Monday, July 17, 2006

The Inner Glow of the Tactile

Today I began thinking about manual typewriters. That's a rather odd statement, about like saying that today I began thinking about recipes for gruel or mead.

This line of thought was precipitated by a purposeful intent, which was to construct a still-life composition with which to test a new photographic media. For my intent is to craft an "improvised lens" box camera, that uses the medium of black and white paper negatives.Prior to the detailed work of fabricating such an intricate and archaic instrument, I thought it appropriate that both the optics and the paper media be tested for functionality.

As an improvised lens, I found an unused enlarging lens in my darkroom, a Rodenstock 105mm Omegaron f4.5 lens, with an aperture adjustable from f4.5 to f22. Initial tests with this lens against a white sheet of paper gave promise that it would provide adequate coverage for a 4"x5" film format.

My paper negative media of choice is the usual Arista grade 2 resin coated photo paper, preflashed in the darkroom with a slight sensitizing exposure of 5 seconds from a specially calibrated light source. This procedure I have developed through many years of struggle trying to getting good tonal range from black and white paper media mounted within pinhole cameras.

Since the box camera has yet to be designed and built, I had to find a way to combine lens and paper into a usable camera. My trusty Graflex Speed Graphic camera came to the rescue, a functional relic from WW2. I removed the Kodak 127mm Ektar lens board, and installed a home built aircraft plywood lens board, attached to which is the now re-enlisted enlarger lens. Opening the diaphragm to f4.5 gives enough light to adequately compose an image on the ground glass view screen, while stopping down to f22 gives wide enough depth of focus, and adequate illumination with a darkcloth over one's head, to accurately focus.After some initial calibration exposures, I felt confident enough to attempt a quality still-life setting. Enter the Adler manual typewriter.

The Adler sits on the corner of my office desk, a relic from the cold war, as this well-built tool was manufactured in what was known as West Germany. There it sits, poised in direct opposition to the keyboard, monitor and optical trackball of my desktop PC. Almost as if in its silence it speaks forth volumes, the mere presence of this writing instrument, that requires no electricity to function, is a constant distraction, like some object of meditation one would find on the desk of an executive.

I periodically ratchet a sheet of paper through its platen and type up a letter or note, fascinated by the uniqueness of each imprinted character, no two of which ever look exactly alike. Like some baby grand piano the operator can modulate with infinite delicateness the degree of imprint of ribbon upon paper, using just the slightest variation in finger pressure; a kind of visual music, kept in perfect accompaniment to the rat-ta-tat-tat of each letter upon the rubber roller.

I've long been fascinated with visual compositions that feature the dichotomy between the natural and man-made worlds, for in that troubled interface lie the evidence of many present-tense issues. Using this as a que, I arranged the composition you see illustrated here, the result of a scan of the resulting paper negative.

I am pleased and excited by these results. The Rodenstock lens, stopped down to f22, appears to have adequate depth of focus for close-up settings, so it should be adequate for landscape scenes as well. The amount of detail one can coax out of a well-exposed paper negative is impressive. Holding the negative in my hand, I am amazed at the level of detail and micro-contrast evident. I must attempt a contact print soon, for I am anticipating being equally impressed with those results, too.

There are few things more pleasurable than standing close up to a well-crafted, intimate-sized contact print on display. There remains an inner glow, a tactility that resembles ... the functionality of the manual typewriter.~


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