Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Day Trip to Abo Mission

Abo Mission Ruins

Yesterday was a beautifully calm day in central New Mexico, with very little winds and balmy late-winter temperatures. The sky was filtered through a thin, intermittent layer of high clouds, translucent enough to moderate the otherwise harsh sun, giving us a perfect day for outdoor photography.

I packed the car with the Speed Graphic 4x5 camera and film holders loaded with pre-flashed Harman Direct Positive print paper, along with a compact digital and my iPad2’s Hipstamatic app, and off we went, through the Rio communities south of Albuquerque, around the south end of the Manzano mountain range and the nearby town of Mountainair, where nearby we stopped at the Abo Mission Ruins, one of three sites that make up the Salinas National Monument.

I had recently made a visit to another of the Salinas sites, that being the Quarai Mission Ruins, and knew what to expect in terms of scenery, but wanted to try my hand with the recently acquired Fujinon lens on the Speed Graphic.

The drive down to Abo takes one along state highway 47 through little towns dotted with ranches and farms watered by irrigation from the nearby Rio Grande, and then the highway bends south and east along the barren rangeland west of the Manzano range, reminding me of what it must have looked like, a century or more ago, before little Albuquerque grew up along its east mesa up to the base of the Sandia Mountain range.

Highway 47 intersects highway 60, but not before crossing a major east-west rail line, where we had to stop and wait for one of those behemoth freight trains to lumber past, its boxcars sporadically decorated with some wannabe artist’s graffiti and sporting the names of global shipping conglomerates of the kind that get stacked onto huge container ships and ply the world’s oceans, the mules of global capitalism. Once their cargos are unloaded here in the States, I’m told that the empty containers are worth more as scrap metal rather than be shipped empty back across the vast Pacific. These cars were headed east, to places hungrily awaiting their contents, to a nation whose appetite seems ravenous and insatiable.

Abo Mission Ruins

Three or four centuries ago a different kind of economy found its way to New Mexico, from a Spanish crown hungry for wealth from the New World. Local pueblo peoples were converted to Catholicism and enlisted to mine salt from nearby dry lakes east of the Manzano Mountains. Abo is the site of one of these villages, made from adobe brick and stone, whose centerpiece was a mission church that’s now in disrepair, with only a few high walls still left standing.

We had brought ourselves a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed prior to unloading the camera gear and stalking potential images. I put the compact digital under my wife’s care, setting it up to function as a point-and-shoot, and off she went in search of scenic vistas to record. I’m normally the one who does the picture taking in the family, so it was refreshing to see her with a camera in hand.

I had brought four double-sided film holders for the Speed Graphic, but the first two shots were wasted, once when my dark cloth partially obscured the lens, and the other when I inadvertently pulled the dark slide out with the lens shutter still open in preview mode. But the other six images were recorded with no issues. With the light fading in the west behind clouds, I put the camera and heavy tripod back in the car and took out the iPad, with which I used the Hipstamatic app to record some quick impressions.

Immediate feedback is the most convenient part of digital photography, but I would have to wait until today to see what was hidden inside those film holders. Processing the Harman paper prints this morning in the convenience of my kitchen using a developing tank, I was very pleased with the outcome, the composition, focus and tonal range on the remaining six images being very nice.

Abo Mission Ruins

Though this sounds like some ancient form of recording pictures, there was no direct positive paper back in the 19th or early 20th centuries. Instead, a glass plate or plastic film negative would have to be exposed, processed and dried, then contact printed onto a sheet of silver print paper, which in turn would have to be processed, before a positive image on paper could be seen. With the new Harman paper, the print itself is loaded and exposed inside the camera, then processed in one step to yield a fine quality finished positive print.

Unfortunately, the evening is too late to permit me to scan the results, so I will merely include iPad Hipstamatic images instead. And a quick write-up in iAWriter on the iPad will have to suffice, instead of a properly typed-up report. But I will make amends soon enough with a proper update.

Post-Script: The Tintype style in Hipstamatic uses a "film" effect that gives the peeling wet plate emulsion appearance along the edges, while the black and white "lens" effect uses the iPad's face-recognition software to emphasize those features it recognizes as a face, and blurs the surrounding areas. What's interesting is using this effect on landscape images devoid of human faces, and how it becomes a fun game to see what results in the images.


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