Happy New Year!

First robin of Spring.

Today is New Year’s Day!

You don’t think it started in January, did you? That’s the eleventh month of the year. As in: Sept (seven), Oct (eight), Nov (nine), Dec (ten) et cetera. In fact New Year’s was March 20th (+/-) until the middle of the 18th century. More or less. On the Gregorian calendar. Pretty much. Except Great Britain didn’t change up as early as the USA did, so you have some interesting birth dates in genealogy of that time and area. Never mind the ten days that went missing. The Y2K thing was never really an issue. Trust me.

Oh yes, “Gregorian”. Pope Gregory XIII ‘fixed’ the Julian calendar (named for Julius Caesar; ever heard of him, Brutus? When it’s too hot in July, blame him) with a little help from Omar Khayyam. It’s probably called something different these days, like “modern calendar” (HA!), because we can’t have religious influences in our secular dealings. That’s why B.C. (Before Christ) has become B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and A.D. (Anno Domini – year of the lord) is now C.E. (Common Era). Of course it’s only common if you ignore the Persian calendar, Mayan calendar, Chinese Calendar, Jewish Calendar … et cetera.

In fact it makes more sense to start the year on the Spring Equinox than arbitrarily on the first of January. Hey, the Winter Solstice would be a more sensible turning point. But our calendar is hopelessly misaligned with reality, which explains a lot about civilization.

It’s the Daylight Saving Time cock-up on steroids.

Boomer, okay.

I woke up in a bad mood today and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m not even going to explain it. Everyone else can be angry about things, so I can as well. There’s lots to be angry about, from the trivial to the significant. Sometimes you can’t tell where one leaves off and the other begins. That’s because of what Douglas Adams called “the fundamental interconnectedness of it  all”.

One thing I’m angry about is the continuing insulting of the Baby Boomer Generation as though it is responsible for everything wrong in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re the bunch that moved society on by great leaps and bounds. When I was young segregation was a thing in so many places and situations it was horrible. But our generation turned George Wallace from “segregation forever” to “segregation never” and black people got elected mayors and governors in the South.

We knew pollution was a problem and went on to not just create Earth Day as a trendy symbol, but to clean up the land, air, and water. We really did. Remember the Environmental Protection Agency? It used to be a thing.

Never mind the advancements we made it the sciences. We are not responsible for the situational irony that smartphones are now used to ‘warn’ people of the ‘dangers’ of vaccines and fifth generation communication technology. We passed our science exams.

But just because one country put a leader in place (I can’t say ‘elected’ as that is debatable) who has proven to be the worst leader of any country in the history of the entire world and that person coincidentally belongs to our generation as well, we are all demoted to the same level of “moron troublemakers”. Well we didn’t vote him in; there aren’t enough of us left to do so. That means he had to have support from younger age groups, if not some foreign entity bypassing the entire electoral system somehow. He’s what is known as a “statistical outlier”, not a “representative sample” of the Baby Boomer Generation.

Thus we have the ignorant among us using the catch phrase “okay, boomer” as some sort of slight towards this now older generation because they have little understanding of history. They are so self-centered I’m not surprised they support an egomaniac moron, or in the case of Canada an ignorant narcissistic git who thinks budgets balance themselves. There’s no true leadership among the leaders these days, which explains the lack of empathy among the populace. Or perhaps vice-versa.

As a result we have ineffective social movements. People who think they can improve the future by denying the past. Crowds who like to complain, but offer no constructive criticism. Identifying what is wrong is the first step, but it is a meaningless one if you don’t also offer a solution (not just demand one). It should be pretty obvious that answers are not going to be forthcoming from people who are operating the currently flawed system. After all, if they could see the way to improvement they’d do it. (If they can see the way and don’t do it that is part of the problem.)

Taking down statues of past racists won’t solve anything. Taking down current racists will. The former is an exercise is denying history, and thus condemning the future to relive it. The latter is the way of change. Yes some of those statues should never have been put up in the first place. For example celebrating the Confederate traitors who were not only on the losing side of the war but also on the wrong side. But if you were to take down every commemoration of past slave owners you’d also be missing out on Thomas Jefferson. It’s a matter of context, you see. As it is with so many other things, like language where a particular word is not offensive but how it is used is.

It is good that NASCAR has banned the rebel flag from their grounds, even if it’s a decision coming 155 years late. But Mississippi still has it as part of their state flag. How can anyone justify that? The “part of our heritage” excuse is not viable: not everything in one’s heritage is something to be proud of. Almost every culture on Earth has had slavery at one time or another, and most were smart enough not only to end it but to not allow any romanticized depictions of it which might lead to people who were too far removed from the actual situation to think it wasn’t as bad as it was.

There are complaints that are justified and those that are not. An episode of Fawlty Towers gets removed from view because it contains blatant racist epithets. The fact that they are used in a manner that demonstrates how stupid and backward it is to be a bigot is ignored, and so the lesson that would be taught is lost. Gone With The Wind continues to stir controversy over its depiction of slavery in the southern US, even though that depiction is historically accurate.

There is a scene in Eugene O’Neil’s “Ah, Wilderness!” wherein a black servant is chastised for not being a racial stereotype for his master and is forced to hide his college education and carry on as the racists expect a black man to be. This is a telling bit, because a lot of them did just that: behaved as expected to avoid controversy and conflict.

But now we must erase words and people from history because they are offensive to modern sensibilities. Not “see how horrible it was? Haven’t we made lots of improvements?” but “oh we just don’t talk about that”. How will anyone learn from such denial? Do we not admonished neo-Nazis for their assertion the Holocaust didn’t happen?

As for the word “niggardly”, it isn’t even etymologically related. Learn, people.

People have become too simplistic. Things are either good or bad, and they can’t grasp the complex subtleties such as “the dose makes the poison”. So “the ‘N’ word” is eliminated from the language in all contexts, and the disgusting aspect of it is removed. It’s the opposite of the effect of over-using expletives which causes their impact to be lessened.

So to you younger, non-boomer generations I say stop pretending. Reality is an ugly thing at times, and you have to face up to it. Not every job in life is arranging flowers. Sometimes you have to shovel the shit.

I have a lot more to say about … well everything. But this was cathartic and will end now, even though I’m still in a very bad mood.

The Trestle Series

Jim Grey likes to take pictures of bridges. Who can blame him? They’re interesting from both an aesthetic and a historic point of view. He keeps making me think of all the bridges I’ve come across, or gone across, over many years and roads. One time when I’d looked at a train trestle he posted I got to thinking about the forgotten one in my hometown; a structure abandoned in a field from a long-removed train track. Remnants of that line were in evidence all over during the time of my childhood, mostly in the form of rails still embedded in the road whereas the rest of the tracks had long been taken up.

Anyway, I forgot about it shortly after seeing his pictures. If there’s one thing old age does it’s make it easy to forget. Besides, I would never be going back there again so I wouldn’t be getting any pictures of that trestle – even if I could hike to it. A small part of my mind (about all that’s left of it) wondered if I ever had? But no, even if so those images would be lost along with the thousands of others that disappeared.

Lately I’ve been going through the few old pictures I have found, and in a pure case of serendipitous Zen (or something) … well it’s unbelievable but there were some pictures of that old railroad trestle! These were on some Kodachrome slides, and they didn’t fare well. They are in B&W now because the colour was horrific and two of the images had severe light streak damage, which makes me think it’s another test roll from one of the 60+ 35mm cameras I’ve owned. They weren’t all winners.

The trestle itself was a stone structure built to carry the tracks over a small, permanent stream. It is way off the main highway – and was even further off before they put Rte. 63 through there. I doubt anyone else knows it’s there, not even whoever owns the land now.

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(I don’t really know what that last bit is, but it was near the trestle.)

As you can see, it was a bit the worse for age and lack of maintenance even back then.

There are other stories connected with this trestle, the old rail line, and the days of my youth, but the amazing thing here is that I came across these few photos of it. There were a lot of relics of the past hanging around the area when I was young, and I didn’t think to photograph them then. Too late now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, except for the sensation of angst that comes with it.

The Chimney Series

Recently I had the opportunity of looking at an old farmstead (the story behind this is complicated). I didn’t have much time because of all the other things I needed to do that day, but I had an hour to look about. The one thing that struck me was the site where the newest house (built in the 1960s) had burned down leaving only the chimney. Well it was more than just a column of bricks, and I shot a few photos of it. If I’d had more time I would have shot more – and come ready with other gear. Different times of day or of year et cetera would have yielded more results just from this one mass of miscellaneous masonry. As it was I took a dozen photos with the camera I had, the T100, and about half of them turned out nice with little effort. I haven’t even tried desaturating any yet. But here are the ones I think came out good.

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That last one I believe I’ll get a print made of it and hang it on the wall; it’s a great image of colour and texture and shape.

Perhaps in the future I’ll have the chance to return there and shoot some of the other old log buildings. Or perhaps not.

Education is a wonderful thing

Yes education is a wonderful thing.

Get some.

I don’t mean the formal bit of paper that declares you’ve achieved at least the minimum passing grade on standardized testing. Those wonderful documents we wave in the air then place in a box as we get on with our lives and the utter necessity of doing what needs to be done so we can eat and sleep indoors.

More the kind of education that allows you to see sentence number two in the previous paragraph before you commit sentence number one in same said paragraph. The practical, pragmatic education of reality that lets you avoid so many mistakes and so much suffering. Too often these are the things we learn to late. Wouldn’t it be nice if they taught them in school to begin with? Instead our high school classes are an exercise in archaic academia and soldier training, and our college courses presume you already know about life and how to deal with it.

I’ve had more than half a century of learning and still regret not entering adulthood armed with useful, practical knowledge of how to cope with it. I literally could have saved years of struggle if I had, and could have sailed more smoothly through the easy times as well.

There’s not much meaning to this diatribe. It’s too late for most of us and nothing is likely to change for the others because the situation has become institutionalized, even though the majority may agree it needs alteration.

In fact what triggered this useless rambling was scanning through blogs where so many people were quickly willing to earnestly offer you what they had learned about … well almost everything. A cursory glance showed none of it was knowledge so much as it was opinion, and that is what passes for facts these days.

We have a saying “you can’t fool a hammer” and few people understand what it means. Basically it means physics is absolute, and just because you truly believe a hammer is a screwdriver doesn’t mean it will work as one. Nor does the philosophical argument that since you can use it as one (pounding the screw with the hammer and thus ‘driving’ it) that makes it so.

On more than one occasion I have used algebra to explain the relationships between multiple variables. That’s what it’s for. I’ve even taught it. On almost every occasion the listener failed to grasp the concept because although they had passed algebra they never understood it. “You don’t need it” is a frequent excuse, and yet there we were; me explaining and them not understanding. It wasn’t as if I was just doing it to be mean; there was something they wanted to understand and they needed algebra to understand it but the education system had failed where it pretended to have succeeded.

Philosophy originally meant “field of study”. It’s where PhD comes from (Philosphy Doctorate). Now the colloquial meaning of random belief supported by flimsy argument and zero facts has overtaken that definition to the point of reversal. We will declare we are PhDs not because we have contributed to the body of knowledge on a particular subject, but because we decide we know about it based not on facts but opinion and rhetorical argument.

I don’t know. I still try to educate people and get told I’m wrong because all I have is facts and data and decades or even centuries of accumulated knowledge to prove my point. Apparently if I had a lot of nonsense and ad hominem attacks to draw on I’d be on firmer ground.

But that, I will admit, is just my opinion. Not the facts.

Shooting with the Canon Brownie Star… WHAT?!

I bought the Canon EOS Rebel T100 to experiment with, and by golly it was the right choice! I keep thinking up more experiments to do, like six this morning before breakfast. This is the first one of those I’ve been able to execute, as it was fairly simple to arrange. The idea was to take pictures as though I was using a cheap 127 camera from the 1960s, like one of the Brownie ‘Star’ series that I had just about every edition of.

So here is the thinking behind the project: first the format has to be 1:1 because the 127 film cameras shot either 8 or 12 or 16 (half-frame) pictures per roll and I picked 12 just like those Brownies made. Second, exposure is fixed on most of those cameras so there would be no changing it. How to determine what exposure to use? Guess! Well, educated guess: the speed of good ol’ Verichrome Pan was 100, the aperture is determined by depth of field, and the shutter speed is whatever was close “and likely” for the camera being imitated.

Now about that aperture. These cameras had fixed focus so what we (and they) do is make use of depth of field to determine both in a sort of reciprocal way. Mostly the focus was described as “5 feet to infinity” or such, so we know that if we use f8 and set the infinity mark at the far side of the DOF scale … viola, 5′ turns up at the other end. This is “focus cheating” and all fixed-focus cameras use it. Technically speaking the image isn’t in focus throughout, it’s just sharp over a wide range. The focus thus set, the aperture so determined, you never change them. (A few cameras had different apertures for “cloudy/bright” or “colour/B&W” and some had limited focus control but we needn’t get picky.)

Now about that shutter speed. Normally the rule-of-thumb setting is 1/ASA (or ISO for you modernists) and that’s good enough here. For example I know from shooting with the correct set-up this exposure is about right, although the elevation and 16 hour days here mean there can be up to 2 stops latitude between noon light and morning/evening light (“2 hours after sunrise, 2 hours before sunset” rule). So we will rely on exposure latitude to get the job done. To be honest I’m not sure what the actual shutter speed of those old cameras is, but I suspect it is somewhat slower than 1/100 judging by how easily things blurred. Possibly 1/60. On some of the much older cameras “I” (Instantaneous) was around 1/25 of a second so holding still was quite important.

It’s somewhat ironic that the lens I selected to do this with is the 28mm Super Takumar, because that’s the sharpest lens I’ve got and normally the plastic wonder cameras had fairly unsharp lenses (often made of plastic). But there are ways around that. I chose the lens based on its field of view (slightly wide, just like a cheap camera would have) and its ability to have fixed aperture and focus with a DOF scale to make all that work out.

So everything is set, except the need for lower resolution (turned the setting down to 2.5 MP – it could go lower) and adding a bit of blur and grain to look like the old negatives did (I shot enough of them that I should remember). That part was done in post-processing by adding RGB noise and then desaturating to B&W.

The last part was how to shoot. Well these Brownies were kids’ cameras so … shoot like a kid! Don’t get wrapped up in subject matter, framing, composition. Kids quite literally just point and shoot. This was perhaps the hardest thing to achieve; winding down decades of learning and practice to go back to my visual childhood. And for once I have not shrunk the photos to fit the Internet as they are only 2X what I’d normally use anyway. Here they are, as they are:

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Some notes on the project:

For one thing I had to shoot in “live view mode” because that’s the only way to get the square format in-camera. This saves a ton of editing later, though. I shot in colour, but frankly it didn’t look right. Probably due to the psychological conditioning that comes from having shot hundreds of rolls of B&W like this. The lens is perhaps still too sharp despite the blurring accomplished in the processing. This can be overcome with the addition of some simple plastic wrap in front of the lens to distort the image more. The camera itself has some “built in” filters, one of which is “Toy Camera”. I tried this (as well as many other setting variations) and found it not realistic. I guess I’ve just handled more cameras than whoever came up with that idea.

I have to confess I had far too much fun doing this and the outcome has me highly amused. It is so like the ‘original’ photographic type it’s uncanny. And yes I do have some other experiments along similar lines in mind.

What do you think?    Would you try such a bizarre experiment?

The Future of Fotography

This entry was inspired by the Zen coincidence of a comment made by a friend of a friend and another blog written by a fellow photographer regarding digital cameras and what may be coming. The comment was on the desire for smartphones’ cameras to be at right-angle to the screen so it wasn’t obvious when a picture is being taken (something self-conscious folk have to come to terms with). This would make the phone camera work like an old TLR for framing purposes, or an SLR with waste-level finder if you prefer. The inspiring blog was also about the future: The Future of Photography is not Mirrorless It caused me to think about all the changes I personally have seen in half a century of photography (and looking back on its history, even more).

In the good old days of film photography there were two categories of camera: amateur and professional. That is not the same as two categories of photographer, as a lot of amateurs had professional equipment – and still got amateur results. The inverse is also true, as I’ve known pros to get the results they wanted using a Diana F. It might not be the result you or I want, but it worked for them. Amateur cameras began with the Kodak Brownie for sure:

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(Yes that is the very first model; one of seven left in the world.)

They progressed through basic folders, then plastic cheapies (the famous Brownie “Star” camera series for example), into Instamatics and on to the point-and-shoot digitals. Professional cameras started with the very first cameras, as you really had to know what you were doing before Mr. Eastman made it easy. Post World War II we’d think of pro cameras as Leica, Contax, and Exacta – before Nikon, Canon, and Pentax took over with their SLRs. If you were really serious about your photography, sooner or later you laid down the big money and bought one of the dauntingly complex cameras that could do so much more than point and click.

The early days of digital photography were much the same. I wonder how many remember that the first professional digital units were actually backs that fitted to your SLR (like Nikon F) to give you digital imaging? I remember because at the time a pro friend of mine was trying to get his work to pony up the money for it – something like $10,000 then. They didn’t go for it. But still we had honest amateur digital cameras:

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Curiously if you wanted to go from digital amateur to digital pro the marketplace provided a new kind of camera for you: the “bridge” camera. This was no point-and-shoot, but also not a DSLR with interchangeable lenses. Just the right tool to metaphorically get your feet wet without shelling out next month’s mortgage payment (and car payment and probably the utility bill as well).

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The amateur digitals got better and better and better … and then started to vanish. In fact you will find it difficult to locate a good quality, basic digital camera these days. Why? Because at the same time digital was developing (pun intended) someone thought of using the memory and processor in a cell phone for additional tasking. And cell phones became smartphones with so much more memory and processing power. How easy it became for everyone to carry around one unit that could do everything they wanted to do! Apparently the lessons of the past about putting all your technological eggs in one metaphorical basket were forgotten.

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That’s when smartphones began to afflict professional photography too. Take weddings as an example. It used to be a pro would be hired to make some set shots and candid images and woe unto the amateur who dared bring along his Instamatic! But professionals are expensive and now everyone has a smartphone so … hey all you guests; shoot like crazy and share it all with everyone! Smartphones had brought the ancient despised practice of “film burning” (where if you shoot enough film one of the frames is bound to be good – a take off on the “infinite number of monkeys” principal) to the digital age.

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Oh my. What of professional photography now? Well they’ve introduced the mirror-less cameras for pros. Will that save them? I rather doubt it. For one thing a mirror-less camera, and forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, costs more than a DSLR yet has few parts and is therefor cheaper to produce. Hmm. Sounds just like when they used to charge extra for “pro-black finish” on SLRs even though it cost less than satin chrome. If you weigh the advantages of mirror-less against the disadvantages and factor in the price, is there really any point? Perhaps for some, but it’s unlikely to be the major market share. A mirror-less camera is a point-and-shoot gone posh, as the lens-to-sensor-to-screen principal is the same as used in the now all-but-vanished low-end digital. They’ve just added a lot of features, especially the ability to change lenses.

Time to take a side trip. One of the mirror-less camera flaws is exposing the sensor when the lens is off. In the days of film photography there were a few editions which had interchangeable front elements to give you wide or telephoto views; the rear element remained safely locked behind the leaf shutter. Most of these cameras (such as the infamous Kowa SLR) were quality nightmares which ultimately failed, and the lens arrangement limited the focal lengths possible. Besides now the fragile shutter leafs were exposed when the lens was off. Yet could there not be potential here for making smartphones even more capable? Well some companies are already on that, and you can find clip-on and magnetic lens accessories for your phone already. After all, a digital filter isn’t as good as a real one.

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So where do we go from here? Will smartphones continue to invade the photography world? Having already displaced amateur cameras, do they pose a real threat to professional grade equipment? Will they force pros out of the scene entirely, save a few diehard artistic types? Interesting questions. Let’s see what a smartphone might evolve into.

The original comment this piece started with about having right-angle camera phone ability is an intriguing one. We already have front and back lenses. How much tech can we fit in? Right now zooming is digital, but it was years ago that the concept of flexible lenses was brought up. And now they’re talking about whole phones that flex. Hmm. Is it possible to get a lens that will move to any angle while the screen stays in front of you? This would be the inverse of cameras with displays that fold out and pivot. Will there be mechanical zooming ability on this lens? The possibilities are there for certain. Perhaps they might even smarten up enough to give the lens some real protection from the brutal world, instead of leaving it to take everything life throws at it like the rest of us poor sods have to.

However this might be a good time to stop and ask ourselves collectively: just because we can do it, does that mean we should?

I’ve no doubt someone will.

But that someone will not be me.

P.S.: If they’re going to do anything good with cell phone cameras, give me a lens that mounts on my glasses and sees what I see so I can press a button or give a voice command and snap a good shot of what I spot while I’m driving along the road! I have missed too many things to the impossibility of getting a camera fired up and aimed while driving – especially at 110 KPH.

Formats, framing, and the psychology of aesthetics

Disclaimer: this is not a scholarly treatise. No one is paying me to write this, so no extensive research is being done to produce it. Other than interrogating my own failing memory. More than 50 years of photographic experience and prior historical learning is all I’ve got to base any of this on. If you want more, look it up yourself. And good luck to you.

Quite a number of people, especially those venturing into film photography for the first time, find themselves wondering about how the standards for image sizes were arrived at. Was there logic behind it? Reasoning? Or purely arbitrary decision making? The answer is a bit of all three, and then some. The best way to examine this is by dividing the issue into two parts: the technological and the biological.

To start with let’s look at the general history of photography and what influence that had. The first photographs were made on glass plates covered with liquid emulsion. It was messy and difficult (says the man who did some experiments) and the size of the plates were determined by two factors: a need to get as large a picture as possible to preserve detail and the limitations of the existing glass-producing technology. Probably everyone reading this is too young to have ever heard the terms “full plate camera” and “half plate camera” but those were the beginnings. In those days (19th century) making large plates of glass was not easy, both from manufacturing and handling points of view. So here we start with 8″ by 10″ plates, and we recognize those beginnings in the 8×10 print sizes still standard today.

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Now if you’ve done any darkroom work yourself or even just looked through the frames available at the local store you’ll see some other “standard” sizes, and begin to wonder how we got there. Okay, cut an 8×10 in half and you get … 5×7? What? Where did that inch go? Well we do (or did) have 4×5 inch (“quarter plate”) negatives and prints, so that makes sense. But 5×7 doesn’t. This is obviously a case of some arbitrary intrusion by someone saying “that doesn’t look right” and lopping off another inch.

Of course 5×7 cuts down to 3 ½ x 5 quite nicely. On the other end of the spectrum we have the obvious 16×20 quadrupling of the 8×10, but also the inexplicable 11×14 multiple of the 5×7. Uh, where did that extra inch come from on the 11 side? Must be what they cut off from the 8 to make the 7, eh? *LOL* I suspect another “doesn’t look right” intrusion, myself.

Yet these print sizes, when looked at as ratios, don’t always align with negative sizes. “Standard” film formats include 2 ¼ x 2 ¼, 2 ¼ x 3 ¼, 4 x 5, et cetera. Not to mention numerous ‘oddball’ roll film dimensions, including good ol’ 122 “postcard” size (which literally was created to make contact-print postcard images). Never mind the sub-miniature formats created for specialized purposes, like the Minox 9.5 cm rolls. (Brief note here: not all film is measured in Imperial; 6×9 cm and 9×12 cm were standard European formats for sheet film, for example.)

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Minox B image by David Bruce via Camera-Wiki

Let’s take a side trip to the realm of 35 mm. As you know this was straight out of the world of cinema. What you probably didn’t know is that the so-called “half frame” 35s, such as the Olympus Pen series, are actually single frame; the size originally used for movie making. The 24 x 36 mm format now standard in still cameras is actually double frame. Here’s some more trivia: Kodak promoted a roll film size 828 for awhile which was basically 35 mm without the cog holes but with a paper backing. Their intent was to promote ‘professional grade’ photography for amateurs. Frankly some of the cameras they produced for this (look up Kodak Bantam) were quite good. Others (Kodak Pony) not so much so. But the amateur market took a liking to 127 instead, and 828 failed.

Ratios! It’s all about ratios. 8×10 is 1:1.25. 5×7 is 1:1.4. Yet if we look at the negatives we get 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ being 1:1 and 2 ¼ x 3 ¼ being 1:1.44 – pretty close to 5×7 – and 4 x 5 being 1:1.25 (same as 8×10). Why the occasional odd-man-out? In some cases it’s because a manufacturer had a specific goal in mind. In others it’s a mathematical fallout: 120-220-620 roll film is all basically the same but with different spool types and film lengths. However if you play games with the format it can produce eight pictures of one size or twelve pictures of a smaller size or even sixteen if you shrink the format even more. This can be marketed: same film, more photos! It was done extensively with cheap 127 cameras where you rolled the number first to the ‘A’ window, took a snap, and then rolled the same number to the ‘B’ window for the next shot. I also had a box camera, Agfa Shur Shot, which used 120 film and could be switched between ½ frame and full frame before loading the film by means of hinged ‘masks’ which blocked off part of the film plane.

How about a side note on 127 film? Have you ever seen a Yashica 44? Maybe a Sawyers or Nomad TLR? These little marvels shot square on 127 film, and if you could get your hands on some 127 Ektachrome (yes, they made it) you could make some “super slides“! They fit in the same 2×2 slide holders as 35 mm, but almost the entire space was image. This made for a spectacular interruption in your show, interspersed with the standard images. Unfortunately they were more fragile with their very large film area, and the heat of the lamps would bend them badly. Not much cardboard around the edges to keep them stiff.

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Yashica 44 image by Voxphoto via Camera-Wiki

Okay back to ratios. Single 35 mm is 24×18 or 1.33:1. Double (or ‘normal’ now) is 24×36 or 1:1.5. Neither of these matches exactly with any of the old standard print sizes. It wasn’t until the 1970s when Kodak realized there were a lot of 35 mm shooters out there and began offering the 4×6 prints that gave you the full frame. Until then, and even now in most cases, something gets cropped.

You’re waiting for the biology part, aren’t you? Well here it comes. Part biology and part resultant psychology. Our wonderful stereoscopic full-colour vision gives us the ability to see the world better than any other animal. Oh I know people talk about having “eagle-eye vision” and they imagine flies see dozens of multiples of the same thing (they don’t; it would be useless to) and that dogs see in black and white (also wrong). How much anatomy do I have to explain here? Rods and cones? Stereoscopic depth-perception in predators vs. panoramic vision in prey? Colour perception as a means of identifying food and mates? Multi-lens vision for creatures too small to have eye muscles? Let’s just say our human vision gives us the best compromise of everything.

What it also gives us is rectangular perception of the world. Two eyes side-by-side inevitably means we see more on the horizontal than on the vertical. Now don’t go and hurt yourself trying to determine just how far your peripheral vision goes in each direction. Leave that to the professionals. Er, the determining not the hurting. The fact is we look at the world as a rectangle, and this shapes our aesthetic perceptions. I remember reading (in psychology – don’t ask) about the “ideal pleasing ratio” our minds are ‘programmed’ with. It tends to be 1:1.6. This is probably the vertical:horizontal aspect of human vision, I don’t know. But if you look around you will see we are creatures of rectangles, from our own general shape to the houses we build to the things we fill them with.

This filters down into the choices we make in reproducing our world in images. It’s why we have a natural tendency to choose rectangular formats for pictures, be they drawings or paintings or photographs. Some of you have just said “oh yeah? Explain why square images sometimes look better, then!” Okay, I will. It’s art. Sometime the purpose of art is to step outside the ordinary and wake up the mind. Things that are what we are used to seeing blend into the background. If you frame them differently the mind detects something “out of the ordinary” and pays more attention to it. You can duplicate this by putting a frame, rectangular or square, around anything; it suddenly stands out more, even if it’s a section of blank wall. Helpful hint: being able to see this effect in your mind’s eye will give you more insight in composing your pictures; you don’t have to fall for the movie-making cliché of using your hands to actually form the frame.

That said, sometimes the wrong rectangle irks us. When you’re fixing up a photo that wasn’t framed well to begin with watch out for that ‘just wrong’ ratio. It’s not always a case of “too wide” or “too tall” either. It’s more often a case of not being blatantly square or blatantly rectangular that makes it look odd to our minds. It seems we need at least a 25% differential to be ‘happy’ with the result, and square needs to be less than 5% different to be accepted.

One last historic note: the Universal Camera Company tried mightily to kick Eastman Kodak’s dominance of the film format dictum. They made their own sizes, such as ’00’, which were not simply different names for the same size (as some other companies did). They failed. Not because they made poor cameras, but because they were already up against a juggernaut. Curiously Kodak managed to fail themselves on new film formats that the public wouldn’t buy into. The Disc cameras, for example. They started out with very fine quality given the size of the negative, but in the end the quality went down and the public turned away. This was before the advent of digital cameras that ultimately proved the downfall of the company. They did not adapt quickly enough, in my opinion.

DSCN1376Universal Camera Univex AF which uses ’00’ film

Now on to digital. Here we have to introduce new influences. Influences that come from the world of … television! Yes, and curiously it starts with the limitations of glass making picture tubes ‘square’ (round, in fact) back in the early days of the cathode ray tube. Inject the ‘letter-boxing’, cropping, or ‘scan-and-pan’ of widescreen theater movies being shown later on TV and the industry desire to present the whole. Throw in the original computer screens with their 40 character displays. Stir well, and demand better. As with digital cameras, LED displays lack the limitations of primitive glass technology. Now we can make the format what we want: big enough to see Todd-AO movies! And now a whole new generation of arbitrary decision makers will adjust our aspect ratios.

My advice is to ignore them, and go with what you like the look of. Try different formats certainly, but always remember the end result should reflect the creator’s vision – and that means you.

This song has no title

Warning: This post has to do with the Great Disaster of 2018. It may induce cardiac stress and/or depression in readers. It does in me.

The short version is that my Dad died and I had to go back there and help my sister get the house cleaned out. One of the problems being the amount of my own stuff left behind when I moved, but that was nothing compared to his hoarding which got worse upon the death of my Mother three years earlier. I had no idea I would be facing thirteen rooms of this:

hallA

(Notice the blue box with ‘OLYMPUS’ written on it?)

And trying to turn it into this:

hallB

Yes that is actually the same area of hallway. The rooms were as bad, and I could only take them to a certain amount of improvement. Here we see the ‘TV Room’, with the inaccessible ‘Living Room’ beyond:

camroom

Notice all those camera cases? All full. Mostly Nikon, Nikkormat, Canon, Olympus, and Pentax SLRs. More than 40 cameras just in that room. But that wasn’t the worst. Upstairs we have the room which contained most of my stuff, plus a good deal more than when I left:

storoom

You can see some tell-tale signs of Kodak yellow on the shelves. What you can’t see are the boxes of 450+ cameras, not including my late brother’s hoard of a dozen Miranda SLRs. Even where the cameras were stored ‘neatly’ was hardly accessible, or very neat:

camcase

As you can see, more SLRs, TLRs, stereo cameras, miniatures, and sub-miniatures (at least two Minox cameras in there somewhere). I didn’t even have time to look at them all, much less photograph them. A few presented themselves easily, like this little Yashica:

yashica

Not all the cameras (and other things) survived. There was water damage in a couple of places due to long-term roof leakage which he swore could not be fixed. As a result some things went straight to garbage, like these:

rotcams

That’s not just a little mould on the outside; it’s soaked through ruination. One of the dampened cameras I did manage to salvage, but not keep, was this Zenit Olympic Edition:

zenit

Dad rather liked Russian cameras, and managed to acquire a few that survived:

ruskies

Also this panoramic one, which I found later in my digging:

panorus

Of course he didn’t limit himself to just one land of communist clickers:

grtwll

When it came to digital cameras he didn’t have much. Quite a few out-of-date junkers, many of which I could not get to work. One I did was the Kodak V1003 I brought back with me (easily slipped into the luggage) and have gotten quite a bit of use out of (note that statement). One that I looked at and then decided not to keep was this Nikon D80, which didn’t really match my shooting needs as well as my P610:

nikd80

There’s no point in going over every single camera. There’s no point in debating which I should have kept. I’d have kept more if it were logistically possible, but it wasn’t. In the first place shipping turned out to be outrageous. I sent some to a few of my US friends and it was far less money than crossing the border cost. The second problem was time constraints; I spent 6 weeks there as it was, constantly cleaning out and cleaning up and redistributing things just so we could get at what was ‘underneath’. I literally gave away stuff every weekend for that time period, in addition to donating and, yes, throwing out. At that my sister later sent goods to auction, sold content, and filled two additional dumpsters with trash to empty the house.

When it comes down to the cameras, though, it comes back to how much use I would have gotten from any one of them. I use the V1003 quite a bit. But film is not to be had around here, much less processing, so most of the film cameras would just sit. I did bring back a few and they are still in boxes. So they wouldn’t be used by me anyway. What’s important to remember is that they once were (I shot film with almost every camera I ever acquired) and now I know from reading many photography blogs that at least some of them will find their way into hands that will load them up and use them again. Or at the very least find a place to display them.

All in all, that chapter of my life is closed and it’s time for the next one. I picked up a little hardware this morning and if the rain holds off will be making something new for my next photographic adventure.

Legend In Your Own Mind

A bit of poetry/lyrics – with profuse apologies to Carly Simon.

Well I have known you
Since you were a local
And you always used to say
That you were gonna be somebody
You’d be our leader some day

Then you’d turn on your Blackberry
And tweet something no one understands
All the other Reps would say
That isn’t exactly what we had planned

But you’re a legend in your own mind
A hero to the halfwits
Tweeting things to fit your line
But a legend’s only a nobody
When he ends up alone

And although I know you
Still have the heart of a con man
Well, you stretch it out far too much
And every one who looks at you
Can truly tell that you’ve been really touched

Then you’d turn on your Blackberry
And tweet something no one understands
All the other Reps would say
That isn’t exactly what we had planned

But you’re a legend in your own mind
A hero to the halfwits
Tweeting things to fit your line
But a legend’s only a nobody
When he ends up alone

 

That’s it: I’ve probably offended everyone now.