Getting wet in Puerto Rico

Some underwater shots with the Olympus Stylus Tough 6020. Rated to 16 feet. It was remarkably capable – I think 90% of the shortcomings I experienced were attributable to operator error. The biggest hassle/complaint about the camera that I can point to the camera as the source of the shortcoming is shutter lag. While not such a big deal on dry land where you can stand still, but when your own natural buoyancy combines with the motion of the waves and current, it’s hard to hold still and compose a shot. With too much shutter lag, you end up losing a lot of shots. Something I’m neutral about is the built-in owners manual. The camera does not come with a printed owners manual, but instead has a built-in help system for all the features and functions. The upside is you don’t have to carry the owners manual with you and possibly lose it. The downside is it takes battery power to read it, and the camera is not the most efficient at conserving battery power. According to the camera specifications, you get about 200 shots per charge of the battery. I don’t think I got that many, but I did a fair bit of chimping. I’d say I got between 80-100 shots. I’ve got another gripe with the camera I’ll address in another post.

Some new results from Old San Juan

Just a few better images from the trip to Puerto Rico. Definitely NOT with a view camera – everything was shot with a Contax G2, mostly with the 21mm and 90mm lenses, with a couple of 45mm grabs in there. As always, working with the G2 is a joy, and it produces incredible results. Even though it isn’t “as silent as a Leica”, I enjoy the whirring of gears of the auto-focus, and the snick-snick of the shutter.

I’m some kind of obvious when taking photos, as even when I’m using the G2, which is a pretty inconspicuous camera, I seem to attract attention. My father and I were coming back from dinner and I stopped to take a photo, and this panhandler approaches me. He asks, “How much does that camera cost”? I can tell he’s not a photography enthusiast, so I reply, “I don’t remember, I’ve had it for a while. It takes film” – hoping that will discourage any thoughts of taking it. He then states, “I guess you have a relationship with your camera”. DUH. I do, but don’t even THINK about trying to end that relationship non-consensually. I do have a love affair with my cameras, and I’ll happily share that with anyone interested, but I’ll smack you to the moon if you try to mess with that.

This time, I was paying attention to creating abstract compositions, which is easy in some ways because the tropical light is so strong, even early and late in the day you get powerful shadows and directional light, unless you’ve got profound overcast. The wrinkle is color- because our natural perception of the world is color, working with color film tends to emphasize our connection to the reality of the subject and distract from perceiving it as just line and form. I hope I’ve managed with a few images to challenge that limitation. I know for myself as a predominantly black-and-white photographer that switching gears to see and think in color is hard – some of the photos I took on this trip I can look at and see very clearly that they would be better as black-and-white images. Sometimes color creates contrast that we don’t see when we are used to thinking only of tone and reflectiveness, and sometimes what looks good as contrast between light and shadow looks god-awful in color because it’s too harsh and the color is overwhelmed.

For those who are interested, all these were shot on Kodak Ektar 100 (with a few using the new Kodak Portra 400). I think it is my new go-to 35mm film, displacing even my beloved Fuji Reala. I like the palette of Ektar better now- the Fuji’s greens are a little too strong, the blues and reds a little weak compared to the Ektar. I’m also highly impressed with the Portra 400. I brought along two rolls of it thinking I might use it for some night photos. Dummy me didn’t segregate it from general population in the film pocket of my camera bag, and I accidentally grabbed a roll and loaded it thinking it was still the Ektar 100 (BAD Kodak – the design for the canister is identical except for the text label, so you can’t tell easily through the plastic tube which is which). The upside is, I can almost not tell any difference between them, at least in a scan and a 4×6 print. I’ll let you look through the gallery and decide for yourselves which is which. I’m not telling.

Two new CDVs

Two actors by Chas. H. Spieler, 722 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. Note the feet of the braces used to keep the actors still during the possibly half-minute exposure. You can tell I’m a real historic photo geek when I get excited over something like the presence of posing stand feet in a CDV.

Anonymous gentleman with top hat, by Bogardus, 363 Broadway, New York. This image has actually inspired some studio design ideas for my own studio – I’m now hunting for rope and tassels like the ones in the backdrop here.

Two actors in costume by Chas. H. Spieler, Philadelphia
Two actors in costume by Chas. H. Spieler, Philadelphia
Anonymous gentleman by Bogardus
Anonymous gentleman by Bogardus, New York

Another Brady CDV – Washington DC studio

Fat Lady, Mathew Brady Studio, Washington, DC

Another CDV added to the collection. My first Mathew Brady CDV with the Washington DC studio imprint. I suspect that she was a circus sideshow performer, because even in the Victorian era when zaftig women were more popular, she is not the kind of zaftig that the Victorians found sexy.

Also note the book under her foot. I suspect it was just a posing prop to give her body some form and dynamic, but it would be interesting to know if there were something meaningful to the book underfoot. Books were a very common studio prop, usually held in the hand, to indicate that the subject was literate and had some kind of intellectual accomplishment. By extension, stepping on a book would seem to imply a deliberately and blatantly anti-intellectual attitude, which would have been at extreme odds with the contemporary ethos, and would seem out of character for a studio like Mathew Brady’s – he went out of his way to cultivate associations with the best and the brightest of his day. So it’s probably just a posing device, no meaning implied.

General Joseph Hooker, by Mathew Brady

CDV, General Joseph Hooker, by Mathew Brady
CDV, General Joseph Hooker, by Mathew Brady

This is an E&HT Anthony reprint of a Mathew Brady CDV of “Fightin” Joe Hooker, appointed by Lincoln to lead the Union armies after Burnside’s disaster at Fredericksburg. Hooker didn’t last long after, meeting his tactical doom at Chancellorsville. This is not a rare version of the image, but rather an 1860s equivalent of a celebrity collector card – people would assemble albums featuring the politicians, generals, stars of the stage, and other celebrity types (Barnums’ Circus freaks, writers, poets, and so on). Unlike today where people, mostly teenagers, collect pictures of their favorite stars, in the 19th century it was not uncommon to find these cartes mixed in with the family album, and collected by the senior members of the family, not just star-struck children.

New Toy – for adventures in underwaterland

On a spur-of-the-moment thing, I’m running off to Puerto Rico for a weekend with my dad. I have an underwater film camera with external flash, which is all fine and dandy, but it is rather bulky, so I decided to stop by my local camera store and see what was on the menu in a digital point-n-shoot. I walked out with an Olympus 6020 Stylus Tough. It seems to have a lot of potential, so we’ll see what I get from it. I’m hoping I can get some interesting shots from the bioluminescent bay. I’ve had a lot of fun in the past doing underwater photos, but of course there’s always been the frustration of having the 36 frame limit. Now, with a 4GB card I can shoot a lot more than that, and even do movies. It’s not much bigger than my phone (thicker, but not as long, and about as tall) so it fits nicely in a pocket. The LCD on the back is not the sharpest (my iPhone screen is WAY better, but it ought to be). For daytime/land-based photography I’m still going to bring my Contax G2 and a bunch of Ektar 100. THAT has been the rock star in my travel photography world – I brought back images from Barcelona that turned into enough sales to virtually pay for the trip.

I’ll be relying on my dad as a tour guide of sorts for this trip, because he’s been there several times, and this is my first. We’re staying in Old San Juan, and I’m looking forward to spending some time at El Morro and San Cristobal, as well as walking the colonial streets and doing a little shopping. If I’m lucky I’ll bring back one of the Vejigante masks and you’ll get to see it in some of my upcoming photo work from the new studio. For those who don’t know what a Vejigante mask is, it’s a Puerto Rican cultural icon – they’re a combination of native, African and Spanish culture. Made for Carnival, they’re supposed to scare away evil spirits. Part of the culture of wearing the masks is to go around with an animal-skin bladder full of air and spank people with it to chase away any ghosts or devils that may have gotten ahold of them. This spiritual quality of the practice is somewhat belied by the fact that the primary targets of the swattings seem to be pretty women, so it’s more of a pick-up line than an exorcism in contemporary use.

Settling in to the new studio

I was out to my parents’ house for lunch yesterday, and on a whim, as we were discussing possible family vacation plans, I decided that it was time to bring the studio camera from their basement down to the studio (a much more logical place for it to live). So with a bit of clever maneuverings, we drove their Toyota Highlander across the snow-filled yard (they still have a good 6 inches on their grass) and pulled it up at the basement door. Mom had this fear that the Toyota (with a good 8 inch ground clearance) would get stuck in the snow, so she got on the John Deere lawn tractor with the snow-blower and blew a path from the driveway to the basement door. Completely un-needed, and she probably did more harm to the lawn with the John Deere (which had chains on the tires) than the Toyota would have.

Dad and I got the camera stand out of the basement, which was a minor miracle, as my dad is 72, with a bad back, and the stand is made of solid oak and cast iron. It fit, barely, in the back of the Highlander with the rear seats folded forward. On the way home I rounded up a couple friends and we unloaded everything down at the studio much easier than getting the stand into the back of the car (it helps that the studio is at street level and we only had to take the stand up one single step to get it in the back door. While I have the Highlander, I’m going to do another run over to the studio today with a bunch of accessories, and try to get the space a bit more organized.

Photography, Alternative Processes, Really Big Cameras, and other cool stuff

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