It’s Black, It’s White – It’s Photography

Last year, Gina gave me a DIY camera kit as a gift. It was awesome, and I wrote about it. Along with the camera, she also gave me two rolls of film: one color, one black & white. The color roll lasted through the spring, and I posted a gallery of those shots on Flickr.

For some reason, though, it took me much longer to go through the black and white roll. Maybe because it had 36 exposures instead of 24. Maybe because I, in my inexperience with manual cameras, ended up stupidly popping open the camera a couple of times before the whole roll was complete. In the end, though, the premature exposures and resulting double-exposures created some neat shots. And of course, even after I had used up the roll, it took me quite a while to bite the bullet and get the thing developed (this time I used the excellent services at The Darkroom).

So, after that entire odyssey, below are my favorite shots from the roll. As I said,  some of these are complete accidents, others were intentional, but it felt neat to be shooting with film again. It all started with a trip to the National Zoo, continuing through trips to Austin and West Virginia, and culminated in some random shots around the neighborhood.

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Round and ’round we go…

 

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A ghostly appointment.

 

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Heidi on a leaf?

 

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From the ether?

 

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‘Merica.

 

The full Flickr gallery of the rest-of-the-best can be seen below as a slideshow if you’re reading this on something that allows Flash, and if not here’s the slideshow link:

Until next time.

Der Konstruktor’s In Town

As I’ve written previously, Gina tried a bit of a DIY-themed Christmas for me this year. One gift that I was super excited about was the Konstruktor camera from Lomography, a website devoted to film cameras and the people who still take pictures with them. The aptly-named Konstruktor is a plastic camera sold by the site that you can build more-or-less from scratch.

The box claimed it could be done in a matter of hours, and I wanted to prove that I still had the ol’ engineering magic touch, so I waited until we got back home after the holidays and I had a free afternoon. Then it was game time. I queued up the timer on my phone and got to work.

It really was a lovely box.
It really was a lovely box.

I didn’t count the five minutes it took me at Christmas to figure out how to open the darn package, so try not to hold that against me. Cracking open the box reminded me of watching my brother put together some of his plastic model airplanes and starships back in the day. I remember being incredibly bored by it back then, and the smell of the glue made me nauseous, but I did always think it was cool that all the parts were organized in plastic sheets with punchouts, just like this camera. My camera is practically related to the USS Enterprise.

It doesn't count unless there are extra parts, right?
It doesn’t count unless there are extra parts, right?

As a piece of packaging, the box itself was a work of art. I almost felt bad taking the pieces apart and organizing them by part number, but once everything was in place, I was off to the races. All in all, I only recall one major hangup in the Konstruktion process: there was a tiny spring with a hook at its end that provides the tension needed to close the shutter when the snapshot button is pressed, and I definitely remember muttering a few choice words trying to get that thing to stay on with two pinched fingers while I tried to attach the other end to a moving part. I like to think I’m fairly dexterous, but there’s only so much finagling you can do with a quarter-inch-long spring.

Despite this minor setback, 1 hour and 27 minutes later, the Konstruktor was complete! I must admit I was shocked that it was that easy, all things considered. I mean, I had an actual functioning camera in my hands in the span of a decent movie.

We're getting there...
We’re getting there…
Hello Konstruktor!
Hello Konstruktor!

Gina also bought me a couple of rolls of film to get started. Lomography is all about embracing the limitations of 35mm film compared to today’s multi-megapixel perfect digital cameras. Everyone understands that film pictures aren’t going to be studio-quality crystal clear, especially not coming from a plastic camera, but that’s kind of the point. These are the types of cameras that Instagram was initially trying to mimic, before everybody just started posting selfies or pictures of food with no filters. There’s an inherent artsy quality to them anyway.

I was eager to see what kind of results the camera could capture, but I also didn’t want to use up the roll of film just for the sake of taking pictures. Especially in January, when there was no daylight and nothing interesting going on outside except feet of snow.

Gradually, as the weather got warmer and when I could remember to take the camera with me on walks or trips or out to the deck, I would. The interface took some getting used to (for one, the viewfinder is a mirror image of whatever you’re aiming at, so it’s a bit like targeting an enemy using a fighter jet to get your image lined up until you’re used to it), but over the course of a few months, I gradually became more comfortable with it and took more and more photos. That is, until I inexplicably popped open the back of the camera in a moment of heightened stupidity, thereby ruining all the pictures I’d taken up to that point. Working feverishly in low light, I reloaded the roll of film to try to salvage the second half of exposures.

When it came time to develop the roll,  I had a very hard time finding a reputable shop around here that still develops film. It turns out there’s a great camera store in Burke, PhotoCraft, that not only develops film but also has every type of camera equipment you could imagine at reasonable prices, so that’s a double bonus for me. (They also partner with Embassy Camera in DC if you’re interested.)

So you’re maybe wondering why I’m just writing now. The basic reason is that I only found the time to make it out to Burke late last week, and then again yesterday when the developed pictures came in. I must say I had some nostalgic tinges of excitement when I opened the envelope of prints. Seeing how each shot turned out was always one of my favorite parts about getting film developed. Sure, sometimes you were disappointed that what you thought would be a really cool shot ended up being a blurry mess, and sometimes you accidentally exposed half the dang roll to direct light, but other times you got really lucky.

As it turns out, the half of the roll that I didn’t ruin turned out pretty okay! Below are a couple of pictures straight from Der Konstruktor itself, long may she reign. I think this will be the beginning of a fun relationship. And if I end up dropping and breaking the camera, it’s only plastic. We can rebuild it. We have the technology. Faster, smarter, stronger…

Downtown DC from the lens of the Konstruktor.
Downtown DC from the lens of the Konstruktor.
A slightly different version of Choppers 'n' Cherry Blossoms.
A slightly different version of Choppers ‘n’ Cherry Blossoms.

I’m Huge In Denmark

Not too long ago, I received a request via Flickr for one of the photos in my stream to be used in a book. My initial excitement was tampered a bit by the fact that the request came out of the blue, and the photo in question wasn’t one that I would consider to be anywhere in my top 1o marketable photos, if I even have a top 10. It was a shot of an exhibit at the Navy Museum of the Turtle, an early attempt at a submarine:

I would’ve thought this was top 500, maybe?

The person requesting the use of the picture had a signature line from Bonnier Publications, publisher of, among other things, the “Highlights of History” (or “Historiens Højdepunkter”) series of history books in Scandinavia. I checked out the publisher’s website, found the English version, and wound up believing that it all seemed pretty legit.

At this point, I had a choice of giving permission or denying it. After a quick mental scan of things that could go wrong, I figured I had nothing to lose by letting it go forward. If this was some kind of scam, then oh well. I was never going to get rich off of that snapshot anyway, except with perhaps some naval historians. As a lark, I asked only one thing in return: that I could have a copy of the book when it was published. Again I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask, even if I never ended up seeing it. The lady I’d been communicating with seemed friendly and supportive, so despite the random nature of the whole exchange, I had a pretty good feeling.

Fast forward to a few months later, when I’d already forgotten about the whole thing, and I get a package in the mail from Denmark:

Danmark is lovely this time of year.
I hear Danmark is lovely this time of year.

I immediately knew what it was! My Scandinavian counterpart came through! I pulled out the book, smelling all newly printed, to reveal the cover:

Roughly translates to "History's Greatest Scoundrels."
Roughly translates to “History’s Greatest Scoundrels.”

So it turns out, upon flipping through the pages, that this is a book that synopsizes the most evil characters in history. I have not translated it all, but just to give you a flavor, there appear to be entries on Jack the Ripper, Al Capone, various pirates, the Mafia, and other less identifiable but equally unsavory people. There are also some quite graphic photos and paintings of victims of these villains. Well, it wouldn’t be a fun dinner conversation if I sat down with everyone in this book, but if you flip to page 87, there’s the Turtle, now serving as a visual of Prescott Ford Jernegan’s fictitious Gold Accumulator machine, a hoax from the late 1890’s. And sure enough, paging over to the photo credits reveals yours truly!

A nice Photoshopping job, and look, there's me!
A nice Photoshopping job, and look, there’s me!

Don’t get me wrong, I always thought one day I would start a media empire. But in my mind, having my origin story involve being a part of a Danish language history book probably ranked somewhere between wind turbine cleaning and blobfish fishing. Until now. Everybody’s got to start somewhere. At this pace, I’m only a few years away from a Scandinavian book tour.

Photography Update

Sound the bells! After two years of trying, I’m all caught up on Flickr. Somehow, I thought this would be more exciting, but by now I’m just exhausted thanks to coming up with pithy captions and tags for each photo. I would, however, like to celebrate this accomplishment by highlighting some of my favorite photos from the “catchup phase.” (Not to be confused with the tasty “ketchup phase.”)

Since I was uploading photos quickly and in such large quantities, I’m sure (unless you’re stalking my photostream) that you missed at least a few of these. So think of this as a gateway to perhaps some sets of pictures that may interest you:

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From a work trip to Huntsville, Alabama last year.
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A storm was moving in, so I was moving fast, giving this a ghostly effect.
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Bart tries on his new superpowers.
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Sunset on the Potomac.
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Old Town as seen from the George Washington Masonic Temple.
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The Chickahominy River.
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Sittin’ on the dock of the bay, taken by Gina.
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Our own version of the Redneck Yacht Club, taken by Gina.

Labor Day Came And Went

Labor Day! It’s here again, meaning of course that summer is just about over. For me growing up, it meant family reunions and Mountain Heritage Day. After college, it has usually meant time spent at a lake somewhere.

But like so many federal holidays, I’ve never bothered to figure out just why we celebrate it. What is the history of Labor Day? That’s the question burning in my heart. Luckily, I have the power of the Internet to help. Oh look, here’s what the Department of Labor has to say! They should know, right?

 “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” – from The History of Labor Day.

Some sources say that the whole idea got started in Canada. I couldn’t find a lot in my five minute search to back that up. But regardless, like with everything else political, there’s a juicy 100-year old controversy over who started the holiday in the U.S. Was it Peter McGuire, secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners? Or was it the sprightly machinist Matthew McGuire? My money is on McGuire. No matter who was the first to suggest it, the holiday was initially celebrated by various labor unions in various states across the U.S., with the first celebration occurring on September 5, 1882 in New York. Over the years, it was adopted as an official holiday in several states, culminating in federal holiday legislation in 1894 signed by President Grover Cleveland.

But perhaps most important to Labor Day history is that the very first Waffle House opened on Labor Day in 1955. (source: dan-taylor.com).

And so this is one holiday that really is about the working class, instead of focusing on an explorer or the founding of the country or the birth of someone highly influential to the course of history. It’s for the working man and woman to maybe have a parade, kick back, and enjoy the fact that we no longer have to work 12-hour days for pennies. Or perhaps to showcase our fighting skills.

We’re Fighting Butchers, and we’re not gonna take it anymore! Source: dol.gov

I’ll sign off for the weekend with this link to my Flickr account showing the history of my particular Labor Day memories (starting circa 2004). Enjoy the weekend, everyone!