Tag Archives: film photography

The Heart Sees Deeper Than The Eye

What do you call those little bits of paper that they attach to teabags so that you can easily grab onto the string or wrap the string around the finger handle of your teacup?  The paper doohickey?  Yes that’s the one.  Well, I have one (from Yogi Tea) that has been on my refrigerator now for around 8 or 9 years that says, “The heart sees deeper than the eye”.  That is a keeper.  All that wisdom for only around 20 cents:-)

I think this relates to photography in that we shouldn’t get too hung up on rules and should let our heart tell us what and how we photograph. In other situations, take advertising or a con artist for example, we can be distracted by flashy talk and promises, yet if you give your heart a chance it can tell you when something is not right.


Angel, Yokohama Japan.  M3 / Summaron 35 f2.8 / Tri-x (ei 1600) / Caffenol semi stand 85min@20c.

Coming home late from a function one night I almost walked past this angel standing in the cold in front of an izakaya (Japanese old style family restaurant).  The old black and white photographs of ships behind her add an interesting element, along with someone’s bag draped over her head, and the whole thing looked very peaceful to me. Well.. I only had had a couple drinks (I said as I held up 3 fingers)..

In comparison to some HP5+ I had shot also at 1600 and developed at the same time in the identical caffenol stand recipe I thought I noticed what I thought to be a bit more grain in the HP5+, however after looking a bit more closely they seem pretty similar.

Below is a frame I took with some HP5+ at 1600.


Morning bullet train, somewhere between Yokohama and Nagoya. M3 / Summaron 35 f2.8 / HP5+ (ei 1600) / Caffenol semi stand 85min@20c.

These are full size crops of the scans of each (at 2400). Not much in it.  Both are good considering the two stop push and the type of film I think. I would have to scan at a higher resolution to get a definitive answer.. Technically I suppose I would have to ensure both were the same exposure and the area compared of similar density but I don’t intend to get that technical about this stuff.




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..).


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!



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.

60+ years and still going strong


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.



Oh how many, many feet you meet!


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?


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.


Photo 1) Agfa Isolette/  HP5/ HC-110, Photos 2, 3, and 4) Olympus XA/ Tri-x/ HC-110

Engakuji is a beautiful Zen Temple about 10 minutes walk from Kita-Kamakura Station, which is about 25 minutes by train SW  of Yokohama Station. It was founded by a patron of the Kamakura Shogunate in 1282. There are over a dozen different buildings and the public are able to participate in zazen, lectures, and tea ceremonies among other things.  It is quite nice for a relaxing stroll around, soaking up the “zen”. If you ever have the chance to visit the Tokyo/Yokohama area definitely don’t miss Kamakura.

On the brochure it says the following:

The fact that we are living here, now, in the present- this is the true meaning of the existence of Buddha. Nothing is more precious than this. How marvelous this is! How important it is to realize from the bottom of one’s heart! This is the way in which all of us, each in our true fashion, will awaken to the truth and each live, in our own way, a cheerful and happy life. This is the teaching of Zen.

I am guessing but I think it is likely that not many read this at all, but of those that do a very small percentage might wonder what it means.

Well for anyone interested and reading this this far I will attempt to explain as I understand it.  Essentially in Zen Buddhism we are taught that each of us have Buddha nature, and are enlightened already, however the problem is that we cannot see it for ourselves.  Most of the exercises done in buddhist training such as zazen and koans (koans are kind of like riddles meant to stump you and make you think outside the box) for example, are tools which if used over time wear down illusions, ego, and other superficial obstructions we have so that we can truly see. Enlightenment, among other things, is finally seeing this and being able to live in harmony with your true self, nature, and fully appreciative of the present (since that is all there is anyway).

A well known book called The Three Pillars of Zen (by Philip Kapleau) gives an example story from a Zen Master called Yasutani Roshi called The Parable of Enyatta. It goes something like this (long story short):

A girl loved her face so much she looked at it in the mirror all the time.  One day she looked in the mirror and her head was gone. In a panic she ran around everywhere asking who took her head. Of course they told her she was mad and that her head was of course there where it had always been.  She wouldn’t believe them since she couldn’t see it so they tied her to a post before she might hurt herself. With the body bound after a time the mind becomes more tranquil (Yasutani Roshi mentions that this this is comparable to zazen practice). Eventually she came to half believe that her friends might be right. Then at just the right moment someone hit her on the head and said, “There is your head!” At that moment she realized it and ran around telling everyone, “I’m so happy, I’ve got my head after all!” This, Yasutani Roshi says is Kensho (or enlightenment).  He goes on to say that it is really kind of delusional state since you are simply going around overjoyed at having found something you’ve had all along. Eventually this “delirium of delight” subsides and you are able to live a truly natural life. Nevertheless, unless you go through the process you are unable to find what you have had all along.

Ok, well that concludes tonight’s broadcast.  Nighty night:-)



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..



The good and the bad, the sweet and the bitter, don’t look a gift horse, in terms of photographic opportunity and business travel..

Sri Lanka is a really interesting place. I could spend days weeks walking the streets. I brought 3 cameras: my XA, Leica lll, and an old folding 6×6 (Agfa Isolette) that I’ve been dying to try and 15 rolls of film (mainly Acros)  in preparation for all the opportunity I would surely find.  Well at the end of it I found about 30 hectic minutes at dusk one day and one late afternoon, plus a couple snaps here and there.  The 6×6 didn’t get out.. That’s business travel for you:-)  Don’t complain.  It’s an opportunity- take what you can get.

I was there during Ramadan and although Sri Lanka’s population is predominantly Buddhist they declared a national holiday on the last day,and no alcohol was allowed in restaurants and in public places.  There were a lot of people down at the beach in Colombo that evening enjoying the holiday.

I ordered some HC-110 from Freestyle along with the bulk film a while back so I tried that out with these.  This was “Preparation H” which is diluted 1:63, 10″@20c. Easy with no pain.

Random stuff:

  • Sri Lanka felt safe and looked very clean:-)
  • There are a lot of tourists, particularly from Europe and China. Someone told me they expect 2.5 million visitors this year (population of Sri Lanka is about 20 million).
  • People overall seemed really happy and upbeat.  One person told me that it was because things had been really bad due to a war for so long everyone is so happy that it is finally behind them.
  • The food is delicious and there is a nice variety but it can be extremely spicy. Fire department emergency spicy.  Even when they say it is not so spicy.  Be careful.
  • The driving takes a bit to get used to. Crossing the street as well.
  • Set the price with the Tuk Tuk driver before getting in and going someplace.  This helps with “misunderstandings” and possible hurt feelings.
  • Bring your own black and white film.  I visited a couple major camera shops and there was none to be found.  “You want what sir?? Film??!” I did find some warm Kodak Colour 200 in one store.  Almost expired. Sri Lanka is firmly digital.
  • People start dinner late;  9 or 10 pm is common.
  • There is visible poverty, however Colombo doesn’t seem anything severe like Dhaka, Bangladesh or Manila, Philippines (I have been to these two places).