The fair at dusk
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800
I’m charmed by small cameras. The Rollei 35 B is a small camera, just 3.75″ x 2.75″ x 1.5″. Therefore, upon encountering it I was charmed right out of about $50. I felt pretty good about it, though — that’s less than half of what these usually go for. Not that this one is perfect. A corner is slightly dented, and the zipper’s broken on its leather case. But I figured neither flaw would affect its ability to make photographs.
As the lower-spec sister to the highly regarded Rollei 35, the 35 B was produced from 1969-78 in Germany and later in Singapore. Strangely, this camera’s original name was B 35; Rollei changed it in 1976 to match its overall camera naming scheme.
This is one quirky camera, beginning with opening the camera to load and unload film. The back and bottom come clean off the camera. The latch is on the bottom, cleverly disguised as the tripod mount. To open it, grasp the knurled edges on either side and twist counterclockwise. Then pull the back and bottom of the camera down and off entirely. The film pressure plate is hinged under the main camera body, another quirk. You have to flip it down before you load film, and flip it back up after. Film loads from right to left, upside down. Insert the film leader into the slot on the takeup spool, and then turn the serrated wheel at the bottom of that spool in the direction of the arrows until the film is wound on. Then fire the shutter and wind a couple times. The winder being on the left is still another quirk. Slide the back of the camera back on and lock it in place.
You have to extend the lens before you can make your first shot. Grab the lens barrel by the two knurled pads on the focusing ring and pull, then twist clockwise until it locks. To retract the lens, press in the button near the lens barrel, twist the barrel counterclockwise and push it in. If the barrel won’t twist, wind the camera. This cocks the shutter and frees the lens to retract. I am surprised by this — I store my other cameras with the shutter deliberately not cocked. It seems better to me that the mechanism is not at tension when the camera is not in use.
The 35 B offers a 40mm f/3.5 Rollei Triotar lens, a triplet design that’s a a step down from the 35’s four-element Tessar lens. It’s coupled to a leaf shutter that operates from 1/30 to 1/500 sec. Its selenium light meter needs no battery, but it’s uncoupled and its usage isn’t obvious. First, set your film’s ISO (25-1600) by turning the chrome dial in the middle of the larger plastic dial. Then aim the camera at the subject and look for the white needle to appear along the aperture scale. If the needle doesn’t appear, there isn’t enough light; turn the dial counterclockwise until the needle appears. Any needle-matched aperture/shutter-speed combination will do.
Then you have to set that aperture and shutter speed on the lens barrel. Setting aperture is easy enough: twist the aperture ring on the lens barrel until the aperture you want lines up with the | symbol. (The two dots on either side of the | show the depth of field at f/8 and f/16, respectively.) Shutter speed is trickier to set. You don’t twist the ring — you press one finger into the serrated outer edge and then push or pull. Line your shutter speed up with the | symbol, too.
One last quirk: when you’re done shooting, the rewind crank is on the bottom. Unfold it, press the nearby release button, and crank away.
I loaded some good old Fujicolor 200 and took the 35 B with me here and there over a few weeks’ time. I had it along on a visit to New Augusta. Check out that light leak on the left. It showed up in a few shots — to my surprise. The camera back fits into the body via deep, tight grooves. Where is the light getting in? Also notice how the left side of the image is faintly lighter than the right side. You can see it right up the middle of the tracks. But I liked the color and sharpness I got. I shot this same scene a minute later with my Konica Auto S2 on Kodak Gold 200; compare the results.
Not every shot was so affected. Here’s the old train station by these tracks.
The 35 B does a nice job negotiating light and shadow. It was early evening and the light was delicious. Welcome to downtown New Augusta.
I took the 35 B along on a chilly cloudy-day walk through Coxhall Gardens in Carmel with Margaret. Here’s a mansion on the property.
My exposure was off on a few of my photos. I suppose that will happen sometimes on a camera where you can’t set exposure while looking at the subject through the viewfinder. Fixing exposure in Photoshop on this photo darkened vignetting in this photo. Several shots had some level of vignetting.
When the camera worked, it worked well, returning good sharpness and detail even on a gloomy day.
I shot this from my front stoop on a rainy day. The lightness on the image’s left side was back.
Three shots on the roll came back with an extreme blue caste, to my puzzlement.
See more from my test roll in my Rollei 35 B gallery.
I found the non-standard usage of the Rollei 35 B kept taking me out of the moment. I was forever thinking about the camera, because so many things about it were different from other cameras. But it sure was easy to take along during the chilly days as winter faded into spring; it fit into any coat pocket. Try that with an SLR. If it weren’t for the problems this camera obviously has, it might be nice to just leave film in it and take it along anywhere I go.
It’s the American mythos: if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything. But I no longer think it’s true.
Mind you, I’m all for hard work. But I think success also requires good resources and good luck. Actually, I think resources and luck are more important than hard work. They make hard work gain solid traction. Without them, a lifetime of hard work usually yields very little.
I see it all the time in the inner-city church I attend: teens struggling to make a viable life as they enter adulthood, adults working hard only to barely tread water. Many of these people are bright and capable and have dreams they’d like to achieve. Few of them make a stable life, despite their best efforts.
In contrast, I’ve done well in my life. I make upper-middle-class money — not so much that I’m free from financial worry, but enough that the wolves are so far from the door that I’ve pretty much forgotten what they look like.
What has brought my good fortune? Hard work has certainly been important. But I’ve also had resources that my inner-city church friends simply lack, and those resources and my willingness to work have let me capitalize on the luck that has come my way.
My story illustrates my point very well. So I’m going to tell it three times: first through the lens of hard work, then through the lens of resources and luck, and finally through the lens of some of the difficulties I’ve faced, some of which were severe. As you read it, think of your story. How hard have you worked? What setbacks have you experienced? How have your resources and luck enabled — or lack thereof limited — success?
My story through the lens of hard work
Here’s the version of my life story, from the perspective of the success I’ve found in my life. Told this way, it looks like hard work really pays off.
I applied myself in school and got good grades. I also learned how to program computers. These things got me into a top engineering school where I worked harder than ever before or since. I got a degree in mathematics and computer science. I moved into a career in software development, where I’ve worked hard for more than a quarter century now and have risen through the ranks. Today, I’m a director in a software company. I have an upper-middle-class job and I’m doing well.
My story through the lens of resources and luck
I have worked hard. But when you look at my life through a wider lens, you can see how many resources I had available to me, and how good luck at key moments led to important opportunities.
I was born in 1967 to working-class parents who had high-school educations. We didn’t have much for a long time, but my parents were frugal and we never went without. Manufacturing jobs were reasonably plentiful then and Dad worked steadily. He was smart and capable, and in the 1980s was promoted to management.
My parents deliberately created a quiet, stable environment for my younger brother and me. We were well cared for and loved. Education was everything to them. Homework came first. They praised and rewarded our scholastic achievements. They always spoke of college as something we would do as if it were the natural next step after high school.
I was intelligent. I taught myself to read by age 3. And then I turned out to be well-suited for school — I was naturally well behaved and liked the rules and structure. I did the work and got excellent grades. In high school, I was accepted into all the advanced-placement classes, and I liked the challenge.
As I entered high school, the then-new home computers were just becoming affordable. I’d shown aptitude so Dad, flush with a new management-level salary, bought me one. I taught myself to write code on it. I spent hours mastering programming and really loved it.
I started writing programs to illustrate the concepts I was learning in my advanced-placement geometry class, and the teacher learned of it and had me demonstrate them to the class. He was impressed. “Jim, you could do this for a living.” That was a revelation: I had no idea people made careers out of programming computers. “You’ve got talent,” he continued. “You should study at Rose-Hulman. You have what it takes to make it there.”
I’d never heard of Rose-Hulman. It turns out it’s one of the nation’s top engineering schools, and it’s here in Indiana. I thought surely I couldn’t get in, but I applied anyway. To my astonishment, I was accepted.
Rose is expensive, and was out of my family’s reach. But the Lilly Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Indiana pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company, was at that time helping bright first-generation college students go to private colleges. Their grant paid for a large portion of my college expenses. I also got a federal grant and a couple smaller scholarships. One federal program let me borrow some money, and another paid me to work part-time on campus. A state program helped me find summer work to earn more money. My parents were left with about 1/3 of the bill, bringing Rose just into reach. They lived on next to nothing while they paid for it.
Rose was enormously challenging. Like that teacher said, I never have worked harder before or since. But I made it through, with a degree in mathematics and a concentration in computer science.
At graduation, the country was in a recession. Like many of my classmates, I had trouble landing a job. I wanted to be a programmer, but those jobs were scarce. But I had taken a technical-writing course as an English elective, and the professor connected me with a local software company that wanted to hire a technical writer. The company was founded by a Rose grad who liked to hire other Rose grads. I got the job.
I wrote and edited technical materials for a dozen years at several companies. At one company, my boss saw something in me and promoted me to manager. And then it turns out I had an aptitude for leading people, and liked it. After completing a successful and important project, he gave me a new opportunity to lead software testing, and mentored me as I learned the ropes.
A burgeoning software industry has formed in central Indiana, and I’ve ridden the wave, moving every few years from company to company to take on greater responsibilities and new challenges. Along the way, several people have mentored me or taught me a skill I lacked. It’s enabled me to deliver well everywhere I’ve worked.
It’s been enough to impress corporate CEOs and Vice Presidents all over town enough that I can call them up and meet them for coffee. Last summer, I reached out to them all in search of a new challenge. With their help, within eight weeks I was in a new role at a company with a bright future.
My story through the lens of life challenges
You might now think that I’ve lived a charmed life. But I have had some deep difficulties and stunning setbacks.
I’m not going to air my family’s dirty laundry here, but suffice it to say that there were challenges that led me to enter adulthood with difficulties forming healthy relationships, and that held me back for a long time. I lived with major depression and anxiety through my 20s and 30s. I was abused by someone who was supposed to love me and was left with PTSD. I endured a terrible marriage and, inevitably, a brutal and expensive divorce. I’ve had a monkey on my back. I live with a chronic health issue that, for a while, I worried would leave me disabled. I’ve been let go twice by companies that couldn’t afford to pay me anymore, and I was fired once.
These things have, point blank, held me back from greater success.
Yet they didn’t crush me. They could have; I’m not made of rock and titanium. I see people at my church struggle with many of the same challenges and it devastates their lives, leading to bankruptcy and homelessness, or severe chronic mental and physical illness. Sometimes they never recover.
The major difference, and the reason I’ve come through all of that okay, is because I’ve had good resources: family and friends who offered support and money (and good insurance) to get help when I needed it.
Key themes in my story
Several key themes are woven through my story.
Timing. That I was born in 1967 is very important. I was about the right age for all of these things:
- When I was a teenager, home computers became affordable to a family that had just emerged into the middle class.
- When I entered engineering school, the Lilly Foundation was actively helping people in my situation pay for it.
- When I entered the workforce, software companies were just starting to exist in quantity, creating demand for talent even during the recession we were in then.
- When I began to mature in my field, the dot-com boom was forming and software companies were desperate for talent. It gave me the opportunity to move into leadership, which springboarded my career and, eventually, my income. That bubble burst, but another, more sustainable boom followed, and has created endless opportunity.
If I had been born a few years before or after 1967, I would have been the wrong age to fully enjoy most of these advantages.
Family. The family in which I grew up wasn’t perfect, but my parents loved me and raised me well overall. They didn’t have much money, but they were hyperfocused on making sure I got a very good education. They have been a source of support and encouragement throughout my life, especially during the most difficult days.
Natural abilities. I’m intelligent and intensely curious. My brain is wired just right to understand and enjoy technology.
Working/middle-class life skills. I know how to get to work on time and how to please my boss. I have good life-organization skills: there’s always enough food in the house, I pay my bills on time and have good credit, I keep my car and house well maintained (and do as much of the work myself as I can).
Good people. Just look at all the people who have helped me: The geometry teacher. The English professor. The boss who promoted me to management and taught me the ropes in software testing. The other mentors and colleagues I’ve alluded to who have elevated my abilities and helped me find new opportunities. Friends who supported me through difficult times and connected me with professionals who could help me.
Money. Just look at all the places money came from. My parents’ labor and sacrifice. A philanthropic organization. Federal and Indiana governments. And now, a healthy salary thanks to being a reasonably talented person in a booming field. Funds have been available to pay for college, for lawyers through my expensive divorce, and for healthcare professionals.
These incredible resources have provided a solid foundation on which I’ve been able to build a pretty good life — and recover from setbacks and difficulties.
My story through the lens of great wealth
Let me try to tell my story through one more lens, as best as I can: from the viewpoint of someone who was born into far greater privilege than me.
One of my college roommates was from a very wealthy family. To give you an idea of just how wealthy, he grew up in his own wing of his family’s mansion. Given my working-class roots, we were an odd pair of friends. I had no real concept of his reality, and he had little concept of mine, but we had Rose-Hulman and computer programming in common and it made our friendship work.
He could see that I had no clue about what success looked like in his world. Sometimes he gingerly offered me advice from his perspective. More than once, he coached me hard to save money and build capital. “When you get your first job, save up $10,000 as fast as you can,” he said. He detailed some ways I should invest it. “And then save another $10,000. And keep investing. It won’t take that long, really, for your money to grow to $50,000 or $100,000 or beyond — and then you’ll have money you can really work with.”
I couldn’t get my head wrapped around it. I came from a mindset of working to pay the bills — and if you had any left over, it went into a fully liquid emergency fund. And $10,000 was an unimaginable sum to me then. Even if I could save it, why would I tie it up in investments? What if something went wrong and I needed it?
He also talked to me about the importance of building relationships in my career, especially with VPs and CEOs. But to me, people with such lofty titles might as well have been 25 feet tall. Who was I to them? Why would they want to even talk to me? What did I have to offer them anyway? I’d rather let my hard work and eventual accomplishments speak for themselves.
That friend and I slowly drifted apart after college, I think in some part because he was living in his upper-class reality and I was living life according to my working/middle-class rules. From my perspective, I’ve done something remarkable: moved up one socioeconomic class. But I think my friend was frustrated to see me squander my resources. That’s how he saw it, anyway. From my perspective, I was living successfully.
With my success of about the last 10 years and the world to which it has introduced me, my mind has slowly, finally come to see where my wealthy friend was coming from. You see some of it towards the end of my resources-and-luck story: how I do have VP/CEO contacts now, and I maintain those relationships. But even then, I did it the working/middle-class way: by proving myself through my work first.
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So consider your story. What time in the world were you born into and how did that play into your success? Were you born into poverty, the working or middle class, or wealth? What life skills did your upbringing give you or not give you? Was your family emotionally healthy and a source of strength in your life? Did you have any major setbacks in your life? If so, were you able to recover from them? Why or why not? Do you have good friends, good colleagues, good professional contacts? Where has money come from in your life and how has it helped you get ahead?
Because no matter how hard you’ve worked, without those advantages you would be nowhere near as successful as you have been.
Roadies! It’s Saturday again, and so here’s my weekly roundup of the best blog posts I read all week.
Photographer Eric Kim has some timely advice for me as I continue to think about making a book of some of my photography: consider generosity as part of the marketing strategy. Read The More You Give, the More You Will Receive
I can’t tell whether it’s funny or sad, the series of escalating, handwringing emails sent by a wealthy suburban school district, the one Philip Greenspun‘s child attends. It’s over a little graffiti. Read Why children should not be taught Latin (or philosophy)
Polly Balitro is most unhappy that since switching from film to digital, engagement with her photography blog has fallen off a cliff. She calls it as she sees it: film-photography snobbery. And I think she’s right. And it’s a shame. Read Analogue Vs. Digital
It’s a Good Friday tradition at West Park Christian Church, on Indianapolis’s Near Westside, to carry the cross through the neighborhood.
A hundred years ago, our brand-new neighborhood was a cheerful middle-class enclave. West Park Christian Church was new, too — and had hundreds of members. We have several panoramic photographs of our congregation through the 1910s and 1920s on our walls; see one of them here. But the neighborhood, and the church, began to decline in the 1950s. Today, the neighborhood knows too well the problems of poverty.
By the 1990s, most members had long since fled to the suburbs and drove back here for worship. When someone from the neighborhood visited, they found a congregation that didn’t look like them and they didn’t come back. By the early 2000s, attrition (mostly through death) brought us to fewer than 10 members and within inches of having to shut down permanently. But a new pastor in 2004 refocused the church on the neighborhood, and we began to grow again.
We do many things for the neighborhood: a food pantry, a clothing pantry, a well-attended Wednesday-night youth program, referrals to social services. We’re even trying to get a infant-and-toddler daycare off the ground. But on Good Friday, we still carry the cross.
This year it was largely a youth effort. That’s Billy, carrying our large cross through the alley that runs by our building. He carried it for more than half the walk.
We walked down the sidewalks in our neighborhood
The first place we stopped to pray was this pocket park in a formerly vacant lot. A neighborhood resident spearheaded the work to make it happen, including planting this old car into the ground.
Billy was very pleased to carry the cross on this first leg of our walk.
Rob, one of our youth pastors, carried the cross briefly after we left the pocket park. This was our crew, small but determined.
We also stopped to pray at Hawthorne Center, the neighborhood’s community center. It’s another place of safety and stability in our turbulent neighborhood. The building is a Carnegie library.
Several of the younger children took turns carrying the cross. This is one of Rob’s sons. He’s far smaller than the cross, but he handled it well.
Our last stop before returning to the church was at the home of two of our most elderly members, Leo and Marie, both in their 90s. Marie was the director of Hawthorne Center for many years, and now her daughter holds that role. Leo was in poor health this day and couldn’t come to the door. Marie didn’t feel great either, but did come to greet us. Sadly, Leo passed away a few days after we stopped by.
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I shot this with a Canon AE-1 Program that was recently donated to my film-camera collection. I already had one, but this one was in better condition. So I sold the other one and loaded some Fujicolor 200 into this one to test it. I planned to write a new review of this camera from that test roll. But when Good Friday came around, I’d only taken a couple photos on that roll. I decided to take a chance and use it to document our walk. Heightening the risk, I tried a lens I’d not used before: a 35-105mm f/3.2-4.0 Vivitar SMS zoom. I’ve owned it for so long I forget where it came from. I have had such mixed results with off-brand lenses, but this one handled very well. I figured I’d be fine when, on more than one occasion as I brought a subject into focus, I had that “ohhhhhh yes” feeling knowing I’d nailed it. A lens hood would probably have eliminated the flare I got when shooting into the low sun, but the effect is at least not displeasing.