Saturday, September 26, 2020

Comfort Food and Ambience at the Franklin Hotel, Rome, New York

For the last 22 years, Parks & Trails of New York (PTNY) has sponsored and organized an annual Cycle the Erie Canal Bike Tour. This is an amazing ride that covers over 400 miles in 8 days. Bicyclists ride along the historic Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany, camping out along the way and eating at tremendous buffet dinners and breakfasts. The camp sites are at high schools, municipal parks, and, once, at a Jewish Community Center. Riders who do not want to camp can book bed and breakfast inns along the way or stay in indoor gymnasiums.

Unfortunately, the Trump Virus forced the cancellation of the 2020 ride. Instead, PTNY ran a virtual tour with photographs and video from previous years. I hope I can participate again in 2021.

My long-term hiking friend from Albany (see Kilimanjaro) and I biked the Erie Canal tour in 2018. We had excellent weather, although a few days were hot. The tour included over 700 riders from all over the world. One couple from Australia had biked to northern New York from Australia (tough people!).
On Day 5, we cycled from Syracuse to Rome, a distance of about 50 miles. We camped at Fort Stanwix National Monument, a restored fort that played a role in the American Revolution. For dinner, we were on our own, meaning eat in town.

Rome immediately caught my eye. It was a bit tired looking and still had some historic architecture. Some of the other riders recommended that we eat at the Franklin Hotel, at 301 South James Street. The steaks were supposed to be special. Well, after biking 50 miles, a mountain of protein sounded like just the treat. We "deserved" it. (Note: deserved is dangerous vocabulary in Middle America. It is used as justification to purchase any number of material possessions or excess housing, regardless of the real need of said items.)
The steak was excellent, the sides were fresh, and we all feasted as if we deserved it. Most of the customers that evening appeared to be from the bicycle crowd, but the Franklin certainly did not feed 700 people.
Ah, interesting old stairs with sturdy original banisters. But wooden stairs in a hotel? The Franklin's web page describes the food service but does not say anything about rooms, so the upstairs may be closed now.
The upstairs halls were clean but, I think, no longer used.
Rome is an old-line industrial town. Tracks once ran through this warehouse and industrial district. I wish we had been able to explore more, but we were tired and had to sleep in preparation for the next morning's early awakening and vigorous peddling. The Erie Canal Ride passed through some interesting towns, but we did not have enough time to explore. A car trip along this route would be a rewarding alternative some day.

The images are from a Moto G5 mobile phone.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Mississippi Delta 34: 2012 Road Trip through the Central Delta

Here are some photographs from a short trip through the southern and central Mississippi Delta in March of 2012. I often used digital equipment at this time but still took a film camera with me when I looked for interesting topics.

Boyle



Boyle is in Bolivar County, Mississippi, just a short distance south of Cleveland. Catfish is, or at least was, a big business. I expect most people drive by quickly on US 61/US 278 heading to or from Cleveland, where Delta State University is located. There is not too much to see in Boyle. But south of town, I saw the sun shining on a cluster of old gravestones just off 278. I could not find a name for the graveyard. If any readers can identify the site, please let me know.

Mound Bayou



Mound Bayou, about 10 miles north of Cleveland, has an interesting history in that it was a town founded by former slaves. I wrote about Mound Bayou before in The Mississippi Delta 8 and The Mississippi Delta 8b. The history of this town is a story of determination, back-breaking hard work, and a dream of creating a better life for African Americans in an era when they were treated brutally by the southern white political establishment and the klan.

The Taborian Hospital was founded by the International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor, a fraternal organization. For over twenty years, the hospital provided low-cost health care to African-Americans in the Mississippi Delta in an era when most public hospitals would only admit white patients. When I took these pictures in March 2012, the Taborian Hospital had been closed for almost two decades. From 2012 to 2015, the hospital was renovated, cleaned, and reopened as an urgent care facility. Preservation in Mississippi wrote about the progress in 2012 and 2016. But as of 2018, it was closed again! The facility is mired in some sort of lawsuit, and there is minimal information on the web about what is happening. All that money and effort wasted?

Shelby



Shelby is another town in Bolivar County. It has (had) more of a downtown that many other Delta towns, but today much of Shelby is pretty rough. I wrote about Shelby before in The Mississippi Delta 9. I will return some day and look around some more.

Hushpuckena


Former general store (Panatomic-X, Fuji GW690II, no filter)
Interior of store with discarded medical records (Panasonic G-1 digital file converted to B&W)
Old store in Hushpuchena (Panasonic G-1 digital file converted to B&W)
Hushpuckena is an unincorporated community - really a former town - about 4 miles north of Shelby. A friend's uncle suggested I take a look and he was right. The former commercial strip faced Old 49, which is now a partly overgrown country lane. I included an interior picture from my digital camera because the papers all over the floor were 1980s medical records from Bolivar County Hospital. I told a doctor friend of mine from Greenville, and he recovered and destroyed the records. He said he recognized some nurses on his staff.

This ends our very short 2012 drive through the central Delta. All these photographs except the two digital Hushpuckena files are from Kodak Panatomic-X film taken with my Fuji GW690II camera with EBC Fujinon 90mm ƒ/3.5 lens. I used a tripod to support the camera for all these frames.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Mississippi Delta 33: Crusin' Old 49 to Silver City, Midnight, Louise, and Holly Bluff

Old US 49 passes through rich agricultural terrain in the southern Mississippi Delta. One of my day trips in spring of 2020 was to check some of the small towns along Old US 49W south of Belzoni, see what was happening, and exercise my Tachihara 4×5" field camera. I have written before that I had not used large format film in a number of years, so why not visit towns and record interesting sights in the Delta? In Mississippi, the virus did not force us to remain at home, so visiting the Delta was a nice way to get out of the house.

Silver City


Trading Post, Mims Ave., Silver City (Tri-X, 90mm Angulon lens, 1/50 ƒ/16)
Fixer-upper house, Mims Ave., Silver City (90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens, yellow-green filter)
Club Stir It Up, Silver City (TMax 100 film, Pentax Spotmatic, 55mm ƒ/1.8 Super Takumar lens, polarizer)
Cottage, West Street, Silver City (TMax 100 film, Pentax Spotmatic camera, 55mm ƒ/1.8 Super Takumar lens, polarizer)
Abandoned church, US 49W west of Silver City (Acros film, Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, yellow filter)
Silver City is a small town in Humphreys County on US 49W about 7 miles south of Belzoni. I suspect most travelers zip on by heading to or from Belzoni or Yazoo City and barely notice that they drove through Silver City. There is not all that much to see, just homes, trailers, and a few gas stations. The electronics store looked like it had been shut for years, and I saw some empty houses and a church.

Highway 149 takes you southwest out of town through what seems like endless farm fields with an occasional patch of trees or a bayou.

Midnight


Midnight Gin, Old US 49W (4×5" Tri-X, 180mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar IIN lens, yellow filter) 
Midnight Gin, Old US 49W (GAF Versapan film, 135mm ƒ/4.5 Xenar lens, yellow filter)
Midnight is an unincorporated community at the junction of MS 149 and Old US 49W. The gin just north of town caught my eye because of the shapes and patterns. It provided some opportunities to test some 1960s-vintage GAF Versapan film (see the previous posts on this topic).
Worker cottage, Box Plantation, Silver Creek Road, Midnight (Tri-X film, 90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens, 1/25 ƒ/16)
I saw a few nice homes on Silver Creek Road. A handsome 1800s house was being restored. A lady told me that it was once part of Box Plantation. In the back, I saw a workers' cottage with long porch. Most of Midnight is really rough. As quoted in Wikipedia, "Shashank Bengali of McClatchy Newspapers said that Midnight "feels like a place whose time has expired." Bengali explains that the clapboard houses, which were built almost one century before 2010, "rot on their cinder-block legs, tilting at crazy angles" and that Midnight's principal road is "dotted with abandoned or half-burned cabins that, older residents complain, young men disappear into to shoot dice or smoke pot as the days fade into dusk."[4]."

Louise


Main Street, Louise (Moto G5 digital file converted to B&W with DxO filmpack 5)
Main St., Louise (Tri-X, 135mm ƒ/4.5 Xenar lens, yellow filter, 1/60 ƒ/16.5) 
Louise is another little agricultural town on Old 49W in Humphreys County.

Main St., Louise (Tri-X, 180mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar IIN lens, yellow filter) 
Where is everyone? Main St., Louise in 2016 (Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera, 90mm ƒ/3.5 lens) 
Lee Hong Grocery, Main St., Louise (135mm ƒ/4.5 Xenar lens, orange filter, 1/200 ƒ/16)
Louise is another small agricultural town with only about 300 citizens. Main Street once paralleled the railroad tracks and had the usual early-1900s square-front commercial buildings and shops. Most are closed now, and some are falling down. The silos dominate the center of town.
Mobile home, Old 49, Louise (Fuji X-E1 digital file)
Much of the housing stock here in the Delta is pretty rough. These unshaded mobile homes in mid-summer must be blazing hot.

Holly Bluff


On this trip, I did not stop in Holly Bluff because I have been there before (please see The Mississippi Delta 17). A couple of miles north of town, an old silo glittered in the setting sun.
Silo north of Holly Bluff (GAF Versapan film, 90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens, yellow filter, 1/25 ƒ/22)
Heading out of Holly Bluff on MS 16 towards Rolling Fork, you pass some rather beat-up trailers and old cottages.
Empty mobile home, MS 16 (Fuji X-E1 digital file converted th B&W)
Asbestos shingle-clad house, MS 16 (Fuji X-E1 digital file converted to B&W)
On this trip, I was able to further test my 1960s Versapan film, formerly made by the GAF company. By the time I had photographed the silo just north of Holly Bluff, I had used all my film holders, sunset was close, and Satartia Road was finally above water and open. I headed home. I will explore more of the Delta in future articles.

Friday, September 11, 2020

1960s GAF Versapan Pack Film: more Mississippi and Louisiana Samples

In the previous article, I wrote about how a friend gave me a cooler full of GAF Versapan 4×5" film packs. These had been in his freezer since the 1960s. GAF stopped producing consumer film in the 1970s, so these were definitely an unusual photographic item for this day and age. The first pack was totally viable when developed in Xtol by Northeast Photographic in Maine. I used a second film pack during some outings to the Mississippi Delta and to eastern Louisiana in June of 2020, before the heat became too beastly. I exposed the film at EI = 64, which looked good on the first pack that I tested in April. Here are some examples from Vicksburg and nearby. I posted these at 2400 pixels on the long dimension, so click any picture to see the amazing detail recorded on 4×5" film.

Vicksburg


The Tomato Place, 3229 US 61 south, Vicksburg (90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens, yellow-green filter; note some irregular development streaks)
The Tomato Place (135mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar-S II lens, yellow-green filter, ½ ƒ/22)
The Tomato Place is a friendly store with good produce and munchies. Mallory graciously lets me take photographs there. I photographed inside in 2017.
Ergon refinery, Haining Road, Vicksburg (240mm ƒ/9 G Claron lens, Nikon deep yellow filter, ⅛ ƒ/45)
Mississippi Lime, Haining Road, Vicksburg (240mm ƒ/9 G Claron lens, polarizing filter, ⅛ ƒ/32)

Louisiana


Bunge silo, LA 602 , Tallulah, Louisiana (135mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar-S II lens, yellow filter, ¼ ƒ16-22)
This tall silo is off Louisiana route 602, where I sometimes bike. I am not sure if it is in use because the siding that leads by the facility is in disrepair. This photograph is from July 4, when a thunderstorm was pending and the sky was dramatic. I only had time for one frame and the drops began to fall. In 2 or 3 minutes, it was monsoon.
Silos off US 80, Waverly, Louisiana (90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens, orange filter, ⅒ ƒ/22)
This Versapan film works well for these industrial buildings, but I need to be careful about overexposing light material, like the gravel.
Unused cotton gin, LA 568 (Lake Drive), Ferriday, Louisiana (135mm ƒ/4.5 Xenar lens, orange filter, ⅒ ƒ/22); note irregular development streak)
This was an unused cotton gin in Ferriday, Louisiana. While I was taking this picture, a gent from the agricultural machinery company across the street came over to see my camera. He said the ladies in the office were most perplexed that someone was standing out in the 35 degree heat with a camera. He generously offered some cold water, a restroom, and some air conditioning. Louisianans are very accommodating.
Delhi water works (180mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar IIN lens, yellow filter, ⅛ ƒ/32)
Using 50-year-old Versapan film has been a rewarding experience. I am not sure how often I will use it because the thin material is a bit hard to handle. But I am glad to have this option. And I am amazed that 50-year-old film is still so viable. Will our digital files be readable in 50 years?

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Testing GAF Vesapan 4×5" Film Packs in Mississippi: Useful Early 20th Century Film Technology

Graphic Film Pack Adapter. The lack of a zip code indicates that the adapter is pre-1965 or 1966 vintage.
Sealed Versapan film pack, probably late-1960s vintage.

Would You Like Some Film Packs?


A good friend here in town is an experienced and very capable photographer with over five decades of experience. Early this year (2020), his wife emailed me wondering if I would like a couple of his film packs because they wanted to make space in the freezer. I thought, film packs? I had not used one since the early 1970s. They still exist? Come to find out, a couple meant an entire cooler full, and my friend had stored them in various freezers since the late 1960s! Well, this sounded like a photographic adventure, so I graciously accepted this generous gift.
1960s-vintage GAF VersaPan and Kodak Tri-X film packs in their original foil packages

What is a Film Pack?


A film pack is a metal box which holds 16 sheets of thin-based 4×5 inch film. Each sheet is attached to a numbered black paper tab. You place the metal box in a film pack adapter. My friend gave me an adapter made by the American company Graphic (see the first photograph). The user starts the film pack by pulling and then tearing off the initial tab of black paper. Then frame no. 1 is ready to use. Focus and compose your 4×5 camera as normal, and then insert the Graphic adapter. Pull the dark slide and take exposure no. 1. Then carefully pull the tab, and that first sheet of film pulls under the rest of the stack to the back of the group.

This makes sheet no. 2 ready to use in the front of the pack. In the photographs below, I have shown the handsome red metal film pack in the adapter and well as one of the 4×5 sheets pulled partway. When you expose sheet 16, you pull the tab and you have finished the pack. You can then remove the metal from the adapter in subdued daylight. The film manufacturers warn you to not press on the exposed black paper shield because then you risk a light leak. The pack adapter is a bit thicker then a normal Fidelity or Lisco sheet film holder but should fit under the ground glass of most brands of cameras.

According to Camera-wiki, Eastman Kodak introduced the film pack in 1903. Over time, at least 12 film sizes were sold, and possibly European manufacturers offered even more. My experience in the 1970s was with 2¼×3¼" film pack in an old Certo Sport camera. I do not remember how many sheets were in that size pack. The most popular size may have been 4×5" because the old time press reporters could take 16 quick exposures with their Speed Graphic cameras at a news event. Then they could pop another pack in the adapter and take another 16 frames. I read somewhere that Kodak finally discontinued their 4×5 film packs around 1992, when the last technician who knew how to assemble the packs retired. By then, most of the demand was gone because press/wedding photographers were using medium format or 35mm cameras.

The film pack lingered on in modified form to hold Polaroid instant films. Fuji's Instax film is a form of film pack.

The main criticism of the film pack was that the film was thin and too flexible. Darkroom users needed to mount the thin film on glass negative holders. With respect to scanning, in my limited experience, the film will lie in the 4×5" holder of my Epson scanner with minimal sagging. Some companies sell holders with anti-Newton glass to ensure that the film would be absolutely flat. Regular 4×5 film is on a much thicker base and does not sag. The film pack film is a slightly different size then normal 4×5, so you need to trim it to fit normal scanner film holders.
GAF VersaPan film pack rear side. The lid on the adapter is open to show the handsome metal box. The paper tabs extend out of a slot on the top.
Front side with one sheet of 4×5" film partly pulled around the pack. When the pack adapter is not in the camera, a dark slide protects this surface. 
Graphic film pack under ground glass of a Tachihara 4×5" field camera. The adapter is thicker than the standard Lisco or Fidelity 2-sided film holder.

Tachihara Field Camera


Tachihara 4×5" field camera with a 135mm ƒ/4.5 Schneider Xenar lens.
The Tachihara is a light weight Japanese wood field camera. I bought this one in 1982 from Lee Beeder Cameras of California via mail order. I was inspired to try 4×5" by Fred Picker's Zone VI Newsletters. Picker was a controversial fellow and very fond of himself, but he did a good service to the photographic world by emphasizing large format photography in the era when most photographers had switched to 35mm cameras. The 1960s and 1970s were the years when 35mm press photographers seemed so glamorous and were taking shocking photographs in war zones. Most press photographers had discarded their Speed Graphics and other large cameras a decade earlier. Picker emphasized how a large negative could make magnificent prints that were simply impossible with the small film of a 35mm camera. The newsletters were well-written, and you can find them on the Internet Archive (highly recommended). Picker eventually sold Zone VI to Calumet Photographic, and Calumet is now gone, as well. His darkroom products and cameras sell quickly on eBay.

GAF and Ansco Film


Ansco was an American company founded in 1842. The company expanded into photographic products in 1847 and invented celluloid flexible roll film. Kodak used (stole) the technology and eventually lost a 12-year patent lawsuit to Ansco. As summarized in VintageCameraLab.com, the German film company, Agfa, merged with Ansco and renamed the new operation Agfa-Ansco. Agfa-Ansco thrived after the takeover, producing cameras, films, and photographic papers. Upon America's entry in World War II, the U.S. Government seized Ansco’s operations as enemy property because of the German ownership and its complicated association with the American IG Chemical Corporation (part of the IG Farben empire). During the war, production shifted to military optics like sextants and bomber sights, and the “Agfa-Ansco” brand reverted to just “Ansco.”

After the war, Ansco remained under U.S. Government ownership and control until 1965, at which time it sold shares to the public. Post-war, Ansco thrived, selling 2 million cameras per year at its peak, as well as selling rebranded cameras from Agfa, Ricoh, Chinon, and Minolta. In 1967, Ansco changed its name to General Aniline & Film (GAF), an old-line American company that was best known for roofing shingles but who also had a photographic products division. The GAF film factory was in Binghamton, New York. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Ansco/GAF was Eastman Kodak's largest competitor in the US market. At some stage of this complicated history, International Paper owned both GAF and Ilford. I have read that the two companies shared some film or paper technology. In 1977, GAF finally ended production of consumer films, although the manufacture of other films continued (I assume aerial photography, X-ray, and other industrial products). Ilford, of course, still exists and makes a full range of excellent films.

Ansco offered some innovative products, including color films and the first ASA 500 slide film. Most of Ansco's color products have not survived the years well and have suffered severe color shifts and fading. But  photographers praised the black and white films.

I tried to find information on the web about Versapan film but found very little. This is not surprising considering that it was discontinued at least 40 years ago. A few notes said it was an excellent product, but one needs to beware that the "good old days" often sound romantically good on internet forums. A Popular Science magazine from November, 1963, contained a short paragraph describing the new film. At that time, Versapan roll film was rated at ASA (American Standards Association) 125. A 1969 US Army still photography manual listed the cut film at a speed of 100.

Needless to say, with 50-year-old film, you are not sure how it will respond. Old film tends to lose sensitivity, so for my first pack, I decided to take triple exposures at each site using EI (exposure index) = 64, 32, and 16. With a pack holding 16 sheets, this would give me five scenes with one extra frame left over from the pack.

The next challenge was developing the film. I do not have a darkroom any more and therefore could not use open trays. My Jobo 4×5 daylight kit is for regular thick-based film. After some inquiries, I sent it to Northeast Photographic in Maine, where the owner developed the Versapan in Xtol using Jobo tanks. He reported that the film looked like new. I subsequently scanned the negatives with an Epson 3200 Photo scanner at 2400 dpi and cleaned minor blobs and scratches with Photoshop CS5's heal tool (the icon that looks like a bandage).

The Mississippi Delta


During our somewhat loose virus shutdown, I drove north into the Mississippi Delta several times to get out of the house, explore, use my Tachihara camera, and test the Versapan film. I like overcast days when the sky looks ominous and rain is pending. My first test was to compare the GAF Versapan with Kodak Tri-X Professional film. In the example of an old store in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the first frame is from Tri-X while the second is Versapan. The Tri-X recorded a little more texture in the sky, but the contrast of one or the other could be adjusted during scanning. I certainly can't claim that one is "better" than the other. The Versapan is fine grain and records fine detail. Remember, this film is five decades old.
CocaCola store, West Broadway, Yazoo City, Mississippi (Tri-X 400 film, Schneider 135mm ƒ/4.5 Xenar lens)
CocaCola store, West Broadway, Yazoo City, Mississippi (Versapan film, Schneider 135mm ƒ/4.5 Xenar lens)
I drove along Levee Road west of Yazoo City and saw an interesting petroleum tank farm. The scene let me test the ability of the film to record the dark tank cars as well as the clouds. It passed with flying colors! This was a gloomy day with spitting rain on and off. I cropped the center section to show the signs on the tank cars, which are almost legible. The grain is tight.
Tank Farm, Rialto Rd., Yazoo City, Mississippi, USA (Versapan film, 180mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar IIN lens, yellow filter, ⅛ sec. ƒ/11.3)
Crop of railroad cars at 100% scale, no sharpening
The little town of Midnight had an unused cotton gin with interesting shapes and textures. Many gins are unused now because farmers have shifted to soybeans or corn.
Midnight Gin, Old US 49, Midnight, Mississippi  (Versapan film, Schneider 135mm ƒ/4.5 Xenar lens, yellow filter, ⅒ sec ƒ/22.5)
By the time I reached Holly Bluff, the sun was beginning to break through the clouds. Some old storage silos glowed in the light. I think the Versapan does very well with metal and silver objects.
Silos, MS 16 north of Holly Bluff, Mississippi (Versapan film, Schneider 90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens, 1/100 sec ƒ/11)
I took this picture with a tiny 90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens that I bought recently. It does not have much extra coverage for the 4×5" format, but I really like the rendering on black and white film. The filter thread is 40.5mm, for which I have a Series VI adapter and various Leitz filters.

Returning to Vicksburg, the photograph below is a nasty bayou (creek) which flows under 61 Bypass. I used a green filter to help lighten the foliage. This is an example of a high-contrast scene where the Versapan only retained some detail in the light sky.
Bliss Creek at N. Washington St. and US 61, Vicksburg, Mississippi (Versapan film, 180mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar IIN lens, green filter, ⅛ sec ƒ/11.7)

Some Concluding Remarks


Well, this was a pleasant surprise. Using a film pack on my 4×5" camera took me back to an earlier time. I really liked the convenience of having 16 frames in one easy-to-change cartridge. I had not used this camera in a number of years, and this was the incentive I needed to exercise it again. With regular Fidelity or Lisco film holders, each one holds only 2 sheets, and I need to load them in a dark closet at night. For a long day's outing, one can easily fill a cooler with holders (I mention cooler because in summer you want to avoid excess heat.). But with three convenient and thin film packs, you have 48 sheets ready to use. The bad news: as far as I know, no one packages regular film (i.e., not instant) in film packs any more.

The second surprise: this thin-base Versapan is still viable and looks good, even after five decades storage. Traditional silver gelatin emulsion is truly an amazing chemical and optical invention, despite the disparaging troll comments from the D crowd. For most projects, I will continue to use Kodak Tri-X, but it is a nice option to have this "antique" Versapan available. I will post some more examples in the future here on Urban Decay.

Thank you for reading. I have written about Tri-X 400 roll film on the 35mmc blog before. Stay well, record your world, and always explore.