Tag Archives: Agfa Isolette

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.

IMG_3852 IMG_3873

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.



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

Agfa Isolette. The best everyday medium format camera?

What do you do when you come across a medium format folding camera that you have always kinda wanted that has been CLA’d and fitted with a new bellows in your favorite color? Silly question- you buy it of course.

Agfa Isolette lll 3.5 Solinor (Tessar type)


How about that symmetrical look?  The button on the left (as we look at it) is the shutter, the right releases the spring door.

I really enjoy using this camera.  It is small, well built, and simple to use.  By small I mean folded up it is probably close to a Leica M5 without its lens, but lighter.  Great for taking along for snaps or whatever.  It even has double exposure prevention that works.  Wow! I have the habit of always advancing the film just before I take a picture to prevent double exposures. This can however sometimes lead to blank frames if you think you are going to take a picture, wind, then change your mind at the last minute and walk off to find another scene only to wonder when you are ready to take a shot later if you have wound it or not.  So you wind it again. Well with this camera you can go ahead and try taking it. If the film hasn’t been advanced it you can’t trip the shutter with the shutter button.

It has a rangefinder which is better than nothing, but it is not coupled which means you have to transfer that distance to the focus ring.  Focus isn’t as critical as you move closer to infinity and most people would probably zone focus with these most of the time anyway.  For close focus or where the light levels don’t allow you as much depth of field (and don’t have your tripod) you definitely would want to be a bit more careful.

It doesn’t have an automatic film advance stop so you have to open the little window and watch for the next number to show up to know you have advanced the film the right amount.  Easy.  What some people would term as inconveniences are what qualifies this camera for a fairly high Slow Photography ranking:-)  If a Nikon F4 would be a 1 (since it has autoload, auto advance, auto exposure, autofocus, etc), and a large format field camera a 10, then this would probably sit somewhere around a 6.

I didn’t have much opportunity to take it out at first due to the rainy season which lasts for around 1 month, so I tried it inside my house on some willing subjects (my children) and a make-shift studio (bamboo curtain shade, umbrella reflector and flash).  Then the other day I took it on a walk out in the Chiba country not too far from a road the Shogun had built several hundred years ago to go out hunting in the country called the Onari Kaido.  We had some rain and sunshine and all sorts of changing light conditions which always makes it fun.

I have been experimenting a bit with HC-110 developer and I am not sure I have it nailed yet.. I think that a lens hood and yellow filter would help a lot.  They’re next on my list..