Finally back to film

My last roll of film was shot and developed over six months ago. I’m not sure what happened to cause the long break. Well maybe I sort of know. I belong to two photography clubs. One had their annual exhibition in December and the other one is coming up in February. I didn’t feel like I had many decent images, but was expected to contribute three for each exhibition. Needless to say, I spent the fall feverishly trying to get some acceptable images, and when under pressure I guess I default to digital. Anyway, now the pressure is off and I’m glad to be back into film.

I ran a couple rolls of Acros thru the Mamiya 6 during our holiday vacation. I’m itching to get the big Pentax 67ii out again but haven’t gotten there yet. Hopefully soon though.

I was a bit worried about my chemicals. Last summer I mixed up five liter batches of developer (Fuji SPD) and fixer (Kodak). I wasn’t sure if they would be OK. The initial bad sign was lots and lots of sulfur chunks floating around in my fixer solution. But I filtered it out with a cloth and just used it anyway. It would appear that everything turned out OK.

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Fogged In

There’s a quiet spot in the woods near our house that doesn’t see many visitors. The name means “Blood Lake” and there is an old myth about a beautiful maiden who didn’t want to get married and eventually threw herself into the lake, which has been red ever since. It’s actually just a seasonal pond that only has water in it during rainy season and something about the grasses that grow in and around it make the water look red. The rest of the time it is filled with green grass or snow.

I hiked up there a while ago on a foggy morning while some of Siebold’s Crabapple trees were still blooming and worked on a roll of Neopan 100. I wanted to capture the sense of being completely fogged in. I ended up hiking out to a larger lake and finishing the roll there.

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The People I See

This is the third roll of four that I recently shot to test out the Fujifilm GF670 that was recently returned from the manufacturer saying there was nothing wrong with it. Fortunately they seem to be correct so far!

One of the sweet things about this camera is just how inconspicuous it is. That’s right, an inconspicuous medium format film camera! It really is small though, and the shutter is so quiet that I can barely hear it when shooting outside. I’ve never been comfortable with street photography and am very hesitant to shoot people I don’t know, but the stealth features of the GF670 make it a little easier for wimps like me!

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A Rundown Church

This is a church I try to avoid visiting at all costs. It’s just too painful! It isn’t far from where I live and I’ve known the people there for a long time, but it just makes me so sad when I go there. The building looks like it’s about to collapse at any minute. When you go into the sanctuary the building is leaning so far to the left that it makes you dizzy. It hasn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in decades. Everything looks worn out and run down. I’m sure there are plenty of similar looking churches somewhere out there, although I don’t ever recall seeing one quite this bad, at least not here in Japan. But still, you might think I’m being overly sensitive; which I probably am. Here’s the thing… my dad built that church! He actually built it with his own hands and the help of a few other carpenters. He poured his life into getting that church up and running and there was a time when it was a pretty vibrant community. I have countless old photos of his from those days showing the place filled with people who look happy. And then there is the matter of timing. You see, this wan’t the only thing my dad was building those days. Our family was also the focus of much of my parents’ attention at the time. I’m the last of three kids with two older sisters and from what I can gather it was a pretty happy day when my parents and sisters welcomed me into the family. That was in June. And then almost exactly three months later the new church building was completed and a dedication service was held. So in some ways my life and that of this rundown church building sort of coincide, making it all the more painful to see it in the present condition.

I find it hard to not feel resentment toward those who fail to take care of this place, and perhaps the last straw for me this time was seeing that the primary symbol of the church, the cross right above the front door, is completely rotting away. I wish I could come up with some positive twist on this all but I’m drawing a blank.

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Broken Camera

Some cameras are fun when they’re broken. You know, the kind you pick up in a junk pile for next to nothing. It’s assumed from the beginning that the camera is broken, but sometimes it seems worthwhile to take a chance. You clean it up a bit, maybe put in new batteries if it’s a modern camera, maybe add a few drops of oil in the right places… If it’s still broken it’s no big deal. But if it should suddenly come back to life the feeling is really gratifying! In particular there are a couple of old medium format cameras; the Pentax 6×7 and the Pentax 645 (original version) that have a few novelties which often lead people to the mistaken conclusion that they are broken. Knowing how to deal with those particular features can often win you a working camera for next to nothing. I’ll just give a few hints. On the 6×7 and the subsequent 67, learn how to use the manual mirror return button! As for the 645, learn how to use the manual advance function that uses the wheel accessory, which is normally stored on the bottom of the body. It’s often missing in old beaters so have one of your own. Secondly, learn to recognize the signs of improperly aligned batteries. Believe it or not, inserting the batteries the wrong way doesn’t render the camera completely lifeless. It still will turn on and show a few signs of life… which can make it look like a broken camera. And of course, be familiar with what does and doesn’t work when the back is removed on that camera, or when the temporary testing back is attached in place of a real film back. You would be surprised how many used camera store clerks don’t know these things!

But some cameras are definitely not fun when they are broken. I’m talking about cameras that are expensive and as such, are expected to work flawlessly and render great images. My FujiFilm GF670 Professional is one such camera. And yet for several years I’ve had a nagging problem with it. I often would get one or two frames per roll that were completely blank. It’s pretty hard to think of “user error” that could lead to such a result. The camera can’t be advanced to the next frame until the shutter has been tripped. The shutter can’t be released unless the front is opened, which turns on the camera. There is no lens cap… so I just can’t figure out how I could get a completely blank (transparent after being developed) frame unless the shutter was failing to release. It used to be one or two frames per roll, and not every roll. But then while in the U.S. for six months recently it seemed to get worse. In one particular case five of the ten frames were entirely blank! That’s when I decided to take it in for repairs. I got back to Japan at the end of March and finally took the camera to the shop in late April or early May. About a week later the store called me and said the repair crew at Fuji couldn’t find any flaws in the camera and were sending it back! I objected and told the store to send it right back to Fuji and insist that they actually run film thru it and check the results. Another couple of weeks went by and it came back again, Fuji still claiming they couldn’t find anything wrong and this time they had a roll of 160NS to prove their point.

I took the camera back somewhat reluctantly and immediately loaded a roll of Acros and started by taking a picture in the store and finished the roll by the time I got home. I meant to develop it right away but somehow didn’t get around to it and ended up shooting three more rolls of the same film before getting around to developing it. Well, lo and behold! No blanks!! I’m not sure why and I’m still sort of expecting blanks to show up in the future, but my best guess is that they did some general servicing and cleaning right at the beginning and that must have taken care of the problem. But since Fuji repair staff had spent a significant amount of time on the camera and weren’t charging me anything I decided to just be happy! Here are some of the results from the first test roll.

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Winter Colors

Each season has it’s own colors. Spring is a riot of blossoming color, but dominated by the newly emerging green foliage. Hot summers are alleviated by the soothing blue of cool water and more green. Fall is that time when nature’s colors go psychedelic! Hues range from deep red to yellow with endless varieties of orange in between. So what about winter? Well, in most climes blossoms disappear, leaves fall off, grasses turn brown, leaving a rather dull coloring of the landscape. But then something happens and all the visual glory of winter is revealed… yes, it snows! Snow is what brings out the fabulous colors of winter! Object if you like, but scientifically I think white is actually the combination of all colors. So snow can rightfully be thought of as revealing winter “colors”!

Of course this whole discussion may seem pointless since I’m talking about monochrome photography! But if white is the combination of all colors and black is the absence of all colors then I guess in a twisted sort of way, B&W images cover the entire color spectrum; it just doesn’t sort out the particulars very well. Anyway, the beauty of using B&W film in winter is that it captures the “color” of winter rather well.

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Time Stands Still

High in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado one can often find remains of old mining sites. In the final decade of the 19th century gold fever swept over this part of the nation and changed “life in the west” forever. Almost overnight unknown mountain hamlets grew into bustling towns and cities, often at altitudes considered unsurvivable by city folk! The gold rush struck hard, it struck fast and led to an unimaginable influx of investor dollars. In places previously only known to mountaineers and adventurers, one could find classic, roughshod Western towns complete with hotels, bars, brothels, banks, city halls, dance halls, fire stations, and churches. By the 1940s almost all the mines were no longer profitable and suddenly all those bustling mountain communities were abandoned. Ghost towns dot the Rockies even today. One such town is Victor, in Teller County, about an hour from Colorado Springs. While it isn’t an abandoned town, it still has all the markings of a classic turn of the century mining town. You can even see the bullet holes in the walls of town hall, a reminder of the intensity with which labor disputes erupted between mine workers and mine owners.

In the hills above victor there are numerous abandoned mine sites and they make for fascinating photography. The heavy machinery sits there in the harsh elements, not having turned a gear or hauled a cable in close to a century… and yet it looks as if it could be fired up tomorrow with a little grease and fresh fuel. The buildings, on the other hand, have taken a heavier toll. And yet many of them still stand there, giving ghostly reminders a time gone by. I find it amazing that anything remains, considering the harshness of the elements. Even with my warmest gear, I wouldn’t survive more than a few hours in those locations. To think that people were not only working, but building homes and raising families in those locations more than a century ago is mind boggling at best.

The American Eagles Scenic Overloook is located at an altitude of 10,750 feet and has spectacular bird’s eye views of the surrounding country. There is absolutely no protection from the wind, the snow and the cold and yet you can walk thru the remains of offices, a blacksmith shop and even the superintendent’s house! The wooden buildings are in significant stages of decay, but the heavy machinery right next to them sits bold and strong, as if to say, “pfff…. what’s a century or two!”

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