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?).