Just a single frame this time, of a door in Georgetown with a cast-iron knocker. I wish I had a front door that could take that kind of knocker – I’ve always loved the hand holding a ball knocker since I saw them in Spain as a teenager. They bring back pleasant memories. They’re kind of like Proustian madeleines, but less edible.
I’m also visually drawn to window glass that is partially transparent and partially opaque from reflections and light hitting it. There’s a certain sense of mystery about what’s behind it because it’s only half-seen.
Well, it’s not a Chinese wall, obviously, but it is a wall. And a natural phenomenon, light reflected on the wall filtered by the patterns of tree branches, ends up looking LIKE Chinese characters. They’re obviously not real Chinese characters, but they have a very calligraphic feel to them.
Here’s a few shots of Georgetown from below- another vista most tourists don’t see, and heck, even most Washingtonians don’t know exists, because they never continue on Water Street past the piers for Key Bridge, if they even go that far.
Cafe Malmaison is a recent arrival under the Whitehurst Freeway, in the section of Water Street that still feels a bit seedy and disreputable.
This is the view of the off-ramp to the Whitehurst looking up from Water Street/the Capital Crescent Trail, with the moon hanging in the sky over the buildings of the Potomac Boat Club.
And Key Bridge’s western elevation, lit by the setting sun.
I was out on a photo-walk after work the other evening and wandered through Georgetown with the Rolleiflexes. I walked down under the Whitehurst and through the riverfront park. If you pass beyond the end of the park, you go under Key Bridge and come to the boat houses. Across the street from the boathouses where you can rent canoes, kayaks and stand-ups to take out on the river, there are stairs that take you up to the level of the C&O Canal. There’s the remains of the Alexandria Aqueduct Bridge that crossed the Potomac just past the Potomac Boat Club building. The Aqueduct Bridge was originally built in the 1860s to carry canal boats from the C&O Canal to the Alexandria Canal. Later it was improved by adding a road bridge and a deck for electric trolley cars. It was demolished in the 1930s to make way for Key Bridge (which was so named to honor Francis Scott Key, the author of the US National Anthem, whose house was demolished to make room for the bridge). The Alexandria Aqueduct Bridge piers are a popular spot for young people to hang out, especially in the summer time.
I went out to the end of the pier with the thought of getting a shot of the west-facing side of Key Bridge while it was still illuminated by the setting sun. A bunch of teenagers were hanging out there. Another woman photographer who was there coincidentally at the same time and I were both out on the end of the pier, shooting the bridge and the riverscape. One of the teens asked what we were doing. The woman ignored him, but I told him I was taking pictures of the bridge, and whatever else struck my fancy. He returned his attention to his friends and the scene in front of them. Looking down, I saw this scene through the viewfinder of my camera and quickly composed the shot. While I’m not normally a big gear geek (at least in my writings- I hope!), this is one case where I will geek out on my hardware and talk a bit about the choices I made.
I had been wanting for a long time to capture scenes like this – something suggestive, a little mysterious, a little ethereal, where the viewer can insert themselves into the scene. I haven’t always been successful, at least not to the degree I was looking for, and hadn’t really hit upon the right combination of toys and technique to make it happen. Well, I’ve obviously found it. The camera is my Tele-Rolleiflex, coupled with the Rolleinar 0.35 close-up attachment. For whatever reason when they made the original Tele-Rolleiflex, Rollei limited the minimum focus distance to roughly 8 feet (2.5 meters). By itself, this makes the Tele-Rollei rather limited in usefulness especially as a portrait camera. To compensate for this, Rollei made available the 0.35 and 0.70 Rolleinar close-up attachments. Since one of my ambitions for the Tele was doing portraits, I felt it was incumbent upon me to acquire at least the 0.35, which I have, and used on this shoot. The net effect of the Tele plus the Rolleinar is seen here, and in the next image. They give an extremely soft, dreamy look to the out-of-focus background areas.
Being able to create that extremely shallow depth-of-field combined with the extremely soft out-of-focus area throws the “3-D” effect into high relief, and lends itself when used appropriately to creating fantastical scenes like the one above where the bridge in the background, while very distinct, is sufficiently soft and far-away-looking that it could be real or it could be a dream – which it is remains for the viewer to decide. Thus the title of the image.
At the same place and same time, I turned around to look up the river and saw a trio of very blond, very Germanic-looking young folks (Georgetown University students? Youth tourists?) sitting on the edge of the stone walkway. This boy turned sideways to look at the girl beside him and was momentarily caught with soft, subtle backlighting. If you look carefully you can make out some more kids lounging on the opposite side of the old canal bed. It’s a very romantic, mysterious, suggestive composition – what is he looking at out of the frame? Where is he? Why is he there?
I’ve gotten back into doing a little sliver gelatin printing and enlarging since I’ve been shooting the Rolleiflex like a madman. I wanted to try something out with my printing, so I was doing split development of my prints with both warmtone and cooltone developer. The way it works is I have two developer trays, one for each kind of developer. I’m using the Ilford Warmtone and Ilford Cooltone (a now-discontinued product that I was given a case of some years ago). I want the shadows cool but the mids and highlights warm, so I start my development cycle with 30 seconds in the cooltone developer, then move to the warmtone developer for the remaining minute and a half. The below examples are printed on Ilford Warmtone paper (if you want a warmtone image, you have to use a warmtone paper – you can make a warm paper go cool with a cool developer, but you can’t warm up a coldtone paper short of sepia toning).
This is the warmest I can get in my highlights and mid tones using this process. The Ilford warmtone paper doesn’t seem to get very warm at all.
Here’s another in my series of Everyday Objects – the near-apocryphal payphone. In trying to find one, it actually took some looking! They’re not completely vanished from the landscape, but you actually have to go looking in somewhat rougher neighborhoods now to find one because anyone living above the poverty line these days has a cellphone, and nobody wants to carry around a pocketful of quarters AND dimes to make a call.
I was getting a little nervous about making enlargements as it has been forever and a day (at least five years) since I last made an enlargement. Turns out it’s a skill like riding a bike – once you learn, you never really forget.
Both shots were taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Ilford HP5+, developed in Pyrocat HD. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but Pyrocat is my go-to developer, even for small and medium-format negatives to be enlarged (or scanned!). Pyro developers in general have great built-in contrast masking from the stain, so it is possible to retain detail in highlights in images that would require burning and dodging were they processed in another developer.
I was just doing a little research on these, as I’ve seen them here in DC for years but didn’t know much about them. Washington DC was one of the first cities in the US, and perhaps even in the world, to get them. They were first implemented in Albany, New York in 1877, and in Washington DC in 1883. The most famous ones, of course, are the blue kiosks from the UK, made so by the Dr. Who tv series. In the UK, they phased them out in the 1970s, but they remained in use in Washington DC until the early 1980s, so they had a run of almost a full century. Surprisingly enough, their physical remains have outlasted the pay phone – it is easier to find a (gutted, non-functioning) police call box here than it is to find a functioning pay phone now, despite the fact that public phones are still in use.
I found a video online from a DC Police Department historian who talked about the police call boxes, and he had a very funny story to relate – back in the day before police radios were implemented, if a patrolman had to arrest someone, the only way he had to contact central dispatch to get a wagon to come pick up the perpetrator was to physically bring the perp to the call box, call for the wagon, and wait at the call box. So that would explain why patrolmen in the past were a bit rougher and meaner during the arrest process, as they often had to subdue a perp for not just long enough to get them in his vehicle, but for a several block walk and then an additional 10-15 minutes waiting for the van!
Here’s some more of a new series I’m working on – portraits of everyday objects. I want to show things we pass every day but don’t pay attention to as if they were subjects deserving of portraits. These are by definition environmental portraits, as these things are found in our environment, not in a contextless studio.
Simon is a friend I’ve known for over 15 years (I think he’d be mildly scandalized to realize exactly how long we’ve known each other). I took these two portraits of him the other day when we met for dinner. Comments on which one you prefer welcome and actively solicited.