Film Photography

Walking through Zionsville in the rain with an old camera and expired Kodak Tri-X

Wet brick street

I didn’t mean to walk in the rain. It’s supposed to be romantic and all, but I was alone, and I didn’t really want to be wet. But this shower popped up out of nowhere. It caught my Dark Sky app by surprise — it is very good about warning me before it rains.

Argus Argoflex Forty

I figured the rain wasn’t going to hurt my camera, a circa-1950 Argus Argoflex Forty. It’s a hardy little box. So I pressed on.

It’s also a reasonably capable little box. Its lens is sharp except in the very corners, and it offers a range of apertures and shutter speeds.

I was burning off my last roll of Kodak Tri-X, expired since June of 1981. After shooting my last roll at box speed and getting dense and foggy negatives, I set exposure on this manual camera as if this were an ISO 100 film, hoping for improvement. I developed in LegacyPro L110 Dilution B (1+31).

This roll looked far better than my last one — less grainy, better resolution. Fresh Tri-X would have looked even better, of course; these still look like they were shot on expired film. But I’m pleased with these results.

The Flower Shop
Black Dog Books
Five Thirty Home
One Nine Five
VW Bus
Downtown Zionsville

I shot this back in early July during a week when we had several pop-up showers in full sunshine. That’s a real rarity! I haven’t seen anything like it since I was a child.

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Film Photography

40-year-old Tri-X in the Yashica-12

I buy film impulsively with some project in mind. Then I never get to the project and eventually forget why I bought the film. I’ve done it enough that I now have about 15 rolls of film I need to shoot up. I’m working my way through this stock while I refine my home developing technique.

I own two rolls of 120 Kodak Tri-X that expired in June of 1981. I had a day off a couple weeks ago, and it was a warm spring day. So I spooled one roll of the Tri-X into my Yashica-12 and took it for a drive in the country. It was lovely to smell all the rural-Indiana spring smells. Along one country road the fields were awash in fragrant golden flowers. Another road smelled strongly of swine. That’s Indiana!

I stopped when I came upon the small town of Sheridan, and blew through the whole roll there.

In small town Indiana, everybody knows everybody and everybody’s lived there for ages. Even though the streets were largely deserted, a stranger like me stands out. These little towns are seldom popular destinations. The locals are sure to wonder why I’m making photographs there.

As I wrapped up the roll, I noticed one fellow stick his head out his door and give me a sidelong look. Several minutes later a woman pulled up to me in her car to ask what I was doing. Two minutes later, another car bearing two women pulled up to ask the same thing. They put on friendly faces, but that they asked at all told me I had worn out my welcome.

I’ve experienced this many times as I’ve photographed small Midwestern towns. I have a window of time before people let me know, at first subtly and then directly, that I’m noticed.

I’m a middle-aged, well-groomed white man. While I stand out because I am not known there, at least I look more or less like everyone else.

When I was in my 20s, with hair halfway down my back and wearing rock-concert T-shirts, I feel sure I would have received a distinctly unfriendly reception.

If my skin were brown but all else about me were the same as it is now, I’ll bet someone in Sheridan (or in any small, rural Midwestern town I’ve ever visited) would have called the sheriff.

It’s safe to be a middle-aged white man.

I developed the film that afternoon in L110, Dilution B, and scanned it the next day. This film was so fogged that the images were barely visible on the negatives. Yet my scanner cut through it and brought out usable, though very grainy, images. Here are the best of them.

Barber shop
Farmer's Bank
Christian Church
Central Indiana Telephone Co.
Reserved parking
Step up
Sheridan Post Office

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Film Photography

Kodak Tri-X info sheet from 1981

This week I shot a roll of Kodak Tri-X in 120 that expired in 1981.

Back then, Kodak packed a useful sheet of information in the box. It was loaded with helpful tips for shooting and developing this film to get good results. I scanned it in so I could share it with you. Click either image to see it larger.

In 1981, when you bought a roll of Tri-X you could spool it into any camera, even one you didn’t know well, and use these instructions to get usable results. It’s too bad Kodak doesn’t pack these info sheets today.

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Swan

Cormorant hood ornament
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Kodak Tri-X 400 (at EI 200 by mistake)
2016

Early Packard automobiles had an array of stunning hood ornaments. You might think this bird is a swan, but you’d be wrong; it’s a cormorant. You’d find cormorant hood ornaments on the finest Packards.

If I had not shot this at EI 200 by mistake, I might not have gotten just this perfect look.

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Film Photography, Old Cars

single frame: Cormorant hood ornament

A Packard hood ornament on Tri-X.

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Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

Abandoned US 40 bridge
Nikon N8008, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor
Kodak Tri-X 400
2017

I’ve often wondered what leads to a bridge being abandoned. Was it too expensive to tear it out? Won’t it become a safety hazard for curious explorers?

I don’t know for sure when this bridge was built, but my past research points to 1920-25. It carried US 40 over the west fork of White Lick Creek, just west of Plainfield, Indiana. It served until only about 1940, when US 40 was upgraded to four lanes here. Two new bridges were built, one for each direction of traffic. This bridge was left behind.

The current westbound bridge is only a few feet away. It’s only in the winter months, when the trees are bare and the vegetation has died back, that you can see this old bridge from the road as you drive by.

I love it when serendipity happens. I scheduled this post to go live today weeks ago. Later, I started moving my 2006 road trip along this section of the National Road and US 40 to the blog, which I started sharing this week. My post about the day I first encountered this bridge posts next week.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Abandoned US 40 bridge

An abandoned bridge near Plainfield, IN, that used to carry US 40.

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Film Photography

Living room still lifes

Not long ago I had an unexpected day off, so I shot, developed, scanned, and uploaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X. I shot stuff I found around the house, on my coffee table. My Yashica-12 was on my tripod, and I attached my Spiratone close-up lens kit. The available light led me to slow shutter speeds, around 1/4 sec. at f/5.6, so I screwed a cable release into the socket to prevent shake.

I wanted a pleasant day of photography more than I cared about making images for the ages, and I succeeded. I’d been thinking about doing some available-light still lifes for a while, I suppose to channel my inner Edward Weston. I found no gnarled green peppers in the fridge, so I worked with whatever I found lying around. That included my favorite coffee mug, the little pot we keep paper clips in, and a geode given to me by a dear old friend.

Random stuff I found in the living room

I used the Yashica-12 because it was out and because it has an accurate onboard light meter. When you use that meter, the 12 limits you to films of up to ISO 400. This was fine, because Tri-X 400 was the fastest film I had on hand anyway.

Lidded bowl

The Spiratone kit comes with two lenses, one for each of the TLR’s lenses. The viewing lens promises that it corrects for parallax, but it also magnifies the scene more than the taking lens does. I made every one of these subjects fill the frame, but had to crop them all in post. In this photo of the lidded bowl I wish I had managed to get the entire lid in focus.

Belleek pitcher

The photo above of a Belleek china pitcher came out a little dim, and I couldn’t fix it in Photoshop without overcooking. The photo below of a duck decoy did too. The duck is painted in dark and muted colors, which might have led to muddy middle grays. My mom’s grandfather made the decoy by hand, by the way.

Decoy

I had greater luck photographing a couple bottles of whiskey Margaret and I brought back from our tour of the Old Forester Distillery. We sampled both of these whiskeys at the end of the tour and they’re delicious. The 1920 whiskey is a whopping 115 proof! We’re saving the bottles for a special occasion.

Old Forester

Conventional wisdom is that Tri-X in Rodinal results in pronounced grain. Yet I don’t mind the grain in these. Perhaps that’s in part because I didn’t have any particular look in mind as I shot these. I just wanted to have some fun and see what turned out. But as I think about doing more still-life work, I feel sure that T-Max 400 or Ilford Delta 400 would yield sharper, smoother results with richer blacks. I think that would be a nicer look for subjects such as these, so I’ll use T-Max or Delta next time.

Old Forester

I’ll also dig through my stuff for a much longer shutter-release cable, as the one I found was too short for me to stand out of the way. Look closely, and you’ll see me (and the Yashica-12) reflected in the bottles.

Of the 12 exposures I shot, only nine were scannable. Something I did wrong in developing partially fogged my first three shots. My scanner’s bundled scanning software thought there was nothing on those frames and threw an error. I wish it would simply scan whatever it finds, as I might have been able to do something with the partial images that are clearly visible on those frames.

Also, the Tri-X curled enough during drying that I struggled at first to lay it flat into the scanner mask. My scanner came with a little card the width of 120 film that you lay onto the end of the film to hold it flat in the mask, and then pull out after you close the mask. It worked brilliantly.

Despite all these challenges, I had a lovely morning of photography. It was wonderful to go from concept to uploaded scans in just a few hours!

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