Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Des Moines IA - Christian Photo Store

   This is the first time two updates were written on the same day - I feel like a writer more than a photographer/driver, but I think any film shooters living around or passing through this part of the country may appreciate this quick info.

   While driving through Des Moines I stopped by Christian Photo today and found a wonderfully receptive and kind staff there who were genuinely excited to see The Photo Palace Bus outside of their establishment.  Located on the northern part of town it is one of the bigger camera stores that I have found along this journey.  I was happy to find a great selection of film (including the hard to find Fuji FP3000b) and a full line-up of darkroom supplies that's enough to start printing with.



  Also they do have two cases full of film cameras - the one that is not pictured is more of a regular student selection and includes a good number of AE-1s and other cameras of similar type.  The one I liked better is located behind the counter on the wall and has some nifty finds - if anyone wants a good deal on a Stereo Realist for just $50 (I checked it out and all the speeds are working, unlike in mine...) or a Contax RTS (Didn't ask how much that one was) - do give them a call at 515-270-8030 and I'm sure they'd be happy to help out.  There was also a very odd old fold-out 35mm German camera the name of which I forget now, but all the shutter speeds were working great and it seems like for $30 it might have been a great deal, if only I had the extra $30 to spend... It is pictured on the same shelf as the RTS, third from left.  Also - a fair deal on a Rolleiflex RIII lens hood - considering what I see them fetch these days on eBay $50 is not bad...

  Thank you Christian Photo for your enthusiasm and commitment to film!  Here's to many more years in business and to film never going away.

Anton

P.S. I am sorry I won't be able to make it to your photo walk-about tomorrow - it sounds like fun, but I would love to get two days to dig through and see what I can find in the archives of Topeka concerning some photos I have from 100 years ago, so I'm on the way there right after I post this and hopefully I'll make the 260 miles in one shot...  I'll be back though and hope to catch one of these events next time.  Cheers!

Minnesota update No.2 - Lumen print, Museum of Russian Art, Darkroom Equipment.

  Minnesota was definitely fun enough to grant a second update, so I'm writing it from a rest area located on I-35 about 90 miles north of Des Moines before attacking that city (Photographically-speaking.... don't want home-land security folks alerted by this).  I will do my very best to keep this one short as I do want to get on the road and I can feel Gilli heating up by the minute - it's going to be in the 90s here today.

  While staying at my dear friend Alecia's place I tried out a new (for me) technique called Lumen printing.  It's a great way to make good use of some old fogged paper and it was actually suggested to me by Mark Osterman of George Eastman House.  All one needs for this process is some gelatin silver paper, plant life, contact printing frame (or simply a heavy piece of glass with a flat support) and regular fixer.  Toner is optional and I will experiment with that later.  Essentially this is a contact printing technique that makes use of the fact that enough UV light will turn the silver salts withing photo paper dark without need to develop the image out.  You would place a leaf in contact with paper under glass and expose it for a good amount of time to our old friend The Sun.  You can watch the paper turning darker shades starting right away, but it took me giving it about a 15 minute exposure in order to get good definition within the leaf itself.  After exposure just bring the frame inside a dimly-lit room and immerse the photo paper into a fixing bath.  That's all!  You can use the plethora of available toners to create the desired shade, but I kinda like the way that the straight print looks.  Experimentation is the key here as the image may look fine when you first look at it, but does bleach out a bit in the fixing bath.
  Here is a frame while being exposed and the resulting image (the swirls on the lower third of the image are my reflection upon the surface of the glossy Kodak RC paper - in reality it's a pretty smooth pleasantly consistent background)


  After leaving Alecia's I had a feeling that there may be something else in Minneapolis that I needed to do, so I found a wi-fi spot and searched around the art scene to see what was happening that day.  I found a lot of 'Daily' listings for multiple pages-worth of museums, but none of them really called to me until I came upon a blurb about The Museum of Russian Art, which just happened to be hosting a Soviet photography exhibit.  Wow!  What a coincidence - I just could not pass that up.  
  
  I decided to combine the pleasureful with productive and called up the curator (who is actually Russian herself), told her a little about the research I'm doing about the YMCA slides from Russia 1917-18 and was very happy to hear that she was willing to meet with me later that afternoon. 

  On my way to Minneapolis I drove down Hwy 77 where I found this wonderfully picturesque old house - crushed by a maple tree and abandoned many years ago.  I went to town with multiple cameras on this little find and here is an image taken with Fuji FP100c - 4 exposures.

   I pulled up to the museum about 3:30 and parked right in front of the museum, which is housed in a very neat-looking building.

  You can find a lot more information about this wonderful organization HERE.  It was not long before Dr. Maria Zavialova (museum curator) came to the lobby to meet me and led me into the conference room in the back.  We spent a good deal of time pouring over the 300+ scanned magic lantern slides on my computer and she seemed very interested in their content and the photographic abilities of Mr. Rahill himself.  She said that this collection could be well worth showing and we are going to proceed to communicate further about that.   I am very excited with this opportunity as this is actually the only museum in US dedicated solely to Russian motifs and I think this would be a great kick-off for this body of work that has not seen the light of day in 85+ years.  

  After the slides were all looked through and discussed it was already past the closing time at the museum, but Maria was kind enough to turn the lights back on in the photo exhibit and I suddenly found myself having minor childhood flash-backs. 

  The show consists of vintage black and white prints found by a particular collector during his multiple trips to Russia.  Here is the introductory write-up about Mr. Thomas Werner himself.

  I like the arrangement of the space withing with gallery and the tonal range chosen for the paint and displays.  There were also some old-school Russian cameras on display, which made me relate to the show even more.





  The images ranged from professional to amateur creating a good range of print quality of subject matter.  I enjoyed seeing images paired up - a glamorized propaganda image next to a gritty real-life snap shot.  There were quite a few of them and they really gave a good insight into the life of ordinary Russian folks.

  One of the images had some pretty neat darkroom work put into it - it was a professional photo taken for an old Soviet publication dealing with mining.  Interesting dodging and burning makes that image stand out from the straight-forward printing style in the rest of the exhibition.


  I recommend anyone who is interested in Russian imagery and finds themselves in Minneapolis area to stop by the museum - the show will be up through September 23rd.

  After exiting the museum Maria showed the true value of Russian hospitality and invited me for tea at her house.  How could I say no to that?  She lived only one house away from the museum and I didn't even have to move Gilli. 
  We had a lovely conversation over some deliciously strong tea, made with mint from her own garden, and buckwheat honey plus some quick sandwiches that totally made me road-ready.
  Maria wrote an interesting dissertation on symbolism in art and interpretation as carried between cultures.  I found myself on the same page with her - to each of us symbols and imagery carry a significantly varied meaning dictated by our personal past along with the culturally accepted norms, so in general truly figurative abstract communication is close to impossible when different cultures and time periods are involved.  In fact, even when communication happens one-on-one and in real time we chose to speak while making assumptions based on our past experiences and knowledge while the listener is left to interpret the words through his/her own memory filters, so, the lesson is, be very careful in your wording if you want to be clearly understood and followed.  I also agree with Maria that some basic generalities can indeed speak through time and across cultures due to the inherently similar experiences that we all go through due to having to deal with the basic nature of being Human - that gives me some hope that we can all relate in the long run.
 
  After leaving Maria's place at around 7pm I saw that I missed a call from an earlier e-mail I sent out in response to a Craigslist ad that I answered to.  I can not help, but to look up ads for any darkroom equipment in various cities I visit and sometimes the timing actually works out for me to go and look at it in person.  This was one of those times and within a half an hour (after giving a quick photo-history lesson to some random, but interested and eager, visitors who saw the bus and were intrigued) I found myself meeting Barbara and her family at the old printing shop on 48th street.

  Ah, the days when every print shop, every company, every school and a slew of other image-thirsty companies HAD to have a darkroom in the back room or basement...  Those were the good-old days and I only wish I could have been alive and active in photography during those times.  What we have left now are the shambles of that film culture being cleared out of those spaces to make room for computer desks and office chairs.  Luckily there are still plenty of nooks and crannies that hold small photographic treasures out there and this was one of those occasions.
 
  If anyone reading this in Minneapolis area would like to start a darkroom of their own please let me know and I can probably connect you to Barbara.  You can also go to Zumbro Restaurant - have a good meal and ask her husband about the equipment there in person.  I got the warmest reception there and it is only my loss that I decided to drive out before the morning as I was graciously offered a meal there on the house due to my current financial woes and general analog enthusiasm. 

  Equipment for sale and still there includes a 35mm Durst enlarger in great shape, two Thomas-duplex safe-lights and a few smaller ones as well, print trays galore, a nice big darkroom sink (in need of cleaning, but it would be pretty groovy-looking after some scrubbing), light-table for transparencies (I don't understand this contraption - it has a spray of water coming over whatever you put on it, so it's not to squeegee anything off, but possibly to examine film while it's still wet..?) and a beautiful stat camera (!), which by the looks of it is capable of making graphic negatives of up to 20 or 24 inches.  I would have totally grabbed that beast, but right now it would have taken up the entire hallway of the bus and I'd have to climb around it on the table to get to the darkroom....  However, I was lucky enough to have Barbara hand me over plenty of odds and ends including some Agfa and Ilford paper, fixer, developers (including my favorites Rodinal and HC-110) and toners, some of which I have never heard of, but with which I am looking very much forward to experimenting.  Here's a quick shot of the treasures rescued this time around.



  I took off from the city feeling fairly accomplished an with a definite intent to be back there for a more prolonged period of time during my next trip to this part of the country.

  After I got some diesel at a local Flying-J truck stop I found that the entrance back onto I-35 was under construction and I had to take a detour down a long country highway.  The signs were pretty confusing and I took a wrong turn at one point - it didn't take me long to realize I'm going the wrong way though.  I mean, c'mon, any time you see a sign like this you KNOW you're going the wrong way...




Anton.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Southbound Route Change Announcement

   If there's anything I have learned during my 34 years on this planet that is 'always go with your gut feeling - go against it and bad things are bound to happen'. 

  Lats night I had a feeling that going back to San Diego via the northern route is not the way to go.  I was going to go toward Seattle and then down I-5 through Portland and northern California.  I was indeed looking forward to visiting some friends along the way and am sorry if I have gotten some hopes up without fulfilling them.  The two major factors that played into this decision are money and mountains.  

  First, for me to go through Seattle is going to add an extra 800 or so miles onto the trip and I just don't have the energy to raise that amount along the way.  As it is I am already about $700 short of what I will need to keep The Photo Palace Bus filled with diesel and am going to have to work pretty hard in order not to live on credit (I Hate living on credit - that's how most Americans get themselves in trouble to begin with).  And second, in order to go directly west from here to Seattle I would have to pass a major mountain pass in Montana, then from Oregon to California and then again right above Los Angeles.  Plus, right now I would have to do it all alone and driving a school bus alone is pretty boring and is much harder than even with a constantly-sleeping partner.  Gilli does not like to go uphill and I would be going about 15 miles per hour in first gear for about 10 hours.  Any number of things can go wrong during that long of a stretch of pushing a 34 year-old vehicle to its limit.  Again, it all circles back to budgeting - if I had a repair fund with a few thousand dollars (which is actually what one really needs to set out on the road during this type of a venture), I would totally chance it right now and go directly west.  As it is - I'm going to play it safe and go diagonally in order to bypass most of the mountains and to cut 1/3rd out of my diesel budget.

  I am not at all disappointed in the way things turned out - I think for the inaugural trial run just for me to go from San Diego straight to Maine and back is a pretty good achievement and I even went as far south as Tennessee and as far west as Minnesota.  Let's see what adventures await Gilli and me on our way back - can't wait!

  So here is a map showing the route we are going to take on our way back to San Diego.


  On my way I'm going to visit Topeka Kansas and dig in the local libraries for more information regarding the magic lantern slides from WWI- era Russia taken by John W Rahill.  That is the city that he presented those slides to the congregation at the church he was working at after returning to America.  I hope to get a glimpse into the way he presented them from local newspapers, which I hope are available in Topeka.

  I urge anyone who reads this and lives along this route to contact me and I would be happy to meet up with them.  I also would love to know what, if anything, is happening that I'll be driving by - any festivals, art shows and walks, gatherings... anything at all that would make for a good opportunity to take some good pictures or to raise gas funds by selling prints.

  Here is a better details on how we are going to travel - down I-35 through Minneapolis and Des Moines, further down the same freeway to Kansas City, Wichita and Topeka.  From there I'll take country roads to cut across Kansas and pop out on I-40 around the town of Tucumcan NM and then through Albuquerque.  After that I'm pretty open to suggestions.  If anything interesting is happening in Las Cruses, Phoenix or Tucson I would be happy to stop by there.  

  I will be taking it a nit slower on my way back because I want to shoot a lot more than I have been so far.  Two days ago I developed a few rolls of film and found some really neat images on them, so I'm fired up to shoot more before I get home.  Unfortunately I'll be out of the area of really big cities and the ones I'll be passing through on my way back are more of a drive/shop/drive back home places, so my favorite street documentary stuff is going to be harder to get...  Well, I'm sure I'll make the best of what I encounter.

Anton.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Minnesota update plus Daguerreotype Copy

  Well, I made it all the way to Minnesota and am spending a few days at my friend Alecia's place in the woods next to Duluth.  It's super quiet and I finally had a good nights sleep and got time today to develop some film and do some printing.  I'm running out of prints to sell to keep Gilli gassed up and tomorrow is an event at which I hope to raise some more funds, so a print session was sorely needed.  I will probably stay up pretty late trying to knock out at many images taken during this trip as possible.

  On the way here last night a rather exciting thing happened.  I relied on my phone to lead me to lead me to the destination and ignored Alecia's warning and direction that she e-mailed me prior to me leaving Minneapolis... Bad move!  I got slightly lost and decided to turn around on a two-lane highway while having Alecia on speaker.  It was just after dark and I did not notice that the road was flanked by two rather deep ditches.  I pulled the nose of the bus into some random driveway and tried to back up...  The rear wheels slipped off the road and into the ditch and when I put the transmission in drive and gave it some gas nothing happened and I heard the tires spinning!  I was STUCK!  The situation was rather dire - in front of me was that driveway that I just turned out of with a ditch on either side, behind me was a ditch and I was blocking the entire two lanes of that dinky little road.  Just to the left of me the road curved, so if anyone was coming around that bend and were going anywhere near the 55pmh speed limit they could have plowed right into the left side of The Photo Palace and then things would have been really ugly.  Alecia got to hear a nice loud string of swear words as I was at first panicking, then revving the engine in hopes that Gilli would overcome the hill of the ditch plus the height of the pavement.  After I realized the futility of my actions I decided to take a chance and back up a bit more and take that jump with a little momentum behind me.  You can not imagine the relief I felt when that course of action worked and Gilli jumped out of that darn ditch and sprinted into the flats of the driveway.  Not 5 seconds later there was indeed a car speeding around the corner, so I think I got out just in time.  Had I been still blocking that road the car would have surely slammed right into the side of the bus.  Upon close examination during the light of day I was happy to see that by some miracle Gilli's belly was undamaged.
  Moral of the story - never try to turn a 35ft vehicle around at night on a two-lane road with which you are not familiar with.

  Tomorrow is Hillfest - an annual community event for the hill-side part of Duluth.  There will be games, bands, vendors and plenty of foot traffic.  I am very happy to be involved in it and to have two parking spots reserved on the soon-to-be blocked off part of town.  I hope to make some more connections and interest people in photography by providing them a quick tour of the darkroom and a walk-through of historic photographic processes.

   Speaking of historic processes.  In the arsenal of The Photo Palace Bus there is now a modern-day daguerreotype!  I spoke with Rob via e-mail and confirmed that I could post this image and tell the world about his incredible generosity.  Not only did he give me a walk-through of making a daguerreotype image, but in the end he painstakingly finished and framed one of the two frames taken of The Bus and me and presented it to me as a gift!  I was really floored.  He stayed up until 4:30am doing this and I know for a fact that he has never ever given away one of these precious objects before.  I guess we really did click and my passion for all vintage stuck a special note withing his big heart.  I hope beyond hope that next time I'm in Buffalo I will be able to actually pay Rob a fair fee for a full hands-on workshop and produce a real daguerreotype all on my own.  Moreover - I urge anyone who is interested in this historic an incredibly beautiful technique to do the same.  You will not find a better, more devoted and clear-spoken teacher than Rob McElroy and I believe, whatever the fee is, it will be worth every penny.  His technique is unparalleled and every step down to sealing the final image is thought through with utmost care.

  I an sorry for the keystone effect - this is the best copy I could produce in the field conditions.  Daguerreotypes are extremely reflective and without a special rig it is impossible to take pictures of them head-on.  When I get home to San Diego I will do my very best to get a better copy and post it here in replacement of what you see below.
© Rob McElroy 2012

OK, back to the darkroom!

Anton

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bufflo update No.2 - Anniversary, Niagara Falls, best Polaroid so far and Daguerreotype workshop.

  My experience in Buffalo definitely deserves another in-depth update, so on my way westward I stopped in a little college town called North East and am going to attempt to summarize yesterdays events.

  First off I would like to once again say that yesterday was an extra special day because it was on the same date in 2011 that I saw the bus that was to become The Photo Palace Bus in a Frezno CA parking lot and paid the premium price, which she is worth every penny of.  In the last year we had some amazing times, she taught me a lot of skills and treated me more wonderfully than I could have ever hoped for.  Here's to Gilli-the-Gillig! May she go with ease wherever her headlights point and I hope I'll always be there.

  As I mentioned in my previous post I did not raise enough funds during the weekend to attend an Ambrotype workshop by Mark Osterman, which is being held right now at George Eastman House in Rochester.  I was a bit upset about that, but knew that something will work out and am still determined to come back and take that and many more classes offered by that fine institution.

  I am a strong proponent of the idea of good things coming to those who believe in them with all their heart, which is something that allowed me many times to go on in the face of adversity.  Indeed, during the late Sunday afternoon I received a text message from Mr. Rob McElroy.  He was still enjoying the company of his wonderful girlfriend Patsy as they were finishing up his birthday celebrations.  He informed me that, if I am not involved in the ambrotype workshop on Monday, I would be welcomed to observe him as he made a few test daguerreotypes.  I can't relate to you how elated I was to hear that - ambrotype is an interesting technique, but it is quite a bit less involved than the making of a daguerreotype.  I quickly accepted this generous offer and for the rest of the day felt like a bit giddy in anticipation of the upcoming experience.

  As the night was closing in I packed up my photo display and waited to go see Niagara Falls.  I have never been there and went to see them at night to have my own private natural experience free of tourist crowds.  That turned out to be a splendid idea and when I got to Goat Island, which lays between the falls on the American side of the border, it was already about 2 am.  I had the place all to myself and ws able to set up a tripod and take two exposures - one using a Rolleiflex 2.8F and one with Polaroid 600SE using the Fuji FP100c film that I purchsed the day before from Delaware camera.  Here is the result of the Polaroid exposure - I actually waited till the morning to pull and develop it as it was quite cold outside and I wanted to wait until a warmer time to allow the chemistry do all it can on this 20+ minute exposure.  I was happy to see the outcome - it actually looks quite a bit lighter and more festive than what I saw, but that's the beauty of the photographic art - it can transform a relatively eerie and overwhelming scene into a quite inviting and festive one.


  After spending about an hour listening to the rushing water and waiting for enough light to strike the film I headed back into town and parked in the Allentown district of Buffalo just as the bars were closing and their inebriated patrons were starting to stumble home.  I heard that Allentown area is the more artsy part of town and was hoping to make some more print and Polaroid sales while waiting for Rob to get home in the afternoon.

  Buffalo is a pretty slow town when colleges are out and during the day I really didn't get anywhere hear the flow of traffic that I was hoping for.  However Gilli did attract the attention of a few art-minded folks and I was able to raise another half-a-tank of diesel mostly via doing instant portraits for $15/pop.  As an artist who values every image equally I am actually rather sad to let go of these little 3.25x4.25in treasures, but I hope people will appreciate them as much as I would or more.  This is one of the better ones that I produced yesterday and I just had to duplicate it in order to not have it fade away and get lost in the dusty files of my faulty memory.


  Her name is Rebecca and after talking to me first she actually went home and changed her outfit for this shoot.  She was there with her none-less beautiful sister and friend and they walked away with a total of three instant images.  They also had a blast using Gilli as a prop and shot a ton of digital photos all around her interior and exterior.  I think the above image really does capture the moment well and The Photo Palace Bus' spirit of Photographic Bohemia is evident in it. 

  As afternoon was approaching my heart started to beat faster and I was becoming impatient to see Rob once again and get to witness him in the midst of artistic creation.  The flow of onlookers did not allow me to leave my parking spot till just after 5pm and I headed to Rob's place as fast as I could.

  He instructed me to park right in front of his studio in a little parking lot in which I was unsure that I could turn Gilli around.  By the time I pulled up it was actually empty of all but two cars and I was able to pull a 7-point maneuver that left the front facing the exit (always make sure you have a clear way out when traveling in a 35ft vehicle).

  I was under the full impression that I was about to simply observe the making of a Daguerreotype, which would have been a huge pleasure in itself.  Within a minute though I saw Rob emerge from his front door carrying a tripod with a 4x5 camera complete with lens and focusing cloth.  This could have only meant one thing, but I still had to ask before the reality of what was happening set in in my brain - Mr. McElroy was about to take a capture Gilli and me; that was his 'test'!  I don't know how I managed to pull myself together to take these few images while he was setting up.  


  Rob was working very quickly as the sun was setting and thick clouds were starting to roll across its face considerably cutting down the amount of light.  Daguerreotype plates have an approximate ISO rating of 0.1 so Rob wanted to take full advantage of every available photon.

  The exposures were about 1 minute long and I got to experience what the portrait sitters had to deal with in mid-19th century.  It's no wonder you rarely see a lot of smiling portraits from that era - I assure you, even the happiest jolliest person will have a really hard time holding a perfectly still believable smile for that length of time while also trying to hold every other part of their body equally motionless.  If you don't trust me try it on your own in front of a mirror.  I think overall I did pretty good on standing still and I didn't bother trying to smile, though every part of my inner being was jumping with joy in realization of what was happening.

  After two exposures were taken we rushed the plates indoors as, according to Rob, daguerreotypes tend to lose contrast the longer one allows them to sit between exposure and development.  

  I have always wanted to see a plate being developed by the action of fumes of mercury.  Back in the early days of photography this action was carried out simply by holding the plate over a metal cup filled with mercury with a burner under it.  Needless to say, now that the harmful effects of its fumes have been identified, mercury development takes place inside a fume-box with good air ventilation that takes the gas away from the photographer.  Rob actually told me a story about one early daguerreotypist who apparently went mad from those fumes and drowned himself in a two foot deep creek by tying a rock to his neck and throwing himself in...  I'm glad that the technology has improved since than and that Rob and other people who work in that medium are no longer in danger of losing their minds as the effect of the craft they love.  Here is Rob loading the first plate into the fume box and a close-up of his self-constructed apparatus.



   After the development the plate goes into a bath of Hypo.  After several rinses, it gets toned with gold chloride where the contrast of the image is increased.  While the plate is suspended in a perfectly level position, the chloride is poured over it and is held in place under its own surface tension.  A flame is quickly passed under it evenly heating the combination to a vary certain temperature, which Rob kept careful track of using an infrared thermometer.  Here is a vary short clip showing the two images that were developed in rapid succession sitting in plain water baths after toning.  You can see that the plate on the left (exposure No.1) had a lot of blue show up in it - that's the early stages of daguerrean solarization and it can be rather beautifully exploited.
video


  The last step is drying the plate and that, as Rob put it, is the moment of magic in this process similar to the period of the appearance of a gelatin silver black and white image in a developer bath.  Only at that point can the photographer see the full results of his/her labor.  Here is a shot I managed to get where you can see the last streaks of water being chased away by a simple hair dryer.

 Robs images are nearly flawless!  Along with having an artistically-oriented  soul he is a truly obsessive craftsman.  Only that way can one achieve a spot-free daguerreotype image.  I invite all of you to visit www.cdags.org and closely examine the work of various artists working with this medium and, after admiring the evaluate their creative merits, go through them and try to find images that are as clean and perfect as those by Rob McElroy.  I had a hard time finding any daguerreotypes that surpassed his in that category (I didn't look through ALL of them yet, but I did look at a fair amount).

  Of course what I described so far were only the final steps of the process.  Rob is planning on silvering his own plated in the future to cut down on the cost, which gets pretty high when sending them copper plated to a professional electroplating company.  I did get to see the meticulous polishing of the plate, careful sensitization of it with fumes of iodine and infusion of sensitivity with fumes of bromine next as Rob prepared one more plate to be exposed using electronic flash.  Rob was the first one to have ever succeed in this technique and now I had a pleasure (and terror) of being his subject under the intimidating set-up of an array of lights that I mentioned in the last post.  It appears that when he popped the flash onto my outstretched arm he did not even turn on 1/2 of all the lights that he was going to use this time and I got a bit nervous as I sat behind a modest posing table surrounded by enough lights to light up 10 Winston O. Links train scenes - all about 1.5ft away from me.  He had to of course test the light, which requires quite a few pops... Every time he'd say 'close your eyes' I would get an uneasy feeling in my gut in anticipation of the coming wave of light.  There was not a single time that he fired the set-up that I did not involuntarily jumped in my seat - the combination of all these light was incredibly powerful and the sound of them going off could be can be compared to being slapped hard on both ears with firm pillows.  The action of light was so strong that I started sweating immediately after the first test and one time Robs hand was a little too close to the bank of lights on the side and I could clearly smell burning hair...  Here I am baffled by my experience and wearing the retouching glasses that I chose to be shot in.

  Rob did repeat a few times that the process of making a daguerreotype image is a fickle one and sometimes things happen without the knowledge of the artist which result in pretty much utter failure.  This was one of those times, but I don't think it was due to anything Rob did carelessly - the image just came out thin and I post it here only as a reminder to myself of the whole experience and not as a show of Robs skills.  I am not an easy subject to beautify and he did his best...  You can see the Rolleiwide that I'm holding in the lower right corner of the frame - I think it was well-worth trying to record this legendary camera with such a noble technique.  I do like how a mysterious white clouds that appeared for no reason on this plate alone make it look like my hair is smoking - it very closely relates what I was feeling.
  I do think that the first two plates came out so perfectly because Rob coated them alone without my distraction and this one was done close to midnight and with me butting in during every possibly step with a million questions, all of which he answered diligently and patiently.  From my repsonal experience I know it's hard to make a perfect silver print while teaching the process to a newbie - making a daguerreotype as solid as the rest of his work while doing the same must be 100x harder if not completely impossible...  
(added 8/24/2012 - upon further communication with Rob McElroy I once again state that this was a REJECT image and is nowhere near the quality of work that he is know for - he cordially allowed me to release it and indeed I am thankful for it because the original plate has been wiped and is awaiting a new much better image.  Rob did confirm that it was the coating process that was the reason of failure, which validates my suspicion that my own presence and distraction was to blame)

  The entire process is extremely delicate and tedious, but I saw no sign of it getting to be old for Rob - as he was going through the steps that he must have repeated hundreds of times in his lifetime he explained them to me with attention to detail and clarity that I rarely experienced in all my yeas of education.  I did my best to keep as of detailed of notes as I could (that was especially difficult during the steps that have to be carried out under the light of just a few dim amber safe lights), but I will definitely have to come back to him for a refresher course when and if I am ever brave enough to attempt making my own daguerreotype image.

  Rob, if you read this, Thank You so so much once again for taking me through this experience of a lifetime.  I am more energized than ever before during this trip.

  Now I am slowly but surely making my way toward Minnesota.  I think I may stop in Madison Wisconsin as I have very fond memories of that place from 10 years ago.  Back then I was traveling with my friend Garry and was raising gas money by for our white Ford F150 Econoline van by making cyanotype prints from Polaroid 55PN negatives right on the sidewalks of various towns and cities.  I had a great time in Madison and even was the only featured artist published by the University of Madison in their literary magazine.  It is entirely possible that I will not make it there as I am really anxious to get to the YMCA archives in Minneapolis and dig into them in hopes of finding some clarifying information related to the collection of magic lantern slides that has to be a topic of an entirely different post as I-90 and 1000 miles await.

Anton Orlov

  

  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Buffalo - Rob McElroy and International Day of Photography

  It's a little late in the day, but I would still like to congratulate all those who have ever taken a picture, in particular those who consider themselves photographers and especially those who use the magic of darkroom techniques to produce their images.  Today is our day -  International Day of Photography.  It was on August 19th 1839 that the secret of a new process called Photography, by which images from camera obscura could be made to permanently and automatically captured upon a surface, was announced to the rest of the world by a French scientist Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre.   

  It was a new and exciting concept as now nature could be recorded with a higher degree of detail than ever before.  No longer did we rely the selective fancy of an artist to pick and chose what should and what should not be recorded upon a canvas.  Now all that was needed was a solid knowledge of this new process and a good camera with a sharp lens and the world around us was translated in minutia upon the surface of a silvered copper plate via a chemical reaction of light upon the salts of silver.
  
  Needless to say, throughout the past 173 years many technical innovations and artistic movements that aspired to define the visual syntax of this art-form have influenced our perception and treatment of images produced. In 1839 though all this was still in the future and the eager public was just happy that they didn't need to learn how to draw in order to relate the world around them in the way that they experienced it to the coming generations.

  I respect the effort that was put forth by camera-men of the past.  Today I sing praise to those who developed daguerreotypes in a tent with the fumes of mercury; the civil war-time tintypists, who built rolling darkrooms in order to record the carnage; pictorialists, who tirelessly experimented with new printing methods in order to have photography recognized as one of Fine Arts; members of F64, who finally and clearly defined photography's own unique voice and value and all those who have seen the world through the eyes of the camera and loved it.  Today is Your Day.

  As it happens, it was exactly a year ago that I set out from San Diego in my old Toyota and drove 400 miles north to meet Gilli-the-Gillig.  The bus that was to become The Photo Palace was purchased a few days before on eBay and now I was finally to see it in person.  I was unaware of the significance of the date of my departure until Garrison Keillor of my favorite radio station, NPR, announced it in his quiet pleasant voice.  My heart melted and I knew that I had something truly special about happen to me.  Coincidences like that don't happen often and some say that there are no such things as coincidences at all.

  Today also happens to be the birthday of Rob McElroy - a most incredible photographic enthusiast whom I had a pleasure of meeting last night in Buffalo NY.  Here's the story of my presence in this picturesque town.

  Yesterday I pulled into town about noon and drove Gilli to a camera store called Delaware Camera.  There I finally restocked on some Fuji instant film and took a look at the small selection of used film cameras and accessories that they had there.  I must say that the pickings were slim, but if anyone reading needs a Nikkromat for a decent price of a Leica R with a 35-70 - do give them a call.  While I was browsing I struck up a conversation with Eric, who was the one man behind the counter who seemed like film camera era occupied most of his time as a photographer.  Upon mentioning that I am traveling in a darkroom bus Eric became more excited than most people and exclaimed that he remembers The Photo Palace Bus from the days of Kickstarter!  He was eager to meet Gilli and see the darkroom and even summoned a few of his staff and customers with the words 'you got to see this, this is pretty cool'.  I instantly felt a connection there and we spent a good amount of time in The Bus.  In the end they took some pictures of me (some using the above-mentioned Leica) and Eric even bought two nice prints from me.  As I was about to leave he mentioned that there is a daguerrotypist in town by the name of Rob McElroy and that I ought to meet him and printed out a page with his info.

  I did not call Rob right away as I was on a mission to raise the funds for the workshop, which I am sorry to announce I did not succeed in...  $300 was realized, but I can not afford to take the rest $225 out of the gas funds and now the amount raised will be put straight into the tank in the form of one fill-up that will carry Gilli and me about 500 miles westward.  I thank all those who came through in these past three days - I really appreciate it and I promise that some day I will go back to GEH and take that workshop and hopefully many more that are offered by Mr. Osterman.  I'm a bit sad that I will not be in Rochester tomorrow, but there will always be time for learning and indeed this is a continuous learning experience in itself - I have learned not to rely on too much on other peoples partnership and am slowly but steadily learning how to keep the road-life going on my own.  Plus yesterday was a very special day in the company of Mr. McElroy and it gave me enough inspiration to keep going with my chin lifted high.

  When I finally called Rob's number I got a long series of ring tones with no answering machine.  I was not about to hang up on a daguerreotypist because I have always wanted to meet one in person and I actually saw Rob's images a month or so back on a website devoted to contemporary daguerreotypes.  After a good two dozen ring tones to my relief I heard a cheerful Hello come from the other side and the adventure started from there.

  It appears I caught Rob right as he was leaving his house to go meet up with his girlfriend for a pre-birthday dinner and he was even planning on spending the night at her place as she had a full day planned ahead for the birthday boy complete with a mysterious surprise-getaway.   When I explained the nature of my call and photographic mission Rob became audibly excited and told me that he will re-arrange the entire evenings plan and that he'll call me right back after alerting his girlfriend.  He in fact did call me back in a couple of minutes and invited me to drive over and park Gilli in a large parking lot next to his studio/lab.  Apparently I was already less than a mile from it already and within a few minutes I found myself in the back of an interesting-looking building and Rob rushed out to greet The Photo Palace and me.

  The next 7 hours were a whirl-wind of photographic stimuli.  Rob is a true inspiration to anyone who is interested in the history of photography, equipment and all that was involved in the art and craft of image-making for the past 200 years.  He is someone I aspire to grow into when I get to be his age. 

  Not only does he produce amazing quality daguerreotypes, was the first one to use electronic flash for their production and built the first hand-held camera for their production, he also is a photo conservator, collector of everything ever associated with photography such as literature, prints and media, cameras and accessories and so much more that I was completely overwhelmed to be in the space that he occupies and calls home.  Here is one of his images - a daguerreotype made with the aid of flash!




  You may ask - How much flash power does it take to capture something like this?  Well, I had a pleasure and a surprise of finding out.  Here is the array of power-packs that Rob uses (note the ones in the back too).




  Each one of these babies is 3200W!  Rob turned on just over half of them and asked me to place my hand by the podium that he uses to set up the still-life compositions.  From my studio experience I am well-aware of the power that can be delivered by light, so I was a bit afraid, but stretched my bare arm into the general area, turned away and closed my eyes....  When he popped the button I saw every vein in my eyelids and felt light HITTING my arm.  Have you ever been blasted with light so hard that you felt it enter the pores of your skin and were afraid of actually losing your hair?  It's quite an experience, let me tell you!  Something that may be worth trying once in a lifetime and I'm glad I got to do it.  I think if he actually turned on ALL the power packs I might have lost my arm-hair and this technique may be a cool new way to lose the unwanted body hair as an alternative to shaving or waxing.  He may have something there with a little more experimentation...

  Rob led me around the house and showed me an office in which some of his favorite images were hanging.  Among his exquisite works were mixed in various prints that I instantly recognized ad those of the masters of old and the whole tour felt like a personal trip to some amazing museum archive.  I even got to handle a few real Autochromes and examined them under a loop!  There were WAY too many things that I saw that raised goosebumps upon my skin.  It was like walking in a dream - everything was real though.  His lab was incredible and he quickly showed me where he silvers the plates, buffs them out, fumes them with iodine and bromine and finally develops them with mercury.  90% of the equipment he uses is custom-manufactured by Rob himself and the craftsmanship and attention to detail is of the utmost highest degree.  

  Then it was time to go and take an all-too-quick look at his camera collection.  I say it was quick, but we must have spent a good hour in his garage/storage space and probably didn't pay any attention to but 1/50th of all that was there.  Among the most memorable cameras shown to me was this fantastic king of all toy cameras - a Kookie Kamera from late 50s.  This thing actually was meant to be loaded with direct-positive paper and  chemicals in a tank in its back and would actually produce a real black and white print in minutes!  That's what some lucky kids got to play with back in the day.  Here's Rob showing it off - you can just see how much he gets a kick out of it.  

And here is another amazing little find that is nestled upon the crowded shelves -  I have never seen such degree of proportions between a camera and its flash.  Mind you - the blue flash bulb is a regular-size one of about 1.5in in height.
  
 I don't think I have ever met a man that was more into photographic paraphernalia than Mr. McElroy and I truly loved being in his company.  His girlfriend Patsy was a delightful conversationalist as well, as I found out over a couple of drinks that she was kind enough to provide us in a local bar after the prolonged tour that Rob led me upon.  She is a more scheduled type though and I could see that being inside the garage surrounded by boxes stacked higher that one could reach made her rather nervous - I bet deep inside she wants to At Least dust all that stuff off and alphabetize it all.  

  I was feeling like an intruder and kept apologizing for showing up unannounced at such a special time to which both of them kept re-assuring me that it's not a big deal.  Empowered by that I hung around till 3am looking at things that I have never seen and may never see again and loving every second of it. 

  Rob - THANK YOU and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  In the morning Rob actually bought a print from me in support of my goal of taking that workshop and (I hope) also because he liked the image.  It was an image from my BFA show showing back-lit fern leaves and the pattern of their vein structure and shadows that they threw upon each other.  It was one of my favorite images out of the 365 that I did print for that show and it stood out strongly from all the rest as it was one of a handful that was not a candid street portrait.  When questioned by a professor about its nature and whether it belonged in the documentary show called 'The City', I replied that 'it belonged in the city as much as I do'.  

  Buffalo is a pretty neat-looking town and right now I'm going to head to see Niagara Falls before leaving town and heading west.  I think it's going to be fun seeing the falls at night - something different and in-tune with the rest of this crazy adventure.

  Don't know where I will be stopping before I make my way to Minnesota - the road is long and serendipitous adventures await!

Anton

Friday, August 17, 2012

Visit to Kodak Headquarters and Image City Gallery

  Today one of my long-time dreams came true - I got a chance to park The Photo Palace Bus right in front of the Kodak world headquarters building in Rochester!  What an amazing experience;  to have my darkroom in front of the central nervous system of the company that started it all (or at least popularized photography and brought film to the heights at which it once soared) was truly special.  Yes - Kodak is not what it used to be.  Yes - some nay-sayers say it's dead and gone.  Yes - some of their absolutely best products are nowhere to be found these days.  BUT - the spirit of Film remains. I feel that spirit and hope to be a part of perpetuation of its legacy well into the 21st century.  Therefore it was truly special to visit this legendary company at its heart.

  It appears that Jenny - chief blogger and the person responsible for social media at Kodak Co. actually noticed Gilli on her way to work this morning as she was parked behind George Eastman House.  Soon upon waking up I received a few twitter notifications and was delighted to see an invitation from Jenny to visit Kodak.  I was planning on doing that anyhow, but with an invite it's just that much better.  I assured her that I'll be there by the end of the day and went back into GEH to once again enjoy the show there, so let's get back on a timeline and take things in chronological manner.

  I had to adjust a few things on yesterdays blog entry as I apparently connected the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film with Kodak Company - let's make it clear once and for all: they are two separate entities and have very little to do with each other.  As it was explained to me by Mark Osterman (whom I ran into at the museum cafe), the museum is a privately owned organization and in the past it may have had a lot tighter connection with Kodak Co. (such as some exhibit items and prints coming from Kodak to GEH) the connection has been getting thinner over the past years and now is about as thin as "a spiderweb thread".  So I corrected that and then had a lovely chat with Mark over a cup of coffee.  

  He really is a fascinating character and has led quite a marvelous life.  Apparently during the summers for 20 years from 1979 to 1999, while on vacations from teaching high school, he traveled the country with an amazing vintage show.  He traveled as a self-invented  character called Dr. Bumstead and drove a 1914 model T Ford which he converted into a pop-up stage/banner complete with vintage PA system, collodion studio and all the trinkets that made traveling showman of yore special.  You can find a lot more information about this HERE.  It must have been quite an experience and perhaps that is why I felt instantly connected to Mr. Osterman in spirit upon meeting him yesterday.  Traveling photographers are not as common these days as they once were and I think we ought to stick together.  However, I will not blame Mark for a split second for coming off the road and taking a job with GEH - that's a dream-gig and now he travels all over the world giving workshops throughout Americas, Europe and Asia - that's life!  He truly deserves it - I never met a man who holds more technical knowledge and is at the same time such a gentle and creative spirit.
  
  I spent quite some time in the bookstore and was completely fascinated with all the imagery that was concealed within all the pages of the seemingly endless rows of books there.  I really felt like a kid at a candy store (especially if the analogy was extended to a kid being able to eat all he could while inside the store for free, but didn't have the funds to actually buy any candy to bring it home).  I hope some of that imagery left a more permanent impression upon my creative thread - let's see about that after I develop the next few rolls, right?

 I was recommended that I stop by Image City gallery, so that's what I did while being on the way to Kodak.  They are located very close to GEH, so it was a natural stop-over.  Image City is a gallery dedicated solely to photography and I had a pleasure of looking around there or a while before leading two of its members on a little tour of Gilli The Bus.  They were both old-school darkroom workers who have since gone to the digital side.  Sad to say, but that's the way things go nowadays - faster, easier, cheaper.... While I admit that digital has it's place I refuse to accept it as a primary artistic medium in still non-manipulated straight photography.  Coming from the exhibit at GEH it was rather sad to see the quality of prints in Image City - some were badly over-sharpened, others showed some serious JPEG artifacting.  Some were really not bad at all; especially the black and white images printed on nice rag papers with a good tooth and having some solid contrast and depth.  In my gut though I sill wanted to see at least one gelatin silver print so I would connect the artist behind it to the actual print by knowing that it was manually produced and cared for, caressed in the chemistry and cared for afterward by him/her...   I still like the overall feel of the place as it was well laid-out and cozy.  

  Then I was off to Kodak Headquarters.  Wow - I could not believe I was this close to the heart of the beast and while turning the corner onto State street I was astounded to see the size of the building they were occupying - I mean it's a big company, but for some reason I still imagined them in a smaller space... Here is it - world famous Kodak as seen through The Photo Palace Bus window.


  Gilli pulled up right into the front onto the loop that goes by the lobby and took these two pictures to commemorate our arrival.


  I had time to shoot a few more images with my film cameras before Jenny appeared in the front door followed by Matthew (who works at Web-development and Entertainment Imaging).  They both were extremely nice and seemed genuinely excited to meet The Bus.  Matthew even brought out a little gift-bag 'from Kodak to Gilli' - There was some much-needed 120 Tri-X and other black and white films that I am sure to use up within the next week.  The yellow Kodak bag though will stay with me as long as it lasts and the cool posters (from their latest movie-film ad campaign), which you see rolled up by the bag, are going up in my darkroom in San Diego and at home.


 After showing off the darkroom and part of the collection of cameras and prints I asked to go inside the lobby (because I really wanted to pretend to myself that I was a Kodak Exec. and walk through the front doors).  The lobby was great and I got to see my first real-life Oscar and Emmy awards.





  It was getting close to 5pm by then and I really wanted to go by the Kodak coating plant and take some pictures of that building (I knew I couldn't get into it without much prior arrangements).  The light was beautiful and I easily found the big red building just a few miles north of the headquarters.  There is no mistaking this building for a lumber mill or a coal plant - something about it spoke to me as being uniquely FILM.  By the way, this is the place where they coal movie film, I am still trying to figure out whether or not Kodak is actively coating still films like Tri-X or even T-max and where those plants are....  This is the only image I snapped with my iPhone, but I went pretty wild on Stereo Realist, Leica, Rolleiflex, Robot and Polaroid images and can't wait to see what comes out - I think this is a very picturesque compound and I hope to return either Sunday or Monday to shoot it from more angles - as you see it's a rather massive conglomerate of structures and it would take a few hours to document it properly (actually you don't even see the tenth of all the buildings in the photo below).  I like this image though - the sun actually hid from view soon after I parked and I found myself waiting for a break in the clouds in between the film shots.

  Tomorrow - sales! Let's see if Gilli and I can make some traveling money.  Above-average luck is needed to pull in the amount needed for the Ambrotype workshop from GEH, so wish us luck.  I am going to park somewhere next to the Public Market as I understand that it's a very popular place during Saturdays here - let's see if people are going to be as hungry for art as they will be for fresh produce.

Anton.