Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Thoughts on the Intermediate Process

Selfie, Kodak Ektar 127mm on Cameradactyl OG, reversal processed Arista RC grade 2 semi-matte paper
Direct positive print


Certainly, casual photographers for decades have avoided the minutia of the intermediate process by choosing cameras and formats that offer a more instant picture-making experience. The average person couldn’t be bothered by F-stops and ISO numbers, they just want to push a button and see a photo. Which may be one reason why smartphone photography is so popular; the intermediate process happens behind-the-scenes, in software code and microscopic circuits, the modern-day equivalent of the point-and-shoot camera.

Processing Harman Direct Positive black-&-white paper through its regimen of developer, stop and fix (or in the case of reversal processing print paper: developer, stop, bleach, re-exposure and developer) certainly represents some kind of intermediate processing; it’s not as instant as a Polaroid, say (or Fujifilm’s Instax). But it’s more immediate than film, especially so when considering the many people who still use film do so as an intermediate image-capture medium that’s then scanned-to-digital and subsequently processed a second time around in order to arrive at a digital print, a kind of double-intermediate processing.

There’s also no arguing that prints exposed in-camera and processed directly afterward lack the flexibility that we have come to expect of modern image-making systems. Their usefulness is limited: the selection of large format lenses, apertures and focal lengths is limited; the tonal range is limited; the photographic sensitivity of paper is limited. But one often finds, to their surprise, that such limitations present a challenge that fosters a renewed sense of creativity; boundaries are often healthy for the creative process. In my case, I'm more satisfied by the immediacy of the direct print process, and willing to accept the tradeoffs in image quality or flexibility.

These days, I’d rather return from a photo outing with one good print in hand than a roll- or card- full of mostly junk. It’s a refreshing change, embracing direct positive prints and eschewing the intermediate process.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Inventorying My Cameras

“Inventorying My Cameras”

So, what's a person to do, the day after deciding to downsize their handmade camera collection? Simple: build another camera, that's what!

This sounds like madness, right? Perhaps. But really, in spite of all the various camera designs I've explored, I still have a few ideas rattling around in my noggin. One of these ideas is to take a spare steel 35mm developing tank and turn it into a "self-developing" pinhole camera. I've been using these tanks for years, minus the film reels, with small sheets of photo paper, wrapped front-side-inward around the inside of the tank and secured with a loop of masking tape on the back side, as a makeshift rotary processor. They have that all-important lid with a light-proof pour spout, permitting liquids to be poured in and out without fogging the paper inside.

Drilling a small hole in the side of the steel tank was not easy. I couldn't ding a starting dent with a metal punch, so the drill bit wanted to dance around and not penetrate the metal. I ended up using a drill bit on a high-speed rotary tool to work a small starting dimple into the surface, after which my drill press and larger bit would catch enough to start cutting. I kept the bit lubricated with light oil, which helped.

The focal length is 85mm from one side to the other, so I made a 0.3mm pinhole in a thin sheet of brass, which I epoxy glued to the inside, ensuring all four sides of the brass square were sealed with glue.

I'll be using a makeshift gaffers tape shutter for now, but may resort to a rotating plastic sleeve shutter, the kind I've used on 35mm film canister cameras.


Naturally, a person would wonder if the processing chemicals, especially stop bath (acetic acid) will corrode the brass and pinhole. The answer is most likely yes, which is why, when I rotary process the paper, I won't be doing entire revolutions of the tank, instead will be rocking it back and forth, with the pinhole face up on the top, as the tank sits on its side on my rotary base.


This little tank camera, along with a kit consisting of small containers (<100mL) of processing chemicals and a changing bag, would essentially provide the features of an Afghan Box Camera, if using Harman Direct Positive Paper. Alternately, the citric acid/peroxide reversal process could be employed, but it's very slow and the already long exposure times required by the pinhole aperture would be impractical. I hope to at least be able to do still-life and scenic images and process them in the field with the Harman paper.

Certainly a glass-lens self-developing camera would be more practical for portraits, as the faster optics would require much shorter exposure times. Perhaps that'll be the next project.

Here's Part One of my pinhole camera overview series, with Ethan Moses:

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Down Sizing?

I've come up with a tentative list of typewriters to give away:


I think it's a fair question to ask: once I clear out these twenty or so typers, does this mean I'll be making room for another round of collecting? Well, at this point my intentions are to maintain a much smaller collection, more conducive to a "semi-minimalist" approach to being a typewriter-oriented creative. But, as always, I reserve the right to change my mind, sometime down the road. Perhaps, if that "dream machine" presented itself, I'd consider adding to the collection. But I'd like for my collection to be practically functional, focused on using for the purposes of creativity, rather than hoarding.

Typecast via Triumph Norm 6, one of the keepers.

Choose Wisely

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Thursday, January 02, 2020

Austin Kleon's Top 100 of 2019

If you're interested in creativity like I am, you probably have a few "go-to" kinds of people, whose Interwebz presence inspires you to keep pressing forward, don't look backwards. Austin Kleon is one of those people for me. I first became aware of him with his book Steal Like an Artist. I then discovered his blog, which has been a rich resource of creativity-provoking thoughts.

His blog is full of the outflow from a creative private life, which he freely shares with us, his readers. I enjoy his updates as he daily creates art with his young boys, who seem to have inherited some creative gene, as evidenced by their talent.

Kleon's work inspires me to be more spontaneous, less self-judgmental, with my own private work. And so I was fascinated to read his review article of the 100 things that made his year 2019. This article is full of hyperlinks to a treasure trove of this lasts year's creative output, which you would do well to explore. I was even thrilled when this popped up in his list as number 15: "The color of the sky in Albuquerque, New Mexico."

That's it, short and sweet. If you need inspiration, check out Austin Kleon. And don't be so hard on yourself because you don't think you can be creative.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Christmas Angel

“Christmas Angel”

I've been experimenting more with the direct positive reversal process for black-&-white print paper, and decided that, since it's two days after Christmas, it was high time to do a holiday-themed still-life. Naturally, I'm late; but there are twelve days to Christmas, right?

Today's a windy, wet day here in the high desert, not fit for man or large format camera, so naturally I figured it best to do the project under artificial lights. I don't have a stable of high-powered strobe lights, so daylight-balanced LED lights would have to suffice; the same lighting I use for my videos.

Here's the basic setup:

Christmas Angel studio setup

I've repositioned my studio lights to be more direct-on to the subject, which is a glass angel figure. The backdrop is a roll of 4-mil translucent polyethylene film, and the angel is supported atop an inverted drinking glass - because improvisation is key to these kinds of projects, right?

I used the Intrepid 4-by-5 (5-by-4 inches in the UK) with the Fujinon 135mm F/5.6 lens, set up atop a Bogen tripod. Wide open at F/5.6 there was inadequate depth-of-focus to bring the figure in sharp relief, but I made a test print anyway, to check my exposure.

Here's the subject focused upon the ground glass, open at F/5.6:

Christmas Angel studio setup

You may be able to tell that the diffusers for my high-tech, $8 hardware store lights are sheets of translucent drafting vellum, clipped onto the lights with bulldog clips. Again, improvisation is key.

I've been working with the direct positive reversal process enough to have confidence with using Arista grade 2 RC paper, purchased from Freestyle Photo. It's a bit harder finding fixed-grade RC coated print paper than multi-contrast papers. Earlier this week, I made a series of tests to see what happens with multigrade RC paper, which I hadn't tried before with this process; Ilford warm tone, to be exact. In daylight, the multi-contrast paper is exceedingly contrasty, almost like lithographic film, not really suitable for continuous tone subjects. I tried filtering the camera lens using contrast control filters, and had a series of "interesting" results, none of which were of sufficient quality to be of use in serious projects. But after those experiments, I went back and tried my trusty grade 2 RC paper, using the same chemistry, with predictably nice results; again confirming my previous experience that fixed-contrast paper seems to work better for me with this process.

People have asked me how I do the reversal process, so here goes. This week I've been using LPD paper developer, mixed 1+4 (50mL concentrate into 200mL water, for a dilution ratio of 1:5). I've had good results with this new developer, and will thus continue to stick with it. For the citric acid solution I mix 4 teaspoons of citric acid powder into 500mL of water. For the H2O2 I mixed fresh 35% H2O2 in a 1 +1 solution with water, for an effective strength of 18%. I get my concentrated, food-grade H2O2 at Moses Kountry Health Food store (it's sold for use in "peroxide therapy"), here in ABQ. Besides some trays of water, I'm also using a mild stop bath, of 500mL water with a "dash" of white vinegar, to render the solution mildly acidic. All of the trays are brought up to room temperature, no small feat considering my garage-based darkroom is nominally around 48f in the winter; I run a space heater in the darkroom, and microwave the chemicals before pouring into trays.

Care must be taken to wear gloves and eye protection when working with concentrated H2O2, and to ensure one doesn't slosh the stuff around when transiting from garage to kitchen microwave.

The subject is metered at ISO3, then I add 3 additional stops of exposure; my meter only goes down to ISO 3, so the effective exposure index would be less than ISO 1. Today's initial test was metered at F/5.6 for 2 seconds, but I gave an extra stop to account for bellows extension, for a final exposure time of 4 seconds. I think this is "short" enough that a portrait could be made under the same conditions, if the subject had a head brace.

Processing was as follows:

First development 2 minutes. The image should look over-exposed, almost completely black.
Rinse/stop for 30 seconds in the mild acid solution, just to stop development.
First citric acid bath for 30 seconds.
First H2O2 bath for 1 minute, face down, continuous agitation. The print should look white with just a few dark areas. Expect plenty of fizzing action.
Repeat the citric acid and H2O2 steps. The print should now look almost completely white, with just a few gray areas. Be careful of peroxide drips contaminating the work area when moving the print from tray-to-tray.
Rinse the print of residual H2O2 in a tray or over running water, to make it safe to handle.
Turn on the white lights. Second exposure for 30 seconds adjacent to a bright white LED bulb. You may begin to see a faint image begin to auto-develop.
Under white lights, place print back into developer tray, face-up, for the second development. Very quickly (<30 seconds) you should see the positive image form on the paper. This is the magic happening.

Permit the print to fully develop for at least 2 minutes, then give an archival rinse. There should be no unexposed silver halides left in the paper, so no need to stop or fix.

For the second exposure, I stopped the lens down to F/16, to give sufficient depth-of-focus to render the angel figure sharply focused. Since F/16 is three stops more than F/5.6, the exposure time was 32 seconds. Processing was the same as previous. It came out nice, I'm very pleased.

Note that with printing paper there's little or no reciprocity failure, since these exposure times are what you'd typically use in the darkroom for printing from negatives. Both prints (4 seconds versus 32 seconds) look identical in terms of exposure.

This batch of H2O2 (diluted 1+1 with water) I poured up yesterday from a fresh bottle, during my struggles with the variable contrast paper tests. But I've saved the older batch of peroxide, which I've been using for the last year (!), as I think it's still usable. It seems to have a very long life, another positive attribute to the process.

I'm finding this process to be less trouble-prone than using Harman Direct Positive paper, which is developed in standard print chemistry (developer, stop bath, fixer). I tried some outdoor tests with the Harman paper earlier this week, with poor results; it requires fresh, strong developer at room temperature, and seems to lose speed in the winter daylight with its lack of strong UV light; it's also very contrasty, whereas the grade 2 paper is much less so. Since either process requires the use of three chemicals (developer, stop bath and fix versus developer, citric acid and H2O2), and I can use a variety of RC papers for the peroxide process (Harman Direct only comes in a fiber paper), I'm finding it more convenient, since RC paper requires much shorter rinse times, and dries flat without curling. Also, the grade 2 RC paper I'm using has a semi-matte finish, a nice surface for a print. And it's quicker than processing paper negatives, then having to contact print a positive (which means running at least one test strip before hand). The only downsides to the direct positive process are you don't have a master negative from which to make more prints, and the exposure times are longer than for paper negatives.

I mentioned previously that I'd been using that older batch of H2O2 (and an older batch of citric acid) for the last year. It's gotten me thinking about residual silver. If you're a darkroom worker, you should know that fixer removes unexposed silver halides from paper and film, which gradually builds up in the solution of used fixer until it's saturated and no longer usable. The exhausted fixer I will turn in to the local hazardous waste disposal site (it shouldn't be poured down the drain, since silver may be considered a heavy metal); although others report success with auto-plating the silver out of solution using fine steel wool.

My question is this: why wasn't I seeing a build-up of residual silver in the used citric acid and/or H2O2 solutions? I've been using the same solutions for over a year; what gives? In a bottle of used fixer it's common to see a dark gray film of oxidized silver build up on the inside surface of the container, but no such film is seen in either solution. I'm guessing here (and I'm not a chemist) that the silver that gets "bleached out" of the paper is in fact still in the paper, it's just bonded with something to render it white (or very light gray) in tone.

Well, that's my report for now. I'm pleased with the final print, and will also be doing more images with the 8-by-10 (10-by-8 inches in the UK) box camera with its F/4.5, 240mm Fujinon Xerox lens.

I wish you all much joy and happiness in the coming year, and thank you for visiting. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions.

Which reminds me, do you have issues with leaving comments here on Blogger? I find on my iOS devices that I have to visit a blog using Private Browsing mode, otherwise Blogger doesn't give me an option to log in when leaving comments on other's Blogger sites. Go figure ...

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Monday, December 16, 2019

Typewritten Cartoons

Typewriter Cartoon
Typewritten Cartoons

Naturally, I had to sit down at my Torpedo 18 last night and work on my own typewritten stick figures. While it's easy to make faces, forming an entire body takes a bit more doing. Here are a sampling of various figures, and some suggestions as to who these characters might be.

Typewritten Cartoon Characters

It soon became apparent that what was missing was an inverted "V", to form the legs of the classic stick figure. But my typewriter had merely a standard typeface. What to do? Simple: invert the paper and type the character upside-down, then remove the paper, roll it back in right-side-up, and continue with typing the dialog. Here's a sampling of my first attempts at creating upside-down stick figures. I've drawn boxes around each one I like, with handwritten notation next to each describing the order of the typed characters.

Typewritten Cartoon Characters

And here's my crude attempt at placing these figures into a cartoon-like context. I wonder if, perhaps five years from now, the "snowflake" comment will even make sense to readers of this blog. Gosh, I hope not!

Typewritten Cartoon

These typewritten cartoon figures are directly related to the smiley emoticon characters first derived from text-based computer code. The main difference here is that, with the manual typewriter, I have the ability to overlap characters, combining them into new forms, while also playing with the line advance. Not that this couldn't have been done with early computer code - perhaps a program could have been written to directly control the printer's head, instructing it to move one character backward and overprint a new character over an older one. So, even though our lowly manual typewriters usually produce only monospaced text, we have direct control over their placement.

I dabbled briefly with cartoons, back in the 1980s, with a local group of creatives who called ourselves S.W.A.C. - Southwest Association of Cartoonists. Our leader was a gent named Tom Ebelt, and one of our members was New Yorker cartoonist Danny Shanahan, who lived at that time in the village of Corrales, just northwest of ABQ. He subsequently moved back to New York. I've followed Danny's career since then, and in fact have one of his original pieces, that didn't get published in the New Yorker.

I enjoy the New Yorker's cartoon caption contest, though I'm terrible at thinking up good captions. But what amazes me about good cartoons is it's usually all about the writing, not the drawing. Take the typical New Yorker piece, perhaps a couple sitting at home in front of the television. Without a caption, it's just a cartoon couple on their couch. But with a witty line or two it becomes magic, taking on a life of its own.

That's why I think these typewritten cartoons have some potential. The "art" work is about the most primitive you can get, reminding me somewhat of the Basic Instructions cartoon and how artist Scott Meyer uses computer-generated images to piece together his panels; the difference being that in the case of typewritten cartoons the figures are typeset from a predetermined typeface, rearranged in a creative manner. What makes or breaks typewritten cartoons is the writing itself. Not that I'll necessarily be doing more of these anytime soon, but perhaps I'll post more of these as they strike me, and providing they're of sufficient quality. We shall see.

But how about you: do you make typewritten cartoon figures? I'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment below.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

One Atop the Other

Torpedo 18 Patio Typing
“One Atop the Other”

That "4" keycap on the Torpedo is the only remaining missing cap that's temporarily been replaced with one from a different machine. I intend on carving myself a replica keycap from poplar wood, sanded and finished to be as close as possible to the other original keycaps.

Sunday we had our December meeting of the ABQwerty Type Writer Society. I recently acquired a 12-pack of red/black nylon ribbons, in the DIN size without grommets, for $9.99 from Amazon. They've been nicely dark, well inked. I think a real value in ribbons, I highly recommend them. Here's my review of them:

Today, Andrea and I rode the recently opened ART bus (Albuquerque Rapid Transit) from Nob Hill, through downtown, to the west side and back. This has been a project that's been several years and tens of millions of dollars in the making, that runs on Central Avenue, the old Route 66, from Tramway Blvd on the east to Coors on the west, while also making a stop in the uptown area, the closest it comes to our suburb. Much controversy and economic upheaval has accompanied the project, including torn up streets and many small businesses along Central that have shut down or moved. Small businesses are a fragile economy, which the city didn't seem to appreciate during the construction phase.

From now until the end of the year the city is offering free rides. We boarded in Nob Hill near Kelly's Brewery and rode west to Coors, then hopped onboard a return bus and stopped downtown, where we walked around and I recorded video and still photos. Then we caught another eastbound bus and ended back in Nob Hill, where we ate lunch at a tacoria, where it was two dollar Tuesday. It was rather ironic having to drive our private vehicle across town so we could then ride the bus.

The busses were originally intended to be electric, battery-powered, but the city had issues with the electric busses not meeting contract requirements around battery range and recharging time; plus, they were very expensive. They also didn't want to spend even more money on electric light rail lines. So they finally reverted to propane-powered, two-section, 60-foot long busses. They are modern and new inside. I hope they stay that way. Once the city starts charging for rides, an all-day pass will be around $2. I'm thinking it might be fun to drive down to the rather close Uptown area and pick up the ART bus for a day of coffee shop typewriting and street photography downtown.

Here's the video of today's ride:

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Early Thanksgiving

Selfie, Kodak Ektar 127mm on Cameradactyl OG, reversal processed Arista RC grade 2 semi-matte paper
“Early Thanksgiving”

The Cameradactyl OG with Kodak Ektar 127mm F/4.7 lens:

Cameradactyl OG with Kodak Ektar 127mm F/4.7 lens

Rear view showing view screen, 1:1 finder and close-up focusing string:

Cameradactyl OG with Kodak Ektar 127mm F/4.7 lens
The shutter release cable feeds through a hole in the grip. There's also a slot in the grip for a camera strap.

There are three mounting slots for the 1:1 finder, I prefer the middle slot, to reduce parallax error.

The large blue lens mounting ring up front is also the helical focuser. I have lines marked on the focus ring to indicate infinity focus, along with three closer distances, equivalent to three knots tied in the yellow focusing string.

For the self-portrait at the top, I preset the focus ring for the closest position, then placed the first knot of the string against my temple, adjacent to my eye, then stretched the string taught. A 36" shutter release cable permitted me to trigger the shutter from that position. Exposure was metered at ISO 3 + 3 stops, which came to F/5.6 at 1/2 second in bright sun. The direct positive print was processed using the citric acid / hydrogen peroxide method, using the same chemicals I've been using for a few months.

Here's a close-up of the newly acquired Ektar 127mm lens, with the front ring removed to gain access for degreasing and cleaning. I was able to get the speeds back pretty close to normal, but the bulb position still doesn't work; but I can still use a dark slide over the lens while in the preview mode instead.

Kodak Ektar 127mm F/4.7 Shutter

Typecast via Torpedo 18:

Torpedo 18

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Torpedo Typing

Torpedo 18
“Torpedo Typing”

Here are the parts to each original foot, with the new foot mounted to the machine:

Torpedo 18 Before and After Feet

The rectangular brackets are mounted on the top and bottom of each foot, then mounted to the chassis with both shoulder screws. I was originally hoping to find a square furniture caster with a deep enough recess in the middle that I could use these brackets and screws; but none I could find were deep enough. I'm happy with these round rubber feet, however, and they prove very grippy on smooth surfaces, just like a rubber typing pad. I did have to add some spacer washers between the tops of the rubber feet and the frame of the machine, so the shoulder screws would remain recessed sufficiently so they won't scratch the tabletop.

I'm at the place where I'm more comfortable with typographical errors in my typecasts. I don't know why it's taken me this long. I was probably holding onto some affectation of the typewritten piece as a work of published perfection; whereas in actual fact I'm an imperfect typist (as well as an imperfect writer, thinker and speller) who's learning to embrace the "organic" look of human imperfection. Er, at least that's my excuse.

Actually, I think there's something valid here. In the heyday of the typewriter as a tool for the professional business world, perfect copy was an expectation, administered by professional typists who were compensated to do just that. But in this post-typewriter world, we can hold onto our imperfections as work-in-progress, somewhat akin to how a quick pencil sketch, in its brief roughness, doesn't compare to a finished painting. Typewritten pieces like this one are akin to jottings or doodles - they communicate an idea, but imperfectly so. Their value is in their immediacy. And I like that they reveal something of the process involved.

In fact, one of my favorite blogs is Vinnie McFeats' The Untimely Typewriter. I revel in each posting, as they exhibit the look of an experienced typist who knows his way around a manually typewritten page, replete with corrections in all their glory; no affectations present here. I don't think there's an ASCII character for a double-struck or X'd-out correction; these are markings unique to the manual typewriter. They're like the sound of gears mashing on a non-synchronized manual transmission - it's the way they're supposed to work.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

The Aero-Artiste and Pinholio of Flight

“The Aero-Artiste and Pinholio of Flight”

The Cameradactyl Pinholio:

Cameradactyl Pinholio Self-Developing Pinhole Camera

A sample image, exposed and processed in-Pinholio.

Brass Rat, Paper Negative Inversion, F/250 Pinholio Camera

I just finished replacing the worn feet of this Torpedo 18 with some hardware store rubber feet and decided it needed a test typing, as I’d recently installed a dark and inky adding machine ribbon. So I grabbed this grid paper, upon which was a bit of cyphering I’d done for the video, and proceeded to let the Muse have her way.

I love these late-night, impromptu typing surprises using such fine machines like the Torpedo. It looks like it’s been through the ringer, but can it type!

Torpedo Typewriter

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