Tag Archives: photography

80 Year Old Camera Explores the World Again

This Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder accompanied me on a recent business trip to Sri Lanka, and although I didn’t have much opportunity to use it there I did get to take a few frames (on an overcast day..) which is better than nothing, and then took a few more back in Japan.

These old cameras are handy for travel due to their compact size- when folded and stowed away they are slimmer than your average 35mm slr.  Of course without automatic winding stops you have to watch the number in the window for each frame, and when framing be careful not to crop things out of the top when in close range due to parallax (like I almost did in the portrait of the three friends in below), but this is all part of the experience.  A speed camera it is not.

Slave Island Fellows

These two friendly guys were enjoying the afternoon in this narrow alley in Slave Island with their beautiful cat. They jokingly offered to give me the cat to take back with me to Japan (the cat went along with it for the sake of the joke, but wasn’t that keen on it I don’t think). 

I did ruin a frame due to the bag of lychees I was carrying in my left hand contacting the shutter tensioner while taking one exposure thus slowing it from 1/100th to probably around 1/15th and causing the camera to shake slightly. This is something I like to do with my thumb on my Superb as well.  It generally takes one frame of doing this I’ve found and then I am ok for the rest of the time using the camera:-)  Then I forget again when it is put away for a few months..

slave island alley lychee dream

Doh! Darned lychees. They were delicious though (and cost only about ¥100 for 20pcs).

The Voigtlander Bessa RF was made from 1936-1951 I understand (according to Camerapedia). They were fitted with Skopar, Heliar, Heliomar, Helomar, and Color-Heliar lenses.  I like the 5 element Heliar 3.5/10.5cm, but I have heard good things about any of them.  It does get soft in the extremeties below f8, and swirly opened all the way up. This can look pretty cool for portraits etc if that is what you are going for. It has a yellow filter attached which conveniently flips up and down.  I don’t have a lens shade for it yet so have to watch the flare though haven’t noticed anything too shocking yet.

This high contrast photo of an old Japanese farm building would have benefitted from the zone system (and a tripod) in order to get more detail in the shadows and some more depth of field, although I like all the shapes, textures and shadows as it is.  Probably around 1.5 more stops exposure and then n-1 development?  Next time..

japanese rustic

Film was Arista Edu 100 (Foma 100) shot at ei200 just to get a little more speed for better handheld use. Development was HC-110 E 8 minutes/20C (recommended was 6 min at 20c at box speed).

This camera also is able to shoot square format which would give 12 frames instead of 8, and centralise the image to the area where the lens performs best.

 

Short excursion down Shinjuku’s backside

Unfortunately no backsides were recorded on my camera partially due no doubt to my inebriated condition, but that is no excuse,  I promise to do better next time.  “Don’t apologise just improve yourself” as my crazy old boss used to say..

Don’t worry, nothing as gritty or seedy as you might expect or even hope for (like from someone like Moriyama), I’ll save that for the next time perhaps..

The Tri-x pushed to 2200 in HC-110 worked well (16 minutes development), and next time I might give 3200 a shot to see how it holds up.

Tri-x ei2200 / HC-110 B / Summicron 50, Summaron 35

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FM2 Yoshidamachi 02

Old town, Yokohama.  Nikon FM2 50/1.8 Nikkor / Tri-x / HC-110 E (and fixer that looks like it probably should have been replaced a couple rolls back- doh!)

The wires on the side of the building look like vines to me.  I like how the shapes and patterns attract the eye amongst the jumble and worn disarray of human life- somehow more comforting to me, and definitely more interesting to look at than our new modern sterility.

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

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.

No Clothes?

I came across this interesting article by Michael Sweet on the Huffington Post the other day regarding the current “street photography” culture.  He talks about how banal much of the photography is, and why all this bad photography exists.  It’s very good. It got me thinking about the internet photo community in general so I thought I would add some comments.

While in the States a few months ago I came across some prowling the streets, cameras strapped to hand with their pro-sniper straps, somewhat reminiscent of hunters (I actually came across a website that called itself Street Hunter..).  Their appearance as well as subject interaction looked different from footage I have seen of greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Gary Winogrand in action on the streets for example. As an aside, in appearance Gary Winogrand looked to me a bit more a like a nice old fisherman whereas these guys were a bit more like some special forces tactical unit in appearance.

Just because you can does it mean that you should?

Digital technology has made it possible to effortlessly take a photo that is perfect, at least in the technical sense of exposure and focus, and with a couple clicks in photoshop and boom, you have a photo that is nowadays commonly called “dope,” or “sick”. A couple more clicks and it can be online in a multitude of places ready for the reassuring clicks of approval from multitudes of friends and followers. It’s easier than ever to get the gear, a website, upload it, and join the millions of others doing the exact same thing.

1.8 billion per year and growing- for what?

The accessibility of photography both in a technical as well as economic sense has led to unprecedented popularity.  True, Kodak revolutionized photography a century ago by bringing cheap mass produced cameras to the average person, but hardly anyone saw the resulting photos.  The sheer volume of photographs ever accumulating online today is mind boggling.  The amount of photos shared online has apparently tripled just between 2013 and 2014 from 500 million to 1.8 billion according to one report.  Currently according to Flickr 8,600,000 photos are uploaded everyday!  Is it information overload? Maybe we are coming full circle since most of these photos today are not really seen either.  Even Flickr for example is selecting photographs to showcase on their own site based on “interestingness” algorithms. 

What is “good” or “art”- maybe best to leave that up to the algorithm?

Maybe in the future megapixels and memory will be such that we can just video with our camera and then an algorithm will help us select a number of the best shots from that day’s “photoshoot”.  We could even just attach it to our head and leave it on all day and night and let the computer due the work automatically overnight and when we wake up in the morning the photos will already be posted and some even will have received some likes and clicks from other computers based on algorithms and hopefully already selected by algorithms to showcase.. If there isn’t a scifi book about it already there should be.

What is “art”, “fine art”, and “good” or a “beautiful” photograph is a prickly subject(ive) of course (made all the more difficult by our own inability to define these terms). I’ll best stay away from this but if you get a chance I recommend the John Berger film on Youtube, Ways of Seeing for some interesting discussion about this.

Conformity of cliches

When I look at photo sites I see many photographs that are almost indistinguishable between different photographers.  It’s almost as if they could be computer generated algorithms. There’s the obligatory dock running out into the lake, the sparkly sunset with the tree, the long exposure creek or waterfall, and other cliches.  I wonder if they went to the same photography school.

What is real?

In Zen Buddhism there is a term Buddha Nature. It is in all things but most people cannot see it until they are able to understand themselves. A zen monk who lived in the 14th century called Bassui said, seeing ones own nature is buddhahood. I will call this nature truth.  I think real photographs capture truth. Why am I wandering around taking pictures? It is not simply because I like a pretty picture that looks like it belongs in a calendar. And anyway if that is all I wanted there are billions of “pretty” pictures online so that I don’t need to go out and make my own.  I think it is because I am searching for answers to bigger questions about this world as well as about myself.

Well, ok, now with all that said, I can say for me it is my goal to take “real” photographs and continuously improve my eye and my technique. But above all I will enjoy myself.

With that I will leave you with a photo of an empty cat food dish and a shadow I found in Chiba.  Is it really empty?? Haha!

Do not be misled! Look directly!  What is this? – Bassui

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