Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Nikon FA and 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor

I love a bargain. I especially love a bargain on a fully working Nikon SLR kit. $30 netted me this Nikon FA and attached 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, with an MD15 Motor Drive (not pictured).

Nikon FA with 35-70 Zoom Nikkor

This is the second Nikon FA to have fallen into my hands; read my review of the first one here. I had no sooner parted with that one in Operation Thin the Herd when I came upon this one. This one looks well used, but on quick inspection it seemed to function fine.

I’ve got a backlog of cameras I haven’t tried yet and so it took me several months to finally shoot this one. I loaded some Agfa Vista 200 and took it around Downtown.

Pacers Bikeshare

My previous FA was in superior cosmetic and operating condition with one exception: its winder didn’t lock after winding one frame. You could wind all the way through the roll without ever shooting a frame. This FA has dings and brassy spots, and the viewfinder/mirror are speckled with black marks. But its winder works properly.

Looking up at the Salesforce building

On a chilly day where temps were only a little above freezing, the shutter suddenly failed to fire and the winder became stuck. I was 20 frames into a 24-exposure roll — close enough to done for me — so I rewound the film and had it processed. I put the FA on the shelf for a while until I had time to investigate.

Toward the Statehouse

Even though old cameras often don’t like cold weather, I suspected battery failure. I tend to trade batteries from camera to camera, and who knows when the ones I put into this FA were fresh. So I put fresh batteries in. Still locked. I then tried putting the camera in manual mode and setting the shutter to its one mechanical speed, M250. That did it — the shutter fired and the camera wound, and when I put it back in program mode everything worked properly. I probably should have tried M250 on the street when the camera seized. If I shoot it again, I’ll know better.

Bank of Indianapolis

I passed my previous FA on to another collector because every time I used it, the wind lever poked me in the forehead. I didn’t like that. Typical of Nikon SLRs, you activate the meter by pulling the wind lever out. But on this FA, it never poked me in the head. I do not understand; these are identical cameras. Now I doubt my previous impressions.

Driveway Entrance

Do you see the dark streak in the photo below, down the middle near the monument? I’m not sure what caused that but fortunately only this image turned out this way. Another image had a foggy streak in it that I can’t account for. I think I need to put another roll through this FA to be sure of it.

The top of the monument

If it turns out this body is faulty, at least I got this nice 35-105mm lens for my money. It’s built well and operates smoothly. These colors seem muted to me, however, more muted than I get from a 35-70 Zoom Nikkor I own. However, this film expired two years ago, I haven’t always stored it cold, and it may be starting to degrade.

Coffee cup handle

The lens has a macro mode, so I made a couple shots with it. Above is my coffee cup on my desk at work. I’ve had that cup since 1987; a potter in my hometown made it by hand. Below are some flowers growing in the bed in front of Christ Church Cathedral on the Circle.

Red flowers

Just because, here’s Christ Church Cathedral.

Christ Church

I slightly prefer twist-to-zoom lenses over push/pull-to-zoom lenses like this one, but I this one worked well in my hands. I also detected very little barrel distortion at the wide end, which is the usual zoom-lens bugaboo. My 35-70 Zoom Nikkor has wicked barrel distortion at 35mm.

Federal Courthouse

I had a nice time shooting this Nikon FA. I’ll put another roll into it as soon as I can manage — I want to shoot the cameras in my to-shoot queue first. If the body truly does have issues I probably won’t repair it. I’ll pass the body on to someone who will give it the proper love, and I’ll turn to one of my other wonderful Nikon SLR bodies to get my Nikon fix.

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Film Photography

Shooting Agfa APX 100, original emulsion

If you buy an Agfa film today, Agfa doesn’t make it. The company got out of the consumer market in 2004.

They licensed their brand to other manufacturers, which use some of the old Agfa film names even though the emulsions are different. It’s confusing. One such film is Agfa APX 100, a black-and-white negative film. Photographers who’ve shot both tend to agree: the new APX 100 is adequate, but the original Deutsche APX 100 was wonderful and special.

And so I was greatly pleased when three rolls of the original emulsion, expired in July of 1998 but always stored cold, were gifted to me. It didn’t take me long to drop a roll into my Pentax ME and take both on a walk in Downtown Indianapolis. That’s the Indiana Statehouse there at the end of Market Street. I made this photograph standing on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at the city’s center.

Market St. toward the Statehouse

I confess that I’ve already shared the best photos from this day with you in a series of posts a couple weeks ago; see them here. But there was hardly a bad image on this roll. This film captured rich blacks without ever washing out whites. It absorbed strong reflected sunlight, returning good definition and detail.

At Court St.

My 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens was attached as I walked around Monument Circle. Above is Meridian Street looking north towards the Circle; below is Circle Tower.

Circle Tower

I had an objective: to make my way over to Roberts Camera and buy a 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens I knew they had in their used inventory. I mounted the lens to my camera before I exited the building. One of the first shots I made was of Leon’s, a tailor shop just down the street from Roberts. Leon’s made the suit I got married in.

Leon's

I walked away from Roberts and Leon’s down St. Clair Street enjoying my new lens’s wide view. Had I been three seconds faster, the walking fellow would have been in a much more interesting spot on the frame below.

Pennsylvania

Here’s the same building in the whole. Leon’s is behind it, and Roberts is barely in the photo behind Leon’s.

Brick building

Spinning around about 90 degrees I made this photo of Central Library, with my car in the foreground. The Scottish Rite Cathedral lurks at left. One day I’ll make a subject of that stunning building.

Library

Central Library is at the north end of the American Legion Mall; the Indiana War Memorial stands at it south end. I scaled its steps to make some photos, including this one of the Minton-Capehart Federal Building. The flag is at half staff because on the day I made these photos, a Boone County deputy killed while on duty was laid to rest. That’s the county to the northwest of Indianapolis.

From the Indiana War Memorial

From the War Memorial, here’s the view of the American Legion Mall, with Central Library at its other end.

From the Indiana War Memorial

I adore the War Memorial as a place to make photographs. I’ve been here many times and always seem to find something new to see.

Indiana War Memorial

Growing tired, I made my way home. I stopped in the neighborhood at 56th and Illinois Streets to finish the roll.

Restaurant

I love the surrounding neighborhood. Margaret and I wouldn’t mind living there. But the homes sell fast, which has driven prices high. We could probably afford the payment, but at our age we’d be making it until we are 80. It makes us sad, but we have to say no thanks.

Illinois St.

And oh, look, I’ve told you more about my walk than I did about Agfa APX 100. It’s because I have no criticism to offer. Letting the Pentax ME control every exposure on this bright, sunny day, APX 100 managed the light that fell onto it with great balance between shadows and highlights. APX 100 is a lovely black-and-white film and it’s a shame it is no longer being made.

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Randolph St. in December

Randolph Street at night in December
Canon PowerShot S95
2017

A couple weeks before Christmas, Margaret and I had another Chicago getaway weekend. These weekends away are good for our spirits. We stayed in a boutique hotel on Randolph Street, four blocks from the former Marshall Field’s department store and two from the annual Christkindlmarkt. It was a perfect location.

We saw the Nutcracker, put on by the Joffrey Ballet. Walking back to our hotel after the show, when we finally reached Randolph Street and Daley Plaza we were greeted by the trees all lit.

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Photography

single frame: Randolph Street at night in December

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Wabash Ave

On Wabash Avenue
Pentax K10D
28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M
2017

I love the Chicago streets where the El runs overhead. This is Wabash Ave. at Monroe St. looking north. The Carson Pirie Scott building is on the left.

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Photography

single frame: On Wabash Avenue

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History, Preservation

The incredibly sticky sense of place

The land on which my home stands was farmland not 20 years ago. It’s typical: thanks to sprawl, many American neighborhoods occupy land that produced crops sometime within the last hundred years. In my town, a suburb of Indianapolis, neighboring subdivisions and shopping centers are brand new. I remember well the farmland that was there before.

But at some point the last farm will become another vinyl village or strip mall. Children born here then will have no memory of this area’s bucolic origin.

I was such a kid once, born into a busy and thriving South Bend, Indiana, neighborhood where the last new house had been built 20 years before. It was a typical 20th-century city neighborhood bordered by shops, businesses, and schools. You could almost get away with not owning a car.

My mom managed it: she walked to her job as a teacher’s aide at James Monroe School a block away. I visited her at her job one day when I was about 13. While snooping through some cabinets, I came upon this photograph, and it blew my mind.

MonroeSchoolMayDay1930s

This is that school’s front lawn on the occasion of a May Day celebration. I found the image online recently with a comment that the photo was taken in 1939. That’s eight years after the school was built, but twelve years before my childhood home was built. It and many others would soon be be built on that distant grove of trees in the photo’s upper-right corner. It is fascinating to not see the houses there that have always been a part of my memory!

To me as a kid, our 1951 house might as well have been built in 1851 or even 1751 — it was a time I could not imagine. From my limited childhood perspective, my neighborhood had always existed.

I knew intellectually that this couldn’t be true, of course. But I had no way of imagining the neighborhood before it was completed. The 1939 photograph made that time more imaginable!

school-houseAt right is an excerpt from a 1922 map of South Bend. It shows the location of my childhood home and of the school, neither of which had been built yet. I lived on Erskine Boulevard, the curved street, which would eventually curve back and end at Donmoyer Avenue, the street at the bottom of the map.

I’ve written about my elementary school here many times, and occasionally other former students find my posts and leave comments full of memories. One fellow who attended Monroe School in the 1950s commented on this post how his father never stopped calling my neighborhood “the new extension.” He clearly remembered when this land was that grove of trees.

This is the same delusion in reverse, and it illustrates how sticky our sense of place can be. Because this man remembered the grove of trees, he likely considered it to be this land’s true use and purpose.

Similarly, I have childhood memories of neighborhoods being built well south of James Monroe School. I still recall what was there before, and forty years on those neighborhoods still feel new, in a way, to me. And on my first visits to Indianapolis as a child, US 31 in the county just north of Indianapolis passed through nothing but farmland. A building boom that started in the 1980s brought tall office buildings to that corridor, plus a long string of stoplights. Recently US 31 has been converted into a limited-access highway there. But even after all these years I still marvel at how it’s all changed.

Even the existing built environment changes. If you’re a young student of James Monroe School – or, should I say, Monroe Primary Center, which is its name today – you might not know a time before the school was renovated and expanded (read about it here and here). My memories of this building do not include its current dropped ceilings, and include rooms that no longer exist. And my mind’s eye will forever remember the school’s front yard looking as it did in this photo, which I took in 1984.

James Monroe School

Visiting my hometown in 2013, after the school’s renovation was complete, I happened to take this photograph one gray morning from about the same place. Little of the landscaping survived the addition of the driveway — except the pine trees at right, which are almost certainly the same little pine trees in the lower corner of the 1939 photo.

James Monroe School

The years to come will surely bring more changes, and they’ll surprise both current students and aging alumni like me. Because place imprints on all of us.

I first shared these thoughts and photographs in 2014, but rewrote the article for today.

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History, Preservation

A sense of place: Going home to Twelve Points

Twelve Points State Bank

How well do we actually see the places where we live? Truly notice the details that give it identity and make it a place?

For me, the answer is: Better now than when I was young. I’ve lived long enough now that the stomping grounds of my youth have changed a lot. But back then my inner historian, preservationist, and photographer had not yet awakened. I had not yet learned to see.

In the early 1990s I lived in the Terre Haute, Indiana, neighborhood known as Twelve Points. The area got its name from the awkward intersection of Lafayette Ave., Maple Ave., and 13th St., which created twelve corners.

TwelvePoints

Imagery and map data ©2013 Google

Twelve Points was once a hot spot, at a time when Lafayette Road was still US 41, when passenger-train and streetcar service still delivered hundreds of people each day to shop here, and before the big shopping mall was built on the south side of town.

When I moved there, Twelve Points’ best days were already well in its past. Many of the buildings were empty and in poor repair.

A handful of businesses remained. I used to walk over to Hook’s drug store to fill prescriptions, and I’d sometimes stop at the little IGA grocery store on the way home from work. I could have done my banking, gone out for pizza, gotten my hair cut, and visited the dentist in Twelve Points, too, but I never did. Today I’d do it on principle, but that’s the kind of man I’ve become only lately.

A few years ago I visited an exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society that made me deeply regret not getting to know Twelve Points better. Part of the IHS’s “You Are There” series, the exhibit recreated Citizens Grocery, owned and run by Ernest Zwerner on Lafayette Road in Twelve Points, as it had been in 1945.

It was a painstaking recreation based on 1940s photos of Zwerner’s store (one is here), with period equipment and goods both real and carefully reproduced. Actors portrayed the shopkeeper and customers, all dressed in period clothes. Visitors to the exhibit could go inside the store and talk with the characters, who responded as if it were really 1945 and they were going about their daily business. It put visitors in touch with a time few of us knew.

Remarkably, I knew a couple who would have shopped at Zwerner’s: My landlords, Steve and Henrietta, who had lived since the 1930s in their home a few blocks away and rented its attached apartment to people like me. Inside the recreated grocery, I imagined young Henrietta there doing her marketing. Or, more likely she phoned in her order and waited for delivery.

I became a little misty eyed as I experienced my connection to this store and this time. I wanted to play along with the actors, tell them I lived a few blocks away on 8th Street (which I had, 45 years later), lament rationing, and ask them how much longer they thought we’d have to fight in this war. But I lacked the guts. I walked around the store in silence, slightly dizzy in delight, the corners of my lips curled up in a slight grin that I tried to suppress lest it let the mist in my eyes get out of hand.

(You will learn more about Zwerner the man and his business in this Google Books excerpt of An American Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana, 1927, here.)

When I last visited Terre Haute, I made a point of returning to Twelve Points with my camera. The building that held Zwerner’s store was demolished decades ago, so I photographed the buildings I remembered from my time living nearby in the early 1990s.

The Twelve Points State Bank building held a branch of the Merchants National Bank when I lived there. It looks pretty good yet, despite the boarded-up storefront there on its south side.

Twelve Points State Bank

Thirty years ago this building was in such poor condition as to be derelict. While it still shows some rough edges, it’s in much better condition today and on the day I took this photo was significantly occupied by Tilford’s Variety Store. Unfortunately, Tilford’s struggled to make its way and closed shortly after I visited.

Tilford's

This was the Garfield Theater, which I’m sure was a focus of the local night life. Many Twelve Points businesses and buildings have Garfield in their name because of the former Garfield High School, which once stood around the corner on Maple Ave. The Banks of the Wabash Chorus, a barbershop harmony group, has been in the building for at least a quarter century.

Banks of the Wabash Chorus

I can’t believe that in the five years I lived nearby, I never ordered a pizza from A Ring Brings Pizza. The now-me shakes his head at the then-me. And now nobody can call C-5951 for pizza anymore, not because C became 232 when seven-digit dialing arrived, but because the restaurant is closed. At least its great sign remains.

A Ring Brings Pizza

The Garfield Barber Shop and Coiffure Salon is also defunct. I swear that the sign and the lettering painted on the window look just as they did 25 years ago.

Garfield Barber Shop

Since I moved away, a new gas station was built on the southwest corner of Maple Ave. and Lafayette Ave., and it was hopping while I visited Twelve Points that day. A CVS Pharmacy replaced the little grocery store on the northeast corner of 13th St. and Maple Ave., and it showed every sign of doing well. These kinds of businesses aren’t enough to reinvigorate Twelve Points on their own, but they at least show that there is some life left in the neighborhood. Here’s hoping it finds revitalization one day.

I first shared these thoughts in early 2013. In the 4½ years since, according to Google Street View, a few things have changed: the defunct Garfield Barber Shop has finally been replaced with a new tenant, and the A Ring Brings Pizza sign has been taken down. Tilford’s is still closed, but the men still sing at The Banks Of The Wabash Chorus. 

If you’d like to see my apartment near Twelve Points and hear my story of getting started as an adult, it’s here.

 

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