Sunday, May 21, 2017

Panatomic-X: the Best Black and White Film*

Bad news, there is only one brick of 120-size Panatomic-X film left in my freezer. So it goes - all good things must eventually end. I bought several bricks in the late-1990s from a fellow on eBay who owned a refrigeration business (I assumed he was not fibbing when he wrote they had been frozen).
*Note: My title needs to be qualified. Panatomic-X might have been the best fine-grain black and white film, but the old standby, Tri-X, is superb when you need faster speed and do not need as fine grain. Plenty of film users have other favorites.

Eastman Kodak Company introduced Panatomic-X in 1933 and discontinued it in 1987. I am sure the film had been reformulated during its five-decade existence, so my late production was likely different than the original. It was designed to be an extremely fine grain film, which meant it could be enlarged for large prints and still retain details. This was of value to architectural, fine-art, and aerial photographers. The version I have was rated at ISO 32, but I shot it at 20 or 25 and developed it in Rodinal at 1:50 dilution. Agfa's Rodinal is a developer that retains the grain structure and therefore looks "sharp" (i.e., it does not have solvent action to partly dissolve the edges of the grain clumps). Used with good lenses and careful technique (that means a tripod), the detail in a Panatomic-X negative is astonishing, even in this age of 36-megapixel digital cameras.
These are 1982 examples from a farm in Clifton, Virginia. I had just bought a Rolleiflex 3.5E twin-lens reflex camera and was experimenting with different films. I wanted fine grain for architecture, and Panatomic-X was still in production. After experimenting, I settled on shooting it at ISO 25 and developing it in Rodinal. I also experimented with Agfapan 25 but could never get the contrast right (but that was my error, of course - Agfapan was a fine film).
My most recent 1959-vintage Rolleiflex 3.5E with 75mm f/3.5 Schneider Xenotar lens.
This is my present Rolleiflex 3.5E camera. It is similar to the one I used in the 1980s, which I should have never sold. The earlier one had a selenium light meter in the slot below the word "Rolleiflex." But my new one has better resolution; everything in its production chain worked out just right.
Former residence room in the Junius Ward YMCA on Clay Street in Vicksburg. early 1990.
Panatomic-X film was excellent for detailed photography in old buildings, but you needed a tripod to support the camera for long exposures. In this case, I found an old chair in the hall and placed the camera on it. The Rolleiflex was suited for this work because it did not have a moving mirror and was therefore vibration-free.
Shotgun houses in Grayson Court, Jackson, 2004.
Grayson Court in Jackson was an old-fashioned alley with numerous shotgun houses facing the common road. It has been torn down although the property owner did some renovating in the early 2000s. I took this photograph with my Fuji GW690II camera with a Fuji 90mm f/3.5 lens. The 6×9 negative (real size 54×82mm) scans to a 100 mbyle TIFF file. More Fuji examples are below.
The Junius Ward YMCA on Clay Street, Vicksburg, 2004. The Old Courthouse Museum is in the distance.
Two shotgun houses on Bowmar Avenue, Vicksburg, 2005. Both have been town down.
The New21 Club on Hwy 61, Valley Park, 2016.
Blue Front Cafe, Bentonia, 2010.
Kodak likely discontinued Panatomic-X for several reasons:
  • Even by the 1980s, most photographers wanted faster film so that they would not need to use a tripod. 
  • Newer T-grain or tabular films like Kodak T-Max or Ilford Delta 100 offered almost as fine grain but with faster speed.
  • A friend from Rochester who has worked with Kodak said there was a toxic chemical used in the Panatomic-X production. I have read the same pertaining to Agfapan 25, so maybe slow fine grain films required some chemical technology that manufacturers cannot use today.
Unused Teen Center, 407 West Green Street, Tallulah, Louisiana, December 2016. Fuji photograph.
Unused church in Hermanville, Mississippi, January 2017. Rolleiflex photograph.
Little Bayou Pierre, Port Gibson, February 2017. Port Gibson is the town that General Ulysses Grant did not burn during the U.S. Civil War because he admired the architecture so much.
Crushing mill, Rte 3, Redwood, Mississippi, 2017. Rolleiflex photograph.
As a final example, this is some sort of early 20th century crushing mill, long abandoned in the woods just off Hwy 3 in Redwood. This is a 1 sec exposure at f/11, I resized this to 2400 pixels, so click the picture to see more detail.

Readers know I am a film fan. One reason is I used film for 50 years and am comfortable with it. Another reason is it has a familiar look that we saw in prints, magazines, exhibits, and movies for decades, and it works well for urban decay. Many of the shallow techno-dweebs on forums like Dpreview despise film because they think they are so superior with their new super digital capture devices. To each his own. Still, if you have aspirations to be a photographer, you owe it to yourself to try the traditional medium, learn how to calculate exposure manually, and contemplate each picture carefully. You need to think with film; no spray and pray that you might achieve a meaningful picture. Used film cameras are cheap - just go do it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 10, the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

At one time, Route 66 extended between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. As far as I can tell, today there are few 66 remains between the two cities. But my Santa Fe friends told me about a spectacular geological place to visit. A short distance northwest of I-25 (which gobbled up much of Route 66) is the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, an terrain of rock pinnacles, cones, and narrow canyons. President Bill Clinton established the Monument in January, 2001. It is operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and if you have a National Parks pass, you can access the rocks without additional fee. According to Wikipedia, "Kasha-Katuwe means "white cliffs" in the Pueblo language."
This rugged terrain of weathered spires and pinnacles was created by layers of volcanic rock and ash deposited by pyroclastic flow ("a dense, destructive mass of very hot ash, lava fragments, and gases ejected explosively from a volcano and typically flowing downslope at great speed") from an explosion about 6 or 7 million years ago from the Jemez volcanic field. Since then, weathering (chemical or mechanical deterioration of rock material) and erosion (movement of rock material by water, wind, or ice) of these relatively soft layers has created the canyons and tent rocks. The tent rocks are cones of pumice or tuff upon which a cap of harder rock has remained, almost looking like some giant hand must have balanced it on the cone below.
The pines cling to the rocks with roots reaching down into cracks.
Yes, the Slot Canyon trail goes through this slot.
There are a number of hiking trails. They are not too rugged: you can do them with sturdy running shoes. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and take water. The Slot Canyon trail makes for a nice 3 or 4 hour outing.
 Uchisar, Cappadocia, Turkey
The only other place I know of with similar cones and spires of volcanic tuff and ash is in Cappadocia, in central Anatolia, Turkey. The Goreme area of Cappadocia was settled by early Christians, who carved homes, churches, and entire towns into the soft rock. First visit Kasha-Katuwe, then go to Cappadocia. Both are astonishing scenic and cultural wonders.

Dear Readers, this is the last of my 2016 Route 66 posts. Thank you for riding along.

Monday, May 15, 2017

From the archives: Vicksburg's Fairground Street Keystone Bridge

Photo taken on 4 ×5" Fujichrome 50 film, 75mm f/8 Super-Angulon lens.
The Fairground Street Bridge crosses over the Kansas City Southern rail yard at the bottom of the hill below Fairground Street and east of Levee Street. The bridge was open when I first moved to Vicksburg in the mid-1980s and was open as late as 1993.
There was, and still is, an abandoned tank farm at the west end of the bridge. In 1990, I went into the grounds with my daughter and we climbed one of the spiral stairs to the top of a tank. I set up my 4x5" Tachihara camera and took some exposures on Fujichrome 50 film. The tanks had open valves and nasty fumes were venting into the air. This must have gone on for years (this is Mississippi, after all). These 1990 photographs show the bridge when it was in much better condition and the access road on the west side had not collapsed. These are resized to 2400 pixels wide, so click to see details.
View east across Fairground Street Bridge, 1990, 58mm f/8 Super-Angulon lens.
My photographer friend in town let me use his Epsom V600 scanner to scan the transparencies. The light platter is just wide enough to hold a film holder for 120 film, so even with the 4x5 sheets directly on the glass, about 1 cm is cut off. But I cut off excess sky, so the important parts of the scenes are present. The 16-bit color TIFF files are 220 mbytes each.
View west along Fairground Street, 2017. A light leak in the Hasselblad film back caused the flare.
Levee Street view north, 1993, 4 ×5" exposure, Fujichrome 50 film.
At one time, the bridge was going to be moved to the Catfish Row park near the Corps of Engineers Jesse Brent Lower Mississippi River Museum (910 Washington Street), but the plan never came to fruition. So it remains at the bottom of Fairground Street, rusting and decaying. Fate unknown.
April 2017 view of the bridge from the south. Kodak Tri-X professional 320 film, Zeiss Planar 80mm lens.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66 - Part 9, Albuquerque

Dear readers, it is time to complete the story of my 2016 west-to-east excursion on the Mother Road. 

Albuquerque, New Mexico, was always a major stopping point for travelers on Route 66. It was the "big city," with motels, movies, entertainment, groceries, and repair services. Coming in from the west from the Pecos River crossing, Route 66 merged with or became Central Avenue, a major east-west corridor through town. The western outskirts were lined with motels to serve the weary 66 traveler. 
Entering town on Central Avenue, the El Vado was ready to welcome visitors with a comfortable room and a place to park their car. Open since 1936, it had recently closed when I drove by in April of 2016. Had millions really stayed there as per the sign? Regardless, the units looked to be in good condition, so I do not know why they closed. Many of these Route 66 motels were built in Mission Style with tile roofs, protruding timbers, and white painted stucco walls. They were clearly meant to evoke the the "old west" as well as emulate the popular Alamo Plazas, which were America's first motel chain, founded by a Waco, Texas hotelier, Mr. Edgar Lee Torrance. The Mission Revival Style was an architectural movement which was inspired by the late 18th and early 19th century Spanish missions in California.
Other lodgings, like this 21 Motel at 2411 Central Avenue, were still in business, but had a distinctly dive ambience (I passed).  
Route 66 continued east into downtown, In my short stopover, it looked like much of the inner core of the city is pretty dumpy, but Central Avenue has been partly revived and gentrified. The merchants were certainly capitalizing on the Route 66 theme.
Some of the stores have spectacular examples of western art (OK, western kitsch) in their architecture.
The famous KiMo Theatre at 423 Central Ave. NW is restored and operational. It was built in 1927 in an extravagant "Art Deco-Pueblo Revival Style" (I did not know such a style existed). As an example of the decorative elements, look at the handsome door handles. The KiMo is a popular site for paranormal investigators.
Near the KiMo, you see traditional 1920s office blocks interspersed with newer construction. Along Central Ave., they have been cheerfully painted and adorned with plenty of Route 66 signs.

Dear Readers, we will have one more article, and then that will be it for my 2016 trip on the Mother Road. Thank you for reading along. Next road trip: the Mother Road in the Great Plains. And next time, I will use black and white film.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Noses of the Greats: Detroit Iron in Havana

Almost no one can fail to be impressed with the monstrous 1950s American cars trundling around Havana. We forget what exuberant styling, chrome, and just plain mass was built in these examples of the American post-war economic boom. (Of course, many of the bulbous contemporary SUVs that clog American cities and gated McMansion communities have almost as much mass, but they totally lack creative styling and paint schemes; black, gray, and white seem to do it for the contemporary suburban poseur.)
Oops, a Morris. A rare example of old English iron instead.
The majority of older cars we saw in Cuba were Chevrolets and Fords. There were a scattering of Buicks, Edsels, and Chryslers. I was surprised to see almost no Volkswagen Beetles and maybe one Mercedes. Also, I only saw 2 or 3 Peugeots in three weeks. Russian (or Polish?) Ladas were just about the only "modern" cars we saw. By far the worst polluters were old Soviet trucks. Recently, the Cuban government has imported Chinese minibuses for tourist transport, and some of the recent taxis are from Korea.
Her are some of the Fords. Considering Havana is a seaside city, the preservation of the chrome is impressive.
Aha, an Edsel. What a styled machine with its odd vertical radiator grill clashing with the horizontal bezels for the twin headlights. A friend in Massachusetts owned one, and I recall the push-button transmission buttons in the middle of the steering wheel, where most drivers are used to seeing a horn button. Ford had to install a safety interlock system.
A Chrysler 300. I hope it retained its original engine. The blue headlights are a bit odd.
Some of these cars have their original engines. That has become a tourist draw. But because of the 60-year embargo of trade from the USA, Cuban drivers have been innovative about parts and mechanical components. One of those "innovations" was installing 4-cylinder Lada engines in place of the original Detroit engines. From what I could see (and smell), the Lada power plants spewed more emissions than the US engines.
The Buick Eight. These were big bruisers. They would have been perfect for cruising Ike Eisenhower's new Interstate system.
Here are the handsome and roomy 1950s Chevrolets. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, they offered a lot of transportation to young families. That was the brilliance of the General Motors marketing machine: sell them a nice but basic car when they are young, then offer increasingly upscale cars such as Oldsmobile and Buck when they get more prosperous. And ultimately, move them into a Cadillac so that they can demonstrate that they "have made it." The model still works: the grotesque luxury SUV is the contemporary "made it" demonstration device.

Dear Readers, we have finished our tour of western Cuba and Havana. If any of you are interested in visiting, do it soon, before the commercial interests start building vacation condominiums, erecting nasty fast food restaurants, and pillaging the environment. Maybe the Cuban government can balance development with retention of the best aspects of their nature and culture - I truly hope so. As of 2017, the Cuban people are gracious and welcoming, travel is easy, food is OK, accommodations variable, and toilets terrible. Don't let any of that scare you, just go and have fun.

These photographs were taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Trinidad, Cuba - an explosion of color

Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad (Church of the Holy Trinity), Plaza Mayor, Trinidad.
I wrote about Trinidad in my previous post. Although the setting worked well with black and white film (like much of Cuba), the tropical colors and brilliant Caribbean light really do justice to color photography. The following vignettes around town are from a Fuji X-E1 digital camera.
Calle Cristo, near the Plaza Mayor.
Hanging around in the evening, Eliope Paz.
Hanging around, and on the phone.
Hanging around, also on the phone
On the way downtown.
More water heading downtown on Santo Domingo.
Avoiding the water on Santo Domingo.
How to avoid the water: drive in a Lada.
We were surprised how wet the streets were in the evening. It was more than puddles but rather gushing streams. Was it from leaking mains? People washing their porches and balconies? We never learned, but it made for wonderful reflections.
The Dulcinea Cafe and Internet shop.
We found an old-fashioned Internet Cafe. This was the type of place with older PCs along a table, and you paid the nice lady at the desk a modest fee for an hour of service. The connection was slow, so I assume it was some sort of dial-up via phone lines. We had no restrictions on email or web pages. I have no idea if this policy applied to tourists only. You could also buy ice cream and pastries.
Quiet in Rosario.
The domino champions. They avoided the running water.
View from the top - the Palacio Cantero
Selfie from the Top.
The tower at the Palacio Cantero was popular with school groups. As I noted before, the school kids wear neat uniforms, they are well-behaved, and are alert and intelligent. Education has certainly been emphasized by the government. If we could do as well in USA....