Photographs

Shooting some 50-year-old Kodak Plus-X

In the bottom of a box that contained my father-in-law’s photo gear was one forgotten roll of old Kodak Plus-X.

Long expired Plus-X

Based on the graphic design on the film canister, I think this film is from the 1970s. I knew nothing about how it had been stored except that it hadn’t been kept in the fridge or freezer. Who knows what environmental horrors were visited upon this hapless roll of film during the last half century?

I loaded it into my Olympus XA, which I set to EI 25, the slowest speed on the camera. I figured this long-expired ISO 125 film would benefit from a lot of overexposure. I shot the whole roll on a short walk on the south end of Downtown Indianapolis. Then I developed it in HC-110, Dilution B, for six minutes. The Massive Dev Chart called for five minutes at 20° C, but that’s for fresh film. I figured a little overdevelopment would do this roll good.

When you shoot very expired film of unknown provenance, you have to prepare for unpredictable results. Several images on the roll showed heavy deterioration of the film.

Lucas Oil Stadium

Other images were well exposed and clean, almost as if the film were fresh.

Fire escape

Here are my favorite images from the rest of the roll.

Cottage
S. Meridian St.
Greenlight Guru
Mercedes parked
Deli and Cafeteria
N. K. Hurst Co.
Mazda B2200
Department of Administration

I really enjoy just shooting whatever subjects catch my fancy. It doesn’t make for Fine Art Photography™, but it does make for fun. When I shoot fresh film, which gets more expensive all the time, I find myself being more choosy about what I photograph. Shooting with abandon feels like wasting money. That wasn’t so with this free roll of very expired film. I just relaxed and photographed what I wanted.

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Photographs

Lake Michigan lifeguard stand on Kodak Plus-X

Margaret and I drove up to Lake Michigan at Michigan City a few weeks ago. It was about 50 degrees out, but as usual the wind was quite strong off the lake. We both had only medium jackets on, and they weren’t quite warm enough. But we pressed on for some photography anyway.

This closed lifeguard stand on the deserted beach was interesting to me, so I photographed it a number of times in its context.

Lifeguard stand, Lake Michigan
Lifeguard stand, Lake Michigan
Lifeguard stand, Lake Michigan
Lifeguard stand, Lake Michigan
Lifeguard stand, Lake Michigan
Lifeguard stand, Lake Michigan

I made these photos in my Olympus XA on Kodak Plus-X (expired 2/2000 but stored frozen). I developed the film in Rodinal 1+50.

I also shot about half a roll of Kodak Tri-X at this location, including a bunch of photos of the lighthouse here. I’ll share those images soon.

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Photographs

Second Presbyterian Church on Kodak Plus-X

After being sure that my Olympus XA’s meter was performing well enough, I shot more film in this delightful little camera. I’ve been itching to shoot some of the Kodak Plus-X I bought not long ago. This stock expired in February of 2000, but was stored frozen. I shot it at box speed, ISO 125.

I had reason to be at the grand, enormous Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis recently. I went early and brought the XA along to photograph this favorite subject.

Second Presbyterian

Usually I stop here, make one straight-on shot of either the whole church or its massive front, and move on. Only one other time have I walked the grounds looking for details to photograph.

Church doors

Second Presbyterian is perhaps best known for hosting the 1990 funeral of Ryan White, a boy who contracted AIDS via blood transfusion at a time when this disease was ill-understood and greatly feared. His fight to attend school in his hometown of Russiaville, about 45 minutes north of here, made the national news and was instrumental in helping our nation understand that AIDS was not just a “gay disease.”

Church door

Over 1,500 people attended White’s funeral, including then-First Lady Barbara Bush, Michael Jackson, and Elton John, who performed two songs. Elton stopped in Indianapolis last month on his farewell tour. During his show, he said that Indianapolis is a “preeminent feature of my life,” because the Ryan White funeral marked a turning point in his life that led to his sobriety.

Gothic windows

Second Presbyterian might look very old, but the main part of the building was completed in 1960. There have been subsequent additions; I’m aware of one cornerstone that says 1967 and another with a date in the 2000s sometime.

Doorway

I made these photographs in about the middle of April, before most of the trees were budding. One advantage of early-spring photography is that trees don’t obscure my architectural subjects.

Second Presbyterian

You’ll find this church on the far Northside of Indianapolis, on the city’s main north-south street, Meridian Street. It’s just north of 75th Street. It is a commanding presence as you travel north on Meridian.

Second Presbyterian

I developed this film in Rodinal 1+50. My first scans of these negatives on my Plustek Opticfilm 8200i SE scanner were low in contrast and coarsely grained. I explored VueScan’s settings to see if I could improve the scans. I discovered that reducing the brightness a little, and setting VueScan’s grain-reduction setting to Medium, helped me achieve “that Plus-X look.”

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Essay, Photography

Cameras and composition are only part of the photographic equation, but they’re my favorite part

Photography has changed a great deal in the last 40 years. If you think back 80 years, photography then had more in common with photography 40 years ago than photography 40 years ago has with photography now. Technology has changed so much about it, and I don’t mean just the advent of digital cameras. Technological advances let us easily make photographs now we couldn’t 40, or 20, or even 10 years ago. We can manipulate our photographs with software in ways that wet-darkroom artists of yore couldn’t fathom. How we view photographs has changed radically as well, given that we look at most of them on screens now!

40 years ago, we had film, film cameras, and the darkroom. I was in high school 40 years ago, and oh how I wanted to be in the Photography Club! But to enter you had to take at least one photography class, and to take that class you had to buy an SLR camera. I was so sure that camera was out of my working-class family’s reach that I didn’t bother asking.

I came upon an Argus A-Four, a 35mm viewfinder camera, at a yard sale for four bucks. I puzzled over the controls, as I didn’t know the first thing about exposure. One of my friends was in the Photography Club, so I asked him. “f/8 and be there,” he said as he gave me a bulk-loaded cartridge of Plus-X from the club stash. He told me to shoot the roll, and then he’d teach me how to develop the film and make a contact print in the school darkroom.

I found developing and printing to be tedious and boring. It was sort of cool to see my images materialize on the contact sheet, but the work to get there held no interest for me. I realized that perhaps it was just as well I couldn’t get into the Photography Club, because everybody had to develop and print their own work. I realized that I really wanted only to learn about the camera and about composition.

The majority of the photos members of the Photography Club took never found an audience outside the Photography Club. There was an annual photo contest at the school, and the winners’ prints were displayed in the hallway. Some Photography Club members also made photos for the school newspaper and the yearbook. Occasionally a club member would find their work selected for display at the Art Center downtown.

I still have the negatives and the contact sheet (sadly cut into strips for easier storage). I’m very happy to have these images! I scanned the negatives a few years ago. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll. Meet my friend Karen, who used to drive me home from school every day in her big Chevy.

Karen and her car
My friend Karen and her car. Argus A-Four, Kodak Plus-X, 1984

Now that I’ve started developing my black-and-white film and scanning it at home (to save lab costs and get images faster), I understand well what many photo bloggers I admire have written for years: a negative holds so many possibilities. That’s why the high-school photography class required students to develop and print their own work, so they could experience and understand that for themselves. Knowing how to use a camera and compose interesting and pleasing photographs is only half the equation. Processing the film to get a good negative and knowing how to print (or scan) that negative well is the other half.

Technology has given us enormously capable digital cameras today, removing the messy and occasionally smelly chemicals from the process. Slip your SD card into your computer, fire up Photoshop, and you can do a great deal of processing even to a JPEG to conform it to your vision. If you shoot RAW, you can do a great deal more with your images.

But little has changed for me: I will probably always be happiest when I nail the image in the camera, and then nail the development and scanning when I shoot film, so that I need do little or no post processing to get the image I want. Given my documentary style of photography, I’m looking to capture the scene as I saw it. When that’s not possible, I’ll settle for an image that looks like the scene could look that way in real life.

Meanwhile, I will keep sharing my work here for you to see. The folks in the Photography Club probably would have died and gone to heaven over having that option.

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1950 Hudson Commodore

Hudson grille
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI-Nikkor
Kodak Plus-X Pan
2014

This 1950 Hudson was my favorite car of the 2014 Mecum auction here in Indianapolis. I love step-down Hudsons anyway, and this one was a peach.

Have I ever mentioned that when I was in middle school I wrote short stories? I don’t have any of them anymore, and I’m sure none of them were any good. The only one I remember at all was the one where I had the main character drive a step-down Hudson.

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Film Photography, Old Cars

single frame: Hudson grille

1951 Hudson grille.

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Film Photography, Old Cars

Kodak Plus-X and the Carmel Artomobilia

I had two SLRs slung over my shoulders at the 2017 Carmel Artomobilia last month: my Pentax ME with wonderful Fujifilm Superia 100 inside, and my Pentax Spotmatic F with my last roll of Kodak Plus-X.

Cobra

On this day, with this lens (55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar), the Plus-X returned blacks you could just fall into.

Camaro

And the grays and whites came out creamy.

Hurst Olds

I wished briefly that I had screwed in my 35mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar. The thick crowds made it difficult, at best, to back up far enough to get entire cars in the frame. The 35/3.5 would have made me back up a lot less.

Toronado

But I’ve been exploring the 55/1.8’s considerable charms lately, and in retrospect am not disappointed I left it on the camera. It performed well, and it’s seldom a real problem to focus on an old car’s details.

Firebird

Growing up in the 1970s as I did, when half or more of the cars on the road were from GM, it was easy to take their dominance for granted. Looking back, it’s clear just how good their designs were. How daring it was in 1970 that the second-generation Camaro and Firebird had no distinct rear passenger windows! The shape of this window opening is just smashing.

Flying lady

Packard’s Flying Lady hood ornaments are a favorite subject. I shoot them whenever I come across them at a car show.

Ol' propeller nose

This is the famous front end of the Studebaker I photographed from the rear here. The girl walking away was a happy coincidence as I framed this shot, so I made sure to include her.

Citroen

The Citroën DS is funky from every angle and in every detail. Just check out how these headlights don’t both point forward. This is a later DS; earlier ones had uncovered headlights.

R/T

Plenty of American muscle was on display at the Artomobilia. I’m partial to the Mopars of the era for their no-nonsense styling.

Avanti

Avantis were made in my hometown, South Bend. They were Studebakers at first, but after Studebaker shuttered a new company formed to keep Avanti production going. They used leftover Studebaker engines at first but eventually had to turn to Chevy to provide powerplants. Post-Studebaker Avantis were given the “Avanti II” name, probably for rights reasons.

Avanti II

As the show began to wrap up and the crowds thinned, I was able to get a few wider shots of the event and its cars.

Vette 2

It wasn’t all classics at the Artomobilia. Several owners of newer hi-po Ford Mustangs lined up their cars for inspection.

Hoods up

Here’s hoping I can find time for more car shows. I do love to photograph cars and I think I’ve become pretty good at it. They’re certainly the subject with which I am most confident.

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