Perspective

YK Cemetary

Ilford HP5+ (ei1600) / Caffenol stand developed / Summaron f2.8 35mm / Leica M3

This shot was taken as the sun was going down over Yokohama.  Perhaps I should have saved this for Halloween, but I took it only a month or so ago so decided not to wait.  I like the similarity of the structures in this scene as well as its symbolic contrast.

My M3 had been languishing due to my preference for the smaller, lighter and simpler screw mount lllf, however I don’t have a 35mm for the screw mount and really like that focal length so have been using the M3 a bit more recently.

I guess it doesn’t need to be said, but the M3 really is a great camera in every way.  I think the large, bright view finder is its best attribute.  Like all older Leicas it is built so well and looks so nice that you just feel good using it.  Call it Leica therapy.  They may be a bit expensive but are still a lot cheaper than a therapist:-)  The M3 is so nice you could carry it around just to hold and show people (and some people do just that..).

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Perspectives on Death

The West has such a dark and dismal approach to death- cold and lonely for all eternity, the worms nibbling at our flesh, etc.  While I enjoy the gothic Edgar Allen Poe flavour of it in stories, Halloween and whatnot, I don’t subscribe to it at all in my personal philosophy.

We cling to life and fear death, which is referred to as attachment in Zen, but as I understand it they compliment each other a bit like night and day. Without night you do not have day and vice versa, like yin and yang or the tides of the ocean.  If we are not attached to living so much I think we can enjoy it more.

In the last few months 3 people in my family have passed on.  My daughter was also in the hospital for a week with bad bronchitis and asthma.  This has caused me to reflect perhaps a bit more deeply about life recently.

 

“The essence of your mind is not born, so it will never die. It is not an existence, which is perishable. It is not an emptiness, which is a mere void. It has neither colour nor form. It enjoys no pleasures and suffers no pains.”

~ Tokushou Bassui (1327-1387) in a letter to a dying disciple

 

 

 

Afternoon Winter Shadows

shadow of bicycle

Shadows of a bicycle and leaves next to a canal in Yokohama. © jordi vollom

Leica M3 / Summaron f2.8 3.5cm / Tri-x / HC-110 “E” /

“It’s not the quantity of the light it’s the quality. ”  I can’t remember which photographer’s documentary I heard that but it definitely is true.

The afternoon sun in the Winter can give such a nice quality of light.  This image caught my eye while strolling near Yokohama station one afternoon last month. I like the different shapes and textures in the leaves and concrete vs the tonality in the shadows.  The combination of exposure given to the Tri-x and amount of development in HC-110 is showing nice grain I think.

Old Port 01

Ravages of time.  Wharf in Daikoku-Futo, Yokohama. © jordi vollom

I guess most people wouldn’t find beauty in this scene, but I do. This was from the same roll but taken in the harshness of the direct sun and a bit earlier in the day. On days like this it is sunny 16 to calculate exposure.  Easy!

Best!

Jordi

Wet Plate Collodion Workshop

Earlier this year I was able to take a wet plate collodion workshop with Ray Bidegain.  I got to use Ray’s 8×10 Calumet (with a 4×5 converted for wet plates).  It started at about 9 in the morning and we didn’t finish with the dried plates until around 4pm.  Ray’s darkroom was cool and we had plenty of good conversations to boot. It was great fun.

The wet plate collodion process, also commonly called Tin Type, was invented around 150 years ago and uses a metal or glass plate as the base for the emulsion to create a positive. It is capable of incredibly fine detail and I understand, from wiki:-), it was used for special applications right up through the 1960’s. Today it has become very popular again in the US, particularly with portrait photography.  In Japan almost nobody knows about it, however I did meet one photographer here named Hiroshi Homma that does brilliant work with it.

It takes a bit of skill to pour the collodion onto the plates properly, and you have to be careful not to let it run back over the plate making run lines  when you carry it and put it in the camera.  Furthermore, the chemicals can make you pass out, and they can blow up your house if you don’t take adequate precautions. If you do take the right precautions however, and aren’t in a hurry I’m sure you will have a great time doing wet plates. I really enjoyed it.  It is hard to think of anything more custom than making the “film” yourself before taking the photograph.

Here are a few plates I really like from that day. I didn’t get to do any portraits unfortunately as I didn’t have anyone available, and I didn’t think to ask Ray at the time darn it:-)

You can see some of Ray Bidegain’s amazing work here.  I think his photographs have a quiet peaceful quality. His speciality is platinum printing which is another quite involved process.  He holds large format and studio photography workshops as well. I highly recommend him!

Straw Sandals / 藁草履 (warazori) – A sustainable alternative to modern footwear?

There is a crisis happening today all around us. It is called modern footwear.  Every time I walk past a “shoe mart” I can’t help stifling a yawn.  If by modern we mean, cheap, unsustainable, and boring, then yes, “modern”.  There hasn’t been anything really modern happening with today’s shoes since Nike’s waffle iron tread in 1974.  That’s 41 years folks!  41 years of rehashing the same tired theme with the same old nylon, polyester, and plastic fantastic.  41 years of filling up the landfills and lakes, rivers and oceans, backyards and basements, with non biodegradable, petroleum derivatives. Does it matter that they are made in Indonesia, Vietnam, China, or Bangladesh in working and pay conditions that were outlawed in the United States around 100 years ago? Nope, just give me cheap and lots of it.

The solution is Waraji and Warazori.  Warawhatyousay?

Waraji and warazori are straw sandals that were commonly used in Japan from about 2,000 years ago up through the Meiji Period, or around 100 years ago, though in some rural areas people continued wearing them much later. I understand some buddhist monks continue to wear them even today.

The difference between waraji and warazori is the former has bindings securing the sandal up to the ankle/lower leg making them suitable for everyday work and travel, whereas the latter are just like flip flops, or beach sandals so are better for more casual use.

Here are a couple pictures of some wara (straw) and warazori (straw sandals), taken with the Agfa Isolette lll, Acros (at ei400), and semi stand developed in Caffenol.

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There is a pair of 500kg (1,200 lb), 4.5 meter long Owaraji (O meaning big) hanging at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. How big would the giant that wore those be?!

Now for the upsides and downsides..

The down sides:

  • they don’t last as long as today’s plastic fantastic shoes
  • your feet will get wet when it rains
  • goats might like them and follow you around

The upsides:

  • They don’t last as long as today’s plastic fantastic shoes.  Everything is biodegradable – you won’t find them still in the soil or floating around in the Pacific Trash Vortex in 100 years time
  • They are made from 100% sustainable materials
  • Tried and tested- they have been used for nearly 2,000 years
  • They look cool

Ok, looks like the upsides win, let’s get out there and start wearing waraji!  Well, I haven’t tried them for any length of time yet so cannot hand on heart recommend them to you yet, but I will be on the lookout for some so that I can do some proper testing and report back to you:-)

You can see some being made on youtube here.  Pretty cool I think.

Best!

Jordi

PS. Anyone interested in a very good look at our use of 3rd world labour should watch this documentary by legendary journalist John Pilger.

60+ years and still going strong

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This camera works so well in every way, it is hard to imagine that its original design by Oskar Barnack is more than 80 years old.  It is solid, well made, and feels good in the hand.  When you press the shutter button a beautiful sound resonates, not too loud, not too quiet, full of self assured confidence, as if to say, “This is going to be a damn fine photo.” My camera was made in the early 50’s so it has been around 60 years or so,  however I think it will easily be taking photos for someone in another 60 years.

I don’t think there is much in the camera world that came since that can beat it for what it was designed to do. Later Leica’s and slr’s were all larger.  Smaller cameras pretty well scrimped in some way or were not offered in full manual.  Oskar Barnack was apparently an outdoors enthusiast, but also an asthmatic, so he wanted to design something compact and light enough to easily carry on hikes, but with lens quality sufficient to handle enlargements to a decent size (at that time large format cameras were the standard, and a medium format size was considered a minimum requirement for quality photographs).  

If it is good enough for Henri..  This camera was a favorite of Henri Cartier-Bresson. When talking photos of people on the street, he would walk cupping it hidden in his hand so as not to bring attention to himself, bringing it up for a photo at just the right moment. The “decisive moment”.  He also used the M series Leicas later, but in one interview I saw he said he preferred he older barrack because of its perfect size.

Yeah, you have to focus, figure the exposure, wind with a knob, use a separate viewfinder for lenses other than 50mm.  Loading film does take an extra minute.  In other words you have to be a photographer. Luckily it becomes second nature with just a bit of practice.

The other day I was was enjoying a stroll through a popular park and I saw someone walking through with his “deji kame” (digital camera in Japanese) firing bursts of around 20 frames at each “subject” as he walked through, barely stopping for the time that it took to do that and a good portion of that time was looking at the screen afterwards (maybe 5 seconds?). He must have had thousands of near identical frames of “stuff” on that camera.   I could rant about this kind of person, but hey, to each their own. Well, the “Leica Barnack” (as they call them in Japan) is not for doing that kind of thing, obviously:-)

I have only 3 lenses for it, a f2.0/50 Summitar, an Elmar 4/90 and a 4/135.  Leitz glass is all you need to say. They are all great lenses, however I mainly just use the Summitar, which is collapsable making the camera more pocketable. 

Looking through what I’ve taken in the last couple years I can see that I have used this camera more than my others.

Here are a couple I took with it last weekend walking in the early morning near my house in Yokohama.  These are with Acros at ei400, semi stand developed with Caffenol (75min/20c) in my kitchen sink.

Best!

Jordi

Oh how many, many feet you meet!

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Trucker’s feet, Daikoku-Futo, Yokohama.  Tri-x / HC-110 “E”

Feet are amazing. They carry you through life and all its adventures.  Sometimes they need a rest too.  Don’t forget to put your feet up and take a rest from time to time:-)

You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.  – Dr. Seuss

Is that an XA in your pocket?

XA

If you like film and want a great little travel camera, then this is the one for you.

Not another Olympus XA review (groan).. True there are plenty of good ones on the world wide web.  That’s why I won’t bore you with a long review.

What I like:

  • Compact and light; made of durable plastic with a metal (aluminum?) base
  • Has a proper rangefinder focus (3 stage zone focus for XA2)
  • Feels good in the hand and fits right in your jeans or coat pocket
  • It is pleasing to look at
  • 1.5 stop backlight exposure compensation, self timer,  and audible battery check (located on the bottom)
  • Nice f2.8 35mm lens (f3.5 on the XA2)

Maybe not so great:

  • Film selection only to iso 800; 1600 would be nice:-)
  • Fiddly shutter button that sometimes seems to not want to trip when I want it to (I noticed this on my XA2 as well- maybe mine are a bit faulty. Or my technique?)
  • It has a knurled film advance wheel like a cheap disposable- not the fastest and pros maybe didn’t like it much back in the day, but today who cares really?
  • Supposed to take 2 x SR44 batteries. I use LR44 which supposedly changes the meter reading slightly- I have found mine to underexpose a bit so I compensate with the ISO selector switch. The XA2 was designed for the LR44 I understand.
  • The XA2 vignettes a bit more than the XA I think. Depends what you like- I like it.

 Film Advance and Zorki Photo have nice detailed reviews, so check them out if you want to learn more. There is a also a site dedicated to the XA called diaxa.  There is no shortage of love for this little camera, and for good reason.

Because of their size and how much I enjoy using them I often take one with me when I am not specifically going out to take photos, and often this is when I come across something that makes me glad I have it with me. I enjoy using my XA and XA2 equally well.  The XA2 is basically a point and shoot so the aperture and shutter speed are left up to the camera.  You get to set the zone focus.  This can be fun too! You can pretty well guess what the camera is going to do based on the light levels and film speed.

Go get yours today!

Here are a few photos that I have taken with mine over the last year or so that I like.