Thursday, September 18, 2014

Before Restoration: the Carr School, Vicksburg, Mississippi, Part I

For three decades, the former Carr Central High School was abandoned and a blight to motorists driving on Cherry Street. According to the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, the school was "designed in the Tudor Gothic style by William Stanton, a well-known architect who had designed many religious, public, commercial and residential buildings across Mississippi.  The school was built in 1924 by the E. G. Parish Construction Company of Jackson, Tennessee, at a cost of $220,000.  It was named in honor of John P. Carr who had served as the superintendent of the Vicksburg Public Schools for 18 years prior to the completion of the school." The sturdy brick building served as the high school from 1932 until 1958, when the H.V. Cooper High School opened. Afterwards, the building became a junior high school but closed permanently in 1979.
This was the south side in 1993, with vines growing up the side and a jungle out back. This is a 4×5-inch Polaroid sepia instant print (a superb medium). The pile of brush in the back covers the remains of the gymnasium, which was in use in the mid-1980s but was subsequently torched.
The school was built on a height of land, a great location to catch breezes in a pre-air conditioning era. But the location also made it plainly visible to visitors heading downtown from I-20 on Cherry Street, a disgraceful mess.
In 2006 or 2007, Mr. Webber Brewer, a Vicksburg contractor and builder, bought the school and hired a work crew to clean out the debris. His intention was to install high-end apartments. Mr. Brewer graciously let me take photographs inside. It was a perfect site for decay photography, so we will start with the lower two floors. Mr. Brewer never completed his project, and the building remained empty for another five years. Just recently, a developer finished converting it into the Carr Central Apartments, so this is a good time look back at the years of neglect.
Coming up the steps from Cherry Street, a student would see the plaque showing the Board of Mayor & Aldermen.
Continuing up the main steps, our student would have entered a rather severe entrance hall. The office was to the left. I suppose you checked in here if you were late and awaited your discipline or browbeating.
The steps in front ascended into the auditorium.
This was an impressive-sized space. The windows on the left lined hallways allowing students to see activities on the stage. This 2002 photograph was a Kodachrome slide taken with a 20mm Russar lens on a Leica - very difficult to scan.
These were storage cabinets on the stage.
The basement had classrooms and a lot of debris.
Because of the big windows, most rooms had plenty of light, unlike modern prison-block schools that require constant florescent lighting.
The cafeteria was really interesting. It was in the basement, but the north wall had widows to let in some light. Nevertheless, these were long exposures with the camera on a tripod.
The kitchen was a gloomy mess with some big holes in the floor. The doors with portholes led to the sitting area. The 2002 frame is another Kodachrome taken with the 20mm Russar lens.
Next to the kitchen was a dim pantry with shelves. I can imagine the canned peas, salty beans, and other health food from that era.
Proceeding further back in the building, there was a locker room or bathroom complex. In a future article, we will look at the upper floors.

Most of the 2007 photographs were taken with a Fujifilm F31fd compact digital camera. This was a 6 mpixel unit with a unique sensor and excellent, clean output.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Decay in Pontiac, Michigan

Pontiac is one of many industrial cities in Michigan that has seen more prosperous days and is struggling to revive itself. It is not nearly as dilapidated as Detroit or Flint, but it has poverty, abandoned houses, crime, and other social ills that plague cities with diminishing tax bases and flight of wealthier residents to other communities. I only had a short time to explore and want to share some photographs.
This is the view looking west from the 4th floor of the Masonic Temple on Lafayette Street. Not too cheerful.
This is the First Baptist Church at the junction of Oakland and Lafayette Streets. The building is no longer used as a church, and I am not sure what the sign "Edifice 34" means.
The church reflects a modified Art Deco aesthetic, with brickwork leading the eye upwards. The building was built to last and appears to be sound.
Interesting doors with a porthole motif. Some sort of transom has been removed. You can see the outline of a Salvation Army logo on the black metal.
Salvation Army and possibly the Red Cross have used the facility, but I could not tell if there is current activity. It was locked on a Tuesday morning.
Unfortunately, there are homeless people.
I headed out of town on North Perry Street. It was a mixture of nice little cottages and units marked for demolition. These traditional apartments looked clean from a distance.
Consumers Power on Featherstone Road was demolishing their office building. It was a fairly modern unit, so I am not sure what this is all about.
Finally, we get to the condemned Silverdome at 1200 Featherstone Road. Built in 1975, it was home to the National Football League's Detroit Lions. The city of Pontiac built the 80,000-seat Silverdome for $55.7 million but it sold at auction in November 2009 for $583,000. They never followed through in the 1970s with any other tourist attractions or local revitalization. The dome was refurbished and some events were held there in 2010, but the roof collapsed in a snowstorm December 2012. My friend and I tried to get into the site, but it was secured. I am sure local urban spelunkers know how to get access. Anyway, it is a mess and a company is auctioning all the contents, including seats and urinals. Just what I want in my souvenir collection.
If you pay attention to the media, you would think Michigan is a total and utter mess, with every town imploding like Detroit or Flint. But the reality is much different. Michigan is full of nice towns with friendly and energetic people. My friend lives in Brighton, and I was surprised how clean and neat it was, with an old-fashioned downtown featuring good restaurants and specialty shops. I could not resist photographing this Coney Joes shack.
Even more surprising, on summer evenings, the teenagers dance! It was a clean-cut crowd, and they called me "Sir," and were having a good time. If I were a few decades younger, I could have showed them how to cha-cha.

Photographs taken with a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera, with RAW files processed in PhotoNinja, or with a Nexus 4 telephone.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Return to Kuhn Hospital in Black and White

About a month ago, three Vicksburg friends and I toured the old and increasingly derelict Kuhn Memorial Hospital, formerly known as the State Charity Hospital. The address is 1422 Martin Luther King Blvd., Vicksburg, Mississippi, if you want to visit the site. I have written about the hulk before, and it is in worse condition than ever. Every bit of copper has been stripped from the inside. The roof is leaking worse than ever.
This is the view looking out towards MLK Blvd (formerly Openwod Road) from the hospital's ambulance entry. The house in the distance is historic, possibly Civil War-era, and is empty. There used to be another historic house to its right.
I really like the gloomy old hallways because they lead your eye to the distance and have dramatic patterns of light and shadow.
This is one of the boilers for hot water, laundry, and heat (via radiators). The fuzz looks like fiberglass rather than asbestos.
This is one of the few pieces of furniture left in a 2nd floor room.

Camera notes: I used film in my Fujifilm medium format GW690II rangefinder camera. As an experiment, I tried Ilford XP2, a chromogenic black and white film that is processed in standard C41 chemicals. It is a color print film that has only monochrome dyes in the emulsion. A big advantage of this product is convenience; you can send it to any laboratory that still runs a C41 processing line. I exposed at ISO 200, measuring light with a Gossen Luna-Pro meter in incident mode. I scanned these XP2 negatives at 3200 dpi, but could have scanned at 4800 dpi and extracted even more data. These are resized jpeg files with no tinting or film simulation (after all, this was film). The lens on the Fuji GW690II has amazing resolution.

Conclusion: The XP2 has a long exposure range from pitch dark to glaring white, and it is amazingly fine grain. But, I just do not like the look, so in the future, I will return to using traditional silver-halide film, like Kodak Tri-X. I still have Panatomic-X in the freezer, Kodak's long-discontinued fine-grain ISO 32 film, which I develop in Rodinal developer.

Previous photographs of the hospital: March 2014;  July 2012

Thanks to Rob Hood of Mississippi Film & Photo, David Childers of Twisted Carnival, and Kassie Childers.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Photographing Decay with the Rolleiflex Camera

Dear Readers, in the previous article, I described the Leica cameras that served me well for decades. This article is about my Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex cameras. I bought my first one in Houston in 1980. I wanted to try medium format and thought about a Hasselblad. Instead, I decided to buy a used Rolleiflex, use it for awhile, and them "move up" to the Hasselbald. Well, 25 years later, I was still using the Rolleiflex and never bothered with the clumsy and complicated 'blad. In the early 1980s, you could still buy a brand new Rolleiflex 2.8F from the New York vendors for about $2000. That was serious coin in 1980, but afterwards, I, and many other photographers, wish they had bought one while they still could. Franke & Heidecke went bankrupt in the 1980s and went through a series of reorganizations.
This was my 1956-vintage Rolleiflex 3.5E with a Schneider 75mm f/3.5 Xenotar taking lens. A Rolleiflex used 120-size film and yielded 12 2¼×2¼-inch frames (actual size: 54×54mm). With the large film area and top-quality lenses, you could make beautiful large prints with long tonal range, clearly superior to 35mm.
Why two lenses? This page from the instruction book may help. The lower lens projects the image on the film plane. The upper lens (a simpler optical design) projects the image to a mirror, and the user has the choice of looking down into the waist-lever finder, attaching a prism on top for eye-level viewing, or using several other viewing procedures (see the picture). These twin-lens reflex (TLR) designs were lighter and more rugged than cameras with a moving mirror (single-lens reflex models). Also, the TLR was quiet, so it was perfect for travel and street use, and models were not intimidated by a huge projecting cyclopean lens staring at them (DSLR users with your giant zoom lenses: remember that).
Franke & Heidecke made a large number of clever accessories for special applications, like taking close-ups (and, of course, to separate you from your cash).
Everything for Rolleiflex was absolutely the best quality. Lenses were individually tested before installation in a body. Accessories fit in nice little leather cases.
Filters were anti-reflection coated and were loose-fit in their mounts to prevent stress warping. The two aluminum devices in the back row were close-up adapters, called Rolleinars. The diopter went on the taking (lower) lens and a view converter went on the upper (viewing) lens. It adjusted the field of view to coincide perfectly with what would appear on film. These were the bayonet II size.
This little leather case contained a hood, two Rolleinars, and 5 filters. Lens accessories were attached by a bayonet mount, so the operation was quick and positive. Notice how today, most companies have reverted to screw-in filters, which are slower and more clumsy (but cheaper). The better Zeiss lenses still use bayonet filters.
This the quick release for use on a tripod. You pushed the lever down and the camera slid into the rails.
Because the lens in a Rolleiflex was fixed, the company introduced a wide-angle camera with a 55mm f/4 Zeiss Distagon lens in 1961. They also made a telephoto model with a 135mm f/4 Zeiss Sonnar lens. The page above shows the wide camera and an interesting comparison of film sizes. The Rolleiflex could fit adapters to make exposures that were 6×4.5 size, but most people opted to use the full 6×6 size. This page is a scan from the 1961 catalogue from R.F. Hunter Ltd, London (from wheeldon.plus.com). The Rolleiwides were rare and now sell for serious prices at camera auctions. But, if you want one, you can buy a brand new wide for $5,575 from DHW-Fototechnik GmbH, marketed by Rolleiflex USA. Cool, I want one.
Back to more ordinary models: this was my 3.5F with the Zeiss 5-element Planar lens. I bought it as a real beater in the early 1990s, but the lens was perfect and optical quality amazing. Even the selenium light meter worked, although I usually used a hand-held meter. The wheels on either side of the lenses control aperture and shutter speed, and are coupled to the light meter. The meter reading is seen in the plastic window next to the focus knob.
This was the 2.8GX from 1987-2000. It had a through-the-lens meter and multi-coated lens (although the older ones did not suffer from flare problems). Nice machine.
Rollei also made the superb but expensive and complicated single-lens SL66 camera. The lenses were the finest available from Schneider and Zeiss.
If you see one of my film-era photographs in a square format, it was taken with one of the Rolleiflexes. This is a residence room in the old YMCA on Clay Street in Vicksburg, taken on Tri-X Professional film
This is Cottage Grove in South Chicago. Wow, nasty neighborhood.
Have you seen recent pictures of Hollywood royalty? Most paparazzi snaps of movie starlets are terrible because they are taken by tall men with huge digital cameras held at their eye level. In contrast, Rolleiflex portraits in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s gave a well-proportioned look to their subjects. Rather than the "tall guy using a eye-level digital SLR with a short lady" look, where her head is huge and feet diminish downwards, in a Rolleiflex portrait, the body was centered and evenly-proportioned. Tall men had a somewhat heroic look. Many recent micro 4/3 cameras have a folding LCD screen, and you can hold them at chest level, just like a Rolleiflex. I no longer have my Rolleiflexes, but I often set my digital cameras to the square format to emulate that viewpoint.
Speaking of Hollywood royalty, here is Marilyn Monroe with her Rolleiflex. The photograph was taken by John Vachon in Canada in 1953. Look magazine donated the prints to the Library of Congress in 1971. Another interesting web page with many pictures of celebrities and their cameras is Vintage Everyday.

Serious photographers still use the Rolleiflex, and 120-size film is still available. An excellent essay on the 2.8F is on Luminous-Landscape.  Rent one some day and see what real photography is all about.