Pentax KM, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Kodak T-Max 400
I’ve been looking through old photographs as I’ve thought about a subject for the photo book I’d like to produce. Reviewing photos from my Pentax KM, I found this 2013 photo of my dad. I used a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens and Kodak TMax 400 film — which I mistakenly shot at 100. Fortunately, Photoshop rescued it and brought out strong contrast.
Dad’s walking down the steps of the four-room schoolhouse where his education began, now abandoned and decaying, in the coal-and-railroad town of Handley, West Virginia. As I grew up, he told stories of how he had to repeat the first grade because the first time through he simply refused to speak to the teacher all year, and of how that teacher used to delight in sadistically pushing children so they’d fall down the hill on which this school stands. Oy! Visiting Handley made all these stories I’d heard since childhood so much more real.
Even in the 1970s, children’s television could be frenetic. Frazier Thomas and his friend, puppet Garfield Goose, were the gentle antidote.
A pleasant morning breeze upon the children’s TV landscape, Garfield Goose and Friends aired each weekday at 8 AM on WGN-TV in Chicago. The premise was that Garfield Goose thought he was the king of the United States, and he appointed Frazier Thomas as Admiral of the King’s Navy.
Friends Beauregard Burnside III, Chris Goose, Romberg Rabbit, and Macintosh Mouse often joined Frazier and Garfield in the fun. Once in a while, even Garfield’s mom appeared! Garfield was non-verbal; his only noise was his flapping bill, yet Frazier somehow always understood him. Here’s how the show began one morning in 1971. The show was in color, but someone recorded this on an early black-and-white home video recorder.
The theme song is “Monkey on a String” by organist Ethel Smith. As it ends, you see pure Frazier Thomas, interacting both with the puppets and his young viewers. As a small boy, I was drawn in by this adult — a man my grandfather’s age — who talked to me like a friend. That happened nowhere else on children’s TV. It was typical for Frazier to read letters that young viewers wrote, and to share crafts the youngsters sent in. Once in a while, Frazier would invite a young viewer to appear on the program to show off their hobby. You can see one such clip, in color, at this link. It shows Frazier’s genuine interest in his viewers’ hobbies.
Between bits, Frazier and Garfield showed cartoons. I have a dim memory of seeing Augie Doggie cartoons on the show, and something called The Funny Company. But more than anything else, I remember watching Clutch Cargo, an adventure cartoon of sorts. Calling it a cartoon was a stretch, actually, as it was mostly a series of drawn stills. But it was just weird, because when the characters spoke, moving human mouths were superimposed on the drawings. I never liked Clutch Cargo very much. This video shows a full, color open to the show, and then a few Clutch Cargo cartoons.
Chicago was just far enough away from my South Bend childhood home that we couldn’t pick it up over the air. Cable television was in its infancy. In South Bend, it was nothing more than an antenna on the tallest hill in town, connected to subscribing homes via coaxial cable, providing television stations from Chicago. It cost about $3 per month then, and Dad paid it so he could watch his beloved White Sox. And so I watched Garfield Goose late in its run, from 1972 to 1976. I wasn’t able to see it every day, as I had to be off to school just after it started. But I watched it during the summers and when I was home sick or on break.
But it turns out that Garfield Goose and Friends was the longest-running children’s puppet TV show in history. It went on the air in 1952, first on WBKB (now WLS) and then on WBBM before finding a permanent home on WGN.
But Frazier created Garfield even earlier, while working for a television station in Cincinnati. He started there in radio in about 1940, and moved to television during its infancy in 1948. After he moved to Chicago, he hosted all manner of programs before settling into his role entertaining children and families. Not only did he host Garfield Goose and Friends, but he also hosted a Sunday-afternoon program called Family Classics, on which he showed family-friendly films he selected and edited for broadcast himself.
By 1976, the children’s television landscape had shifted away from the 1950s style of Garfield Goose and Friends. WGN cancelled the show in September and appointed Frazier to replace retiring Ringmaster Ned on Bozo’s Circus, another WGN kid’s show. Garfield Goose came along; the premise was that Garfield had bought the circus. I never thought the fast-paced, buffoonish Bozo show suited Frazier’s calm, warm personality. But by then, my family had given up cable, and I never saw Frazier Thomas on TV again.
Frazier Thomas died in 1985, aged 66.
April’s on its way out; here comes May, Roadies! But before we throw in the towel on this month, grab a coffee (or tea, if you’re so inclined) and enjoy this week’s crop of my most-enjoyed blog posts. I’ve got six for you this week!
Mike Connealy has published another book, this time about his pinhole photography. I’ve already ordered my copy! Read New Book
I love old roads — and old photos from old roads. Paul Niedermeyer, writing for Curbside Classic, shares photos from the Lincoln Highway in 1948. Read Vintage Photos: Life On The Road – On US Hwy 30 in 1948
Jeanne Yang grew up in the U.S., but is of Taiwanese descent. She recently visited the place where her parents and grandparents grew up in Taiwan. She tells a fascinating story of the lives they lived there, as Taiwan moved from Japanese rule to Chinese rule. Read Someone Else’s Childhood (in Taiwan)
She is known online only as Peeling Walls, I’m sure because her photographic exploration of abandoned buildings usually constitutes trespassing and she doesn’t want to be too easy to find. She visited a once-lovely arts-and-crafts Detroit library building before it was torn down. The photos are heartbreaking. Read Detroit: Abatement in the Mark Twain library
Seth Godin writes about how groups, as they mature, eventually stop admitting new members. It’s not that they mean to stop, but they become so set in their ways that new members can’t break in. Does this remind you of some church congregations? Read Closing the gate
You’ve seen it: the terrible comments people leave on Facebook, or on news sites, or even on blogs. Jeff Atwood has a solid theory about why people do it. Read They Have To Be Monsters
The last instant pack film is dead. Fujifilm has discontinued FP-100C, a color film.
I’m sure this is old news to some of you, as Fujifilm announced this at the end of February. Prices immediately jumped on remaining inventory. I bought three packs before prices shot into the stratosphere.
I’ve shot Polaroid packfilm cameras off and on since the 1970s, when my grandparents bought me one new for Christmas. I was charmed that I could get a print in 60 seconds, but wasn’t impressed with the the prints themselves. The colors were weird, and worse, they darkened with time.
In comparison, the Fuji films were wonderful. The black-and-white FP-3000B, which was discontinued in 2013, had good tonality and range. The FP-100C’s appealing candylike colors made it a go-to film on a bright spring day. Better still, the prints stay bright for years.
And both films yield great sharpness when used in a camera with a capable lens. Photographers who put instant backs on their medium-format cameras got stunning results. My old folding Polaroid Automatic 250, with its decent lens, returned solid results. It was such a pain to use, though, that I gave it away and bought a rigid-bodied Colorpack II to replace it. I loaded one of my last packs of FP-100C into the Colorpack II recently and took it out to shoot spring color. I started with my freshly bloomed daffodils.
Up close on a bright day, the Colorpack II even creates a little bokeh. It’s not great bokeh, but that this lumbering brute of a camera does it at all pleases me greatly. The film does lose detail in the highlights, though, as you can see where the sun hits the top of this fire plug.
I took the Colorpack over to Holliday Park one afternoon. The Ruins, a huge art installation on the grounds, is being renovated and somewhat reworked. This is where they’re washing out concrete.
The Colorpack also came along with me to work one day. It’s conspicuous camera and it attracted a lot of attention around the office. Many of my young co-workers had never seen a packfilm camera before. This orange Vette in our parking lot doesn’t belong to any of them.
The callery pear trees have all finished blooming now, thank goodness, because the flowers smell like rotting shrimp.
One morning’s sun lit my living room well, so I tried an available-light shot of my bookcase. On the middle shelf are my Pentax ES II, Spotmatic SP, and H3; and my Yashica-D and Yashica-12. My Canonet QL17 G-III is hiding on the top shelf. The camera and film don’t give much shadow detail. I couldn’t even bring any out in Photoshop. Sharpness is off, too. If I had to guess, the camera probably went wide open (f/9.2) for this shot, and that’s when the lens is probably at its softest.
Finally, on an overcast day I finished the pack by shooting my house. I think this print’s flat colors show well that FP-100C is born for a sunny day.
I’m going to miss the Fuji pack films terribly. I shot two or three packs a year and always really loved the experience and the results. I know I can always buy (crazy expensive) Impossible films for my Polaroid SX-70, but the hard reality is that image quality just isn’t very good. The pack films and associated cameras truly were the pinnacle of instant photography. It’s a real shame that their era is ending. Yet it’s remarkable that their era lasted as long as it did.