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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Cheveux

Cheveux
Yashica Electro 35 GSN
Kodak Tri-X 400
2018

I’ve been applying what I learned from Berenice Abbott’s New York photography (which I wrote about here). This shot shows it, a little: you can see some of Zionsville Village’s context even though I focused on this store’s entryway as my subject.

It’s great fun to try to recreate some of what I see in other photographers’ works, and then see what I think and feel about the results. What I think about this particular photo is that I didn’t get enough intersecting planes in it to add interest.

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Film Photography

single frame: Cheveux

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Image
Photography

Photographs of things that aren’t there anymore

What have you photographed that has since changed dramatically, or isn’t even there anymore?

I’ve been walking or driving around with my camera for long enough now that I’m starting to build quite a collection of photos of scenes that look very different today.

The Elbow Room pub was nearly an Indianapolis institution, having been in operation since 1933 — right at the end of Prohibition. It abruptly closed for good a couple weeks ago.

Elbow Room

These neon signs came down immediately.

Elbow Room

This was one of my favorite downtown pubs. I first visited it when I still lived in Terre Haute and had business in Indy. When I worked downtown in the late 1990s I used to walk over here for lunch all the time. After my brother moved here, this was the first bar we visited together. In the past couple years, Margaret and I have stopped here several times, usually at the end of a downtown photo walk. She really liked a lemony martini they made. I have always loved their cheeseburgers.

The Elbow Room (rear)

The Elbow Room occupied the ground floor of a wedge-shaped building at the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and Ft. Wayne St. on the north edge of downtown. I’ve sat at a table in that window many times, most recently just a few months ago.

The Elbow Room

An unexpected benefit of buying and testing film cameras over the years is that I walk and drive around with them and photograph stuff. I’m not necessarily trying to make art, but am rather just capturing anything I find interesting in the moment to see how the camera works and what quality of images it can make.

I made these shots with a Nikon F3HP and 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor on Fomapan 200, and a Minolta Maxxum 7000 and 50mm f/1.7 Maxxum AF on Fujicolor 200. They’re not great art; heck, that first color shot turned out pretty underexposed and muddy thanks to a fault in the camera.

But I have them. The Elbow Room’s existence is proved, though evidence is starting to be erased. Soon this will be some other business and anyone who moved here since might never even know about The Elbow Room.

In 2008, I took hundreds of photos as I surveyed the entire Michigan Road. In 2018, I hope to survey it again, end to end. I wonder what photographs I’ll take of things that have changed. Maybe I’ll do a series of then-and-now photos!

What photos lurk in your archive of scenes that are all different now?

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History, Preservation

Remembering South Bend’s River Bend Plaza

Last month my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. My brother, my sons, and I drove to South Bend, our hometown, to celebrate. We chose downtown as our destination, where we enjoyed a first-rate dinner at a fine restaurant. Then we drove a few blocks west to take photographs on the steps of the church where they were wed. Finally, we drove to a cafe on Michigan Street, South Bend’s main street, where we had coffee and dessert. It was great to spend our evening in downtown South Bend.

Michigan Street has always been the heart of South Bend’s downtown. It was a major thoroughfare for more than 140 years. From the 1830s, it carried Indiana’s first highway, the historic Michigan Road. It later carried US 31, which you could drive north to the tip of Michigan and south to the Gulf of Mexico. This big road was important to South Bend’s economy, which was very prosperous for much of the 20th century thanks to manufacturing. Studebaker led the way, followed closely by Oliver, Singer, Bendix, and many other smaller companies.

Boom years bring big changes to any city. Check out how much downtown South Bend changed between about 1910 and about 1950 in these two postcards. Both show Michigan Street northbound from Jefferson Boulevard. I see just one building in the 1950 photo that looks like it was also there in 1910.

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Studebaker’s closing in 1963 was the beginning of the end of South Bend’s most prosperous years. Similar loss of manufacturing happened all over the country. Meanwhile, many residents were moving away from downtowns, and shopping and amenities followed them. South Bend’s first enclosed shopping mall, Scottsdale Mall, opened on the south edge of town in 1971. It was instantly enormously popular, and it hastened downtown’s decline. Something had to be done.

And so South Bend tried something that other cities were trying, too: turning downtown into an outdoor mall. First, US 31 was rebuilt one block to the east, bypassing five blocks of Michigan Street. Those five blocks were then permanently closed to vehicles. These photos from the Center for History show Michigan Street being torn up to make way for the new outdoor mall.

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It was called River Bend Plaza when it opened in about 1975. In its two central blocks, Michigan Street was replaced with a brick walkway dotted with trees and partially covered in freestanding pavilions. In the blocks immediately to the north and south, Michigan Street was resurfaced and painted in bright colors. In the northmost block, on which the grand Morris Civic Auditorium (the former Palace Theater) stood, Michigan Street became a small park. These photos show the transformation. The first three photos are from 1st Source Bank, which was then known as First Bank and Trust Co. (I got these photos from this page.) The last two photos, of the brightly painted street surface, are from the Center for History.

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It didn’t work. Downtown declined further. And nobody liked that River Bend Plaza removed so many nearby parking spaces, making it harder to reach the shops along Michigan Street. But River Bend Plaza wasn’t entirely to blame for its own failure. The die was cast: suburban living had taken hold, and suburbanites wanted shopping and amenities nearby.

South Bend finally threw in the towel on River Bend Plaza. In the early 1990s, the city tore it all out (save the little park in front of the Morris) and restored Michigan Street to vehicular traffic. Through traffic still follows the bypass, and you need to make a couple quick turns off that bypass to reach Michigan Street’s downtown span. These photos are from a visit I made in 2007.

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It was a good move – plenty of people make those turns. Michigan Street has regained its city feel and city experience, and I think people like it. It helps that in recent years there’s been a nationwide trend of renewed interest in city life, especially among people in their 20s.

That Friday night of my parents’ golden anniversary celebration, few parking spaces were available along Michigan Street. Our restaurant and the little cafe were both very busy. It’s much like this every time I visit downtown South Bend now. It’s a shadow of South Bend’s best years, but it’s a refreshing improvement over the dead downtown of 30 years ago.


Downtown South Bend once had many grand theaters. See them here.

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History, Preservation, Road Trips

A famous row of buildings in Marshall, Illinois

In 1950 and 1951, George Stewart drove US 40 across the United States and photographed scenes all along the way. He wrote a book in which he shared his photographs from the journey: US 40: Cross Section of the United States of America. One of his photos is of this row of buildings in Marshall, Illinois, on the northwest corner of 6th St, across from the Clark County courthouse. He called Marshall’s US 40 business district “an architectural gem” and recommended that these buildings be preserved. “In a hundred years, if these buildings should be preserved so long, people may be comparing them with the Grande Place in Brussels or some of the crescents in Bath.” I think he was being facetious. Or perhaps he couldn’t know that lots of small-town downtowns would endure architecturally. Here’s Stewart’s photo.

ILNRMarshall_Stewart1950

Stewart’s book inspired others to travel US 40 and photograph the same scenes. Perhaps the best known of those following Stewart’s tire tracks are Thomas and Geraldine Vale, who drove the road in 1980. They published their photographs in the book US 40 Today: Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America. About these buildings the Vales remarked, “In general, the solid, well-painted structures have retained their dignity… Yet there are some signs that they may eventually suffer from neglect.” They noted that where there had been tenants on these buildings’ upper floors in 1950, they all appeared to be vacant in 1980. Grabenheimer’s, which I assume was a department store, no longer operated on the corner, but Blankenship’s drug store still dispensed prescriptions next door. Unfortunately, the building at far left in Stewart’s photo has been razed and the cornice atop Grabenheimer’s has been removed.

ILNRMarshall_ValeVale1980

I, too, have been bit by the bug to photograph the places Stewart visited, and have done so along the National Road portion of US 40 as much as I have been able. Here is this same row of buildings in 2014, 64 years since Stewart photographed them. They are 64 percent of the way to lasting the hundred years Stewart imagined – at least, 89 percent of these buildings are, given that one of the nine didn’t survive. And contrary to the Vales’ worries, these buildings look no more worse for wear.

Marshall, IL

Barring catastrophe, I’d say Stewart will have his wish: these buildings will still be here in 2050.

Other places I’ve photographed Stewart’s scenes: Ellicott City, MD; Funkstown, MD; Taylorsville, OH; Harmony, IN.

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Preservation, Stories Told

The Peanut Shop

It was a common scene in the mid-20th century: while shopping downtown, stopping at a peanut shop for a little bag of freshly roasted peanuts.

Peanut shops started appearing in America’s downtowns in the 1930s, and most of them were built by the Planters Peanut Company. My hometown of South Bend, Indiana boasted one in the thick of the shopping district on Michigan Street, the town’s main thoroughfare. Planters got out of the retail business in 1961 and sold many of its stores to their operators. South Bend’s store was among those, but it held on for only another dozen years, give or take.

Peanut Shop South Bend proc

I passed by a handful of times. I was very young, so my memories are dim, but I’ll never forget the delightful but almost overpowering scent of freshly roasted peanuts that radiated for easily 30 feet from the front doors. I also remember the peanut-filled windows being at eye level. What a marvel! I stood on my toes trying to see over the nuts.

Peanut Shop Interior proc

I think I remember being inside once. I definitely remember seeing the peanut roasters in this picture. If we went in, it would have been on one of a small handful of days when Mom took my brother and I downtown on the city bus. I think Mom was trying to give us some connection to the good lifestyle available during South Bend’s better days. She grew up downtown and always told stories of shopping there, especially at Christmas when Michigan Street was decorated for blocks and the department stores’ windows were filled with festive holiday displays.

Mom could see that downtown South Bend was in decline. As was happening all over the country in the early 1970s, shopping was moving to strip centers and enclosed malls at the edges of town, and downtown was scrambling – and failing – to remain viable. Historic buildings in downtown South Bend became unable to sustain tenants, fell into decay, and were systematically demolished.

Peanut Shop proc

In an ill-advised attempt to stanch the hemorrhaging, in the mid-1970s South Bend closed busy Michigan Street (which was US 31 then) to motor vehicles and turned it into a pedestrian mall. It didn’t work. More businesses closed and more buildings were lost. In the background of this photo, you can see the Indiana Bell building under construction, a rare boost for downtown during a time of decay.

I suppose the Peanut Shop relied on impulse buys – who could resist the wonderful scent as they passed by? I’m sure falling pedestrian traffic is what killed The Peanut Shop.

Peanut Shop corner 2011 Google Street View

© 2013 Google

Most of my downtown memories of the corner where The Peanut Shop stood involve the building in this photo.Michigan Street was restored to limited vehicular traffic 15 or 20 years ago, thank goodness, when the failed pedestrian mall was removed. Retail sales are said to have immediately gone up in the few shops that survived that disastrous experiment. Some new businesses have moved in, notably the South Bend Chocolate Company and its Chocolate Cafe, which a favorite place for me to stop for coffee when I visit town.

This 2011 Google Street View image shows the Indiana Bell building (now the AT&T building) complete, as it has been for 40 years. But the demolitions haven’t ended – the former Avon Theater, a 1920s movie house at left in the photo, was demolished last year.

Even though the peanut-shop era has been over since the 1970s, a few incredibly tenacious shops remain across the nation. See some of them here.

Except for the Google Street View photo, I found the rest of these photos on a Facebook page about South Bend.

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South Bend’s Main Street isn’t the main street.
One block remains paved in brick; see it here.

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