Monday, July 30, 2012
Today I was on the way to Maine and couldn't help but look for photo stores in Albany NY area. After calling around a bit and getting nowhere (folks on the phone were not even aware of ANY stores that deal with used cameras or film) I finally found a place just a little out of the way in Schenectady, it's just about 10 miles west of Albany, and decided to drop by to see what they represent.
The Place is called Photo Lab and is located at 273 State St Ste 2, Schenectady, NY.
Here is their little historic display case that greets the customers as they walk in. I have never seen an old Kodak processing box in such mint condition.... Unfortunately none of the items in the case are for sale...
They have been in business since 1914 and still have some old equipment. There is a cute little Durst 35mm enlarger, various easels and other darkroom stuff, some paper (they do have some old Kodak RC paper, but it was way overpriced... their prices on current Ilford Fiber are competitive), and an assortment of used cameras with a Rollei 35 among them. I didn't ask how much they want for that one as I knew that I couldn't afford it at this moment even if it was a great deal. Upon their shelves I did find a Polaroid Close Up Kit #581! I was happy to find it as I forgot mine in San Diego - I just couldn't find it among the boxes when I was packing. This fits the Polaroid 440 that I have with me on the trip and allows it to focus down to 19in - so look out for some close-up images on here coming soon. For $5 it was a great deal.
They do have a Polaroid light meter for those of you who are lucky enough to have a model 180, 190 or 195 and I was tempted to buy it because it was only $5 also and was actually working and accurate. Then I thought that that $5 would be better spent on film so I bought a roll of Ilford FP4 125 in 120.
Upon leaving I headed further east on highway 7 toward Vermont. The road is beautiful and is rightly marked 'scenic route' on my map. As the sun was setting I came upon a beautiful big old building that warranted a stop for pictures. It looks like it was an old hotel probably from mid 1800s. Three stories with attic spaces, all wood and overgrown with vines. Most of it looks unoccupied and condemned, but some of the lower rooms in a separate wing of it had light in them. I used both Rolleiflex 2.8F and my trusty little Robot camera to capture that structures charm and hope that the negatives turn out well (the light was really going by then...).
Vermont is a beautiful state and if I ever figure out a way to make a living as an artist from here I am not opposed to settling down in its hills. They have a lot of wildlife and I saw a bear and a fox hurriedly crossing the road in front of Gilli. I'm still looking for that moose - there are signs warning of them crossing the road everywhere and the last time was here in 1998 I was lucky enough to see one. This time I am not traveling in a tiny little hatch-back car though so we will be on the same level and I won't be as afraid of it crushing my vehicle - though a collision with one of those beasts would probably be a very bad one anyway.
Got some coffee in me now and am pressing on toward Maine.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Today was a great day spent in Wallkill, NY with one of my old friends Mahandeep. I met her at a 2008 Rainbow Gathering in Wyoming state. She's a traveler and explorer and has been getting pretty seriously into Kundalini yoga recently with great results for her aura and presence. She's back at her grandmothers house for a little bit and extended the invitation for me to stay over as long as I want. I am planning on possibly swinging by here again on my way back from Maine as it is a very peaceful and pleasant environment.
We went around the town New Paltz, which is not too far from Wallkill and has a very hip and bustling Main street with lots of bookstores, coffee shops and alternative-minded people. Just down the road is a beautiful field of sunflowers and there I took these two images using Polaroid 600SE camera, which is quickly becoming my favorite instant machine, and Fuji FP100c film.
Afterward we stopped by an old barn located on Waterfront street that has been converted into an antique shop to browse about and see what we can find. To my surprise and delight in one of the cases I was a great vintage half-plate Tintype in original frame and glass! Tintypes are abundant, but to find a half-plate one that is in its original outfit is quite a treat, so I asked for the manager and he came out to talk to me as he is also interested in photography. When I took a closer look in that same case I noticed another couple of smaller framed images and after taking them out I realized that one was an actual Daguerreotype and the other one an Ambrotype! I have been waiting to find something like this, but never did I think that I'd find them in the same place. I told Walter, the manager, of my mission to collect a line-up of historical images done with various photographic techniques and he was extremely kind and gave me a great discount on purchasing all three images. Here is a quick shot of them. I must admit that the Ambrotype is a bit damaged and I'll have to look up a way to restore it if possible. I also wonder if there is a way to make the Daguerreotype image darker as it seems to have faded a bit over the last 100+ years (probably due to the moist environment that is prevalent here on the East Coast of US) - it does look a lot better in real life, so there's another incentive for folks to meet The Photo Palace Bus in person and take a look at the collection firsthand.
The antique shop had quite a large number of bins full of old photographs and among them I also found a Carte-de-visite and what I believe to be a medium-size Albumen portrait. While browsing the books upon the shelves I came across a hard-bound copy of History of Photography by Beaumont Newhall, 4th edition from 1964. Knowing what reverence his old student and my favorite professor Brian Taylor of SJSU has for this man I decided to buy it as well, but there was no price anywhere to be found within it. I walked back to Walter and he very generously donated that wonderful text to the Photo Palace cause. The dust jacket is a bit tattered, but I'll try to repair it the best I can - most importantly all the knowledge is still intact on its pages, so now I have my reading cut out for me.
I would recommend any photo enthusiast who is passing through Wallkill to stop by this antique shop as they do have a multitude of vintage photographs as well as some very interesting cameras including a Bell & Howell Electric Eye Sprecial edition - takes 127 film, has two settings for various kinds of film and a sliding focusing scale. They also have a number of odd old Polaroid cameras, at least ten Kodak Brownies from various decades and in good shape and much much more to look at.
My next update may not come for a little while (unless something extraordinary happens) as I am off to the state of Maine - it has been my goal all along to make it to the farthest north-east corner of US during the initial test-run so that the country is crossed from the extremes of north-east to south-east. I was happy to find out in TN about the small Rainbow Gathering in Maine coinciding with my visit there, so I'll be continuing the Rainbow Documentary as well as visiting that beautiful state.
Hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend,
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Well, my stay in wonderful Reisterstown MD is coming to an end today. My host Bonnie has been an absolute delight and I may just find myself back here again someday. For now it's off toward Maine for Gilli and I - we are going to try to make it to Maine by early next week and we have a long way to go and a lot of interesting things to encounter on the way.
Here are a few images that have been captured using the wonderful Fuji instant film FP100c and the old, but reliable Polaroid 600SE camera with a Mamiya 127 lens. Rolleiflex images await development.
Two nights ago I stayed up late and printed these two images from this years Rainbow Gathering. I used Oriental F2 Fiber paper with semi-mat surface that is very similar to that of old Agfa 118. Since there is no date on the package I have to estimate the age of the paper, but my guess is that it is at least 20 years old. I decided to put some extra effort into these, even though it was already past 3am by the time I got done printing and washing them, and toned all the prints in Selenium toner, which gave them a wonderful extra depth and upped the d-max by quite a lot since I purposefully did not use a hardening fixer. Both images are Rolleiflex capture on Kodak Verichrome Pan, image area is 10x10in and edition number is 3 each.
Admittedly I am finding myself printing and shooting a bit less than originally envisioned due to having to take care of everything bus-related 1005 on my own rather than relying on a helpful partner. It is also terribly inconvenient to take pictures while driving Gilli - I can do pretty well with the camera when driving a car, but this is a whole different story. Hopefully that will change soon and a lot more images will emerge from this venture.
Wishing a good fun-filled weekend to all my readers,
P.S. It seems that good fortune is on my side yet again and Gilli and I have just found a gracious host in upstate NY for this weekend. It is my old and dear friend Mahandeep whom I met at the Wyoming Rainbow Gathering back in 2008. I am extremely grateful for her invitation and am very excited to see her and her family.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Today was an interesting day.
I arrived to Baltimore about 1am in order to find parking that would be strategically close to the entrance to Artscape festival. After driving around for a little while and checking out all the road closures (that, by the way, takes some intense concentration with a 35ft school bus and no navigator to tell me which way to go...) I settled on an extremely high-profile spot right on the corner of two major roads. On one side of me was a train stop (they call it light rail here, though I'd call it a tram) and on the other was a 6 lane wide road, plus it was right in front of the light. It was an intense place to sleep - trains run pretty late and even after they stopped there seemed to be more emergency vehicle activity than I have ever seen, so I can't say I got a full night sleep. It did turn out to be the most secure spot of all because after opening my curtains in the morning I discovered that just on the other side of the train tracks was a major congregation of police of all sorts - state troopers, metro and regular police as well as Artscape security personnel. They even had a K-9 unit and an RV with two tall pols with cameras pointing every which way, so I felt very safe leaving the bus in the middle of a rushing crowd and going in and exploring this thing they call Artscape.
Baltimore claims that their arts festival is the largest one in US. I don't know what they base it on - attendance, number of booths or the amount of food sold... I don't think it's the number of booths (at least not the art ones I hope) - they did block off a very big area, but there seemed to be about the same amount of actual ART vendors as at any small arts fest in any local San Diego town - they just were spread out and separated by a larger number of enormous food vending tents. And boy were there a lot of those.... Fried food was dominant and the price gouging was at it's peak. Attendance-wise it was pretty impressive. The crowd grew toward the afternoon and walkways were quite full of browsers and onlookers.
I set up my photos rather indiscreetly using a black blanket on a lawn by a spot where I would not detract attention form other vendors. Along with prints for sale I also made a sign offering Polaroid portraits for $15. I used a newly-acquired Polaroid 600 SE camera with a Mamiya 127mm lens and a back loaded with Fuji FP100c film. A lot of people asked me where I get the film and how I continue finding black and white printing supplies. I was happy to explain it all to them and gave out plenty of information about current state of analog photography. It seems that 90% or more of the common audience thinks that Kodak as a company no longer exists at all due to the news that they were filing for bankruptcy a while back... I was glad to correct that and inform them that thankfully Kodak decided to commit to continuing making film, paper and chemistry and urged people to continue buying their products. Impossible Project was also mentioned multiple times as people do indeed miss the magic of instant photography. In the end I sold quite a few photos and spent a pack of FP100c on portraits with which my customers were very happy. One of them, under the influence I must admit, even sang Paul Simons song Kodachrome with me and declared that that is one of his favorite songs of all time, which made me very happy.
My last customer, who bought one of my favorite fiber prints from California Rainbow Gathering engaged me in a lengthy conversation and found out that I had no place to stay for the night and no real further plan of action. She generously offered me to come park in front of her house and I was more than happy to accept her invitation. Driving out of Baltimore (again with no navigator on board and with streets either being one way going the wrong way or closed period) was a bit crazy, but I finally managed to find an entrance to highway 83 going north and am currently in a small town about 20 miles north of Baltimore.
I plan on staying here for 1-3 days while figuring out my next step. Since nobody I was in contact with in NYC has a place for the bus, I am going to avoid that city for now and stick to smaller towns across America where streets are wider and people are mellower. I think I will indeed make it up to Maine, which was the plan all along, but I recently, since being left on my own by Mr. Kalem, I was not sure if it's going to happen. There should be a small regional Rainbow Gathering happening there and I will continue my documentary series of that wonderful piece of Americana. I do love regional Gatherings as they feel a lot more personal and it's a lot easier to meet almost every attendee.
I hope to have some more news before I go to Maine... Let's see where I show up next, right? Rochester, NY...? I think that would be a worthy stop.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Today I had a meeting with a non-profit group here in D.C. called Critical Exposure. I came upon them in my favorite way - totally randomly by talking to someone in a coffee shop and them recommending I get in touch with these folks. They do some really good work providing services to inner-city kids and teaching them all sorts of things including how to turn their cameras into tools for social change by exposing issues that they find to be needing improvement.
For those of you who are interested here is a link to their website: http://www.criticalexposure.org/
The meeting went well and I hope to be working with these folks in the future. I met with lovely lady by the name of Emma who has a photography degree already and is currently in the middle of earning her MFA in photo journalism here in Washington.
I offered to teach the kids who are more advanced in their photography knowledge some darkroom techniques and we are going to be in touch about that in the near future. Ideally I would do that on my next time around in D.C., which I think will be in a month or month and a half. We are also going to brainstorm about the possibility of their organization taking me under their wing as a fiscal affiliate. This way they can have a satellite educator who effectively takes their organization nation-wide and I could gain a non-profit status cover without having to establish one on my own and doing all the paper-pushing that is required for that. I'm really hopeful of that happening as I would love to be able to give folks a tax deduction on their donations of materials and start writing for grants that require a higher level of logistics than I have at the moment.
Prior to that I attended a rally organized by Soren S. Powell in support of dreadlocks. I met Soren by the lake at this years Rainbow Gathering where he explained to me that there is a rather racist and sexist law that allows ONLY black women to keep their dreads while serving in any of the US government forces branches. Weird, right? Soren is an intelligent and kind person and all he really wants is to keep his dreads, which he wears for religious purposes, while joining the US coast guard. Unfortunately the promise of rain must have scared off the majority of people who pledged to be there on his Facebook event page and the turnout was minimal. In support of his cause I am posting this link where you can sign his petition with only a name and e-mail required. That particular website states that he needs only 12 more signatures at the moment so I hope you take the time to sign it. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/dreadygocoastguard/
While at the rally I had an interesting conversation with a Romanian woman (who was mostly staring into her smart phone the entire time, but was still cognitive enough to communicate). She is a dentist and said that she was a dental surgeon back in her home country. She left 20 years ago at the time of the collapse of the Soviet block and was rather upset that her credentials didn't hold up here in US and she had to attend school all over again. That led to the topic of the current healthcare overhaul and here's something I found very interesting. She was a staunch opponent of Obama and his plan to have people buy insurance on mandatory basis - that I can understand, in this country nobody wants to be shoved into having to do anything (even if it's really good for them and the society at large). However, in the same breath she was arguing that this country should have socialized healthcare like every industrialized nation on the planet has implemented already. Here's a kicker though - her main beef with the new laws was that if people are not going to buy insurance, or the small businesses will not provide it for their employees, once they need health services they will be punished, according to her, with a fee equal to the 2% of their annual income. She was furious about that! She argued the well known line that small businesses will not bare that cost and will be closing down left and right. What I didn't hear her saying is that she personally would be willing to pay taxes that would be much higher than those 2% in order to support the socialized healthcare that she was taking about... On one hand it was refreshing to hear someone talk about that system in this country, but on the other hand I'd love to see what she would say if any politician brave enough to try to push for that would lay out the actual costs needed to implement that and the real tax hikes that would have to be put in place in order to get that system going. In my opinion that was tunnel vision at its best.
On the side note - those who have known financial struggle are the ones most likely to help a fellow human in need. As soon as I briefly mentioned my current financial predicament Soren offered me all the cash he currently had in his wallet without asking for anything in return. It wasn't much, but it meant the world to me and I gladly accepted his generous donation. God bless him and his two beautiful children (he's a single father by the way).
As hospitable and comfortable as my stay has been here in the US capitol, I am ready to move on. big cities are rather draining for me. I find that people are rather hard to communicate with (with a few pleasant exceptions) as most of them have a sense of tunnel-vision to their lives - focusing on the immediate goals in front of them such as going to work, bar-hopping or god knows what. I am once again looking forward to the open road and adventures that it may bring me. Tomorrow I am going to be on my way to Baltimore MD were I am going to attend an arts festival and look for more exposure and real-life connections with artists and art lovers.
Prior to that I am going to swing by Burke VA - there I hope to pick up some darkroom equipment, chemistry and paper that a retired darkroom photographer is willing to donate to the cause. I still have some room in The Bus for that kind of stuff and will carry it with me in hopes of finding someone who can use it - let the redistribution of photographic equipment begin! I also will have an extra 35mm Canon, donated by my current host, so when I find that special someone who is willing to delve into the realm of darkroom photography I'll have all the equipment needed to get them started.
I am still looking for someone to host The Photo Palace Bus in New York City - I am not going there alone and with no place to park, that would be just reckless and amateur. If anyone reading this can help out with that I would appreciate it greatly. Otherwise NYC will have to wait till next time around and I'll make my way up to Maine and the Regional Rainbow Gathering there to continue my documentary of that subset of Americana.
All the very best to all my devoted readers and those who are just coming upon this blog for the first time.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Today I rode the bike in 100° heat in order to visit a couple of photo stores and see what types of fun things I can find out about the film community in this city and to find what I can find in the dusty corners of old-school camera shops (one of my favorite activities of all time).
First stop was Embassy Camera at 1735 Connecticut Ave. NW - http://www.ephotocraft.com
This is a pretty small shop with a few interesting items on display of used film cameras. There were a few Polaroid cameras, some Kodak Autographic models, a mandatory Argus C3 and some more odds and ends. They seemed to have dedicated a lot of their very limited floor space to camera bags and it was feeling a bit crammed for that reason. They do have a refrigerator with 120 Tri-X and some 35mm slide film, but beyond that I have to say I did not find much (plus their Tri-X was well within the expiration date, so I couldn't afford it - give me something 10 years past it's due date and I'm all over that). The staff was indeed friendly and receptive and we chatted for a little bit about the bygone days of film and real photography. I asked about expired paper and was generously offered two 25 sheet packs of old Kodak Polycontrast RC in 5x7 for a meager $2 each - I politely declined as I have learned from previous experience that most RC papers go bad rather quickly. I bet those packs were still good though as they expired only in 2005 and were quite likely in that store ever since, so they were not heated or anything like that. I'd recommend stopping by there for kicks or if you need a battery or a new point-and-shoot digital. I bet they might be willing to negotiate on used camera prices (I didn't try as there was nothing that caught my eye and, besides, I have no budget for that at the moment).
Next I rode down to Pro Photo located on 1902 I Street NW - now THIS was my kind of place! Here is their site (though I must say it needs work - almost as much as my site...) - http://www.prophoto-dc.com/
Much larger floor space and located right in downtown. They do camera repair as well as sales and I have seen positive reviews about their work online. The amount of used old stuff that I found there was above average - too much to list, but some highlights include a Leica MP, Century Graphic 8x10, which I discovered just locked away in its original case on the floor in the corner, film and print washers (I wish I had the cash for that 8x10 washer - it would save me some water....), Hasselblad lenses and bodies, SX-70 Sonar (not my favorite model, but a fair deal on it - $80) and a great multitude of little wooden and cardboard boxes with accessories for all sorts of cameras, so many of that hey are still looking that one Rolleiflex box and are supposed to call me back on it when and if they find it. There were many odds and ends for the darkroom fanatic and enlargers galore including two old-school Beselers (the blue kind) and a very good looking later model of a Leica Focomat 35, great selection of chemistry, both new and old was also present and I did pick up a bottle of Edwall Perma-Wash in hopes of saving time on washing fiber paper. They also have a plethora of old paper in all sorts of sizes - Forte, Oriental, Kodak and so on. I was truly disappointed to find that all but a few of the boxes were RC :( I swear, if they had some Forte Polycontrast in Fiber or Luminos I would have dropped the rest of my cash on that. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent selection of Impossible Project B&W films - any store that stocks it gets an extra star in my book. Obviously they also have a good variety of digital equipment, but we'll skip the description of that.
A separate paragraph has to be dedicated the owner - he is Armenian by descent, but came here aline from Ethiopia. We had a lovely long chat (lasting well past their usual closing time) during which he divulged that he is a third generation photographer and his daughter actually works at the store as well making her the fourth generation all together. His grandfather escaped Turkey area right before the Armenian genocide and went to Paris where he started taking pictures of dignitaries to make a living. Apparently the king of Ethiopia was passing through and, after seeing his work, invited him to move to his country - what a story!
I'd definitely stop by there if I were you next time you are in D.C - or just give them a call and see if they have what you need - apparently there is even more unseen stuff 'in the back'.
That's my story for the day and I'm sticking with it.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
After Blacksburg I headed further east. For some reason I had a feeling I needed to stop by Roanoke VA... I'm very glad I did as here is what happened.
O. Winston Link Museum
While I was in Roanoke, VA I heard that that city is home to the photographic museum dedicated to the work of O. Winston Link. Winston Link was interested in documentation of the last railroad line (Norfolk and Western) that still used steam engine trains while all others were switching to diesel. In that respect I find a lot of common ground with him as I too am interested in what some would say is a dying technology. For those of you who have never heard of this man here is the Wikipedia entry where you can find all sorts of information about his life and passions - Link. I loved the museum and thought I'd share some of the more interesting finds that one can discover while there.
First off the dedication of that man to his project was incredible. Not only did he self-finance the entire project to the tune of $125.000 (adjusted for inflation from the 1950s - back then he spent about $20.000, but a hotel room was $9 and a good dinner $3), but he devised an entire apparatus for synchronizing the flash bulbs that were needed to light up the expansive scenery that he set out to photograph. Flash bulbs are a one-time use item, so I can't imagine how many he must have gone through to create his images, which totaled over 2400 by the end of the project. Here is an image of some of his equipment.
Another thing that struck close to my heart was the fact that while not shooting his Graflex 4x5 camera he used a Rolleiflex TLR to record things that didn't need extensive set-up. In one of the displays is a Rollei and some 120 film along with one of his contact sheets. The label reads that he used a camera 'like this Rollei' making me wonder exactly what model he really did use and where might it be now... By the way, that's a model T Rolleiflex that is pictured below - a good camera, I'll pick one up for my collection next time a good opportunity arises.
And of course his images! Though they were meticulously set up and controlled, they have a very candid feeling about them and, if one didn't know about the intensely laborious task that he went through to light everything just the way he envisioned, they look like well-composed snapshots. Here is just one of over 200 images that are featured in his museum (pardon my reflection in the middle there - I am trying to get the invisibility cloak, but Harry Potter is not returning my calls... I loved the sence of scale that he achieved in this particular shot.
The museum is very well laid out and features a room housing some of Links darkroom equipment. He did some of his work in color and the Chromega enlarger that he worked with is definitely a rare beast. You'll have to go to Virginia to see it - an iPhone picture would just not do it justice...
Here is one more thing that I really liked about the museum - instead of hiding away all the images that were not currently on display they built a small dimly-lit room where the extra prints can be seen hanging salon-style on temporary walls. There are no labels next to them, so the viewer is left admiring the actual imagery without the clutter of information - that, in my view, is one of the best ways to view art. Who cares where a particular image was taken - what matters most is 'do You like it and why does it move you?'. Here is a picture of that room as a teaser.
Life in Washington D.C.
It's been two full days since I arrived in Washington D.C. and it's taken me this long to get my mind and body to switch off The-Road-Mode. Now with a little bit of peace and quiet I can tend to things that require concentration and planning.
First of all - The Universe has a wonderful way of working things out and I am a firm believer that all is for the best. For example - I talked to Allan (the man who is graciously hosting me in one of the houses he owns in this city) on the very last day of the Rainbow Gathering. It was my intention to visit a far-off camp that day and not go swimming, but I was snatched up while being on the way there by a wonderful group of fire-spinning ladies from Minnesota who spotted me on the trail. They were on the way to the lake and invited me along. Just as we were leaving the beach I spotted Allan floating gently in the water next to the shore and had a brief, but productive, conversation during which it was established that he would like to host The Bus and me in D.C..
Parking note - I was able to once again top all my previous parking jobs. When Allan and I spoke on the phone he told me to 'park in the alley next to an Avanti II'. You can learn abuout these amazingly futuristic cars by clicking here: Avanti. It's a FIBERGLASS body car from 1965! WOW. I could not believe my ears that I would be parked next to suck an American classic and it totally skipped my mind to ask how much room there is actually next to that car and how wide may this alley be.... Turn out it was a pretty darn narrow alley and the Avanti is in non-operable condition AND is parked about 8ft 3in from a rather tall curb, which used to have a garage on top of it. Gilli is 8ft wide and if that garage was there I would have had no chance of getting in, that's for sure. As it happens to be the house next door is being renovated and, to my luck, there were a couple of construction guys there one of which helped me back into that incredibly tight spot. Here is a picture of the derriere of the two beauties and he house that I am happily calling my home for this little while.
By the way - this particular Avanti is for sale, so contact me if you know someone who can restore this beauty to its original state. I am not 100% sure what is it that it needs, but the body looks good with only a few places where the paint is peeling and Allan says that with some fiddling the engine will start. The interior is definitely shot though - leather is all cracked and some plastic pieces are also in dire need of replacement.... I bet it would be a great ride if someone was to replace all the interior.
If it wasn't for the wonderful coincidence of talking to Allan on my way out of the Gathering I have no idea where I would be right now. However now I am staying in a beautiful old house right on 16th st NW and if I follow this street south for about 2.5 miles I will run straight into The White House! There is only one more roommate here named Daniel - an intelligent and interesting man from Kenya who works as a cook in Pleasant Hill neighborhood just down the road. It's nice to be able to carry on a conversation with someone after being on the road alone for a while. Allan himself is a wonderfully hospitable and well-educated man who grew up here and knows this city inside-out. I look forward to exploring it with him once he has some time off and it's not Sabbath. For now, in the spare time that I carve out from trying to keep this blog up to date and compiling advertising literature, I walk around by myself armed with a Rolleiflex or a Leica and do what I love doing best - hunt for decisive moments on busy city streets.
Though I've been to D.C before as a tourist, staying here and knowing how close I am to the boiling pot that is Capital Hill is a rather incredible experience. Also, having grown up in another National Capital, Moscow, it is a rather surreal experience to be in the heart of the nation once again and to be planning my tour from here.
D.C. is a strange place with a level of diversity and disparity rarely found anywhere else in this country. There are lawyers and politicians crossing the streets right alongside with fresh immigrants and homeless. All the windows on all the buildings have shutters and blinds that keep the wandering eye from straying inside and the light from escaping outward at night. As usual, in the suburban outcrops of the city you will rarely see a pedestrian, unless they are going to the bus stop. I must admit, this is probably one of the best American cities as far as public transportation - it's not cheap, but there's plenty of it and there are at least two bus lines that run right down my street. I prefer walking, but am thinking of buying a bike as that would make it possible to move about further and faster and to carry more cameras and art on me. Question is - how in the world will I fit into The Bus once I start moving again?... Today Allan actually lent me one of his bikes and now I'll be a lot more mobile - it's a real road bike and I have to admit that the last time I rode one of those was in Russia and only for a minute or two.... they are weird, but I'll get used to it. Tomorrow I'll try to make my way to the White House and see what imagery will come about from that.
Hope you all are having a wonderful Saturday night filled with fun and adventure.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Well, it usually pays off to stop by a random camera store and I take that activity very seriously when I travel. Before pulling up to a town it's good to google a camera shop there and call them to see if they deal with old photo stuff (or you might end up going out of your way for a camera shop resembling Ritz or Fox).
My first such experience aboard The Photo Palace Bus came yesterday in Blacksburg VA. I called up a place called 'John's Camera Corner' and (without looking at a street view) drove up to it. FYI - historic downtown in any American city or town is usually a great place to visit, but beware of narrow streets if driving a 35ft bus.... I barely made it around a few corners and was super lucky to see three parking spots in a row right in front of the shop. Before I even engaged the parking brake I saw heads poking out from the store and the owner walking out to meet me.
John Kline has a wonderful store and link to it in case you find yourself wanting some old neat stuff, call him up:
His establishment is my favorite type of a photo store - a cozy nook chock-full of gizmos and gadgets dating back to the turn of the century. Some very neat stereo cameras, darkroom items and chemistry and so on and so forth. He is also in the process of re-opening a rental darkroom in the back of the shop, which melted my heart even more making me thing of my little Rollov Film Center back in San Diego.
John himself is a huge pleasure to talk to and is an overwhelmingly hospitable person. After a short tour of The Bus for him and his helper (I am terrible with names, but I think that lovely lady's name was Patricia - she was all smiles as well) I was immediately invited to step across the street into an old bar where I was astounded to see a real old-fashioned Photo Booth with an old Burke and James 11x14 seated on top of it.
John opened it up and I actually got to see the inner belly of the beast and to get a feeling of how the magic happens in there. The little cute chemistry buckets are just too adorable.
To my further surprise John treated me to a strip of my own personal very first ever Real Silver Photo Booth photos. I must admit I was waiting for a count-down and was not ready at all for the first frame (still talking to John, trying to invite him into the shots with me). I do love the quality of these shots - contrasty and sharp in the places where it matters.
Amazingly the actual paper used to create these images comes from Russia just as the subject!
Afterward John offered to buy me a beer and I'm not one to pass that kind of offer, so we spent a good amount of time by the bar talking about the days of yore. John told me of a story about Mr. Land (the same as Land Polaroid Cameras) in the 1940s London. The details of that story are murky to me so I won't confuse You by trying to recount them all, let's just say that the inspiration for Polaroid came to him upon a bridge above Thames. John was also in touch with The Impossible Project folks, but, not unlike myself, found them to be rather impossible to deal with - my guess is that they are not ran my old-time photographers, but are more oriented toward business and advertizing.... I'll try again to send them some love and see if there's any reply.
I purchased the rest of their 120 Tri-X supply (only 3 rolls unfortunately) and am not ready to shoot some more.
The night was spent in the National Forest right above Blacksburg. I gorged on a bowl of raspberries found right as I was turning around on a tight road and then proceeded to develop another 12 rolls of 120 Verichrome Pan film from The Gathering. I think I only have 2 rolls left now. Some good shots there I think....
OK - Now I'm slowly off on the way to Washington D.C. to stay with a Rainbow friend and maybe take it easy for a day or two. I'll be posting another update or two very soon - look for one containing THE FIRST image printed on The Palace and for much better high-res photos of the interior (took me long enough, right?).
Sunday, July 8, 2012
It's been more than 2 weeks since I posted an update on the blog and what a fun-filled 2 weeks it was! This may be a long one, so brace Yourself and get comfortable if you intend to get through it all in one go.
New Mexico - Tennessee drive
I am happy to say that the rest of the trip from NM to TN went off without a hitch. We drove through the Texas panhandle in the middle o the night to cut down on the heat factor. Driving all night can be quite tiresome, so I pulled off the road right as the sun was about to rise and took these two Polaroid 600 images:
After Texas came Oklahoma and there The Bus was graciously hosted by our dear friend Rick. We met Rick in 2009 at the Rainbow Gathering in New Mexico. He was present at the very first Gathering in Colorado 1972 and is a wealth of Rainbow information, stories and jokes as well as a fascinating conversationalist. At his house, located in a quaint little part of Oklahoma City we had a much needed day off the road with some time to go through the mechanical parts of the rig, tighten up all of the 100+ hose clamps and just to relax for a while before a bee-line drive to Tennessee. Rick decided to caravan with us and to follow us to TN in his van. I don't blame him for not coming in The Bus as we barely had space for the luggage of two rough-and-tumble photographers and he does like to keep some comforts of city life with him when he travels.
I get pretty excited when I am on the way to a Gathering, so we made the 1000mi drive as fast as Gilli would go. It took about 20 hours of driving and I only stopped for about 3 hours of sleep - sorry Rick!
At the 2012 Rainbow Gathering
I hope You took time to read the previous update. There you can find a bit of info about The Rainbow Gathering, which is where The Photo Palace Bus has been all this time. The following section contains a recount of my first experience of having a bus at The Rainbow.
This year 40th anniversary Rainbow Gathering was held in the north-east corner of Tennessee in the beautiful Cherokee National Forest right by the picturesque (and warm) lake that provided refuge from the 100°F heat at times combined with 80% humidity.
Previously to going there I was updated by some of my good friends that parking was tough (as is almost always is for Eastern Gathering) and the meadow designated for Bus Village was incredibly small and was already filled with buses belonging to various kitchens (and those always get priority because people not only live in them full time, but also because they do have a lot of equipment and supplies that they need to haul in and out of The Gathering). About a week prior to our arrival I was informed that my chances of parking in Bus Village were slim and getting slimmer day by day. Other than that tiny meadow all the rest of the parking was along a dirt road with a sizable ditch running alongside of it. I was not about to give up my long-distance struggle and tried my best to secure a parking place in Bus Village.
To my sheer joyous amazement and relief my friends Davijon and J'ai came through and against all odds told me that there will indeed be a parking space waiting for Gilli. Pulling into The Gathering is always a bit of a stress - parking is never easy even with a car, the presence of countless hippies and their dogs on a narrow dirt road is disorienting and confusing, there are often police road-blocks or check points along the route and the actual directions are rarely clear. To an unfamiliar eye the parking scene can resemble a scene from 'Mad Max' the movie and to top it off The Photo Palace Bus arrived on site at about 2 o'clock in the morning. Davijon, a prominent figure at one of the biggest kitchens called Lovin' Ovens and a personal friend of mine for over a decade, waited patiently on the VERY LAST parking space into which my 35ft Gilli could possibly fit.
After puling off a backing-up parking maneuver job that frankly surprised even me I found myself surrounded by buses and people. They all wanted to know about the bus: how it was built, its purpose and so on.
During the conversation I discovered a very pleasant surprise. Apparently a large stack of 8x8 black and white prints, which I left with a 'Free Photos' sign one year ago at the previous Gathering in Washington state, has been cared for and made its way to this gathering on board one of the three buses belonging to Phat Kids Kitchen. I was deeply touched to see and hear how much appreciation was shown towards my work.
I must admit I was utterly exhausted after a two day marathon of a drive from Oklahoma City during which I had about 2.5 hours of sleep. However when I heard about the lake being just 20 meters from The Bus I had to leave Ryan and Rick to go for a swim with a group of random but energetic folks I met while taking a walk by the buses. Usually I am not the one to go out at night and dive into the water at a lake I have never been to before (we all know how that can end up), but this time I did a front flip off a tree branch as soon as someone who was already in the water told me where the deep spot is. The water, which was warmer than the night air, engulfed me and in an instant helped me realize the incredulity of having realized the wonderful film-junkie dream of mine. When I came up to the surface I knew I was Home.
In the morning I did re-park the bus a few hundred yards away from the other buses - as much as I loved the idea of history coming back full circle and me parking in Bus Village after a 15-year wait, I did realize that the chaotic atmosphere of the Village would not be conducive to serious concentration on art. As we arrived on site on the 22nd of June there was still ample parking along the roadside and I found a relatively flat and shaded spot for Gilli.
After this rather detailed description of the first few hours on site I will spare You the myriad details of the rest of The Gathering and will concentrate solely on Photo Palace related material.
I am happy to say that, as planned, the very first developing and printing session took place on that very same spot just a few days later. After setting up camp and getting my bearings straight in an unfamiliar and heavily wooded forest I decided that the first image to be processed on The Bus should be an image taken at this Gathering. I brought out my Rolleiflex line-up and did a short photo-walk. I must admit, after being a designer/carpenter/plumber and so on over the past 4 months my fingers were a bit rusty with the camera. After about an hour I felt I had enough to work with and retreated to The Bus. There, trembling with anticipation, I mixed up some Kodak HC-110 and developed the first roll - Verichrome Pan 120, expiration 1981. On it was a frame that I deemed to be of appropriate quality to become the first ever image to be printed on board The Photo Palace Bus.... Currently I am searching the entire bus looking for those prints - it's a bit of a mess since Ryan left The Photo Palace Bus and things had to be reconfigured.
At the Gathering arts and crafts are always appreciated. I scheduled and held the Places first workshop - it was a lecture on camera formats (from Minox to 4x5) and a cyanotype demo during which people made their own sun prints of local plants a la Anna Atkins.
Also I held the first portrait session using a 10x20ft backdrop that had to be dragged up the mountain from The Bus. It was not easy to carry it along with the stands for about a mile and a half and the lighting in Tennessee woods was splotchy and dark, so I am not expecting that every frame will be a winner.
All in all about 26 rolls of film plus 5-6 Polaroid packs were filled with content on a total of 9 cameras. This was also the first attempt of mine to shoot the new Impossible Project - 600 Silver Shade UV+. I am happy to say that it was much much better than the previous films of theirs that I have tried and now I have some hope that, with a bit of support from instant photography enthusiasts, they will indeed someday catch up to the quality of original Polaroid films. Here is one of my favorite images from that pack.
I am indeed sorry to have to inform you all that Ryan Kalem is no longer part of this journey. I met Ryan in 2007 in the darkroom of San Jose State University. He expressed interest in my prints from the Rainbow on which I was working and I was happy to share with him the information both about the prints and the subject matter. In 2009 I took him to his first Gathering in New Mexico and there I shared with him the vision for building a mobile darkroom inside of a school bus. He instantly took to the idea and has been very committed to the idea of traveling in it upon graduation. As some of you may know, I have been planning this venture since 1997 when I was only 19 myself, but it really took a promise of a young energetic partner to get ready and to finalize the decision. Last August Ryan found Gilli on eBay and I purchased it with the money I have been saving over the past few years specifically for this project. Ryan was instrumental in the building process and so was his father Lee Kalem.
It is with regret that I have to inform You, my dear reader, that we parted ways yesterday, right at the beginning of what promises to be a very exciting ride.
I wish the very best to Ryan as a photographer and look forward to his post-graduate development as an artist and can't wait to see what fascinating and original ideas he will come up with and implement.
Finally we got our California Arts Council license plates! I have to thank my mother for going to the Department of Motor Vehicles for me and turning in my old plates and mailing out the new ones out to TN. San Diego DMV is never fun and she was a trooper for going through with it.
Well, now that the weather had cooled down enough for me to concentrate I'm going to dive into the darkrom and see how many of these rolls I can process in one night (trouble is I only have one roll film washer and it fits a maximum of 2 120 + 1 35mm rolls so it's going to be a lot slower than when I work in my San Diego darkroom where I have a tank that fits up to 8 120 rolls at a time...)