Photographing the Colosseum was one of the primary reasons I brought the Belair X/6-12. I knew already that I wanted to take panoramic shots of the building, as just about anything else aspect ratio-wise was not going to do the place justice. I think (I hope, anyway) that these give you somewhat of a sense of the scale of the building – it sits in a large open plaza and is every bit as large as a modern American Football stadium, seating somewhere in excess of 50,000 people. A testament to its architectural genius is that the entire stadium could be emptied in a matter of minutes.
These views depict the outer curtain wall, of which only a fraction remains. In fact, almost 2/3 of the original stadium and its decorations are gone – the columns, marble seats, wooden flooring and doors and bronze and gold decorations are all lost to the ravages of earthquakes, vandals, fires, and architectural re-purposing.
An astounding fact about the outer curtain wall – there is NO mortar used in its construction. The entire edifice was assembled and held together by iron bow-tie shaped clamps interconnecting each block.
So I was busy and didn’t get around to developing the last few rolls from my Italian adventure until a couple days ago. I’m working through them now – they’re all panoramic shots taken with my Lomo Belair X/6-12. I’m still on the fence about whether and how much I like it.
In this case, it worked. Quite well in fact. This is one of the famous “Pines of Rome” – the umbrella pine – that are ubiquitous throughout the city and the region. They’re the source of the pine nuts used in making pesto. The umbrella pine is such a signature emblem of Rome I needed to take a photo of it by itself because now having been there, I can’t think of the city without thinking of the pines.
This is a panorama I took of the bend in the Tiber river just in front of the Castel Sant’Angelo, from the castle’s ramparts. St. Peter’s is to the right, out of view. If you look at the bridge in the background, you can see the keyhole arches in the supporting piers which are there to help the bridge not get washed away in time of flooding. There are a number of bridges across the Tiber with this feature, including the famous “Ponte Rotto” (Broken Bridge), which you’ll see in some other shots I’ll post later.
This was taken with my Belair X6-12 camera. As you can see, it’s a pretty soft lens, combined with what was probably a pretty slow shutter speed (1/30th, 1/15th? with this camera, who knows- it sets it automatically for you and doesn’t tell you what it used). But it has a look to it, and the negative isn’t unusable.
I recently acquired a Lomo Belair X 6-12 City Slicker model. It comes with a 58mm and a 90mm lens and the matching viewfinders. The camera is a weird beast, sort of a neither-fish-nor-fowl thing, in that it has multiple film formats (it has masks for 6×6, 6×9 and 6×12 frames), interchangeable lenses (58 and 90mm plastic lenses, and an optional accessory 112mm all glass lens), auto-exposure in aperture-preferred mode, and a hot-shoe flash. However, it is manual film advance completely separate from shutter cocking, there are only two apertures on each lens (f8 and f16), the only sort-of control you have over the shutter is to set the film speed and/or set it to B for long-time exposures), the shutter has a maximum speed of 1/125th of a second, and focusing is zone focusing with indicator marks on the lens for infinity, 3 meters, 1.5 meters, and 1 meter. Oh, and there’s no cable release provision so you have to be extra careful when using B that you don’t shake the camera. The 58mm lens, especially at the 6×12 configuration, is very lo-fi and has gobs of obvious barrel distortion. However, where else are you going to find a 6×12 panoramic camera with a 58mm lens on it with auto-exposure for $250? Your next cheapest option is to put a 6×12 back on a press camera, which is going to run you at least a cool grand to put together. Even a 6×12 back on the new-but-still-effectively-vaporware Travelwide, plus a 65mm lens will run you a good $700-800.
I put a couple rolls through it to test it out last week and weekend. It is wicked wide with the 58, and sharp enough in the center. My example tends to run a bit to the overexposure side, which I think accentuates some of the weaker characteristics of the lens (like the low contrast from the plastic optics), although I’d rather have it overexpose than underexpose. One thing I haven’t figured out yet is if any of the lenses including the glass lens will accept filters. I’d love to try out the camera with a roll of Infrared and see what it does. It could be a great combination, or it could suck dirty dog toes. This spring, I’ll give it a try and find out.
This shot is of my student Todd Walderman from my Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class, and his new puppy, Cookie.
The Glen Echo Park sign, backlit at evening time. This shot as much as anything shows the amount of barrel distortion the 50mm lens has. Used appropriately it can really add to an image. But don’t use it to take pictures of things that need to be plumb and square, because they’ll look terrible. Knowing when to use it and when not is an art form in itself.
The Glen Echo carousel.
That weekend, they were having an end-of-summer-season festival at Glen Echo, which included a mini antique car show and the final running of the carousel for the year. Among the honored guests was this vintage Ferrari:
In keeping with the spirit, sort-of anyway, of the whole Lomography lo-fi movement, I was running 10+ year out-of-date Ilford FP4+ through the camera. I don’t think it really made a difference, though, as you’ve seen shots I’ve taken this year using the exact same film through my Rollei, and if I hadn’t told you it was 10 years out of date you’d never know.
An architectural abstraction at the construction site across the street from my office. This building has been an inspired location for me – I’ll be a little sad when the construction is done because the building will be all neat and new again and won’t have all the cool textures it has now. But it will present entirely new options for photographing, I’m sure, so I’ll adapt and overcome, as the Marines say.
Just a few more shots of the fountains at the Watergate apartment complex. Today, it sits in a prestigious location with beautiful river views. It was sited on former industrial land – it sits now where the Washington Gas Light plant used to be, and next door, where the Kennedy Center now sits, was a brewery. The complex was designed in part to harmonize with the Kennedy Center, which was originally envisioned to be curvilinear and organic. Later, due to construction costs, it was redesigned into the sharp-edged rectangle that it is today.
There is debate over the origin of the name Watergate – there are multiple possible referents. Part of the land the complex was built on belonged to the C&O Canal, and overlooks the water gate that marks the eastern terminus of the canal and where its water rejoined the Potomac. A second candidate is the “water gate” from the Potomac to the Tidal Basin that regulates the flow of water into the basin at high tide. The third candidate is the steps down to the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial beside Memorial Bridge, which was used from the 1930s to the 1960s as an outdoor concert venue, with performers located on a barge in the river. Concerts ended in 1965 with the advent of jet aircraft service into National Airport. I vote for the C&O Canal as the source of the name – the other two features are obscured from view of the complex by the Kennedy Center and the natural curve of the river.
The fountains in the complex were specifically designed to create not only a visually pleasing effect, but to also simulate the sound of a natural waterfall.
I don’t know how successful the auditory engineering was (the fountains are pretty quiet, and they sound like fountains to me), but they certainly do create a visually pleasing space as well as a moderating effect on the temperature around the courtyard.
The Watergate complex was the first mixed-use development in the District. It had shops, restaurants, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, commercial office space, and even a hotel, in addition to luxury condominium residences. As originally planned, it was even supposed to have 19 “villas” (read townhouses), be 16 stories tall, and in all occupy 1.9 million square feet. After wrangling with codes, design commissions, and budgetary constraints, it was reduced in height to today’s 13 stories, the villas were eliminated, and the total square footage was cut back to 1.7 million square feet.
I know I was being very abstract or at least impressionistic with my earlier Commuter Diaries images, so in that sense these are a break from that line, and don’t quite fit. But they are about the commuting experience, so they have the potential to belong, if I develop enough images for them to blend in and make sense, and aren’t just outliers.
The first one is a woman waiting for the bus at my origin bus stop. Early morning, headphones on, anticipating the impending arrival.
This second one is a gentleman waiting downtown at Metro Center, peering down the street in hopes of spotting which bus is arriving next, anxious for the final leg of his journey home.
I think the latter is more successful because of the stilted angle, which makes it more dynamic and tense. I snuck that one by pointing the Rollei sideways, and had to live with what I got.
I have to keep reminding myself that sometimes it’s good to be loose and free with things, and that not all images have to be tack sharp and perfectly focused to be successful. I’ve been ruminating about this one because the composition is a bit unbalanced, and there’s a little motion blur to it, because it was another grab shot as I walked by and I didn’t have time to perfectly compose and focus it.
I think it’s a good object lesson from the original purpose of the series – taking long exposures that were not planned or structured in any way to free me up from being too formal. Even if this isn’t a fully successful image in some sense, it’s useful as a reminder to be relaxed and open to possibilities.
Yet more in my series of everyday objects. This time, it’s a lamppost, a safety cone (I’m not calling it a traffic cone because in this context, it’s being used to warn pedestrians of an uneven paver), parking meters again, and a police call box. You may have wondered at seeing some of my images with a black border and others without. I generally try to compose full-frame, and I like including the black border to show that. I also feel that in some cases, the black border helps define the image especially if the background is predominantly bright. I don’t ever add one to make it look as if what you see is full frame if in fact it is cropped, or to make you think it was made in a different format than presented. The images I post online for the most part are scanned from the negative, and given the nature of film, sometimes the backing paper leaks light along the edge, or other things happen during processing that require me to crop a little. Sometimes, I have to crop a lot because the composition just wasn’t right in the full square of the 120 image size. In those cases, I leave the edges alone and don’t put a black border on.
If you recall an earlier post, I had some shots of the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture (I’ll call it the African-American History Museum for short) in color, taken as architectural abstracts. Here are a few in black-and-white. The building shape lends itself extremely well to these kinds of geometric abstract studies. I think the architect nailed the design prospectus,making references to the cross-cultural influences of Africa on the American experience.
Seen here against the sky it feels like a seascape, a reminder of the trans-Atlantic voyage that brought three centuries worth of slaves to the New World.
The bronze-colored metal screening on the outside has a tropical botanical motif. It is both protective screen and mask, concealing and revealing, ancient and modern. The patterning is reminiscent of Kente cloth batik designs.
The overall shape of the structure is that of a three-tiered African crown, but viewed from different angles, it can be a monolith or a pyramid, or the prow of a ship.