Thursday, November 30, 2017

West Coast Trip - Part 2

  On Sunday morning we left Ukiah early in order to be able to make it to the airport and then have time to shoot before Ishtar’s flight.   It was only about an hour and a half drive, so we should have had plenty of time.  Well...  Gilli-the-bus had other plans for us.  Gilli is never too sprite going uphill and by now I can usually look at the grade and estimate that this is going to be one of those 25mph hills or 35 or all the way down to 18 or so for really steep ones.  About 10mi from where were had to exit highway 101, right before the town of Healdsburg, there is a little hill.  It looked like a 25mph hill to me, so I was surprised to see Gilli slow down past that.  I was even more surprised to see her slow down more and more and more and basically run out of fumes.  Luckily, my surprise didn’t turn into a brain freeze and I had enough time to pull off onto the shoulder of an exit (freeway exits are pretty rare on that stretch of 101 and so we really did get lucky there).  As soon as she came to a stop an oil pressure warning light and buzzer came on and she refused to start back up…  Not good.  I came out, opened the rear motor hatch and looked around, probably hoping to see a red arrow pointing to where I needed to turn a valve or something…  Seconds after as I began my aimless survey I heard voice over a loud speaker behind me – “Is she totally dead?”  Turning around I saw a highway patrol SUV – where it came from and in such short time I don’t know.  I motioned for permission to approach and after being granted such explained that while technically Gilli wasn’t ‘totally’ dead, she wasn’t about to move anywhere soon.  The officer stepped out and briefly examined the engine compartment.  I think he also didn’t know what to look for, it’s just the thing that men have to do I guess – look at a dead engine perhaps with the aim of restarting it purely by the power of glance.   Since that miracle didn’t occur he said that at the exact spot where I was parked it probably wasn’t safe, but down the exit ramp the shoulder widened and he proposed pushing me over the little part of the hill that was left and then I’d coast down the ramp and pull over to a safer spot.  I couldn’t fathom that such an armada as Gilli could be pushed, but the officer seemed confident that his souped up Chevy could do it and so we gave it a go.  Ishtar guided the officer as he inched up to my rear bumper and gave me a sign that the pushing is about to commence. To my astonishment, the Chevy pushed me up to 5mph or so really easily, the final 150ft of a hill were conquered and I coasted another 300ft or so to where the shoulder was extra wide and I could be walking around Gilli without concern for safety.  The officer bid us farewell and we never saw him or any of his brethren again.  I am still not sure if that was a real policeman or a messenger from spirits watching over all photographers.  First off I have no idea where he appeared from and so quickly after we came to a stop.  Secondly, he spoke extremely softly, so softly in fact that I had to get closer to him in order to hear his voice and there weren’t any cars passing us on the highway.   In either case I am very grateful for his intervention as now we were in a much less precarious spot.   Not knowing what was wrong with Gilli though was disheartening and having to get Ishtar to the airport weighed on my mind.  A bit of a panic mode set in.
  I got onto social media and connected with a couple of folks.  One of them, Steve Watkins, called me and we tried a thing or two centering on the override switches that communicates oil pressure info and shuts down the engine if it runs low.  No luck was to be had.  Since it was still early in the day Ishtar pulled out her chemistry set and started practicing a bit more by shooting some industrial close-ups of Gilli’s engine (her plates all came out absolutely perfect by the way and she was super stoked about that).  There was a little hill right next to where Gilli was stranded and upon climbing it a little I saw a very nice view, so I decided to make an 8x10 plate marking the spot where I was to spend the night.    Here’s that plate with me pretending to examine the engine via my 4x5 camera (Ishtar pulled the cap off for the 5sec at f22 exposure with Dallmeyer 3B lens).

  When time came closer to her flight Ishtar called Uber and we said our goodbyes.  She was a great traveling partner and I was sad to see her go.  Hopefully we get to have some more adventures together in the future.
  Left alone it was time to start thinking of settling in for the night. I varnished the plates done that day and ones from the day before.  Cleaned up here and there and then it started to get a little cold, so I fired up the stove and made some tea.  I don’t use the kitchen in Gilli often, but I tell you what – that cup of tea was heavenly!  It made me think of some other memorable cups of tea I’ve had.  One was in some basement hangout back in Moscow when I was just 15 or so.  It was shared with a couple good friends and a rare recording of one of my favorite artists was being transferred from reel-to-reel onto cassette (I still have that cassette somewhere, need to digitize it as the content there is pretty great).  Another cup that came to mind is one I had in south-eastern Nepal, in a village house of a family I spent a week with.  They lived a beautifully simple life and the cup of chai they wade was heavenly.  To honor those cups and all the spirit-healing cups of tea had by people all across the globe I took this picture..

  Next morning a fellow wet plate photographer David Soska drove all the way from Pleasanton to help me out while looking for a mechanic.  It’s great to have good friends!  We tried a few places in Santa Rosa, but none of them wanted to take on a task of making Gilli better.  After a while we were given a number of a mobile mechanic who was up to the challenge.  He said it’ll take him 1.5-2hr to get to me, so we had lunch and went to check out a winery, after all Gilli was planted within a mile of two of them.  Luckily the closest winery to us was closed and so we went to the second one, which happens to be owned by Francis Coppola, the famous Hollywood director.  I’ll admit that up to that point I have never actually set foot in a winery, so I didn’t know what to expect.  Now that I went to the Coppola one though I kinda doubt that my future winery visits will live up to my first experience.  The building was magnificent and interior decorated with props from iconic films Coppola directed.  We didn’t spend too much time there as the mechanic was supposed to be arriving shortly.  Well, it actually took him an extra hour to get there, but in either case, we wanted to be ready.
  When the mechanic finally showed up he rather quickly figured out that it was a very simple issue of a clogged fuel filter.  Apparently, the super-pro guys at San Diego 
Freightliner, who were supposed to change all the filters and do a full lube job, overlooked the second fuel filter (which hides behind the gas tank).  Mechanic ran over to get the right filter, swapped it out and in under an hour Gilli and I were back on the road.  
  I was about 3hr ‘Gilli-speed’ driving distance from the San Francisco Bay Area and so I headed there to visit Matthew Kurtin, who has a nice little studio in Alameda, as well as a darkroom.   We haven’t seen each other in a while and so after a little catching up we exchanged portraits – he made an 8x10 Polaroid of me and I returned the favor by giving him an 8x0 tintype. 

  After shooting and cleaning up a bit I still had some energy left and so I headed out on the road in the southward direction.  I guess I didn’t have quite as much energy as I thought I did and so rather quickly upon reentering Central Valley I felt sleep setting in and found a quiet little exit to pull off on and sleep.
  I awoke to find many bushes of really neat dried flowers right outside the bus door.   After picking some to use as props in the future I started heading south again.  From there to LA is not that far and so I decided to take a detour.  Instead of driving on the extraordinarily boring interstate 5 I got off a bit north of the town of Lost Hills, went a little west and drove Hwy 33 – a slightly more cicturesque road with some photogenic urban decay alongside of it.  In one place I stopped and made a plate of an abandoned house and the flowers that I picked that morning (they are REALLY hard to shoot – yellow and contrasty..., I’ll have to play around to see how to shoot them best).

  At Lost Hills I hopped back into I-5, but it wasn’t long till I noticed some industrial stuff off to the west from the highway.  The next exit wasn’t that far off and so I decided to make a couple more plates while there was still some light out.

  Despite all the distance I had to cover and my photographic tangents I was still making great time and realized that I could be in LA area before it’s way too late at night.  I messaged a very nice guy with whom I’ve been keeping in touch for years, but never crossed paths.  Chris Rini lives in Huntington Beach and does all sort of vintage-related things including, every once in a while, wet plate (I’ve been nagging him to get back into it and I’ll continue doing so because I think it will be good for not only him, but for the art in general as he has a great eye).   It was great to finally meet him face to face.  We drove down to the waterfront to look at what we could shoot in the night with collodion.  There wasn’t much there which was lit enough and we didn’t truly feel the place exuding creativity.  However, we were there and had chemistry, so I couldn’t just leave without making a plate.  The only thing with enough light on it was a beach volleyball court and so that scene was selected.   Exposure was a total guess – the lights were bright, but they were at least 150ft…  my lens was f5.6….  the air was a bit warm and dry…  Based on those factors I decided to give it 9min exposure.   To my delight the very first plate came out nearly perfect.  There was a little fogging on top in black area, but that was quickly taken care of by some Farmer’s Reducer I always have at hand.

  Don’t know where all the energy was coming from, but after saying my adios to Chris I found myself driving all the way to San Diego County, where in the morning I was to meet with my local friend Corad Young. 

  The night was uneventfully quiet – just like I like it.Conrad is a great guy and always is looking to improve his skills.  When I met him 3 years ago he was struggling with old chemistry, inadequate lenses and so on…  It has been a real treat to see his steady progress over the time we’ve known each other and now his plates are sharp, clean, bright and well composed.  In search of photogenic locations, we drove down to a local little river in Oceanside and decided to make a plate or two.  Unfortunately, Conrad wasn’t feeling too well and so after one plate each we decided to pack up and head home.  Here’s the last plate of the trip, after which I headed home.

  Looking back at it now this was a slightly hectic, but very wonderful little trip.  I know it may have sounded like mechanical issues dominated the time on the road, but in all honesty Gilli is 39 years old and after leaving her in storage for a couple of years with zero maintenance the fact that she performed as well as she did was a blessing.  If she didn’t decide to throw me her little curve balls on Sundays there would have been a lot less time in waiting…
  Now I’m thinking of taking at least one short trip every month to keep her up and running and just to have some fun while making new work.

  Thanks so much for reading this!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

West Coast Trip - Part 1

West Coast Adventure Part 1

  Having not taken Gilli out on the road for a while now I decided to make the first trip be on the short side and just make it up the West Coast and back.   To accompany me on the way up, Ishtar Laguna came down from Washington state.  We met on Facebook in the summer while I was doing a two months long daily tintype sale, so she wanted to take a workshop in collodion from me and then practice her skills while we drive up. She flew down on the 7th and we set out on the road on the 9th.   Gilli-the-Bus was in storage for a while, so I took her to mechanics to have a full checkup, lube and fluids change, but some hiccups were, and I’m afraid may still be, to be expected….

  On the first day we made really good time up through Los Angeles and toward the northern end of that sprawling urban jungle met up for lunch with two great collodion fellas – Brian Cuyler and Jason Mads.  Jason does events and makes excellent plates, he’s also an  avid alternative printer.  Brian actually runs UV Photographics where I get my collodion and other supplies.  He experiments with many formulas and is a true chemical craftsman. I recommend trying one of his formulas like the all-lithium or the new and mysterious UVP-X.  I’m truly sorry not to have taken a group photo of all of us…….

  When we went back to the bus I noticed something odd, the lights in the darkroom were very dim even though we drove for 3hr and the batteries, which I got 2 days ago in San Diego, should have been fully charged…  Hmm…  We drove on headed to Sequoia National Forest and actually got to the area in late evening.  After getting to the campground by Lake Isabella though the extent of the battery problem became evident and it became obvious that we wouldn’t be able to make plates without addressing is first.  Here’s a photo of Gilli in the morning.   It’s actually a rather nice campground, but it was very windy the night before.

  I won’t bore you with the many protracted details of our battery escapades. Suffice to say that we headed to Frezno and wasted an entire day in fruitless pursuit of diagnosis. Toward the very end of the day though we stuck gold in the form of an electrical mechanic by the name of Floyd and Floyd’s story deserves to be told.

  Floyd was born and raised in Frezno and told me that in high school in late 70’s they had half days, so he went only in the afternoon and was looking for a morning job.  He met the owner of the shop, who’s name was still incorporated into the business Floyd was working for now, and demanded to be hired because he would be a good worker. The owner laughed him off because back then Floyd weighed no more than 135 pounds, but Floyd was persistent.   He went to his uncle’s place, fixed up a rotor on an old 59 Chevy pickup, and kept showing up in the mornings and sitting outside the mechanics shop. Eventually Floyd was given a chance and so ever since 1970 he’s been employed at that shop. When I walked in the two other employees were helping other customers, but after a while Floyd emerged from the background and I knew that he of all people would be able to help us.  Technically the business only dealt with sales of batteries, but of course they had testing equipment and after pulling out some machine about the size of a cooler Floyd climbed under Gilli, because full access to batteries is only from underneath (small tangent, changing the old batteries for new ones was one heck of a good time due to that access restriction).  Within a minute Floyd diagnosed the problem and pinpointed to connection we needed changed.  Thank goodness there’s still honest kind mechanics who truly enjoy not only their craft, but good old fashioned customer service.  

  Lighting and all systems were back in order and we headed a bit east to Will Dunniway’s house.  Will is a legend in the collodion and is one of the real renown experts in the field.   He started in 1990 and was doing Civil War and other reenactments for 20+ years , before a series of heart attacks forced him to pull back on the activities.   He still shoots and has an active role in the community.  I met Will a few years ago through a mutual friend.  Back then he was living in Corona, but now he is in the foothills of Sierras, just below Yosemite.  We spent the night at his house and in the morning we talked lenses and collodion.  First time I met Will I noticed a small display case on his wall filled with antique ground glass focusing loupes.  I got my first loupe in 2013 and since then have developed quite an affinity for them. Interestingly enough in the bedroom were I stayed I noticed a vintage Taylor Taylor & Hobson brochure with advertising for the same loupe that was my first.   Here is that page.

   After a delicious breakfast cooked by Will’s wife Frances and a long chat it was time to make some plates. I wanted to make a tintype of Will.  Set up my camera, coated and dipped a plate, posed and focused on my subject, got the plate out of the silver, made the exposure, developed – totally fogged white with no image at all on it.  What’s going on…  I just maintained that silver bath and this is the first time using it. Tried another exposure on a nearby tree – white again.  A strong feeling that it’s the silver bath came over me, so I did the same tree exposure with a different silver bath and got a near-perfect image.  As luck would have it I was at Will Dunniway’s house and so of course there was a fully stocked collodion darkroom in the picturesque wooden shed. Here are Will and Frances in the darkroom.

  Test strips were found and indeed the pH of my bath was not 4 like I thought, but in fact close to 6.  After a few drops of nitric acid and checking and rechecking pH I made another exposure of that tree and got a great plate. Feeling better about the health of my chemistry I again posed Will on a pile of firewood and succeeded in capturing an acceptable image.  Here are the two 4x5 plates.

  We left driving before the sun went down to get to Napa Valley with the intent of shooting the aftermath of Santa Rosa fires in the morning since then it would only be a short drive.   Going west from Will’s place we had to go through a good part of California’s Central Valley starting in Frezno area and cutting northwest.  At one point we had to stop for fuel and that point happened to be the town of Madera. I saw reasonably priced gas station of a reputable brand and pulled it.  Gilli takes about $250 to fill up, so you’re usually at the station a good 20-25min.  This place though had the pumps going at a speed that I have only encountered once before.  The first time I was filling up a car with $20 and it took over 10min, this time we were filling up for one hour and forty minutes! In Russia they say “there is no bad without good”.  If we weren’t there for that long the following surreal episode would not have occurred and the town of Madera would not be mentioned in this blog.
  Ishtar had to use the restroom and in search of one was sent from the gas station to the business across the street, and from there caddy corner to a rather large Mercado (a Mexican supermarket).  When she came back a rather bewildered look was upon her face.  Now, I must note here that Ishtar is from Mexico and speaks fluently, but one of her reasons for coming to US was mastering English and at that she is doing very well.  Inside the store, Ishtar asked an employee if there was a restroom available, but did so in English.  The lady told her no, but then in English asked Ishtar if she was Mexican.  When Ishtar said si, the lady told her were the restroom was and according to Ishtar it was one of the cleanest she’d seen. As the diesel was trickling into the tank we pondered the apparent denial of bodily function rights based on nationality, but then, finally, the prepaid limit on the pump was reached and it was time to head out again.

  We got to the town of Napa rather late at night, found a quiet street to park on and went to sleep.   In the morning we got up early and excited to make some great plates.  Alas that was not to be.  As we were navigating surface streets to the freeway a metallic clunking noise sounded off behind the bus and suddenly the sound of my engine became louder than most Harleys you’ll hear.  That’s a pretty clear sign that something drastic happened within the exhaust system.  I pulled over as soon as I saw a space and peered under the engine.  There was a space that seemed like it should be filled with a large 90-degree pipe and I realized what the clunking noise was.  Running back a few blocks I found a 2ft long metal pipe laying in the middle of the road.  Apparently the bolts on both of these clamps broke and the darn 90-degree connector just fell out. 

  This would not have been a big deal at all otherwise, but this was Sunday, and all auto shops were closed except for big chain retailers and none of them within a reasonable radius had the part.  We tried hard, but to no avail – we had to make what was there work till the morning and spend another night in Napa.  I bought a hose clamp and some bailing wire and temporarily secured the pipe back on there so that when we drove to the hotel we wouldn’t wake up the entire town.  Here’s a picture taken by Ishtar of yours truly in the process of wrapping bailing wire to prevent the hose clamp from possibly slipping off the other clamp it’s holding.  From this angle it actually looks like it should hold…

    In the morning I made a few phone calls and found out that the only place that could help us was literally 2 buildings away from the hotel.  In less than 25min after pulling in there the pipe was back on and we were on the road.

  Santa Rosa fires scorched a very large area and thousands of homes or businesses went up in flames.  I find burned out structured to be visually intriguing, so we stopped at two locations and made some tintypes. First stop was less than 10 miles west of Napa and then we drove to the northeast end of Santa Rosa, where a lot of beautiful old homes were lost and now the  landscape is dotted with skeletons of cars, mangles metal and homeless chimneys, which are sticking up like miniature obelisks raised in memory of memories.  Here are some of the scenes we found there. 

  When the light faded we pressed onward up highway 101 to Arcata.  I have a particular fondness for this sleepy little town since I’ve had many fun adventures around here in the past 20 years.   The town is home to Humboldt State University and the population a nice healthy mix of students, hippies, travelers and other like-minded folks.  The best part about this town though – the trees!  This is where redwood forest really begins and right above the college campus there’s a lovely park with trees that are hard to describe and even harder to capture on collodion.  Redwood trees are the tallest trees on Earth.  They spread out their canopies and block all the light from reaching the floor.  They are also red, hence the name, and so collodion sees them as almost black.  To top everything off it’s cloudy here a lot…  And so it was on Tuesday when we got there.   Actually it was nice and sunny in the morning, not a cloud in the sky.  We got to the forest, took a small hike to look for a shooting location and by the time we were returning to the bus a light cover of clouds appeared.  By the time we were shooting the clouds were thick and grey and our exposure started to be increasingly crazy in length – 5, 6, 10min…  Luckily it’s very humid and rather chilly so the plates didn’t dry out.  We also decided to hike our gear and chemistry into the forest and for developing use a portable dark box that I made for Ishtar, so that was a good thing for her to try it out.  We didn’t get too much shooting done and the plates weren't anything spectacular, so I'll skip posting them for now (might add them later)

  After shooting we found a little coffee shop and decided to look up the weather, since from her friends in Seattle area Ishtar heard that there was a big storm happening.  The weather report was dim.  It was promising rain for Wednesday and Thursday and the farther north we looked the harder it was promising to rain.  We decided to make a change in plans, stay around Arcata for a few days, wait out the rain, shoot around town (it’s just too beautiful here…) and on Sunday Ishtar would fly back home from Sonoma.  That way the bus doesn’t have to be driven pointlessly another 700mi north and then I wouldn’t have to really race back to San Diego. 

  On Wednesday we were really planning on waking up early and heading out to shoot, since the rain wasn’t supposed to have started till afternoon.  Waking up thing didn’t really happen, but also we had a nice surprise about the rain – even though the weather didn’t really change all day and some precipitation was falling on us on and off from morning till sunset, that precipitation was light and we were actually able to shoot quite a bit.  One of my exposures was 20min though and was still underexposed…  those redwoods and rain clouds really do a great job eating up all UV light…  Best thing about that day was that Ishtar finally got a perfect plate, and I mean flawless – perfect focus, exposure, development, not a mark, no dust, no hesitation mark, not a comet in sight.  She was so emotional and happy, it was great to see.  Here are my plates from the day.

 Next day Ishtar wasn’t feeling so well and decided to stay in the hotel to recoup.  I went back to the same park and shot one 8x10 plate and a few stereoscopic plates.  During the making of one of below plates a very nice older local photographer filmed me doing the process, but I didn’t give much significance to that occurrence at the time as a lot of people make pictures and videos of Gilli.  The weather was swiftly alternating between sun and rain and the exposures were rather unpredictable, but here is my photographic catch from that day.

   Friday we wanted to shoot something other than redwoods and so we went looking around for some industrial compositions.  An old building converted to some sort of a blend of a store and plant nursery with an overabundance of variable junk in front of it provided plenty pf opportunity for interesting compositions.  We shot there for an hour or so and moved on to Arcata Bay when the sun was starting to get a bit lower. Here are the plates from that day.

After shooting we went to a coffee shop to warm up a bit and to get access to internet.  There I found an email waiting for me since that morning.  It appears that the video shot of my activities the previous day ended up on a blog and a wonderful lady saw it and emailed me saying she has two cameras that she doesn’t know what do with and seeing if I was able to stop by and take a look at them.  For me there’s nothing more fun that the proposed activity, so I called her up and 20min later she was picking us up and driving to her place (which happened to be about 7 blocks from where we were and only 2 blocks from the magically beautiful park where we were shooting before).    Lady’s name was Pam and she lived with a great fellah named Peter Palmquist, who was active in daguerrean and stereoscopic societies before I joined.  He was killed by a drunk driver about 5 years ago and since then all of his collection except for a very few things went to a museum.  The cameras turned out to be very neat.  One was a Graflex 4x5 studio monorail with two excellent lenses (Ishtar bought that one) and the other one was a relatively rare Burke and James Orbitar – a dedicated wide angle 4x5 with a 65mm Schneider lens and helicoid focusing.  I got that one for myself and was really happy because the widest lens I brought on the trip was 90.
  On Saturday the first order of business was to test out both cameras and to explain to Ishtar the beauty of Scheimpflug principle and how to apply it when need be.  Here is a picture of Ishtar and Pam next to Ishtar’s new camera and then a picture of the Orbitar camera – weird little thing, right? 

  Between talking to Pam, who stopped by because we were so close and to have her tintype made, and showing Ishtar the ropes on the monorail (oh, and she also pored her first 8x10 and I must say it came out darn near absolute perfect) I didn’t have much time to shoot, so here are the 4 plates including one I gave Pam.

  Ishtar was scheduled to fly out of Santa Rosa airport on Sunday, so we decided to start driving toward there in the evening and so now I’m finding myself in a Ukiah Motel 6 room typing up this blog and hoping that I have enough energy to proofread it and actually complete this oversized post.