Tag Archives: Pyrocat HD

New Toy in the Arsenal

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.

Todd with Cookie
Todd with 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.

Glen Echo Park Sign
Glen Echo Park Sign

The Glen Echo carousel.

Glen Echo Carousel
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:

1979 Ferrari 308
1979 Ferrari 308

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.

Everyday Objects – Water Fountain

Public drinking fountains are becoming rare creatures. Even rarer are ones that work. They’re kind of like frogs – their disappearance heralds a collapse of public infrastructure the way frogs disappearing are a sign of ecological collapse. When we are no longer willing to provide safe, clean, free drinking water to the public, I think it says something about us as a society, and it’s not complimentary.

Water Fountain, U Street
Water Fountain, U Street

To get photo-geeky for a moment, this was shot with my usual Rolleiflex 2.8E, and to ensure I was getting the extremely narrow depth-of-field I wanted, I used Ilford PanF film, which is a very slow ISO 50, and rated it at ISO 25 for good measure. I like PanF for the extremely fine grain it provides, and it allows me to use large apertures in bright daylight, however it does get very contrasty, more than I normally would like, so processing it is tricky to keep the contrast under control.

Door, Knocker, Georgetown

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.

Door-knocker, Georgetown
Door-knocker, Georgetown

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.

The Boy Who Dreams of a Bridge, and other photos

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.

The Boy Who Dreams of a Bridge
The Boy Who Dreams of a Bridge

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.

Blond Boy, Georgetown
Blond Boy, Georgetown

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?

Urban Landscape – Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is a large urban park that runs from where Rock Creek enters the Potomac River to its headwaters some 30 miles away in central Maryland. Part of that park is owned and operated by the United States Park Service, and part is a regional park operated by Montgomery County, Maryland. The park dates to the 1890s and was surveyed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape designer. In one of the greenest cities (Washington DC has more tree coverage than any other major US city, earning it the nickname “the tree capital of the US” and making it a living hell twice a year for allergy sufferers), it is a natural oasis of wild landscape. It was not always so, as Rock Creek provided the power to dozens of mills that functioned as the industrial engine such as it was for Washington and its surrounding farmland. Today, Pierce Mill is one of the few remaining complete structures to commemorate that industrial heritage. If you take a wander up the trails that parallel the stream, though, you can find signs of some of the other mills that dotted the landscape.

This structure marks the remnants of one of the larger mills along Rock Creek. I’d have to go back and take notes on the signage along the path that indicates what this mill produced and who owned it and when it operated, but most likely it ceased to function in the 19th century. To require such large foundations, it must have been a substantial operation, though.

Mill Foundations, Rock Creek
Mill Foundations, Rock Creek

Here is the footing for a small bridge that spanned the creek.

Bridge Footing, Rock Creek
Bridge Footing, Rock Creek

Somewhat more modern evidence of the urbanization of Rock Creek, a road bridge that spans the creek and provides access to the park from the neighborhoods around it.

Bridge over Rock Creek
Bridge over Rock Creek

A gravelly bend in the creek, dappled with sunlight. Hard to imagine that within 200 yards of either side of this stream there are roads, houses, cars and businesses.

Gravelly Bend, Rock Creek
Gravelly Bend, Rock Creek

A tree along the trail that follows the stream.

Shaggy Bark, Rock Creek
Shaggy Bark, Rock Creek

And a final reminder of man’s presence – an electrical junction box. It has the feel of being a monolith, left behind by an alien civilization, purpose unknown, long abandoned, or a portal to another place and time like the wardrobe portal to Narnia.

Monolith, Rock Creek Park
Monolith, Rock Creek Park

Commuter Diary

I’ve been playing around with this idea for a while. I don’t know that there’s anything particularly new about what I’m doing, either subject-wise or with technique. But I’m doing it as an exercise in freeing myself up creatively, forcing myself to be open to happy accident, and not getting hidebound with notions of what photography “should” look like. Photography is capable of recording and compressing time into a single frame, and I’m interested in exploring how we react and respond to seeing that. It’s not what we expect when we look at a photograph- we expect very short “frozen” moments, 1/250th of a second, blur-free, movement-free, sharp, literal. These photos are NOT that. They’re shot in B – long exposures made by my pushing the shutter button and letting go when I’ve decided I’ve captured “enough”, anywhere from a couple of seconds to closing in on a minute. So much can happen in just one minute.

Metro Passengers
Ignoring the Map

I’m trying to capture the experience of being a regular commuter on public transportation. It’s an impressionistic approach to the concept, recording the passage of time and the movement through space of the vehicles and people in a public transit system. Rail system maps are in every car on every train in every city in the world that has a public rail system. It’s easy to separate the tourists from the commuters as the tourists are pouring over every detail of the map, and the commuters are doing their best to ignore it and everything and everyone else around them.

Foggy Bottom Metro
Foggy Bottom Metro

This is the view of the platform with a train at the station at Foggy Bottom, looking down the Up escalator. With the train relatively stationary, the zig-zaggy lightning-bolt forms of the station lamps captures the movement of my breathing as the camera hangs against my body. Even when standing still, movement is all around you, but that’s the nature of public transit, isn’t it? It’s all about constant movement, circulating people from one end of town to the other.

Metro Passengers
Pole Hanger

Every rail system (and bus system for that matter) has a means to support people who are standing while riding. The poles are a terrific convenience while riding, and a terrific obstacle when trying to exit. They grow near doors like chromed branchless brambles that collect passengers who are ready and waiting by the door for THEIR stop, transforming to boulders in the current throwing eddies and whirlpools in the tidal flow of commuters on and off the carriage.

More From Saturday’s Shoot

I like this shot because it has different layers of eroticism to it without being in any way explicit. From the leather chair to the fuzzy velvet drape on the chair to the naked skin, this projects sexuality without the “it goes to 11” factor of Helmut Newton or Robert Mapplethorpe. Also, narrowing the focus to the hands and feet pushes the connection between this image and a specific individual farther apart, so it becomes more idealized and abstract, allowing the viewer’s imagination more leeway.

Kevin, Leather Chair
Kevin, Leather Chair

Kevin wanted to do some sexy, gay-affirmative images, and he had this hat that says “Trophy Boy”. While I don’t know quite how I feel about the “Trophy Boy” message, the image is certainly attention-getting.

Trophy Boy
Trophy Boy

I think the shallow depth-of-field works well in this image by not only blurring his tattoo but also re-directing your attention to his eye, forcing the exchange of gaze between the subject and the audience. Some people make that the distinction between a “fine-art” nude and erotica, where a “fine-art” nude there is no visual contact between subject and viewer, but in erotica (and by extension porn), the viewer is confronted by the subject, making the reaction personal in contrast to the abstract, intellectual reaction to the “fine-art” nude.