Saturday, May 23, 2015

Showing through the cracks

shoot-363I’ve been wandering the city recently. Walking and checking things off the to-do list for the bike tour in my head. Sometimes I find myself in some spot I haven’t really paid attention to before, and find a surprise. Little bit of Denver’s past showing through the cracks.

Denver is changing, fast. In the last couple of years, all of the convenience stores in my neighborhood have vanished, and mixed use developments are going up in their place. It’s urban development come full circle. They tore down the older homes to put those in during the 70s and now they’re tearing them out to put homes back.

The lot behind Turin, where both Steph and I tested our bicycles before buying them, is gone. I don’t miss the 70s vintage exposed aggregate office building, but will miss the cute Victorian next to it. Things change. That is their nature.

Except sometimes, things don’t change. You find it in some weird spots. I’ve found houses sitting alone in parking lots, all of the neighboring ones demolished and paved over. Lone survivors from a time when urban housing was less dense, and of higher quality. Sometimes they’re wedged in between buildings, almost like that woman who didn’t want to sell her house and watched a mall get built around her. There’s one I’ve found like this, but it’s stuck in such a spot the light is always bad when I try to take a picture of it.

The ones in this post are behind an office building that was originally a motor lodge built in the 1960s when those were all the rage. It’s an odd spot in a town of fast paced redevelopment and increasing density. Like a bit of old paint showing through a chip in the fresh coat.

shoot-362They’re maintained, at least. Probably used for storage. The garages out back had a business name on them, which I wish I had written down. It looks like someone had set up a small mechanics shop in them in the 1920s and made a living.

Almost no one pays attention to this spot. Out of the way, just off Colfax, not in a desirable part of town. The land has been for sale for a number of years, but the adjacent manufacturing must require the new owner to do some clean up, as it hasn’t sold in that time. Still, it’s kind of cool at see how that part of town used to look right after the First World War. There was once an entire neighborhood like this, butting up against Cherry Creek and Colfax. The retaining walls had gone up around the creek after numerous floods, and Mayor Speer was giving away trees as part of his plan to beautify the city. A different Denver. Most of that is gone, swallowed by the asphalt of the adjoining parking lots demanded by the auto dominated city planning of the 50s. But still, it’s nice there are survivors, letting you see some of what the city used to be though little cracks.

Showing through the cracks

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reel Difference

shoot-360Some choices define people. Conservative or Liberal. Carnivore or Vegan. Drive on the left hand side of the road or the right. Polar opposites define us. But none more so than Rokunar reel or Paterson reel.

I can remember long ago in the Denver Darkroom, rolling film on to reels to develop. The other student who also went on to be a dark room rat with me and I had been selected to finish some odd rolls up and get them in a last tank so we could get on and develop. Everything went well until I picked up a Paterson reel and tried to use it after only using Rokunar reels. I promptly jammed it and had to pull the film out and try again. The second attempt did not go well either. Nor the third. I swore in the dark at the same time my colleague did. I asked her what was wrong and she said she had jammed the “effing Rokunar reel” trying to get a roll on it. We swapped reels, and balance was restored.

The reels aren’t that different. Made of plastic. Spiral loading. Adjustable for use with 35mm, 126 and 127, and 120/220 by unlocking the two sides and moving them further apart. They’re pretty much identical because they use the same approach to the task at hand. The spiral the length of a roll of film in so that the chemicals can circulate during development. But the difference is the feed.

Rokunar reels have a ramp that feeds the film in to the reel, leading right to the tiny metal catch used to push the film further in to the spiral, and the Paterson reel doesn’t. Which doesn’t seem like a large difference, until you are trying to spool film on to one of them in the absolute black darkness.

I always had trouble with the Paterson reels. They call them Auto Load reels, but I never thought so. I was perpetually getting the film fed wrong and jamming them up. Then you have to take the reel apart and start over.

shoot-361The ramp is used not only on the Rokunar reels, but ones made by Samigon and Omega as well. For all of my former colleague’s issues, I rarely have problems with this design, it just feeds the way it’s supposed to with no issues.

A Rokunar reel will cost more than the Paterson reel. It seems the Paterson is pretty much the cheapest one you can buy. Maybe because Paterson makes just about everything you need in the way of developing accessories: trays, tanks, mixers, jugs, squeegees. Perhaps the volume business gives them the pricing edge.

Me? I’d pay more for the Rokunar. Ease of use is something I can appreciate, even if I can hear some of you going on about if I want easy I should just shoot digital. Quiet, you Paterson users.

Those metal reel folks I left out of this conversation? Well, they’re just weird.

Reel Difference

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Amtrak and bikes

shoot-358It’s been a rough patch for those of us who travel by bike and Amtrak. Fatalities, injuries, and a lot of questions. Chief in my mind among them is: why?

The crash in Philadelphia was a monstrous tragedy. Leaving the cause of the accident aside, whether it was operator error or equipment or what, the technology is available to prevent it from happening. Positive Train Control was invented to prevent this exact sort of thing from happening. Of course, it isn’t active yet because the budget isn’t there. And immediately after the accident, Amtrak’s budget was slashed. Because the best way to solve a problem caused by not having enough money is to give it less money. At least that’s the thinking on Capitol Hill.

Conservatives hate Amtrak. It’s always lumped in with the National Endowment for the Arts and PBS as things that should be cut. The combined budgets of these three agencies accounts for 0.03% of total government spending, and yet these are the ones the conservatives always want to cut first. It’s hard to not frame this as some kind of extension of a class war, taking things away just to make the have not’s lives a little more difficult.

Amtrak’s annual budget was cut to 1.1 billion dollars, give or take. Which sounds like a lot of money until you put it in perspective. That’s about half what the Department of Defense spends in a day. More is needed. Most of the rolling stock on the long distance trains out west dates from the last time there was money in the 1970s. The locomotives are newer, dating from the 1990s. There’s not going to be much expansion anytime soon, since there’s just not enough equipment to do it. Ridership is higher than it’s ever been, and trains routinely sell out. It could break even or might even turn a profit if it had money to expand.

shoot-359Riding a bike gets short shrift as well. Denver has all of a mile or so of protected bike lane. There’s a three-foot law requiring drivers give a cyclist 3 feet when passing, but I’ve never seen it enforced. When I tried to report a driver for violating it, there was no interest on the part of the police in doing anything about it. Even when someone on a bike gets hurt, the driver just gets a slap on the wrist. A triathlete in Boulder wound up going through the window of a car that pulled in front of her and stopped while she was going down grade at speed, and even though the driver had a history of reckless driving, he was only fined. The triathlete will carry the scars of that accident on her face for the rest of her life and was lucky to survive. Her life is radically changed, but that was just worthy of a fine.

I guess the message is clear. If you ride a bike or take a train, you don’t count for much. It’s enough to make me want to do these things more, not just because I enjoy them, but to continue to be a thorn in the side of the powerful.

Amtrak and bikes

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Katadyn Hiker

shoot-357You can skimp on any number of things. Cheap rain gear in the summertime is survivable. An inexpensive pack is probably just going to be less comfortable, heavier, and not last as long. But I don’t like skimping on water. So I bought a new Katadyn Hiker filter.

When I was young and camping in the 80s, Katadyn was the gold standard of water filtration systems. They were too expensive for a teenager in the south, so I wound up just using iodine tablets and hating how the water tasted.

When I got older, I had camping partners who did not like filtration systems. Not due to the weight, they just liked camping high and in the winter. Water filters will freeze overnight in the cold and are unusable as a result. They preferred solutions that were basically diluted bleach. You can put it in water to introduce chlorine and kill the bugs in there just like a municipal water system. Of course, you get floaties: little bits of leaves and whatnot in your water. I decided I didn’t like this either, and bought a Katadyn.

You need to filter water before you drink it, even high mountain streams. The two bugs to watch out for here are Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Getting water contaminated by these leads to nothing good. Katadyn filters them out.

This is one of Katadyn’s Backcountry series, the Hiker filter. It’s for use by up to two people, and filters pretty fast. A liter of water can be done in around a minute, and can purify up to 200 gallons of water before needing a filter change. It’s also light, at 11 ounces. It comes with all the needed tubing and adapters in a nice bag that’s easy to chuck in to a backpack or pannier. It’s simple to operate, and dependable.

shoot-356Some people who bicycle tour do not carry water filtration. They argue you can find water almost anywhere on the road or on trails, so they’re not needed. If you’re doing a back country trail on a mountain bike like the Divide, then you do need something to filter, but not always on other tours. I’ve picked up the western habit of keeping water in mind, though. It’s farther apart here and not as dependable. Campgrounds in California this year may not have water available because of the drought, and the ability to filter what you can find is going to be more important.

Dehydration flat-out sucks. Carrying a Katadyn is insurance against having to deal with it. For most tours, a Hiker should suffice. If you’re touring in South America or Africa you could upgrade to the Endurance series, something like the Katadyn Pocket or the Combi. It takes months to navigate those places, so they need the capacity. Our tour this year is short, so I’ll just chuck the Katadyn Hiker in a pannier and enjoy the peace of mind having it brings.

The Katadyn Hiker

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Looking forward to what's left behind

Old University of Colorado hospital, slated for demolition.

Old University of Colorado hospital, slated for demolition.

I haven’t been out among the places left behind in a while.

Stephanie has been marathon training for a race next week. We’ve both been trying to get bike rides in, and not doing as well as we should. Work has been the curse of the drinking class, as always. But I miss the places that were too hard to keep, and have been left behind.

Abandoned a short while, now expensive apartments.

Abandoned a short while, now expensive apartments.

The odd thing is, with the rapid gentrification of Denver, the abandoned isn’t something I have to go far and look for anymore. It’s in my neighborhood. But with the way new buildings are going up, you have to look fast. Things change rapidly. I’ve only been here a short while, and it’s already a different city than the one I moved in to.

I miss those places people have left, though. I should get out and find more of them this summer.

After the bike tour, I’m wanting to go get some shots. Big negatives, medium format at least, large format as often as I can. There’s a lot of this state and the west in general I have not seen yet.

The group Steph and I went to shoot the airplane graveyard with is toying with a zine. I suggested it, as I really want to do a zine, but I don’t think I can carry one on my own. I think having a group gives it a better result. So maybe we’ll see about some of those abandoned places that I love so much. Cover some of the change that is rampant. Small towns that are emptying out with their populations moving on are leading to more forgotten places under the big sky to explore in the future.

shoot-354Soon enough I’ll be lugging gear to the 4Runner and sending it bouncing down trails. I want to spend more time in the back of the Runner, staring at a big sky before we go to sleep somewhere in the woods so we can get up early and shoot a ghost town or mine in the perfect light of dawn. I’m looking forward to falling asleep to the sound of rain on the roof of the Toyota and waking up to coffee made on a camp stove. Getting up and clambering around a place that smells of pines and decay of buildings and maybe the touch of sweetness of the ash of long gone coal fires.

There’s a great deal to be captured in the next few months. Having to wait out the rain has made me antsy, pouring over maps and websites to find new things and places to fall in love with. I’m looking forward to it all.

Looking forward to what's left behind

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Further adventures of the Polaroid 95A, The Massive Misfit

shoot-352When last we left the Polaroid Model 95A, the Massive Misfit, I was contemplating converting it to a new film format. There were a number of options I had found on the internet. People had used Legos to convert them to shoot 6×12 medium format. The most popular conversion for the roll film Polaroids was to use the Fuji peel-apart film. Those didn’t appeal, so I kept searching.

Some conversions to 4×5 had been done to other roll film Polaroids, and I thought about them. The idea appealed to me. The end result could be a light weight walk about field camera. It could be what the Wanderlust might be if it ever actually gets built and shipped. The idea was appealing.

One guy had basically used a wooden picture frame to fashion his own back. The other was a 3D printing approach. I tried the 3D print option.

The concept was created by Marco Lucifora in Italy. He had converted a few cameras using his design, but there wasn’t a lot of information on how well these were received. I rolled the dice and purchased the design files and hardware to see for myself. Marco has since stopped selling anything related to this project.

I ended up using Shapeways to print the back. It was convenient. I want to go ahead and join a hacker space here in Denver and learn in more detail, but my schedule has been crammed full and I haven’t been able to yet.

When I got the piece, it looked pretty good. It didn’t quite fit on the hinged end, but I created a work around. As soon as I had roughed it together, I went ahead and loaded a holder with a couple of shots and tried it out.

This camera has a couple strikes against it already. People widely hold the lens doesn’t cover a 4×5 well enough. At 130mm, it’s definitely a little small. It seems to do well enough, however. This cameras lens has a bit of fungus, but I’d cleaned that out will some Hydrogen Peroxide. The new back, however, is not what it needs to be.


The film holder mount, which I suspect leads to light leaks.

The focal plane is a little off, and what sharpness the old lens had is lost. I can fix that by recalibrating the infinity stop using wax paper to check the focus and moving it on the focus scale. But the big problem is the way the holder is mounted. It uses screws and clear plastic and flat pieces of metal and a number of odd decisions. It also leaks light, badly. I suppose the light could be leaking from somewhere else, but the mount is the first culprit to eliminate. I’ll see what I can do with some gaffer tape next go around. Ultimately, I want to redesign the mount.

This negative was dropped and scratched, but it still serves as proof of function

This negative was dropped and scratched, but it still serves as proof of function

Which is the good thing about the 3D approach. I have a license to modify and remake this part as I wish. I have all the original files, and so I will. It will involve figuring out the software, but I’ve handled worse. This Misfit will come back to life yet!

Further adventures of the Polaroid 95A, The Massive Misfit

Saturday, May 2, 2015

More is less

shoot-349Less is more. More is less.

I’ve finding that shooting more is less of what I want, and shooting less gives me more of what I want.

I’m using SLRs less. I realize ease of use is a relative thing, but I seem to find a lot of them too easy to use. It’s easier to just snap off a throwaway shot with them. I still prefer to use them in situations that require speed, but aside from that, I find myself hardly using them at all anymore.

More often than not, I’m using rangefinders. I’ve heard it argued that you can use a rangefinder as fast as you can use anything else, but I don’t find that true. I could resort to zone focus or pre-focusing and stopping down for maximum depth of field, but that’s not guaranteed to give me the result I want. So I take more time, setting up shots deliberately, and slowly. It’s taking me much longer to move through rolls of film, these days.

If rangefinders are slow, medium format is snail-like with a waist level viewfinder. And it’s even more deliberate in framing a shot as a result.

And if medium format is snail-like, large format is glacial. I’ve hardly gotten though half a box of 4×5 in the last month. I’m still learning about movements, and I haven’t even thought about trying to figure out bellows and exposure compensation.

So the volume of work is down, with the number of frames I produce as low as it has been. But I’m finding less is more.

While I’m taking less frames, I’m loving the results more.

shoot-350I’ve never been a spray and pray kind of guy, even when I had the misfortune to shoot sports. I surely don’t produce as many images as a digital photographer. I am finding that I just don’t put the camera to my eye as much these days. Not out of dissatisfaction with that I shoot, but more about how I think about how and what I shoot.

Frequently, I find myself asking, “does this image need to be shot” when I start to take it. A lot of the time, I’ll answer myself with a no, and lower the camera. I’ll take fewer shots, but I like the ones I take more. Some of them, I even love. They’re still rare, but they seem to occur more often.

I want to have more of those frames in my future. Shooting less is more. The way to get more is to shoot less. A bit of a paradox, but one that seems to work.

More is less