Monday, May 29, 2017

Cities Services Gas Station in Meridian, Mississippi

Former Cities Services station, 3700 5th Street, Meridian, Mississippi
On May 19, Thomas Rosell wrote an interesting article in Preservation Mississippi about early 20th century filling stations built by the Cities Services Company (more recently known as Citgo). As Thomas wrote, "These Cities Service gas stations were designed to have a residential-like quality that draws from the Period Revival or Tudor Revival style with steeply pitched, cross-gabled roofs." A week later, I was exploring Meridian on my way home from North Carolina (my first time downtown as opposed to just rushing by on I-20), and I had just read his follow-up post on Gulf filling stations. So quite to my surprise, I rounded a corned on 5th Street, and there was one of the peaked-roof former Cities Services buildings. Some ladies were frying catfish out back, but it was only 10:00 am, so a bit early for lunch. But they graciously said I was welcome to photograph the brilliant blue paint. The frame above is from my Nexus 4 phone, but I also took a photograph on Panatomic-X film with my Hasselblad, which you will see later after the film is developed.
In North Carolina, I had driven part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, some of it in heavy rain and dense fog. But I did not patronize any Citgo stations this trip. Usually, I fill with ethanol-free gasoline, which tends to be found in local chains or independent stations in towns.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Law House in film, Foote, Lake Washington, Mississippi

Overgrown drive welcomes paranormal investigators but no residents.
The Susie B. Law House, on Eastside Lake Washington Road, in Foote, Mississippi, has been empty for a decade or more and is deteriorating badly. I keep hearing that someone is renovating it but in April of 2017, it looked pretty bad. I wrote about the Law House in an 2014. Here are a few Panatomic-X film photographs of the house, taken on a gloomy day in 2014.
This was a handsome house originally, with symmetry and an imposing entry colonnade.
The original millwork came in kit form from Sears, Roebuck & Company.
Lake Washington from Foote.
The 2014 photographs were taken with a tripod-mounted Fuji GW690II rangefinder camera; light measured with a Luna-Pro SBC hand-held light meter. The square 2017 photograph is from a Mamiya C220 camera with 55mm Mamiya lens on Kodak Tri-X Professional 320 film.

Update: a very interesting web page describes the Sears Roebuck manufactured houses from the 1908-1940 era. The variety was amazing. Another web page,, describes research into kit houses around the USA.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Kodak Panatomic-X: the Best Black and White Film*


This is the first of an irregular series of posts on discontinued film types ("Films from the Dead").

Bad news, there is only one brick of 120-size Kodak 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 an eBay seller in California. As promised, they were in perfect condition. I was unaware when Kodak discontinued the product and therefore did not buy any stock at that time. The fellow in California was a lot smarter than me. 

*Note: My title needs to be qualified. Panatomic-X might have been the best fine-grain black and white film, but the old standby, Kodak Tri-X, is superb when you need faster speed and do not need as fine grain. Film users have other favorites, such as TMax 100, Ilford Delta 100, or Fuji Acros.

120-size box from 1961, courtesy of Pacific Rim Camera
1951 box for 828 size Panatomic-X, courtesy of Pacific Rim Camera
1937 box for 3¼×4¼" pack film, courtesy of Pacific Rim Camera

Eastman Kodak Company introduced Panatomic in 1933 and discontinued it in 1987. The earliest version of Panatomic (not X) was on nitrate base, but the X version was on safety base, probably around 1937. Kodak packaged it in roll film sizes 117, 616, 620, 120, 127, 135 (standard metal cassettes), and 828 as well as in several film pack sizes. 

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. Some 5- inch and 9-inch aerial photography film was a version of Panatomic-X known as AERECON II). 

Kodak reformulated the film during its five-decade existence, and my late production was different than the original. My 1980s version in 120 size was rated at ISO 32, but I shoot it at 20 or 25 and develop it in Agfa 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.

From the Archives

This is a photograph that my dad took somewhere in Burma on the Irrawaddy River. He used early Panatomic-X with his Leica IIIC rangefinder camera (still in operation).

1980s and 1990s Examples

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 EI (exposure index) 25 and developing it in Rodinal 1:50. I also experimented with Agfapan 25 but could never get the contrast right (but that was my error - Agfapan was a fine film).

My new 1959-vintage Rolleiflex 3.5E with 5-element 75mm ƒ/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. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the factory tested every Rolleiflex camera with film before releasing the unit for sale. If there were any issues, the camera went back for adjustment or installation of new lenses. Rollei precisely matched the taking and viewing lenses in focal length.

Residence room in the Junius Ward YMCA, Clay Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 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 example, I found an old chair in the hall and placed the camera on it. The Rolleiflex is suited for this work because it does not have a moving mirror and is therefore vibration-free.

Cemetery in Kalavrita, Greece, 1998, Leica M2 35mm camera.

I occasionally used Panatomic-X in 35mm cameras. This is an example from Kalavrita, a town in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. I should have used the 135 size film more often. (Update: Click the link for my 2021 article on 135-size Panatomic-X.)

2000s Examples

Shotgun houses in Grayson Court, Jackson, Mississippi, 2004

Grayson Court in Jackson was an old-fashioned alley with 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 (the "Texas Leica") and its Fuji 90mm f/3.5 lens. The 6×9 negative (real size 54×82mm) scans to a 100 mbyte 16-bit TIFF file. More Fuji examples are below.

Junius Ward YMCA on Clay Street, Vicksburg, 2004. The Old Courthouse Museum is in the distance
Shotgun houses on Bowmar Avenue, Vicksburg, 2005. Both have been torn down
The New21 Club on Hwy 61, Valley Park, Mississippi, 2016
Blue Front Cafe, Bentonia, Mississippi, 2010
Administration building (1936) at former Bonner Campbell Institute, Edwards, Mississippi (click to see 2400 pixel frame) 
Unused Teen Center, 407 West Green Street, Tallulah, Louisiana, December 2016. Fuji GW690II camera
Unused church in Hermanville, Mississippi, January 2017. Rolleiflex 3.5E camera
Little Bayou Pierre, Port Gibson, Mississippi, February 2017. Rolleiflex 3.5E with 75mm Xenotar lens

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 3.5E with 75mm Xenotar lens

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 frame to 2400 pixels, so click the picture to see more detail.

2020s Examples

Private cemetery within Vicksburg National military Park. Rolleiflex 3.5E, yellow-green filter

Closing Notes

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 in low light. 
  • Newer T-grain or tabular films like Kodak T-Max or Ilford Delta 100 offered almost as fine grain but with faster speed. (Note: many old-time photographers preferred the genuine Panatomic-X.)
  • A friend from Rochester, who has worked with Kodak, said there was a toxic chemical used in the Panatomic-X production (possibly cadmium). I have read the same pertaining to Agfapan 25, so maybe slow fine grain films required some chemical technology that manufacturers cannot use today.
Readers know I like film. 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 recording urban decay. The self-professed "experts" (I am trying to be polite) on forums like Dpreview hate 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 use 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 "shot." And you cannot chimp (review the pictures on the camera's screen) as you see in tourist sites around the world. Read an interesting interview on The Phoblogger with the Richard Photo Lab about how film is appealing to more and more photographers of all ages and skill levels. Used film cameras are cheap acceptable price and many emulsions are still available - just go do it.

Update March 2019

A reader in Photrio found this 1934 announcement from the British Journal Photographic Almanac. Thank you for the detective work.

Update November 2019

Here are examples of industrial machinery at the abandoned Redstone Quarry in North Conway, New Hampshire. I used my Rolleiflex 3.5F with 5-element 75mm ƒ/3.5 Planar lens, all tripod-mounted. Click any picture to see more detail.

Update October 2020

I bought some 35mm Panatomic-X from a seller on eBay. It expired in 1991 and proved to be fine, if possibly a bit more grainy than when new.

Machine shop, Levee Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi (Pentax Spotmatic camera, 28mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens)

Please click this link for more examples of this 1991-vintage 35mm Panatomic-X inVicksburg and Louisiana.

Update July 2022

Good news! I bought ten more rolls of 120 Panatomic-X from the same gent who sold me rolls in the 1990s. 

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 to find water.
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 running shoes. But better not use flip-flops, as some tourists demonstrate (hint: there are rattlesnakes). Wear a wide-brimmed hat and take water. The Slot Canyon trail makes for a nice 3 or 4 hour outing.
 Uchisar, Cappadocia, Turkey (Rolleiflex 3.5E film photograph)
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 (but I will admit, I did it in the opposite order). 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, 75mm f/8 Super-Angulon lens.
My photographer friend in town let me use his Epson 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 4×5" 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. Later, another generous friend gave me an Epson 3200 Photo scanner with a light cover large enough to cover the complete 4×5" transparencies.
View west along Fairground Street, 2017. A light leak in the Hasselblad film back caused the flare on the left.
Levee Street view north, 1993, 4×5" camera, 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, New Mexico

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. The KiMo is reputed to have a ghost.

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.