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October 18th, 2021

Weekend Of Nostalgia, Ten Minutes Of Terror

Well…serious doubt. I have a bunch of undeveloped film I need to get to, but which I’ve been putting off because Kodak mucked with the formula for HC-110, my go-to developer ever since I was a teenager. I know this developer. I get exactly what I want out of every film I commonly use, and I am comfortable enough with it that I don’t worry about using it with a new film I’m trying out. I adore this product. So when Kodak fucked with it I was pissed off. Then I worried.

Allegedly they made the change to make producing it more environmentally friendly. And it just happened to take away another virtue of the developer some of us loved: the nearly limitless lifespan of the concentrate. For decades we ignored the expiration date on the bottles of concentrate because we knew it would probably still be good for years afterward. From now on we would have to pay attention to that date.

And there was more. You use HC-110 by first making a “stock” solution from the concentrate. Then to develop, you dilute the stock further. Dilution ‘A’ is one part stock to three parts water. ‘B’ is one part stock to seven parts water. The more it is diluted, the longer the processing time, which works better for some films. Dilution ‘A’ gives you a very rapid development time. I always use ‘B’ as a “one-shot” developer. That is, use it once and discard it. That gives you consistent results over re-use which slowly exhausts a developer.

Kodak insisted that nothing regarding dilutions and processing times had changed with the new formulation. But the chatter on the photographer forums was full of doubts about that, especially when you actually mixed up some of it, because whereas the original formulation was syrupy and with an amber tint and a very distinctive (and unpleasant) odor, the new formulation seemed just to be water.

But from the photographer forums I heard that it was all good as far as dilutions and processing times. So I bought a bottle and for months it just sat in my basement darkroom while I worked up the nerve to try it. And thus, my backlog of undeveloped film grew.

And I dawdled. This happens to me when I have to shift gears because something’s changed that I didn’t expect to change and now I have to adapt to this sudden change, but first I need to overthink how. 

Then one day on a Facebook group dedicated to memories of growing up in Rockville, someone posted a shot he’d taken of a train wreck that had happened in the early 1970s on the main line out of DC. I’d covered that wreck with my Mamiya Press Camera for a local county newspaper. It took 120 roll film and had swappable film backs which came in handy when you’re in the middle of something. Plus, it gave me large 6×7 negatives which provided lots of detail with very little grain, even if I was using a fast film like Tri-X Pan.

So I remembered working that train wreck. And there, in that guy’s photo, to my delight, was I, walking back up the tracks and presumably to my car after getting some close in shots of the wreck, the Mamiya slung over a shoulder. 


Photo by Tom Lockard
From the Facebook Group “You know you grew up in Rockville if you…”

It was like seeing a window into my past, into a happier time…when that great big beautiful tomorrow really was in front of me…or so I thought…

I still have that Mamiya Press Camera. It is one of only two cameras I still have from back in my teenage days when I was aspiring to be a newspaper photographer, the other being the Canon F-1 I bought after a summer flipping burgers at a local fast food joint. The lens on it had frozen up and so I’d consigned it to the top of my camera cabinet, along with my first camera, the little Kodak Brownie Fiesta. But it had nostalgia value to me. I took photos with it that got into the local newspapers. We’d worked together back in the day. So even if it was no longer functional, I was keeping it.

It sat for a couple decades up on top of my camera cabinet, reminding me of a happier time. Now I had to see if I could get it working again. 

I looked online to see if I could buy another lens for it, since I doubted anyone would repair the one I had. As it turned out, someone had a nearly mint condition lens for it and I snapped it up.

So I had my Press Camera working again, now I needed to run some film through it to see if everything was still working. And also admittedly, to revisit the feeling of being a teenager again, working with that camera and imagining that someday I would be a professional newspaper photographer. As it turned out what I revisited is it’s actually somewhat difficult camera to work with since the viewfinder really doesn’t give you a good idea of where the frame is, and the rangefinder is very dim, which makes focusing it something you have to be careful about. But having those swappable film backs, like the Hasselblad has, is very nice when you’re in the middle of something. 

The trip to York turned into a two day affair. I went back with the Hasselblad and the Canon F-1N, and I knew I had stuff I really wanted to get developed and scanned. So now I had more film to develop, and today I dug into it with the new HC-110. Almost immediately I began to worry. The stuff really did look like it was just water.

Worse, although allegedly the concentrate didn’t expire until late 2023, some small amount of something had crystalized out of it while the bottle had been sitting there, and I didn’t notice until I’d emptied the bottle into a mixing bucket and felt something rattling inside. I tried adding water to get whatever it was back into solution but it wouldn’t budge.

Now I was really concerned it was a bad batch. But I pressed on and decided to test it with the two 120 rolls of Tri-x Pan I ran through the Press Camera, which were themselves a test of the camera. I had images on them I didn’t want to lose, but which I wasn’t entirely happy with either because it’s difficult for me to compose to a “normal” focal length lens and that’s all that camera has. I reckoned that if nothing came out of the tank I could always run another couple test rolls through the camera and try a different developer. After venting to Kodak about what they did to my go-to film developer.

So I mixed up my chemicals and did the thing I’ve done so often I probably do it in my dreams too and just don’t notice that its dreaming. I have a nice Weston thermometer and the old Kodak Darkroom Dataguide and it looked to be five minutes of developer, followed by a splash in stop bath, and four minutes of Rapid Fixer. As I poured developer into the tank I was nearly convinced I would only see blank film when I opened the tank up again.

But when it was time to pour the developer back out of the tank it came out a dark rose red. Not exactly what the old formulation did, but close and I was encouraged. It meant Something was going on in there.

After the fixer I took the tank to my utility sink where I had the film washer going, and opened it. Success. Exactly the density the negatives were supposed to have.

Whew!

Now I can get to the other stuff. I have some good ones in those rolls. Post some of it maybe this weekend after I’ve got some of it scanned.

by Bruce | Link | React!

September 15th, 2021

Home Away From Home

Really enjoying what is essentially a one bedroom apartment here in Saratoga Springs, especially the fully equipped kitchen. And it’s reminding me of the guest house apartments mom used to get us when we went to the beach, back when I was a kid. Those would be two bedroom things, also with fully equipped kitchens. I guess I’d forgotten this.

They would usually be a block behind the hotels stacked along the boardwalks and beachfronts. Large structures that looked like very big old houses, but were divided up into apartments that families could rent for their stay at the beach. Often much, Much more affordable than the nice beachfront hotels, they provided plenty of space for mom, dad and the kids. Ours usually had nice front porches to hang out on in the evenings. The equipment in them was usually old like the buildings themselves….bathtubs with legs, sinks with separate faucets for hot and cold, stoves you had to light…all seemingly from the 1930s or 40s. But they gave you a good close approximation of a home away from home while you were at the beach for a week or two.

At the end of the street where we always stayed in Ocean City, New Jersey, was a Very Nice upscale six floor hotel right on the boardwalk. I used to envy the people who stayed there…very well to do folks judging by the cars parked there (I became fascinated by cars early in my boyhood…we wouldn’t have a car of our own until I was in my middle teens when mom bought a Plymouth Valiant.) When I returned to Ocean City after decades away, making very good money myself now, I made a beeline to that hotel. Yeah it was pricey, but the view out over the ocean from the upper floors was magnificent. Still…it was a hotel, not a guest house. You didn’t get a kitchen. You didn’t even get a fridge or microwave unless you sprang for one of the deluxe corner units. Those had wet bars and mini food prep areas. It was expected that you would be eating out all the time. Really, the food prep areas were just for after hours hanging out drinking and snacking.

In my adult travels I’ve always hit the hotels and roadside motels. They’re good for the road, but if you use them for a stay you’re depending on restaurants for everything but snacks. You might get a small fridge and a little microwave. There’s usually a coffee maker. Rarely do you get a sink and a food prep area. I’ve been creative with this setup, bringing to it my own travel silverware, dishes and food prep stuff, but you really can’t do much with it. You’re basically planning to eat out all the time or snack in your hotel room. For an extended stay you really need a kitchen. Then you have a home base, from which to go exploring.

Perhaps this is my introvert nature expressing itself, but really feeling like I have a home base this trip is very soothing. A motel room just isn’t that. This one bedroom DVC I got in Saratoga Springs (so I’m told, the very first Disney Vacation Club site) is all that. I’m able to do a week of it here in Saratoga Springs because it isn’t expensive point wise, and I get walking access to Disney Springs. If I’m not doing the parks anymore Boardwalk’s walking distance to my two favorite parks isn’t offering me anything.

It’s easy to fall into a home away from home routine here in a one bedroom. In the mornings I’ll make a mug of ice coffee from the fridge and take it with me for a morning stroll, then come back and make breakfast and think about my day. I might to a laundry…there is a washer and dryer right in the unit. I might just work on A Coming Out Story…I have what I need to get the next episode out…make a lunch and hit the pool here. I’m not doing the parks this trip (thank you Ron DeSantis you insane murderous Trump loving jackass), but I’ve a good set of cameras with me and there are nearby places to explore. Maybe I’ll eat somewhere interesting. Or I can just return to home base and make dinner, and think about what I saw, and maybe write a few things down.

This is what vacations were like when I was a kid. Just hanging out in a fun place with no particular schedule in mind. Mom would spend the afternoons at the beach. I might too, or I might just wander the boardwalk and do some mini golf or some of the rides. Or I might hop on my bicycle and go explore. Now I have a car.
 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Home Away From Home

April 21st, 2019

When I Was Between Grass And Hay

I could gaze into this photo for hours…

 

 

It takes me back. I’m a kid again, and the world is big again. I can breathe the air of those days, feel its wind in my hair. Just looking at this photo I can walk all those paths again. I’ve been gazing at it off and on now for days. At some point I’m going to make a print of it and stick it on the wall behind the bar in my art room.

This photo was posted on a Facebook page I follow about growing up in Montgomery County Maryland. Most of us posting there are oldsters like me. Some of us were kids back in the 1960s. Photos like this are often shared, but none have ever struck so deep a chord in me as this one. Why? Well, just try driving that road today. It’s true, you can’t go home again.

But, in some sense, you can. Always. If there are photographs. Alas for me, this time period was before I really got heavily into photography, so I don’t have many shots of this period of my life. This particular photo was taken sometime in the early 1960s. The person who posted it to the Facebook group couldn’t say exactly when, but I lived there and I can see the timeframe in the details. It’s Rockville Pike, then called East Montgomery Avenue, looking toward southwest from just south of Rockville. One tell of the timeframe is the bus coming toward us on the left side of the road. By it’s colors it’s an old DC Transit bus. DC Transit was the private bus company owned by O. Roy Chalk until 1974. But that’s one of the old buses. They were replaced in the late 60s with the new GM “New Look” bus which had bigger windows and a modern look.

The other tell is the cars. That’s (I think) a ’64 Ford Galaxy on the left coming toward us. It looks like there’s a touch of frost in the shadows on the right, so it’s late autumn. This explains the rolled up windows on the car. Most cars didn’t have AC back then…it was an Expensive luxury. But central Maryland is brutally humid and hot in the summer months.

Also, the large field on the right…that was a working farm. Now it’s just another ugly shopping center. Back then corn grew there. The field is empty in this photo, because the corn has been harvested, and the stalks gathered into bundles, and the earth plowed and ready for next spring. That was the cycle of life on that field I came to know all the years I lived there…

…there…in the apartments to the right of the large building in the distance on the right of the Pike. That building is the Tenley Building, which must have just been recently completed. I don’t know the name of the other building a bit further on across the Pike, but when mom moved us into the apartments, then called Courthouse Square, it was also just being finished and the top two floors of the Tenley Building were in the process of having their rooms and offices built out. The Tenley Building was built for doctors and dentists. Mom dragged me crying miserably over to it for my shots. The needle terrified me, and memories of diseases that killed many when she was a girl terrified mom. So I got my shots.

What takes me back the most, something almost completely unbelievable now about this photo, is all the wide open space in it. You’d think this was somewhere out in the sticks. And I suppose it was when we moved there from Hyattsville. My earliest memories are of the apartment we had in NE Washington DC. Mom moved us to Hyattsville when I was 5 and in Hyattsville I could still believe I was in the city. We moved to Rockville when I was 8 and into a Much nicer garden apartment with a big glass window with a door that opened onto a private balcony. And it had AC! You will never appreciate AC like I do if you didn’t grow up in Washington DC and Maryland without it in the summer. There was a swimming pool, and playgrounds and barbecues for the tenants. I thought we’d hit the big time.

And there was so much open space, I felt like a changed bird suddenly set free. The sky above was huge. The stars at night were vivid. A massive private country club abutted the apartment complex, and evenings I could walk out to a hill in a field behind the apartments and look out across it and see the lights from the WMAL radio towers in the distance. One afternoon shortly after we moved in I was standing on our balcony marveling at how far up in the world we had come, and looking across the Pike glimpsed a train go by. Huh!? I had no idea there were railroad tracks so close by and I immediately had to go see. I walked across the Pike and a small parking lot and clambered down onto tracks that I later learned were the main B&O Railroad line west out of Washington DC. The tracks ran straight as arrows toward Rockville, and back the other way to Washington, and I remember gazing into the distance while some deep and powerful urge developed within me to go see what was there, to explore those horizons.

It was all so wonderful. I was between grass and hay as they say, just old enough to be allowed to wander on my own, but not so old that I didn’t have to be back home by supper. I went to an elementary school in Hungerford, close in to Rockville for a year, then the school boundaries changed and went to Congressional elementary. It was my first experience riding a bus to school. It felt like we were living in the country. Every spring the farm behind the apartments would plant for corn. Every summer I’d watch the corn growing until it was taller than me. Every July 4th mom and I would walk to a hill next to the farm and watch the fireworks light the sky from the Richard Montgomery High School play field. Every autumn would come the harvest, and the smell of cut stalks. Then came the Rockville Fireman’s Carnival.

Summer days I’d walk down the Pike to Congressional Plaza, stopping first at the newly built Talbot Center (It was but a dug out hole in the earth the day we moved in to the apartments next to it) and the Minute Mart there for a soda to drink whilst walking. Then I’d stop at Children’s Supermarket, later to be renamed “Toys R Us”, and inventory their model car shelves for anything new. Then I’d hit the People’s Drug Store in Congressional for any new magazines and comic books (Mad was a favorite), and then check the model cars at the Kresge five and ten, and the Murphy’s. On the way home with my loot, if any, I’d hit the McDonald’s for a burger and shake.

Just re-reading this now it strikes me how much a single divorced mother could provide to her kid, including even an allowance that made it possible for him to indulge in his model car hobby, back in a time when women made maybe 60 cents for every dollar a man doing the exact same job made. But those were the Kennedy days. Things started coming apart for the working class when Reagan promised everyone a shining city on a hill if only the chains of government were taken off big business and finance. But…I don’t want to remember what came later now. We’re all living it anyway.

This photo takes me back into a different world. Classrooms smelled of mimeograph paper and chalk. Telephones had wires connecting them to the wall, and long distance was anything beyond the city limits and horribly expensive. TV came like radio over the airwaves, not a cable, and there were only four local channels, and if the conditions were right and you got the rabbit’s ears tweaked just right maybe you could get the three Baltimore stations with only a little static. There was a legendary Harrisburg station that you could sometimes see the ghost images of amidst the static. There was three daily newspapers, the Post, the Star and the News. And there was a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day…

And I wandered. Lots. Mom felt safe letting me do that there. To this day I have to end my days with a walk, though sometimes I take a drive. But I still love to just wander. In many ways the world was so much smaller then, not nearly as interconnected as it is now. And I have my driver’s license and I’ve taken my cars from this side of the country to the other. Were I to transport many of you reading this back to those days you might get a case of claustrophobia from the sense of isolation. To me it brings back memories of a world just beginning to open up to me. I discovered the horizon here, and all its mysteries, because for the first time I could actually see it.

Just there in the photo, to the right of the Tenley Building, is the row of apartments we lived in. I can almost see my bedroom window. I used to gaze out at this stretch of road often and to the city and the horizon beyond. I can half close my eyes just now, and do that still.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When I Was Between Grass And Hay

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