Sunday, February 26, 2023

Slowly Divorcing Film

Zorki 1E
One of my favorite film cameras, the Zorki 1E

Divorcing Film 1
Favorite Film Cameras
My favorite film cameras of late: Minolta X700 & Vivitar 24-F/2.8 lens; Kodak Retina IIIc; Zorki 1E & 50mm Jupiter 8 lens; Voigtlander Vitomatic II

Divorcing Film 2

Recent Digitals
Recent new digital cameras: the Canon Rebel T7 with 24-F/2.8 lens; the Ricoh GRiii

Canon T7 DSLR and Lumix G5 mirrorless

The Ricoh, though the smallest APS-C camera made and truly pocketable, has mediocre autofocus and is typically used for "street" photography by presetting the SNAP FOCUS distance and relying on depth of field to get objects behind and in front of that distance in reasonable focus. However, the LCD screen does not articulate, nor does it have an optical or electronic eye-level viewfinder. Using the camera is like using a phone camera, but with a screen that's much dimmer, and a larger sensor that intrinsically has narrower depth of focus and hence requires more critical focus - which it's not good at doing automatically!

The T5 has the same sized sensor as the Ricoh, and also doesn't have an articulating rear screen. However, what it does have is an eye-level OPTICAL, through-the-lens viewfinder with interchangeable lenses. This makes all the difference. Using the VF is like any other SLR, film or digital. The autofocus points built into the optical viewfinder are ACCURATE and FAST. You can also manually focus through the VF if need be.

Yes, the T5 is in no way pocketable, even with a large jacket. You carry it on a strap for all to see. People know you're a photographer, or at least "armed" with a camera. This became obvious to me the other morning when I was walking through the neighborhood on the way to the post office, camera on strap. Some car pulls up, passenger window rolls down, and the driver inquires as to why I'm taking pictures. I explain that I'm a documentary photographer, have lived in the neighborhood most of my life and document different parts of ABQ, including my own neighborhood. I even gave him my name. We ended up shaking hands and we both felt better about the situation.

The Ricoh on the other hand can be carried sneakily, especially in the colder months in a jacket pocket, ready to be pulled out, the power button pressed and a quick snap taken. I've taken lots of photos this way. I'll probably use both of these cameras into the future, but more likely the Canon will get the nod when viewfinding is expecially critical, or I need a focal length different from what the fixed 28mm equivalent lens on the Ricoh offers.

By contrast, these are the kinds of images I like to make with silver gelatin media:
Bookcase Joe
"Bookcase Joe", 2 second exposure at F/5.6 onto 4x5 format pre-flashed grade 2 paper negative

"Tree", 1 hour 44 minute exposure on 8x10 format diazo paper, 240mm-F/4.5 Fujinon Xerox lens

The first image is very typical of what you can get using paper negatives, even lit at night by artificial lights indoors, taken using the lights of my video table. The exposure time range of 1-2 seconds is about ideal for hand-timed lenses: long enough to accurately time but short enough to avoid image blur.

The second image is even more unconventional and experimental. Diazo paper is "white line" blueprint paper, the kind draftsmen would use to print their drawings, using a machine with a UV flourescent bulb and liquid ammonia for the developement. In this image I cut down the paper to 8x10 size, loaded it into a sheet film holder and used the Xerox machine lens on my 8x10 box camera to focus the scene. These exposures take a long time, in this case almost two hours of bright daylight. It's then developed by taping to a flat cutting board and placing over a shallow tray of household cleaning ammonia (the strong kind) and letting the vapors do the work. The development can be done indoors under normal illumination, ensuring the paper isn't exposed to UV light, either sunlight or strong artificial UV sources.

I like these kinds of unconventional image-making processes, they are very satisfying. But you'd hardly call it "film" in the normal sense of a strip of plastic rollfilm loaded into a camera. But I supppose, in the large sense of the term, it's still film-based, if by "film" we mean a thin layer of light-sensitive chemicals.

Back to where I'm at today with digital cameras (DSLRs) that are "film-like" in the sense of having optical viewfinders like film cameras. When carrying the Canon T7 around, I'm still taking the same genre of photos I've taken in the past with other film and digital cameras, such as this one recently:

Target Cart
"Target Cart"

Or this one:
Victory, NE ABQ"Victory, NE ABQ"

Or this one:
3701 Morris, ABQ"3701 Morris, ABQ"

I feel like it's the same photographic process at work here: walking the streets with some aesthetic in mind, thoughts floating in and out about my relationship with this community that I've lived in most of my life. Camera on strap slung across my chest, bring the camera up to my eye, see the scene through the viewfinder, focus and compose, press the shutter. And after some post-exposure mumbo-jumbo, informed by my relationship with the subject matter, here you see it yourself, online. The mumbo-jumbo could have been processing film, scanning film and post-processing a digital file of the film scan; or, in this case, post-processing the digital file from the digital camera, directly. The results I think are pretty much the same.

The title of this article suggests I've divorced film. But, like all divorces, they are messy and there's typically more to the story than either side is willing to admit. For myself, I feel, like the typical divorcee trying to self-justify, that I've done all I could've done: I kept my darkroom running, I shot film, but the prices kept going up and the scan quality of the labs kept going down. In the end, I'm interested only in the images. That's really what it's about. Yes, I once loved the film process, but today I've found a new lover, because it makes the process of seeing the images less like some form of punishment.

I love those old film cameras, every one of them. They're like old typewriters to me. But I don't fondle cameras, these mainly stay sight unseen in a cabinet rather than ogled on a display shelf. I may yet put a roll through them, once in a while, for old time's sake. But that's more like in remembrance of what film, to me, used to be. As for you, I'm fine with whatever way you choose to express yourself creatively. Let's just keep doing it, more often!

Here's one of my photo books of ABQ, Implied Presence. Here's another of my books, TV Shop. And my first photo book, Duke City Street. These were all created using Lumix micro-4/3 mirrorless cameras.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Finding Sudden Inspiration in the Trenches

Corona 3

I've written and spoken a lot about creativity and inspiration, and how these can be fueled by our interaction with creativity-inducing devices like typewriters. I thought it would be fun for you to take a peek behind the curtain. What follows (after some more blah blah blah) is a random typing I did, after taking notice of the little Corona 3 typewriter, in its temporary plastic storage bin, sitting on the floor in the corner of my studio.

I have too many things in too small of a space, one aspect of being interested in collecting things like typewriters, but also books and other clutter-inducing objects. Hence the reason why the Corona 3 was on the floor in the corner instead of on a shelf. (Being stored in a temporary plastic bin is because its original carrying case is being restored.)

This last week, I've been having fun playing with some "type bar" electric typewriters, including the wonderful Hermes 10, our family typewriter when I was growing up in the early 1970s.

Hermes 10

The term "type bar electric" may be cryptic to some: these are electric motor-powered typewriters that use the same metal "hammers" (i.e. type bars) to impact the paper with type as do manual typewriters, but without the strong hand and finger force needed with a manual machine. They're like a computer keyboard melded onto a manual typewriter.

Because they're so easy to use, that little Corona 3 was begging me to make a comparison of sorts: electric typewriter, representing the very end of the mechanical era before electronic machines, versus the Corona 3 that dates back prior to WW1. After a week of electrified typing, what would be my impressions of the more primitive Corona?

Here's what I hammered out on the Corona 3, just a mere test-typing to see how the machine performed, after weeks of disuse:

Corona 3 Test Typing

The last time I'd typed on the Corona 3, it gave me the impression that it wasn't as fun to use as when I first acquired it. But this typing session reminded me all over again that you have to use each machine at a pace that best suits the mechanics of the device. Speed demon it isn't. But you'll notice that phrase I typed: Slow going! This machine works best if you nestle your fingertips into the metal rings of the keycaps, feel the smooth surface beneath your skin, and distinctly type each character one finger at a time. Yes, you can touch-type it, but as you do so, experience each individual keystroke, the feedback force on each finger, the tactile experience, as you observe the letters become words become phrases become paragraphs. A work is slowly built up this way, one brick at a time, over a period of time, as you stay totally within the moment, experiencing each second of it. The staccato sound of type bar impacting platen, one finger at a time, is merely the ticking of the clock that marks time well-spent.

In the middle of this piece I became distracted with recounting my recent infatuation with typing on stenography paper, wondering why I quit doing so and lamenting the stacks of steno pads I'd acquired. Then, near the bottom of the page, I begin to talk about the wall of distraction keeping you from experiencing the magic of mechanical writing, and how you have to first gel with the haptics of the device.

This gets us back to the top. Gelling with the device means understanding its limitations. Not all typewriters were designed to operate at blazingly fast speeds with effortlessness. And though my Selectric or Hermes 10 or Royal KMM, or many other machines in my collection, could enable me to write much faster than with the Corona 3, there's no arguing that, in this instance, something creative actually went down. Here's what I typed on the Corona 3 shortly after finishing the above page. I threaded in a thin sheet of tracing paper, almost as thin as onionskin, and here's what came off my fingertips and onto the paper fibers as impressed ink markings:

Welcome to the Corona 3

I'm certain it was the phrase "trench typer" in the first piece that inspired this second one. Also, I'd been looking at photographs of typed action reports made during WW1 using the Corona 3. Here's one such example:

My point in all this is, if ergonomics and haptics are any indication, in theory the "better" typewriter should enable heightened creativity, like some 1:1 linear, logical correspondence between efficiency of operation and quality of output. Yet, this small page of text was perhaps the best thing I've written all week, a week that's seen me typing on a variety of machines much more efficient. Somehow this slow, plodding trench typer seemed to have moved me sufficiently to put those words together in a manner emotionally significant to me.

Don't assume every typewriter can or should be used blazingly fast, because often you'll find yourself with skipped spaces or piled on letters, or other issues, as you out-do the machine's intended pace. It's like riding a horse (which I know nothing about, BTW) -- you have to learn to cooperate with the animal, ride at its pace, and you'll get to your destination faster than stopping every hundred yards to beat some sense into it.

Sometimes the speed of thought is the real limitation to creativity, rather than the words per minute thrown down. It's not the quantity of work, but the quality. This is especially difficult to accept if you're struggling to write professionally. We think we need to be like Andy Warhol's Factory, a mechanized assembly line of creativity. I believe creativity, rather than assembled from a kit using neatly written instructions, is more like a garden, it needs to be tended to, cultivated, fertilized, for there to be growth. And what does grow doesn't do so to the schedule of the quarterly earnings report.

Take your time with those "trench typers," relics of an earlier age. Get in the spirit of a slow, meditative pace of thought. Synchronize you breathing with your fingers' pace upon the keys. Experience each keystroke as individual moments in time. Let the experience speak to you, then write down what you hear.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Smith-Corona Sterling

1959 SC Sterling 2
Sterling: It Lives!
1959 SC Sterling

Thanks to the work required for my recent marathon Typewriter Data Base update session (white backdrop portraits of all the machines, neat type samples, plenty of files afloatin' cross the interwebz), I was able to get this new member of "my" collection documented, in both my paper "look book" and the TWDB itself, with little effort.

The platen is hard and could use recovering by JJ Short; the larger feed rollers also have flat spots. But it works, and the imprint ain't too shabby, with that fresh Baco red/black ribbon installed.

These machines are the ideal beginner-repair-person's machine to learn on. The body panels remove fairly easily, the chassis is modest in size, all the critical adjustments are within easy reach, including the escapement (which, by the way, this machine didn't need any adjustment of, it spaces perfectly). I did have to adjust the on-feet to get the type properly aligned. Also, one of the margin adjustment brackets was missing its shoulder screw, so I fashioned a makeshift replacement from spare hardware. And, as mentioned in the typecast, the ribbon cover hinge pins were missing, so I fashioned replacements from stiff wire. Additionally, the carriage return lever was bent and hence scraping on the ribbon cover, so some careful reforming was required.

As for the "rubber ducky treatment," I used tap water as hot as I could get it, with Dawn dishwashing liquid soap, stiff brushes for scrubbing, a hot fresh tap water rinse, then a combination of compressed air hose and hair dryer on high setting for quick drying, followed by spot degreasing and lubrication.

The holiday case was a bit warped and dented, requiring some adjustments before the lid would securely and reliably latch. Oh -- the case also got the rubber ducky treatment, it was stinky!

Midday was sunny and warm and, with sun hat donned, a perfect time to set up my folding work table in the driveway adjacent to the garage and do my cleaning and servicing on this little grungy beauty. Lacquer thinner was liberally applied during the degreasing process in the fresh open air with little concern for odors.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

One More Abacus


Today's typecast is brought to you by the Optima Super, made in USSR-occupied Germany in the very early 1960s:

This device is of the so-called "2:5" configuration, meaning two beads above the bar and five below. Each bead above the bar has a value of 5 when moved down toward the bar; each bead below the bar has a value of one when moved up toward the bar. This implies each place value can hold values from zero to 15, more than our modern decimal place-value system requires.

The underside of the abacus, showing its Japanese-style construction:

This is the second "hybrid" Chinese/Japanese abacus in my collection with colored beads on metal rods:
The new one is on the left, the old one on the right. The old one has a wooden plate on the bottom, steel rods and a sticker indicating it was made in Japan, whereas the new one has brass rods and lacks the plate. They're both 13 rods, enough for multiplication and division.

Here's an example addition problem to show how the modern 1:4 Japanese soroban requires more abstract thought to operate. First the 1:4 version. The problem is 8 + 7.
First we enter eight on the soroban, by lowering a five bead and raising three one beads.

To add seven, this requires performing a "tens complement" problem. We first subtract three, the tens complement of seven

Then we raise a single bead on the rod to the left, which has a value of ten. The result is fifteen

Now let's do the same problem on the 2:5 abacus, this time we won't be using complementary arithematic, as it wasn't used in ancient times. Instead, when they had too high of a value on each rod, they simply "regrouped" the beads until it made sense.

We enter eight as usual

Next, we enter seven directly on the same rods, no complementary steps required!

Next, we have to "rationalize" the result so they make sense in reading the values. First, the two five-beads are removed and replaced by a single ten-bead on the rod to the left

Continuing to rationalize the answer, we next take away the five one-beads and replace them with a single five-bead. The answer now easily reads as 15

This process of rationalizing the result in order to conform to the place value system was used as far back as the ancient Greeks, with their counting board (literally abacus in Greek). In their version, rather than beads on rods they used counters on a board marked with columns for the place values. Multiple numbers were "cast" upon the board, then regrouped and rationalized to form a readable result.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Why the Revolution Will Not Be Televised, 2023 Version

Silent-Super on Holiday (Case)
My go-to creativity generator

I first heard Gil Scott-Heron's iconic jazz poem The Revolution Will Not Be Televised on local public radio station KUNM a few years ago, and was mesmerized by its combination of jazz beat, spoken-word poem and unique approach to a serious social issue.

Scott-Heron was born on April 1, 1949 and died on May 27, 2011. His first well-known album Pieces of a Man (1971) included the iconic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Just yesterday I was driving across town, listening to Sirius XM's Jazz station, when they played Revolution, instantly bringing the piece back to my mind, which soon thereafter inspired me to sit down at my Smith-Corona Silent-Super and whip up my 2023 version, inspired by Scott-Heron.

There's a special relationship I have with certain machines in my collection. Some of them seem to more easily enable freeform creative expression than others. This Silent-Super, built in 1954, came into my possession via a Craigslist ad, some years ago. It was very filthy looking and smelling, and required months of repeated cleaning and adjustment before I'd sussed out all its issues. While troubleshooting an intermittent skipping issue I discovered on several occasions the ease to which I could brain-dump random thoughts straight to paper. Since then it's become the one machine I can rely on to truly be creative.

I don't claim to be a poet, nor does the following piece claim to, in any way, approach Scott-Heron's skill; and I can't say I've grown up under a cloud of oppression, but for what it's worth, here's my 2023 version of Revolution.

Why the Revolution Will Not Be Televised
(Any resemblence in this piece to the names of actual people or organizations is strictly coincidental, and should be taken only as social commentary.)

The point of this exercise is that we should strive to find a cybernetic union between human and machine to unleash our inner creativity. Mechanized writing can enable us to operate faster than we can write by hand. Sometimes it takes time with a machine to discover its hidden potential, other times it becomes immediately obvious. For those of us typewriter users who've amassed sizable collections, this implies we need to give sufficient time with each one to find whether its mechanical attributes mesh with our inner creative needs. It may not be the machine you expected at first, may not be the brand or model with the best reputation, but don't be surprised when you do find it that it speaks to you like no other can. You owe it to yourself to spend more time with each machine in your collection.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Single Lens Reflex

The Canon T7 and Lumix G5 side-by-side with equivalent lenses

Blog 4 Feb 23

I don't yet have enough photos under my belt with the Canon T7 to know how using a DSLR will affect my photography over using a mirrorless, but if these few snaps are any indication, I'm still attracted to certain subject matter and the new camera hasn't hindered my creativity.

Curb Couch
Yes, another "curb couch" found during my morning neighborhood walk. Enough of these and I forsee a Blurb book on the subject!

Central Bikers
This was a quick grab shot through the side window of my car, as I was driving up Central Avenue adjacent to the Fair Grounds, where there's a casino race track and weekend flea market. I was able to get a snap of these bikers in motion, part of a larger group of them on a pleasant Sunday afternoon cruise. The Canon focuses very quickly, better than the Panasonic Lumix cameras.

These two images were made using the EFS 24mm F/2.8 lens, which has a 38mm-equivalent angle of view on APSC cameras, just about the perfect angle of view to mimic human vision. It's about the smallest EFS lens in Canon's lineup, and the widest prime they offer. Canon's main market seems to be toward sports and birding, as most of their lenses are bazooka-like telephotos and zooms. I can see this being the main lens I use on the T7.

I hinted in this piece about the difference between looking through the optical viewfinder of a DSLR versus electronic viewfinder of a mirrorless. With the mirrorless design, there's always going to be an intrinsic lag between what you see in the viewfinder and what's actually happening in front of you, because electronic circuits take time to process signals. This can cause you to miss critical action moments -- by the time you see them in the electronic viewfinder and press the shutter, they're already over. With optical viewfinders you're seeing events happen literally at the speed of light.

Other than DSLRs, in the current digital world the only cameras with optical viewfinders are some Fujifilm designs like the X100 series (whose viewfinder is a hybrid optical and electronic), and the Leica digital M-series rangefinders. Both the Fujifilm and Leica optical viewfinders are off-axis designs. You don't look through the "taking lens", so there's always going to be some intrinsic parallax error, especially critical when composing close-up to the camera. Also, depending on the size of the lens and lens hood, part of the optical viewfinder window will be obstructed.

Yes, this camera will record video, but because it lacks a flip-out screen is not very efficient for selfie-recordings; you can't verify it has your face in focus. Still, if you're willing to stay behind the camera and act as cameraman, it offers decent enough 1080P video up to 60 frames per second.

Digital single lens reflex cameras are currently rather out-of-fashion in the photography world. They're considered old-fashioned, a throwback to the early days of the digital photography revolution. The current crop of high-end digital offerings are mirrorless marvels that offer both stills and video capability, but the prices are also not inexpensive. Personally, I like the through-the-lens optical viewing and snappy autofocus of this humble, low-end Canon APSC model, it gives me the quick responsiveness of a rangefinder with more accurate framing, and autofocus, for a fraction of the Leica alternative offering, in a package that wouldn't break my heart if something untoward happened to it. Best of all, I don't have to cover up the red Leica badge with black tape, since there's no bragging rights for sporting a Canon logo!

Friday, February 03, 2023

Wither Goest the WeB LOG?

Studio 44 Patio
Blog 3Feb23

I've been enjoying participating in the live stream of Type Pals which, if you aren't a member and are into typewriters, I encourage you to sign up. Gregory Short hosts the site and does a great job of making us typists feel right at home. There's a Sunday morning (10AM Pacific Time) hosted live-stream, and also a non-hosted version that runs 24/7. There's also members' discussion forums and a space for sharing files.

I've also been using the OBS software with this Mac Book Pro for the New Mexico Film Photographers monthly live stream (their Facebook group link is here.)

I also finally took the time to document my entire typewriter collection for Ted Munk's Typewriter Database. If you are a collector, please think about doing so, it helps us crowd-source information needed to more accurately determine the age and histories of our machines.

For my collection I first wanted better gallery photos, so I bought a large while cloth to use as a backdrop, draped behind my video table, onto which I photographed each machine. Then I carefully made type samples of each machine, onto Southworth 32 pound white resume paper, ensuring the machines had clean type slugs and fresh ribbons. Some machines, such as the IBM Selectric and thermal machines, offered a variety of type faces, so I had to make samples of each. For the thermal machines, since I lacked the original film ribbons cartridges I typed the samples onto heavy Brother-brand thermal paper and pasted them into my Look Book (see below). Then I had to upload and organize these images in folders, with file names indicating which machine, so it'd be easier during the upload to the Database.

In the process of doing all this, I also made a "Look Book" of my collection, each entry onto 3.5" by 5.5" resume paper sheets, including a Polaroid Zink instant print of each machine, its serial number and date of manufacture, and the type sample. These pages were then bound via Acco prong fasteners into a compact notebook that is a handy reference for my collection. Because the pages can easily be unbound, I add addition pages for each machine indicating repair history, when ribbons have been replaced and documenting any ongoing issues that might need addressing.

Speaking of prong fasteners, we have our friend Ted Munk to thank for turning us on to these little gems, that make it easy to create notebooks and other bound works that can easily be reordered and reorganized. Here is a link to Ted's recent blog articles regarding using them for his Every Day Carry Notebook (EDCN).

Of course, I've also been busy creating videos for my YouTube channel. If you have some time, please click on over and enjoy the show!

I'm hoping to keep this blog updated on a more regular basis, otherwise I'll incur the wrath of Star Fleet Command!