Friday, October 28, 2022

...mea maxima culpa!

I have discovered what caused the streak extending through the middle of the negatives of one of the participants from my recent workshop.

It was my fault. Once again, it was the result of an old habitual behavior just expressing itself without me realizing it.

To understand what happened, I had given John another roll of film and he agreed to expose it and send the camera to me.

I always load film in the right bay so the numbers are upright. I know I told them it didn't really matter which side it was loaded on but repeatedly mentioned it, demonstrated loading that way and showed them the dots going by with right side up numbers. I just expected them to load it that way. John had loaded the film in the left bay, the way he's accustomed to doing it in his 35mm Minolta.

When I received the camera, I could see backing paper was still visible in the counter window. Before unloading the camera, I thought I was winding it all the way onto the take-up spool with the left winder, but I was rewinding. This will cause the film, unnattached to the paper at the end of the last frame, to catch on the internal divider and spool into the image chamber. About when I thought I had wound it too long, I saw shiny film in the counter window! I immediately closed it and went into the darkroom. With the camera open, it all just felt bunched up. I really couldn't tell how it looked. 

I must have done exactly the same thing at the museum, although I can't visualize exactly what's happening in the camera. I don't remember any of this when I wound the film on the reel in the class, but we had the other problem with the changing bag. 

The streak appeared on the last two frames. Much to my relief, ten frames survived.

I've tried to replicate this by reattaching and rerolling a dummy roll of film to some backing paper. Every time the rewinding just bunched it up inside the image chamber until it jammed and nearly forced the camera open with the backing paper still visible in the window. I don't understand how that film got exposed to the counter hole but I'm not going to sacrifice a roll of FP4+ just to find out. I know what the cause was and how to avoid the problem. 

I'm a little surprised that no one on the internet suggested this as a possibility. I do know someone who only had experience of 35mm film destroying his first roll of 120 this way.

On a recent episode of the Lensless Podcast, Paula Smith related how "suffering the slings and arrows of analogue photography" was something everyone had to go through to achieve the rewards. I'm not sure if John can take solace in having an almost universal experience.

I was happy John would get to see the photographs he took. Here are a few examples. 

Some flowers still looking interesting long past their prime.

This one is a bit of an unusual composition but I like the way the lighter path of leaves leads your eye to the tree-trunk with a roof and faux window with what might be a deliberate face, or might just be pareidolia.

In that podcast today, Paula and host Andrew Bartram noted the surprising realism that could be achieved with the pinholes on manufactured cameras like Ondu, RSS, and Zero. This camera has the first pinhole that John had ever drilled.

Although I was pretty sure I already knew what caused the problem, the recommended protocol called for another roll of a different kind of film to be run through the camera. I loaded it with 200 and, a little dismayed and dejected by the recognition of my incompetence, started to take pictures.

This all happened late in the morning so to freak out in my stead while I made lunch, I enlisted the ghost pillow and some of it's compatriots in the sun room.

In the afternoon, I sat out on the porch to finish the roll of film. A pumpkin for carving next week.

Three small gourds with handles intertwined on the bakers' rack.

 A small white "ghost" pumpkin.

One of the warty pumpkins from the trip that I swear will be the next blog post.

In our house, holiday decorating doesn't stop when you get out the door. A small bronze Jack-o-lantern with multicolored corn stuck in the top.

A mirror encrusted pumpkin atop a stump-like pedestal.

It was pretty dark and gloomy so I concentrated on the more shiny artifacts.

These had all been close-ups and I was a little sick of waiting for the five to twenty minute exposures on the porch so went out to get a long shot of Central Street. It was a little irksome how prominent that white car was but the extreme wide angle shrinks it to an almost unnoticable detail.

Underneath the magnolia.

Continuing with the shorter, but still minute-long exposures, a vine climbing the wall of the garage. The air was very still but as soon as I opened the shutter, a breeze came up, then became still again and repeated that several times during the exposure. Surprising how little motion blur there is.

An ornamental brassica on the bench by the door,

When I started, I was pretty depressed but as I took the photographs the thought that kept coming to mind was what a nice little camera this is. It's small so you can fit it in tight spaces. It's very light so you can position it by leaning the tripod over at a pretty severe angle over a table or bench. It was easy to load, the film advances like buttah, the shutters open smoothly and stop reliably when the shutter is fully open. It survived the tripod falling over several times without a mark. The viewfinders are simple lines drawn on the top and sides, but they're good enough, especially if you use an auxiliary stick to locate the edges of the composition. 

It was well made by someone who had never done cardboard crafting before. It was his first experience with scissors since grade school. I didn't use Joanne's camera, but I think it was done just as well. Her camera also has the packaging design featured intentionally on the shutters and winder minder, which I told them not to spend too much time on. (Although I did it with the demonstration camera I was building without saying anything).

And all in about two and a half hours, including drilling the pinholes perfectly. I guess I can feel good about part of the workshop and just pack away these painful learning experiences to use to control the old robot that apparently exists inside me.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Out again with two cameras.

Recently it seems I've been either film testing a camera, or documenting roadtrips in 35mm, all of it with a single camera along. It's been awhile since I just grabbed two cameras of different angles of view and set off with no objective other than to to take pictures for fun.

The camera on the left is a 30mm 120 Populist. In order to teach somebody how to make a camera, you have to make one. This is the demonstration camera for my recent workshop at the Trout Museum of Art. It was made in less than two hours including drilling the pinhole (on the first try). I didn't record what size it was. I remember saying something like "I can live with that" and going on to guide them through drilling their pinholes, which they also both got nearly perfect on the first try. I made the viewfinder triangles after I got home but that only took about a half hour. This is the first roll of film through the camera, but I can't say I'm film testing it. It's just that it's not properly pinholy to make a camera and not take some pictures with it.

The other camera is the Little Mutant, the prototype of the Compact 45mm. Steve Wittman's V-Class Airplane, one of the photographs from my day at Pioneer Airport was just accepted into a juried art show in Green Bay, so I thought the camera deserved a little more film.

What set me off this particular day were the billowy textured clouds. We've had lots of featureless either cloudless or totally cloudy conditions recently.

Lake Winnebago was my destination but I got impatient and stopped next to that reliable one-point perspective subject, the railroad, and pointed up to the sky despite the power lines and the severely converging verticals.

Down the block, the Little Mutant straightened out the verticals of the Noffke Lumber Company. Experimental Pinhole Photography Question of the Week: What are those little round spots at the left side of the building with the streaks trailing them to the upper right?

This tree on the corner of the playground of Emmeline Cooke School seemed like a good foreground for the dramatic sky. This was just about the time school was getting out and I was surrounded by cars waiting for children, lining the street for a block in all directions. I'm surprised no one raised an alarm.


Took the opportunity as soon as I got to the lake, looking north on South Asylum Bay.

From the Ames Point breakwater looking back at Oshkosh.

A shady grove of trees in Menomonee Park that I never see because they're behind the maintanance garage.

This gnarly old trunk was right at the corner of the garage.

The previous week just before my workshop, I discovered the Appleton Farmers Market was just in front of the Museum. I could pick up some vegetables if I went a little early the second week. As I was selecting some tomatoes, I looked over and saw someone with a DSLR just a few inches from the end of the row of produce. When she looked up, we recognized each other from the Fox Valley Photography group, pursuing this month's challenge, street photography. She agreed to pose for me.

Back to the park on a day with a completely clear sky. This boat hasn't been in the water all summer. I used to think having a boat like this might be cool until a former sailboat owner told me it was like standing in a 50 mile an hour wind and throwing money in the ocean.

Another shot of the Ames breakwater across Miller's Bay in a pretty high wind. When I was setting up, the tripod blew across the trail and I had to hold it down to make the exposure.

Under the bleachers at the softball field. It didn't occur to me when I made the exposure, but when we drove through the rural town of Seymour recently, Sarah and I simultaneously had the same thought.

Is this street photography? I recently heard someone define street photography as "evidence of the human." That sounds really frightening but the story of continuous use told by the antique door with the machine-folded vent next to it is the kind of thing that really gets to me. Nice trick of the lighting to reveal those crossed creases which stiffen the sheet metal,  the bottom one serendipitously parallel to the shadow of an overhead wire.

Another day with more plain but slightly rippled clouds. Looking back toward Monkey Island and Miller's Bay.

The Jackson/Oregon Street bridge is still up. I wonder which side is broken - the one that's up or the one that's down.

We went to Mosquito Hill for the first time since the pandemic and I exposed a bit of color 35mm film. I've only taken black and white photographs at Mosquito Hill once for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day a long time ago. We sat in a slight drizzle while the camera was sheltered under a railing for this five minute exposure of the iconic view of the oxbow.

Another stack of pumpkins from what I think will be the next blog post.

Another unsuccessful attempt to make the roses on the arbor look really dangerous.

After a bit of rain, the cabbage captured a few drops. If you saw my Facebook post about tripodology,* this is the picture.

Going back into the house with the 30mm camera on the last frame, I noticed the sun beaming my shadow and the camera's on the doorway. It reminded me of noted street photographers Vivian Maier and Lee Freidlander.

The 30mm Populist probably has a .23 to .26mm pinhole. The Little Mutant has .27mm pinholes, on the axis and 15mm above the axis, 45mm from the film plane. Both have 6x6cm frames. The film is 100 semi-stand developed together in Caffenol.

* for those of you still familiar with an asterisk foot-note, here's the tripod feat I referred to.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

A Spooky Camera for Sarah

Last year as an anniversary surprise, and this year with her full cooperation, I have made Sarah a spooky camera to aid in coming up with content for her countdown to Halloween.

Like a chatelaine with a project on Escape to the Chateau DIY, I can't reveal much about it until the blog hits the internet. I can tell you it's another Compact 45mm with a pinhole drilled in beverage can aluminum and of course, it had to be film-tested.

It seems appropriate to photograph the haul we brought back from a pumpkin adventure on a return to the far side of Lake Winnebago. I had noticed the sun filtered through the plants at lunch while Sarah and I were having some kind of important conversation that we couldn't just pause. Tell me if you've heard this one before. As soon as that was concluded, I got up and set up the exposure and the sun moved. The shutter stayed open for another half hour while we had dessert. The way the skin of these gourds reflects the diffuse light is pretty cool anyway.

This month's challenge in the Fox Valley Photography Group is street photography. Just before my camera making workshop, I went out into the Appleton Farmers market right in front of the museum. It was pretty early so the light on this old dude (I can say that) singing the blues was at that low angle you read about in photography books. He was really wailin' so I just set the tripod down and took the picture. He didn't miss a beat.

Holiday decorating is fully deployed.

The first thirty-eight minutes of our weekly video call with Andy and Kristin.

The weekly cabbage report. This head is starting to look like something to eat and also a little like a muppet.

Not everyone is doing so well.

Even in monochrome, the habaneros look hot.

A dappled rose blossom not taking the role of center of interest as well as I'd hoped.

Another not particularly unified composition on the western shore of Elwood's Pond,

I spent 10 minutes trying to rig a tripod to get a picture of a fierce thicket of big thorns at the top of the arbor. I ended up having to hold the little Joby tripod against the structure to get it where I wanted it. I'm surprised it wasn't shaking. Only two or three thorns are visible.

I intended to feature the lily-fruits and didn't notice the serendipitous merger of the unknown hairy plant erupting out of them.

Another ill pointed and ununified compostion. The corpse of the dahlia featured in the Macro challenge.

The film is 100 developed in full strength caffenol with normal agitation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea not totally culpa

In a workshop with two very gracious, enthusiastic and patient participants at the Trout Museum of Art, I experienced a series of firsts.  

Joanne is a retired library assistant who had started in photography documenting library collections of objects with a 110 camera and never had used a camera that wasn't completely automatic. She now volunteers in a hospital and takes photographs which she pairs with inspirational quotes and has an agreement with a greeting card company to publish them.

John is a recently graduated engineer. He bought a Minolta SLR a few years ago and has been taking pictures with color film, but had never processed his own negatives. Ironically, Failure Analyst Engineer is his current job title. Can you see where I'm going with this?

The previous Saturday had gone well. Both made excellent cameras. I overlooked warning them about avoiding the possibly unreliable cardboard with white printing, but we made special efforts to light proof the cameras with opaque tape. They are regular 120 Populists,  Joanne's is a 45mm and John's 30mm, no customization. There was no noticable issue of not being light tight, sort of.

It was notable they both drilled excellent pinholes within a couple hundredths of a millimeter of optimum, on the first try.

The first order of business the second week was to load the film onto the reels in a changing bag. I have never done this in public before. Until a few weeks ago, I had never done it at all. I've spent plenty of time with my arms in a changing bag but never to load film on a reel. I did a few rolls to practice and then found a dummy roll and practiced more, including just before the session started. The first roll went well, but I had to stop talking and concentrate to get the film inserted in the slot of the Yankee tanks I was using. The second roll, I removed the film from the backing paper and then discovered I had put the tank between the outer and inner layer of the changing bag. I've never done that before. Luckily, I had brought a spare for them to look at while I was in the bag. I had dramatically turned off the room lights so it was fairly dim. With John's help, I slid my hand out of the bag as he pinched the sleeve and we put in the spare tank and reel back through it, curving the sleeve over the edge of a table. Then silently with great concentration wound the film on the reel.

Next was mixing the caffenol. I had already drawn the liter of water and measured the temperature as 69 degrees F. Then, as I do everytime I mix caffenol, divided the recipe in half for a single roll of film as I read it to them to measure and mix. We developed the film in half-strength developer!  Twenty-three grams of coffee (9 teaspoons) in a liter is just as opaque as the full recipe. I thought the negatives looked thin but were easily recoverable with the simple editing on the iPad. I didn't realize what I'd done until the next morning, ironically while I was weighing coffee grounds. This could be concerning for a septuagenarian. I was commiserating with someone about stage fright recently. We both observed that once the event started, it went away as you operated according to the programmed script. My brain must have copied a few lines of code and forgot to change a parameter for the new application.

But there's more. That turned out to not be the worst.

When we got the film off the reel, we discovered that John's film, beginning on the second frame, had a grey streak down the middle exactly the same width as the counter hole with the occasional circular hot spot, slightly doubled, at random spaces along the negatives. This is with a handmade pinhole camera, so when he had the counter shutter open he would have to pause to loosen the supply occasionally as he advanced to the next number.

I watched him do this after frames two and three and saw the numbers on the backing paper. He did this in the shade. The counter hole was otherwise always covered by a shutter exactly like every camera I’ve ever made. I once saw a number appear on the negative this way, but it had been left open in the direct sun for several minutes. I've also left them open in the sun and got nothing.

It’s as if he opened the counter shutter but there was no backing paper at all. But the backing paper looks perfectly normal. The negatives look like the film was flat against the image plane, ergo not separated from the backing paper.

This was with a 120 roll of Ilford FP4+ which I watched him take out of the box and foil, load into the camera and advance to the first frame.

The streak did not appear in the first frame. There's what looks like a legitimate light leak in the bottom i.e. the top of the camera. This is with a 90° angle of view camera and I think it just might be some sunlit ornamental grasses in a planter he didn't imagine moved this much during the exposure. In any event, it doesn't show up in any of the other exposures.

The hotspots were kind of at random, consistent with the idea that he paused occasionally while winding the film. Some of these look tilted but that's just the negative being slightly tilted under the iPad camera used to capture the file. The streak is perfectly straight from it's beginning to the end of the film

The negatives are a little thin, easily editable back to the full range, but the streak and the dots kind of freaked out the automatic iPad camera so the files were even flatter than they could have been.

Too bad, it looks like a nice pinhole.

Could this be a manufacturing flaw?  I’ve heard complaints in the past but I can’t imagine how it would happen.  I had a rough streak down the middle of a couple of frames once with a roll of FP4+ and later found a slit down the middle of the backing paper. But this one looks fine.

Here's the backing paper of the suspect roll held against my iphone flashlight, my normal test of opacity. I can't see a hint of translucence.

For comparison, here is the backing paper from the other participant, again with the iPhone flashlight held against it.  Those negatives looked completely normal except for the under-development.

The inside of the camera looks well constructed and seems adequately light tight from looking at the un-streaked parts of the negative.

I offered this conundrum to several Facebook groups concerned with pinhole and hand-made cameras. The responses came in two groups. 

First, since the camera didn't have a red filter in front of the counter hole, that allowed enough light to penetrate the backing paper and create the streaks and the spots during winding. I and others have made thousands of exposures in exactly the same conditions without the red window and never a hint of a streak or spot. 

Red windows were introduced when most general purpose films were orthochromatic. They weren't very sensitive to red, so the filter over the counter hole was very effective. With modern panchromatic films the red window merely absorbs about two stops. Later cameras included a swiveling shutter over them. I hear more complaints about the red filter making it hard to see the recently light-grey marks on Kodak and Ilford films. Some people have removed them, putting tape over the hole, wishing they'd done it years earlier, without any mention of light marking the film through the naked counter hole when they advanced the film.

The second group said they have no idea what happened but noted that you gotta run another roll of film of a different batch or type through that camera. There was another roll of film that the museum had purchased. At the end of the workshop, I offered it to John, which he accepted. We have since agreed that he will expose the film and then mail it and the camera to me and I will develop it and expose a different kind of film in the camera. Watch this space.

The most, but just barely plausible explanation was that the manufacturing flaw was: that although the backing paper looks opaque to us, it's almost transparent to UV and infrared light, which the film is slightly more sensitive to than our eyes are.

Ilford has responded to problems with spots and mottling on 120 film, but their statement doesn't seem to describe this. I probably will send them a link to this blog post.

Still another notable learning experience occured for me. The museum's three inch high light tables needed unstable cardboard platforms to place the iPads at the right height to capture the negatives. My flat LED light box was much easier to use with a lower platform. With only two participants, I had plenty of iPads. With the app Artist's Lightbox, I could use one to backlight the negatives and use the more stable lower platform. I tried this out prior to the session, and even used a picture captured with the iPad backlight to demonstrate editing an image.

Joanne's negatives, that weren't affected by the magical streak, were captured with the iPad backlighting it.

It wasn't until I printed the file at letter-size that I realized that the iPad camera had imaged the pixels of the backlighting screen, including hints of the three color pixel groups behind the monochromatic negative.  My initial reactions was that it softened the image. On later reflection I realized that the pattern created by the colored pixels and the silver grain was kind of a unique textured image.

Here's one of her pictures. 

A detail at high resolution

We had talked about how I would have made the pictures a little higher contrast, but she thought they looked right like this. I also find myself wanting to rotate the picture so it was level. If you think of this compared to a Cubist painting it's a pretty good composition. Recently I'd attended a talk on Street Photography where the presenter advised to forget the rules about level cameras and introduce some dynamics to the image with a tilted horizon. Well Nick, what an old fuddy duddy you are.

At the Experimental Aircraft Association Airventure Fly-in, I bristled when aviators kept asking me if I was experimenting with pinhole. Maybe they were right. Pinhole is always experimental. These workshops are of course intended to be learning experiences for the participants, but somehow I keep learning as much as they do,