Film Photography, Preservation

Touring the Purdue Memorial Union

On my last visit to Purdue to see my son, he showed me around the Purdue Memorial Union. What a stunning building!

Purdue Memorial Union

Chicago architects Irving and Allen Pond designed the building, which was completed in 1929. Later, a hotel and a bowling alley were added to the structure. The building hosts several offices serving students plus a number of restaurants and gathering spaces.

Purdue Memorial Union

But I was just overcome by how lovely the building is, and how much care the University clearly has taken in keeping it in good condition. I admit to some jealousy — I wished the college I attended had a facility this lovely with this much to offer.

Purdue Memorial Union

I had a film camera with me, my Pentax KM with the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens attached and Kodak T-Max 400 inside. That gave me shallow depth of field for most inside photos, but you can still get a good feel for the space in these photos.

Purdue Memorial Union

Below is one of the ballrooms. I braced myself against a wall for a long-exposure shot and managed to avoid camera shake.


One of my son’s friends is prominent in the ham radio club, which is headquartered in one of the PMU’s towers. Here’s some of their gear.

Ham radio club

My son also took me to an upper room, tucked away, that has a stage and this piano in it.

In the upper room

One of my son’s hobbies is to learn to play as many instruments as he can. He took a piano class last semester and wowed me with his prowess. He’s got a knack for music. He had his Pentax K1000 along, shooting T-Max 400 too.

Damion at the piano

He played me one whole song on this well-used old piano.

Damion at the piano

The stage is on the opposite wall, and because of the light streaming through it I got this moody shot.

In the upper room *EXPLORED*

What a lovely facility. Purdue students are so fortunate to have it.

Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Pentax KM

In the upper room

One of my oldest friends sold me this Pentax KM. His father bought it new in 1976, the year Pentax introduced it and the famous K lens mount. In the 1980s the camera passed down to my friend; somewhere around here I have at least one college-days photo of him using it. I’m very happy to be this camera’s steward today.

Pentax KM

I never fail with this camera. Really. It’s almost magic. According to my notes I shot this tulip with the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens on Fujicolor 200. I don’t like that lens at all but just look at how lovely it rendered here.


Most of the time I shoot the lens that came with this camera, the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax. It is almost certainly a K-mount version of the sublime 55/1.8 Takumar from Pentax’s earlier screw-mount cameras. This lens never misses. It’s just wonderful.

Under the Clock

I took this kit and a roll of T-Max 400 to Purdue for an afternoon with my son. He brought his K1000 along; we spent the afternoon taking pictures. Goodness, was that ever wonderful to me. A fast-ish lens with fast-ish film and my generally steady hand let me do reasonable work indoors. Above, the Stewart Center; below, the Purdue Memorial Union.

Purdue Memorial Union

This is a shot from a library inside Stewart Center. I was surprised that they still follow the Dewey Decimal System, which I thought was passé among libraries today.

Study tables

This is Spitzer Court, with Cary Quad in the background. Damion lives in Cary. It’s very stately. We walked around inside a little bit and its common areas have this very 1890s feel. When you look past the modern pressboard furniture in those rooms, you can almost imagine young bejacketed pipe-smoking men sitting about in high-backed chairs at mahogany tables.

Spitzer Court

You’ll also find plenty of modern architecture at Purdue, like Hampton Hall.

Civil engineering

Damion’s buddy runs the ham radio club, so we got a tour. I just love old electronic gear. Just dig that great typography on that meter.

Ham radio club

They could have just printed “µA” on the meter on the right, but they went all the way and spelled it out in a sober typeface. The space between the letters lends such gravity, such certainty. You may rest assured in this meter’s reading.

Ham radio club

Okay, this has been more about my day at Purdue than about the Pentax KM. Let me reel this back in: this camera performed flawlessly. And perhaps I’m blinded by my love for Pentax gear but I found this camera to be perfectly unobtrusive as I used it. I framed, matched the needle for exposure, focused, and shot my way through this roll in no time flat. I wished I’d brought another roll of T-Max.

Beetle bug

After our long photo walk we walked over to a favorite pub for dinner. I sat the KM on the table, strap dangling. As we got up to leave and I picked up the KM, the strap caught on the table corner and the camera tore from my hand. It landed on the stone tile floor with a sickening splat. The corner of the bottom plate was dented and the UV filter on the lens shattered. Something must have bent slightly on the lens mount, as the aperture ring on any mounted lens now turns clockwise with difficulty. Some steward I am.


To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax KM gallery.

My Pentax KM has been such a never-miss, sure-fire performer that I simply must get it fixed. I’m just very sad that I damaged this like-new camera.

Verdict: Keep

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