Friday, May 28, 2021

Pearl Street Houses, Vicksburg, Mississippi (South Section; Kodachrome Film)


A few days before Thanksgiving (2020), a gent from Maryland emailed me about my photographs of Pearl Street. He had grown up on there in the 1960s and said my photographs of the houses along both sides of the railroad tracks were the only ones he could find on the web. We met one afternoon and walked around. He was in town to visit his 94-year-old mother, who no longer lived in the old family home and now lived in another part of town. 

The family home had just recently been razed, as shown by fresh dirt on the site. He told me that before the urban renewal program of the 1970s, they all used outhouses behind the houses. Federal funds covered the cost of installing sewers and connecting piping to the houses. He also remembered when Tuminello's (500 Speed Street) was considered the finest restaurant in town, but African Americans were not allowed to eat there. Several small local grocery stores catered to the local residents. All the children knew each other and played together, and parents kept an eye on the games.

My friend's visit inspired me to look over Kodachrome slides that I took along Pearl Street over the years. Some I had scanned before, and I scanned the remainder. I will show reduced-size versions below. They are ordered from south to north, so the house numbers decrease. See the caption under each frame for the address. Many of these cottages have been demolished, and today there is nothing left to see. Brush and trees occupy many of the former house lots. Click any frame to see a larger view of 1600 pixels on the long dimension.

Pearl Street south of Fairground Street

2607 Pearl Street
2605 Pearl Street
2603 Pearl Street
These houses are still extant. The railroad embankment runs right in front of their porches and ruins the view. At least the locomotives no longer sound their deafening horns now. I took these photographs from the tracks.

Fairground Street

Fairground Street Keystone bridge, view east, photograph taken from top of petroleum tank at Levee Street tank farm
501-509 Fairground Street cottages, photograph taken from top of petroleum tank at Levee Street tank farm
503-507 Fairground Street (Leitz 90mm ƒ/2.8 Tele-Elmarit lens)
502 Fairground Street (2020 photograph taken with Kodak Ektar 25 film, Hasselblad 501CM camera)
Fairground Street Keystone bridge (Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/3.5 Elmar lens, ⅒ ƒ/11.5)
Fairground Street Bridge from KCS tracks (Kodak Ektar 25 film, Hasselblad 501CM camera, 80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB lens)

Fairground once was a through street that gave access to Levee Street on the west side of the railroad yard. I remember driving over the Keystone bridge in the 1980s, but the city deemed it unsafe and closed it to traffic in the 1990s. At one time, the City was going to move it to the Catfish Park at the waterfront, but nothing came of the plan. 

Fairground Street view north

KCS train heading south. Note iron rooftops on the left

This is the view north along the tracks on the east side of Pearl Street. At one time, a parallel road on the west side extended as far as the cottages on the west (see the iron roofs). All these houses are now gone.

Film Notes

The last of the Kodachrome 25 film.

Most of the photographs above are scans of Kodachrome 25 (K25) color slide film. Kodachrome was the world's first successful color transparency film. Introduced in 1935 and modified over the years, it was in use until 2010, an amazing 75-year production history. Many people associate mid-century color photography with the colors of Kodachrome. It had a certain look. For more information about this historic film:
  1. Mike Eckman wrote a blog post on Kodachrome and reproduced an excellent 50-year anniversary article from Modern Photography magazine. Mike reviews classic film cameras and summarizes articles on various film topics. 
  2. Wikipedia has a good article with a timeline of the different emulsions.
  3. A short 2009 article in Time.
  4. Original sources and examples from
  5. Retrospective with contributed examples on Casual is a great site for film photographers. 
I find Kodachrome difficult to scan with my Plustek 7600i film scanner, especially compared to scanning color negative (color print) film. Dense slides just do not scan well.  The color balance is often off, but using the "HDR" setting on the Silverfast Ai scanning software usually handles the colors reasonably well. Sometimes, I use the neutral grey dropper tool to set the colors. Placing the dropper tool on grey pavement usually works. My experience with Nikon's Coolscan scanners was better, but they are no longer in production and are extremely expensive on ePrey. And if the Coolscan unit fails, it may not be repairable any more.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Burmese Days 20b: The Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo (revisited)

Dear Readers, I recently reviewed some of my older digital files. I realized that some of the most colorful frames were from my 2014 trip to Burma. I wrote about the famous Golden Rock in 2016, but here is a revisit in colour. 

Burma (now called Myanmar, but most of us old-timers still use the former name) has been in the news in early 2021 because of the military coup and the protests from civilians. The military has killed hundreds of protesters. That will shut down the tourist industry for an unknown period, especially if it leads to civil war. I am glad we visited in 2014 during a period of relative calm. 
One of the pilgrimage sites of profound importance to Buddhists is the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (Burmese: ကျိုက်ထီးရိုးဘုရား) in Mon State of southeast Burma. Most westerners know it as the Golden Rock because the actual pagoda is a small structure perched on the top of a granite boulder. The boulder has been covered with layers of gold leaf over hundreds of years by devotees, and it glows gold in the setting sun. According to legends, the Golden Rock itself is perched on a strand of the Buddha's hair, and indeed, the rock is said to rock very slightly. Considering that Burma is in an earthquake zone, I am amazed that it has not rolled down from its precarious perch. The hilltop is at an elevation of 1,100 m (3,609 ft) above sea level.

The lower photograph is half of a stereo frame from Wikimedia Commons, "Kyaitteyo Pagoda, miraculously balanced by a hair of Buddha, on Kelasa hills, Burma", Date: 1900, Author:  Underwood and Underwood (in the public domain).
The rock and the pagoda are at the top of Mt. Kyaiktiyo. To reach the mountain, you drive or take a bus to the town of Kin Pun Sakhan. There you board a lorry which has been outfitted with bench seats in the bed. You and your jovial fellow-pilgrims are mashed together in the open air. Then the lorry grinds up the Golden Rock Mountain Road in caravan with other lorries. Much of the road is single-lane, so the lorries wait at sidings for other trucks going the other way. Finally, you reach the plateau area and disembark. The first impression is not very auspicious - sheds for the trucks, vendors of food and souvenirs, trash, grime. Hmmm...
The vendors sell some strange food. Centipedes? Fish and cakes made of unknown grain(?) or protein(?). Blood of centipedes? Jars of hot sauce?

We stayed in a reasonably nice hotel, the Mountain Top, near the stairs to the actual temple premises. Our room was clean, had private bath, and had a sublime view of the mountains and jungle to the east. The restaurant was a bit lacking but all right. Burmese pilgrims stay in more modest lodges with bunkhouses. Families may be able to rent entire rooms, and some pilgrims sleep outside.
Entrance to Kyaiktiyo (Tri-X 400 film, Leica M2 camera)
You access the temple complex by steps after you pay an entry fee. Two large lions guard the entrance, and from here on, you must be barefoot, which was difficult for my wife.
Families can camp up on the marble platform. We met some adorable children. They look healthy, intelligent, and alert.
Models pose for photographers. This is an interesting place; like the Swedagon in Rangoon, almost a merger of religious site and country fair.
At dawn, families wait for the sun to cast on the Golden Rock. They light incense and prey. Only men can go out on the balcony right up to the rock.
Pilgrams donate food and lay it out neatly along the railing next to the rock. It makes quite a mess, and I am not sure if the food is for monks or if it is cleaned up and discarded daily.
Looking north, you can see that the entire mountain top is covered with restaurants and guesthouses. I think these are mostly for Burmese visitors, while Western tourists stay in a couple of hotels on the south side. I do not know how they get drinking water.
Finally the ride back downhill in the lorry, squashed in with as many people as they can fit. 

Truly, the Golden Rock is unique. When you visit Burma (when it is safe again!), take a side trip to Kyaiktiyo. It takes about 4 or 5 hours to drive from Rangoon, for which you need to charter a car and driver and pay for hotel and food. Just go do it.

These are digital images from a Fuji X-E1 digital camera and Nexus 4 phone.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Historic Bridge over Judd Bayou, Tensas National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

Tensas National Wildlife Refuge is a magical place of forest, bayous, lakes, and wetlands. The last verifiable sighting of the Ivory-billed woodpecker was 1944 in these forests. Some diligent birders are still looking for the ivory-billed here, although I think they will have more success in the remote and rugged mountain forests in Cuba. The Louisiana Digital Library has photographs of the woodpecker and the forests when they were still largely pristine.

During the 2020 Audubon Christmas bird count, one birder volunteered to explore the woods along Judd Bayou. I had never been to that area and decided to check the access in mid-December. To reach the bayou, you take Charles Brown Road off US 80 just east of Waverly and follow it south over I-20. It passes farms and then enters the forest at the boundary of Tensas NWR. Abruptly, you are in a forest from another time. Where is the dinosaur? The road runs parallel to the Tensas River along its west bank. It ends at an old-fashioned riveted steel girder bridge with a sign that cars are not allowed to cross. 

Judd Bayou bridge (Kodak Ektar 25 film, Hasselblad 501CM, 80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB lens)
The late afternoon light was perfect, and I took a frame on the long-discontinued, ultra high resolution Kodak Ektar 25 film. Click the picture to expand to 2400 pixels wide to see details.

Bridge details from the Louisiana Department of Transport:

  • Parish: Madison
  • Bridge Configuration: Through truss Pratt truss
  • Bridge name: (none)
  • Facility carried and feature crossed: OLD HWY 80 over JUDD BAYOU
  • Year built: 1908
  • Owner: Bureau of Fish and Wildlife, Federal ownership

The LADOT information about Hwy 80 is almost surely incorrect because 80 ran E-W through north Louisiana, approximately following the main railroad line. I doubt it made a big swing south into this forested region, which was formerly known as the Singer Tract (owned by the Singer Sewing Machine company).  

A 4-wheeler track may lead south from the bridge, eventually connecting to Quebec Road, but I am not sure. I could not go further in my car, but it was a lovely setting, and I did not see any dinosaurs or ivory-billed woodpeckers. Imagine the magnificence of these forests if they had not been logged and destroyed in the 1940s.

Forest near Rainey Lake (Kodak Panatomic-X film, Rolleiflex 3.5E Xenotar lens)
Forest off Quebec Road (Kodak Panatomic-X film, Rolleiflex 3.5E Xenotar lens)
Here are two examples of the magnificent hardwood bottomland scenery from 2019. 
Farm on Charles Brown Road (GAF Versapan filmVoigtländer Vito BL camera)
Barn on Charles Brown Road
Tensas NWR is a bit out of the way but well worth a diversion to visit. 

Write your Federal representatives to support and expand the National Wildlife Refuge system, as well as National Monuments. Protect the wild lands that we still have; leave a legacy for your descendants. Undo the mismanagement, pillage, corruption, and destruction of our natural environment wrought by the previous administration in Washington.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Along the Nantahala River and US 19/74, Topton, North Carolina

Heading west through western North Carolina, you need to drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can bypass the mountains entirely by driving south and taking the freeway through Atlanta. But can you think of a more dismal way to spend valuable hours of your life? Yuck.

Rugged terrain of western North Carolina (National Geographic base map from ArcGIS online)
West Oak Bed & Breakfast, Bryson City. Very friendly owners.

A much more enjoyable way to go west is to choose one of the mountain highways that pass through the Blue Ridge. One option is to stay in Bryson City (which is becoming a foodie place) and then head southwest on US Highway 19/74. Part of the route parallels the Nantahala River, which has carved a rugged valley through the mountains. It is slow going, especially in the tourist season when rafting groups load up busses and trucks for raft adventures. You pass farms, small towns, solitary houses, and some funky stuff. This looks like bubba terrain, in stark contrast to the ambience of Asheville and even Bryson City. 

Garage, 10444 US 74, Bryson City, North Carolina (Ilford Delta 100 film, Rolleiflex 3.5E Schneider Xenotar lens, green filter)

I stopped at an old-fashioned car repair/junk store on US 74 near the Wildwater Nantahala Rafting center. His "Vote for Freedom" sign emphasized • Limited Government  • Free markets  • Fiscal responsibility. How did that work out? This poor fellow was duped and scammed big time. 

Waiting to go (Ilford Delta 100 film, Rolleiflex 3.5E, 75mm ƒ/3.5 Schneider Xenotar lens)

There is some old Detroit iron in the yard, but will any of these samples ever be restored?

I did not see the proprietor or any activity at all.

Peanut store, 14305 US 19 west of Wesser (Fuji X-E1 digital file)
Unused house, US 19/74 west of Wesser (Fuji X-E1 digital file)

Here are some examples of western North Carolina rural decay. With all the tourist traffic, I am  surprised that the peanut store was closed. 

Rowlin Creek, east of Topton (Fuji X-E1 digital file)

The Nantahala makes a sharp right angle turn and heads south, while the highway continues southwest along the Rowlin Creek. This is a fast-moving tributary that flows into the Nantahala River. Several rafting companies offer raft trips on the Rowlin. 

US 19/74 view west, Topton, North Carolina
Country store, US 19/74 at Topton Road, Topton, North Carolina (Ilford Delta 100 film)

Finally, after driving through the Nantahala National Forest, you reach the hamlet of Topton. From here heading west, the valley opens up and the hills are less rugged. This poor old country store is at the corner of US 74 and Topton Road.

Bryson City rail line (Rolleiflex 3.5E, Delta 100 film, green filter)

A railroad once ran through this valley all the way from Bryson City. I do not know when it was last used. The ties were in poor condition.
Fixer-upper house, 24266 US 129 (also Routes 19/74), Topton
Post Office, Topton, NC

Topton has an unusual post office clad with stone facade. I assume it is local stone. The architecture was not exactly inspiring.

This ends our very short run through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I need to return and explore some more. Western North Carolina must have plenty of interesting urban decay topics.