Category Archives: Color

New Toy, On The Road

As many of you who have been following my blog for any period of time are now aware, I’m a camera-toy junkie. My latest foray in camera toy land has been into the world of “toy” cameras. I’ve been working for several years on my Sinister Idyll series using my Lomo Belair X-6/12. Many would call it a “toy” camera because it is a plastic fantastic body, with aperture-preferred automatic exposure only, only two aperture choices, and manual guesstimate focusing only. It’s upgradeable (as I have done) with two Russian-made glass lenses (which are absolutely superb), but beyond that, it’s a glorified point-n-shoot that takes panoramic images on 120 roll film.

Well, I just acquired its spiritual cousin, the Lomo LC-A 120. The LC-A has a super-wide lens, also a Russian glass lens, and a fully automatic shutter and aperture (you have no say whatever in the exposure other than if you game the system by changing the ISO, and no idea which aperture it’s using because there is no indicator in the viewfinder, just a slow-shutter warning light). Focusing is achieved by selecting one of four focus zones via a lever on the side of the body. I’ve been plinking around with it here around Washington DC, and just gave it its first serious workout on the road when I took it with me to London.

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“Disco Grecian”, British Museum

One of the most obvious characteristics of the lens is a noticeable vignette in the corners. Applied properly, this is a very effective tool. Thanks to the automatic aperture, it’s not always predictable how much you’re going to get (see comment above about the aperture – with wider apertures and infinity focus, you get more vignetting. With smaller apertures and closer focus, you get little or no vignetting).

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Greek Temple, British Museum

As you can see from the people moving around in this scene, the camera is quite sharp even at a larger aperture, and the extreme wide-angle (the same field of view as a Hasselblad Superwide) lets you hand-hold at speeds that would be very difficult with a normal lens on a reflex camera. I’m guessing this was somewhere between 1/8th and 1/2 second.

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Pennyfarthing Bike, outside Thomas Farthing’s, Museum Street, London

Even with the lens being so wide, you can achieve selective focus effects with it if you get in close. I highly recommend getting in close!

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Exit, Russell Square Tube Station, London

An extreme example of hand-holding (yes, I know – I have supernaturally steady hands). This was at least a one-second exposure.

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Approaching Train, Waiting Passenger, Kings Cross Tube Station

The LC-A is a great travel camera because it’s so wide, it allows you to include a near-human-eye field of view, and the extreme light-weight and compact form factor make it very easy to take anywhere and carry all day. Ditto for the minimalist operation technique – you really just point, set focus range, and shoot.

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No Smoking

Back here in DC, you can see another example of the vignette effect. I did tweak this a little to amplify it, but this is not a significant manipulation beyond what the camera did.

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Under Construction

I like getting multi-layered images with partial reflections in glass. And it’s a bit of a self-portrait too, with my shadow falling in the image. I love how the construction workers have the microwave set up and working in the middle of a kitchen remodel – you have to have your priorities straight and keep the coffee warm!

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A demonstration of not only the extreme field of view, but the color rendering of the lens. The camera has a reputation for deep, saturated colors. This was taken with 10+ years out-of-date Fuji Pro 400 H.

ConcretePineconeDupontAgain, you can never really get too close. This was a test of the close-focus/selective focus capability (the minimum focus setting is 1.5 feet).

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Nice saturated colors even on decade-old film.

One of the things I’ve been enjoying about these “toy” cameras that give you very little control over your photograph is the way that they in many ways demonstrate the lack of need for that level of control to make good images. The extreme wide-angle of not only the LC-A but also the Belair force you to think very seriously about your composition, use of perspective, and manipulation of forced perspective to emphasize/de-emphasize compositional elements. With the Belair, I do have a “B” setting for the shutter to do long exposures and intentionally play with time, something I don’t have on the LC-A (but wish I did). Time is the one other critical component to a photograph that we do and simultaneously do not have control over – I can control when I open the shutter, and to some extent when I close the shutter (if I want a “correctly” exposed image, I must close it when it needs to be closed, not when I want it to be closed), but beyond that we have no real control over what happens WHILE the shutter is open. Things happen on their own. Movement is never fully predictable. Moving subjects speed up, slow down, change direction, or stop without warning.

I’ve started thinking of these cameras that I’ve been using – the Belair and the LC-A – as “serendipity boxes” because to use them successfully, they require an acceptance of serendipity, chance, and fortune. They’re life-metaphors in a way – just like in my own life, I can point them a certain direction, look at specific things, get closer, and turn away.  But if I don’t learn how to see through them, to take in the periphery, work within the uniquely skewed perspectives that they offer, I’ll miss out on things that are presented to me because they didn’t fit in the tightly-controlled box I wanted them to fit into.

 

Palacio De Bellas Artes, Mexico City

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The last time I wanted to photograph the Palace of Fine Arts, the weather was not so accommodating and the skies were hazy and smoggy every day. This trip, the weather cooperated and you can see the glory that is the Palacio. The domes of the Palacio are so iconic a symbol of Mexico City, they’re even on the Starbucks mug! Next time I’m back, I’ll have to go in the Sears across the street and see if I can get a good shot out one of the third or fourth floor windows.

The interior is every bit as spectacular – The entrance lobby is a glory of Deco Mexicano – very much Art Deco, but with a distinct Mexican cultural twist – you can feel the stirrings of pride in indigenous Mexican heritage that were finding expression in stylized Aztec and Mayan motifs and the murals of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros and Jose Orozco that adorn the walls of the lobby.

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I feel lucky to have pulled off this shot, as I had to point the camera straight up, and hold it still for 1/15th of a second (I think it was a 1/15h, might have been 1/8th). No small feat when your camera is as big and heavy a brick as my Mamiya RZ67. I must say it has an extremely well-damped mirror that doesn’t cause camera shake – while it isn’t quite as smooth as my Rolleiflex, which has no mirror movement at all, I can hand-hold it down to 1/15th or 1/8th regularly (the Rollei I feel pretty confident to 1/4 second, and have been known to pull off 1 second exposures hand held).

Mexico City – Around San Angel, In Color

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San Angel Moving, Local and Long-Distance

I think this was a newsstand kiosk, but it’s painted to advertise San Angel Moving, in a very old-school style. One of their trucks was parked right next to it.

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Yellow Cafe, San Angel

I couldn’t help but photograph this bright yellow cafe/restaurant – what a cool building!

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Dance School, San Angel

Another building that cried out to be photographed – if it were stone and not brick, I would assume this was in Spain or Italy, not Mexico. It has a dance school inside, as well as a residence. Who knows how old it is?

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Walking uphill, San Angel

A typical street in San Angel – those cobblestones could go all the way back to the 17th century. The neighborhood, today, is one of the most upscale in Mexico City, with many of the Viceregal compounds and ex-convents/monasteries converted into extremely private residences de luxe.

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Number 46, Calle de la Amargura

 

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Barber Shop, San Angel

I just loved the old-school barbershop interior and the “Abierto, Pase Ud” (Open, Please Come In” sign on the door. It reminded me of the barbershops in the town I grew up in.

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Fountain, Plaza San Jacinto

The last time I was in Mexico City, this fountain wasn’t running. So nice to see it operating – it really brings the plaza together and makes it feel more alive, even when the  Saturday artists’ market isn’t running.

C&O Canal Monument, Twilight, Georgetown

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The monument is adjacent to where Wisconsin Avenue crosses over the C&O Canal in Georgetown. It is effectively a zero mile marker, although not precisely, as the canal continues a few hundred yards past the marker to empty into Rock Creek. It commemorates the construction of the canal. I caught it right at “magic hour” when the sky is just dark enough that it matches the ambient street light, but is not so dark as to lose all detail and color. Here it has a wonderful indigo glow. And no, no flash was used in the making of this shot- this was purely ambient light from the street lamps and the sky.

Washington DC at Twilight

More specifically, the Georgetown neighborhood. Georgetown may be many things (incredibly overpriced, a tourist trap, insanely busy and difficult to navigate because they refused the Metro when the system was being built) but it is very vibrant and there’s always something going on. It still retains much of the late 18th/early 19th century architecture from when Georgetown was actually a separate city from Washington DC, and has a very distinct feel. I like getting out and photographing there, especially at twilight into the sunset hour, because Georgetown’s position on the crest of a hill overlooking the Potomac really captures the light of that hour like no other part of the city.

This is looking east along M Street, one of the main commercial corridors in Georgetown, from the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. The sun is setting, the light is fading, and the traffic and street lamps are glowing with the first hints of night lights.

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The cyclist is moving just fast enough to be blurred as he passes through the scene.

Here is the famous Farmers and Merchants Bank at the corner of Wisconsin and M Streets. This is an absolutely iconic structure in Georgetown, and is instantly recognizable around the world to people who have visited Washington DC.

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I love the dull gleam of the gilded dome of the bank catching the last rays of the sun.

And here is a glimpse of Georgetown’s industrial waterfront past, where the C&O Canal carves its last yards of waterway through the city before meeting the Potomac River, and where the warehouses for tobacco, wheat, corn, cotton and local products were stored, bought, and sold at the last navigable port on the Potomac.

CanalSunsetGtown

Today, fancy boutiques and high-end condos line the canal, the smokestacks of power plants remaining as decorative follies to remind us of the town’s industrial past.