When nature won’t, Pluto will

Southern Indiana used to be known for its mineral springs. They were incredibly popular in the early-to-mid 20th century. Rail lines brought thousands of people to the adjacent towns of French Lick and West Baden and their springs — these little towns were enormous tourist destinations in those days. They are again, thanks to the casino in French Lick.

Casinos weren’t legal in Indiana until the last 20 years or so. But illegal casinos existed in French Lick anyway in the middle years of the 20th century, and they brought plenty of people to this otherwise small town in Orange County.

But the Pluto spring also brought people to French Lick. Its waters famously contained sulfates of magnesium and sodium, both strong laxatives. Pluto water was bottled and sold nationwide.

Pluto water also contained lithium, which became a controlled substance in 1971. That ended sales of the the Pluto laxative. But by this time the Pluto corporation had learned a lot about bottling liquids, and deftly moved its business into bottling and packaging. The company still exists today, packaging cleaning solutions.

The Pluto spring still exists in French Lick. Margaret and I visited not long ago and made some photos. The place smelled strongly of sulfur.

When nature won't, Pluto will!
When nature won't, Pluto will!
When nature won't, Pluto will!
When nature won't, Pluto will!

The Pluto spring is on the property of the French Lick Resort, which is on State Road 56 in Orange County, Indiana.

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Film Photography

First roll impressions: Kentmere 400

600 Kentucky Ave.

Kentmere 400 is a budget black-and-white film from Harman Technologies, whick makes Ilford films. It’s available only in 35mm, as 24- or 36-exposure cartridges or in 100-foot rolls. At the time I’m publishing this article, you can buy a 36-exposure roll for about five bucks. That makes Kentmere 400 the least expensive ISO 400 black-and-white film commonly available today.

Circle Tower

Fomapan 400 is another budget-friendly option, but it’s a dollar or two more expensive. My favorite ISO 400 black-and-white films are Ilford HP5 Plus and Kodak T-Max 400, but they cost up to twice as much as Kentmere 400. I’m happy to pay it when I’m shooting something serious where the output matters. But when I’m testing a new-to-me old camera or just shooting for pleasure, it’s nice to have less-expensive film options.

Lots of little windows

That’s why I bought a couple rolls of Kentmere 400 not long ago when I also ordered a brick of HP5 Plus. I loaded a roll into my terrific compact Pentax IQZoom 170SL in June and took it to my Downtown Indianapolis office. I often take short afternoon walks when I’m there, and it’s nice to have a small camera in my hand when I go.

PNC and Hyatt

As you can see, I shot a lot of architectural subjects on this roll. I developed the film in HC-110, Dilution B, and scanned the negatives on my Plustek 8200i scanner. Several of my film-photography friends get best results from this film when they develop it a little longer than what the Massive Dev Chart says, so I gave it about an extra minute. The negatives were appropriately dense when they came out of the tank.

Roach Bail Bonding

The film dried fairly flat and scanned easily. I thought the scans looked pretty good right out of the scanner, but I boosted contrast on them all in Photoshop anyway.

The Chatterbox

I’ve shot black-and-white in the IQZoom 170SL only one other time, and that was a roll of T-Max 400 which I developed in Rodinal. Check out those images here. I think those images are a little smoother and offer better sharpness than these Kentmere 400 images. I suppose that’s an apples-to-dump-trucks comparison, however; not only did I use a different developer, but a different scanner, on that film. Regardless, these Kentmere 400 images are perfectly acceptable.

Under the railroad

I hereby pronounce Kentmere 400 to be Perfectly Fine. I’d buy it again.

Lacy Building

Some of my film-photography friends have gotten reasonable results pushing this film as far as EI 3200, which makes Kentmere 400 extra versatile. Check out one photographer’s results here.

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Recommended reading

💻 I first heard Spike Jones’s music on The Doctor Demento Show in the early 1980s. He was an early song parodist who also created some original funny songs. Somewhere around here I have a 78 RPM record of “The Jones Laughing Record,” which begins with a few bars of “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” followed by an inadvertent sneeze, followed by two and a half minutes of the band laughing. Anyway, J. P. Cavanaugh tells Spike’s story. Read Spike Jones – Myrthful Murderer of Music

Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis
Pentax ME SE, 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-110 B, 2022.

📷 Sonny Rosenberg loaded some Rollei Retro 80s film into his Canon IVSb2 rangefinder and documented some of the old Lincoln Highway as it passes through Reno, Nevada. Read August 8, Up and Down the Old Lincoln Highway

📷 John Margetts looks at the Soho Model B, a collapsing but non-folding camera made out of Bakelite from the mid-1930s. It takes “any 6×9 cm film.” Strange! Read Soho Model B

📷 Is there a particular film camera you love and wouldn’t want to do without? Get another one, says Johnny Martyr. Read Twins Are Even Better

My new book, Square Photographs, is available now!

The Standard Edition is $15.99 at Get yours here.

The Deluxe Edition, on premium paper and ink, is $24.99 at Get yours here.



Nikon Df, 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 AF Nikkor

After my birthday every year, I look to make a photograph where the number of my next birthday is in the image. On a Michigan Road trip earlier this year, I came upon this just south of Rochester, and it was perfect.

Today I complete 55 trips around the sun and begin my 56th. For most of these years I sought after perfection. In my 50s, I’ve finally come to accept that seeking it sets me up for disappointment and disenchantment. I’m a recovering perfectionist! But it’s good to be open to perfection when it finds you. Then stop and enjoy it as long as it lasts.

I’ve written a birthday reflection every year since I turned 44. See them all here.

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Stories Told

The day, aged five, I lied to my ophthalmologist

When I was born, the doctor used forceps to pull me out. He misjudged, caught my right eye instead of my right temple, and did some damage. I had surgeries on my right eye at six months and three years to repair that damage.

I remember a little about the second surgery. I was badly frightened by the black mask that was brought down over my nose and mouth to put me under. When I woke up, I was in a crib in a room, and I was instantly angry because I was a big boy who slept in a bed. Dad came in and gently picked me up. I vividly recall floating through the air up to his shoulder; resting there was a great comfort and calmed me. I don’t remember this part of it, but Dad told the story frequently: at his shoulder I proclaimed, “They’re never going to do that to me again!”

Once a year I visited the ophthalmologist who performed the surgeries, a grandfatherly man named Hall. He looked around inside my right eye to check on things. He also checked my vision while he was at it, and it was always 20/20.

After the first surgery he patched that right eye, I’m guessing to let it rest while it healed. Here I am wearing my patch, aged about two in 1969, with my brother and my great grandma Grey. I have a vague memory of often pitching my head back like that, as it was easier to focus on subjects that way.

I think my parents and Dr. Hall were concerned because my left eye tended to wander toward my nose, especially when I was tired. I was concerned too, because the kids were all calling me cross-eyed. I think Dr. Hall was also working to help my eyes work in concert so I would have three-dimensional vision.

At some point Dr. Hall switched the patch to the left eye. I don’t remember why. Here I am with my brother at age three, at Easter in 1971, on my Grandpa Frederick’s garden tractor.

It’s hard to remember everything from those years as I was so young. But I remember well the day I lied to Dr. Hall and my parents.

I was five, or maybe four, at an annual visit to Dr. Hall where there was talk about whether my eyes were working together yet. I think Dr. Hall did some tests trying to figure that out for himself.

My eyes weren’t working together, and I knew it. I used one eye at a time, and I could easily switch between them. I favored my right eye. But whichever eye I was looking out of, the other eye let the view be wider, and provided peripheral vision, but that was it. When I looked out of my left eye for too long, I felt some strain. My right eye was strong and I could use it all day. But I was okay with all of this. I could do everything I cared to do at that age using my right eye. I was sick to death of wearing the patch, and of the other kids all teasing me about it.

Dr. Hall asked me if I saw out of both eyes together. With as much enthusiasm as I could pull together, I said yes. Dr. Hall and my parents didn’t seem convinced. One of them asked, “Are you sure?” With seriousness, I said yes again. They backed off, and after that I didn’t have to wear the patch anymore. Mission accomplished!

As a result, I’ve never had full three-dimensional vision. I’ve adapted well to a mostly two-dimensional view of the world as it’s all I’ve ever known. But there have been a couple of distinct drawbacks.

The first was in sports. When a ball was headed my way, I usually couldn’t track its location well as it came near to me. I missed catching a lot of footballs because of it. Worse, I got hit in the face by a lot of basketballs. That was especially problematic during the years I wore braces. Basketballs to the face tore my inner upper lip to shreds. Fortunately, I didn’t enjoy sports much and wasn’t that athletic anyway. I just gave up sports.

The other is in driving. I can tell I’m getting close to something because it gets larger. Occasionally I misjudge a little and either brake too early, or have to brake hard. The biggest challenge is the vision test at the BMV. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve had to put my eyes up to a viewfinder in a little machine. When you peer inside, you see a few rows of letters and numbers that you’re supposed to read aloud. But the machine is sneaky. Some of the letters appear for only the left eye, and some only for the right eye. To pass the test, I have to silently read each row with one eye and then the other, put the letters in the right order, and then recite them from memory!

I’ve had one unexpected benefit of being able to switch between my eyes. In high school my vision went nearsighted, my right eye considerably and my left eye slightly. Long story short, I’ve worn a gas-permeable contact in my right eye for going on 40 years. After taking out my one contact lens at night, if I want to watch TV before bed I do it with my left eye. My left eye also lets me find the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Telling that lie so many years ago had lifelong effects that I couldn’t predict then. So far, I haven’t regretted them. I hope that as I pass out of middle age I don’t start to.

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