the picture at the top of this post against a background of taps and bottles, so I took the camera along. As long as I had it with me, I might as well load it again with film. We meet in the back where they have an open patio. Kathy, the president, was greeting members near the patio opening and graciously tried to sit still for a minute, except for twiddling her thumbs.

The inverse square law made exposures much longer even a little way into the room. Nobody was willing to go out on the patio where exposures would be seconds. I set the camera at the end of the back bar and went to the front to get a beer.

Oblio's building was the last structure to be rebuilt after the 1875 fire that completely leveled downtown Oshkosh. Built in 1884, it has held a tavern of one sort or another since, except for a few years during prohibition and the pandemic, although it operated as an illegal speakeasy for some of that. During the first half-century or so, the building was owned by the president of Schlitz Brewing and this room was the Schlitz Beer Hall 

When this group gathered at a table nearer the patio, I opened the shutter without asking. Nobody said anything, but I think they were posing,

Another participant in the conversation.

I had just enough film to complete my saloon survey. A few days later, I decided to start at the southernmost bar this side of the river and work my way back north. As I passed Opera Square, the crazy panhandler was there putting on the same act! I looked at him menacingly as I rode past and when I stopped half way down the block, I swung my large, heavy tripod around as much as possible setting it up to discourage him from messing with me.

Screwballs Sports Bar is about the plainest facade of any of them and built on about the steepest slope in town,

The Ruby Owl Tap Room identifies itself as a GastroPub. We stopped for lunch once when it opened and had the worst appetizer I've ever had in my life. It's no longer on their menu.

When Gardina's opened they styled it as a wine bar, but now its described as a Kitchen-Bar-Market. The market part is probably the most curated selection of wine and craft whiskeys in town, and a few artisan cheeses.

The Varsity is right next to Fletch's and owned and operated by the same people with an interior passageway between the two.

And finally, Terry's by itself without Christine's on top of it.

The Hazy Rabbit has hand-drilled .23 pinholes 30mm from a 6x6cm frame. The first roll is 100. The second is FP4+.  Both semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.