Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Our Man in Havana 9: the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón

The Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón was founded in 1876 in the western suburbs of Havana, now known as the Vedado neighbourhood. Arellano de Loira y Cardoso, a Galician architect, built the cemetery and was also the first occupant when he died before his ambitious project was completed. Acording to Wikipedia, "Colon Cemetery is one of the great historical cemeteries of the world, and is generally held to be the most important in Latin America in historical and architectural terms, second only to La Recoleta in Buenos Aires."
The cemetery is full of ornate statuary and superb marble-work, similar to what I have seen in New Orleans, Louisiana.
There are also examples of 20th century Communist realism-style sculpture; workers toiling for the state type of symbolism. In this example, the man on the very left is carrying sugar cane, while the next man has bananas.
The man in this tomb is the Afro-Cuban singer and musician Ibrahim Ferrer Planas, who died on August 6th, 2005, at age 78. An Economist essay described his life and the revival of Cuban music around the world. Ferrer was one of the musicians in the “Buena Vista Social Club,” which sold 4 million copies worldwide and won a Grammy. In 2004, when Ferrer won the Grammy, the United States government denied permission for him to enter the U.S. to receive his award.

Photographs taken with a Leica M2 rangefinder camera on Kodak tri-X film. I developed the film in Kodak HC-110 developer and scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i scanner.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Our Man in Havana 8: The Central Railway Station

The Central Station in 1939, from the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/realestate/cuba-streetscapes-the-new-york-accented-architecture-of-havana.html)
When I visit new cities, I like to check out the railroad station and train infrastructure. The main railway terminal in Havana is the Havana Central Station (Estación Central de Ferrocarriles) in the southern part of Habana Viejo. This handsome building was built in 1912 by the Frederick Snare Company of New York. Recall that in that era, big American companies dominated the Cuban economy and were improving the infrastructure to allow efficient movement of sugar cane and sugar products. After the 1958 revolution, the rail system was nationalized, and little or no funding was provided for upkeep or improvements to the system. In recent years, ridership had dropped rapidly, especially once new air-conditioned long distance busses started running on rural routes. The train is infamous for delays or breakdowns.
As of January 2017, the Central Station was undergoing massive rebuilding. I was not able to find out how this is being funded - by the Cuban government, the UN, or a grant from the Chinese government? Regardless, it was a closed construction site and I was disappointed to not see the interior.
The platforms are in the back (the west side of the building) and are still in use.
I tried to enter and take pictures, but a lady security guard tossed me out. But once I was outside the fence, she did not seem to care, or didn't pay any more attention (she was doing something with her phone).
The houses across the Avenida Bélgica face the station - it must have been a noisy spot.
We saw some rail infrastructure in rural area of Cuba. These tracks were in the village of Guasimal. The tops were not completely rusted, suggesting occasional use.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

From the Archives: Sugar Land, Texas in 1984 with Technical Pan Film

Sugar Land is a city southwest of Houston, Texas. Although Houston was inexorably sprawling in that direction in the 1980s, you still had a sense of countryside in Sugar Land. The town was surrounded by farmland and was known for the giant Imperial Sugar factory that occupied a multi-story complex of buildings and railroad tracks.

The Southern Pacific Railroad built the mission-style depot in 1927. It looked unused in 1984. I am glad to report that the depot was moved to 445 Commerce Green Blvd. and now houses the Chamber of Commerce. Good for them to reuse such a nice historic building.

Commemorative medal from the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation

This is a postcard of the Sugar Land sugar mill and nearby railroad lines in 1909. The depot was built to the left of where the men are standing on a locomotive. (From: (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth1717/m1/1/: accessed March 2, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Fort Bend Museum).

I liked the old-fashioned farmhouses. Back then I did not take careful photo notes, so the exact location is unknown.

This old farm had asphalt shingle sheets for siding ("tar-paper shack").

More tracks and warehouses. I tried to identify the trailer company in the warehouse, but it may no longer exist.

I took these photographs in 1984 with a Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera with 55mm ƒ/1.8 Super-Takumar and 28mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lenses. The 55mm lens is one of the late-1960s versions with a thorium element, which has turned slightly yellow with time. The film was the ultra-fine-grained Kodak Technical Pan film, which I exposed at EI 25. This was an emulsion developed for the military or for microfilming use. It was very contrasty unless you used the special Kodak Technidol developer, and even then it was hard to use. I only experimented with Technical Pan one more time, in Athens, Greece.

I scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i film scanner using Silverfast Ai software.

The Spotmatic is still in good condition, and I recently used it in Vicksburg with Tri-X film. As always, I am amazed at the superb quality of these mid-century optics.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Our Man in Havana 7: Courtyards and Entry Halls of Vieja

Walking along the streets in Havana, I noticed that many entryways led either into an inner courtyard or to a dingy mysterious common area and stairwell. They reminded me of entry halls in old apartment blocks in Poland. Kathmandu had hidden courtyards, as well. Let's take a short tour of Habana Viejo and Centro.
261 Aguiar in Habana Viejo. Questionable electrical wiring on the wall. What's beyond to the right?
Courtyard in 261 Aguiar. I don't understand the barrels - for rainwater?
Hall and stair at 512 Aguiar. Note that modern digital electrical meters have been installed on the left wall.
515 Cuba Street, with more of the modern digital electrical meters. The mess of wires strung above the meters is slightly non-code. Notice the complicated stairway going through the arch and then ascending behind it. 
507A Cuba, with a courtyard beyond.
265 San Miguel. Whatever building was once here has been cleared out.
Marble stairs at 212 Campanario. This was originally expensive construction. 
Entry hall at 202 Campanario. Note the tiles on the wall, similar to ones in subway stations (durable and washable).

I took these photographs with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, with some RAW files processed in PhotoNinja software.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Our Man in Havana 6: the Paseo del Prado

Detroit Publishing Co., Publisher. [Hotel Pasaje and Prado, Havana, Cuba]. Cuba Havana, None. [Between 1900 and 1915] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/det1994023933/PP/. (Accessed March 19, 2017.)
The Paseo del Prado, also known as the Paseo de Martí, is a boulevard with a tree-lined marble promenade running along the center. The Paseo divides Habana Viejo from Centro, and runs from the seaside Malecón south to the Capitolio. In the afternoon, the Paseo is the place to be seen, and a broad cross-section of Havana society congregates under the trees to walk, talk, sing, play music, skateboard, eat and generally foregather. According to Wikipedia, the Paseo was laid out in 1772. In 1925, Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, a French landscape architect, redesigned the it, lining it with trees and marble benches (Forestier? What a splendid name for a landscape architect.)
The Prado, circa 1921-1939, E.C. Kropp Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the Public Domain, Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.
The chess champions, Paseo del Prado (Tri-X film)
As for fading architecture, you see some splendid examples along the Prado. Moorish architecture? In the Caribbean?
Neptuno view west.
Another view of Neptuno looking west
San Miguel
A street market on San Miguel. I assume this is an example of the small-scale capitalism that is now allowed. Some of the goods were for the tourist trade.
The side streets looking west into Habana Centro are pretty interesting. Really, you could spend an entire day along the Prado watching the people and exploring the side streets.

I took these photographs with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, most with a Leica 50mm f/2.0 Summicron lens.

For a view inside some of these fading mansions, look at this January 2017 article titled "Inside Old Havana" in American Airlines' magazine, American Way. A German photographer, Bernhard Hartmann, met families who lived in these old houses and gained permission to photograph inside.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Testing a 35mm Super-Takumar lens in Beulah Cemetery and around Vicksburg with Tri-X film

Kansas City Southern railroad cut between Belmont and West Pine Streets, Vicksburg.

Sometimes, really inexpensive things prove to be fantastic. In a recent fit of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome, suffered in varying degrees by all photographers), I bought an early-1970s Asahi Pentax Super-Takumar 35mm ƒ/3.5 lens. It was only $45, so not much of a gamble. Mine is single coated (meaning one layer of anti-reflection coating on the elements) and predates the Super-Multi-Coated versions that were introduced around 1971 or 1972. All share the same glass formulation of 5 elements in 4 groups.
This lens fits my wife's 1971 Pentax Spotmatic camera. These were elegant, reliable cameras made by the Asahi company and marketed in the USA by Honeywell. They used the Practica M42 screw mount for the lenses, and many companies made lenses that would fit. Camera-wiki lists many of these M42 lenses. But the best mechanical and optical quality usually were the Asahi ones. Many photographers considered the Pentax lenses to be better optically than equivalent Canon and Nikon versions in that era. The thorium-element 55mm ƒ/1.8 Super-Takumar is one of the best 50s ever.
Well, my new-old 35 is an amazing performer! It is sharp and and has beautiful rendering. It is a retrofocus design, meaning it is designed to fit far enough away from the film plane to allow room for the mirror in a single lens reflex (SLR) camera. My 35mm ƒ/2 Summicron-M for my Leica is probably sharper and more contrasty, but it is not a retrofocus design and is a $2000+ lens, not $45. Below are some examples from in and around Vicksburg.
The cottage at 1900 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. had a fire and will likely be torn down soon.
2228 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd is a mid-century wood duplex. It is right next to Beulah Cemetery and is empty; status unknown.
Historic Beulah Cemetery is located at the very end of Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., right next to the Vicksburg National Military Park. The cemetery was formed in 1884 and is still in occasional use. 
"The cemetery is the final resting place for over 5500 members of the most prominent black families in Vicksburg, including ancestors of almost every native black in the Vicksburg area. The cemetery documents the existence of generations of people for whom otherwise there might be no surviving material available." 
The site was overgrown and largely neglected for decades, but an AmeriCorps team and other volunteer groups cleaned the site, and it is now on City of Vicksburg maintenance. It is a quiet place for photography. For more information, see http://beulahcemetery.org.

Photographs: Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera with the 35mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Takumar lens. All photographs were tripod-mounted.
Film: Kodak Tri-X 400, developed in Kodak HC-110 developer.
Light measurement: Gossen Luna-Pro SBC light meter.
Scanner: Plustek 7600i using Silverfast Ai software, scanned at 3600 dpi.

I would be glad to hear from readers who use classic cameras.