Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Phoenician Saline di Trapani e Paceco, Sicily

Trapani salt pans from the town of Erice (Èrici)

Sicily is one of these impossibly fascinating places to visit. The topography is dramatic, the people are friendly, the food is sublime, and the culture is an amazing interplay of Greek, Roman, Phoenician, Norman, Arab, and Italian influences. How could you not love an exploration of the culture and food? 

The Phoenecians settled in the coastal areas centuries before Roman domination. Among their developments are the famous and still-operating salt pans, the Saline di Trapani e Paceco, on the west coast of Sicily.

Kurlanski (2002) describes the salt pans:

South of Trapani along the coast, earthen dikes begin to appear and a few stone windmills. The dikes mark off ponds, some of which hold turquoise water, some pink. The stone towers of windmills stick out from these orderly pastel ponds. The saltworks are built out along the coast until towards the south, deep leafy green fields take over, which are the vineyards of Marsala wine. This is one of the oldest salt-making sites in the world - the one started by the Phoenicians to cure their tuna catch, and after the destruction of Carthage, continued by the Romans. When the Muslims were in Sicily from 800 to 1000, they wrote of the windmills of Trapani.
Early in the year (in winter), the workers open sluice gates to let sea water flood the shallow ponds. As the summer develops, the sun evaporates the water. Workers flush the brine into different ponds, allowing the brine to become successively more saline. 


By summer's end, the workers expose the salt that has precipitated to the bottom of the pans and then pile it in multi-ton piles, letting it continue to dry. The tan shapes are roof tiles erected to keep out rainwater. We bought a half kilo of the salt at the museum gift shop.


This is one of the old windmills. From Kurlanski (2002):
The current windmills are based on a Turkish model that was adopted by the Spanish, who brought their windmills to Sicily and later to Holland. About the year 1500, windmills were built here by a man named Grignani to move brine through the ponds. His son was named Ettore, which is the name of these saltworks facing the isle of Mozia. 

I love visiting places like this, where the ghosts of centuries - millennia - remind you that people have lived, worked, thrived, built, warred, and recovered on this land. It opens your eyes and soul. Do visit Sicily, definitely. Spend weeks - months - there.

These are digital images from a Panasonic G1 µ4/3 camera with various lenses. I processed the Raw files with PhotoNinja software.

References

Duncan, P. 1994. Sicily: A Traveler's Guide. John Murray, 244 p.

Kurlansky, M., 2002. Salt, A World History. Penguin Books, 484 p. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Technicolor Car Wash of Robinson Road, Jackson

I have written about Robinson Road before. In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was busy and looked reasonably prosperous. Now it is a wasteland of closed restaurants and shops and semi-occupied strip malls. I did a bit of exploring in early July (2021), and then I saw it: a decorated car wash. Nice job! But it was closed? Surely a car wash could stay in business. There was plenty of traffic and no end of dude-mobiles thumping along Robinson Road.

I also took some 4×5" frames with Super-XX film, but this may be a site better suited for color. I will post the Supper-XX frames some time in the future.

This is the former Mississippi Music. I recall shopping here in the early 1990s, but I can't recall if we bought a piano here. Now it is forlorn and moldering away.

These are digital files from my Moto G5 mobile phone.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Abandoned Thomastown School of Mound, Louisiana

Thomastown School (Panatomic-X film, Leica IIIC, 50mm ƒ/2 Jupiter-8 lens)

Thomastown School (Tri-X film, Tachihara 4×5" camera, 135mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar S-II lens)

A forlorn school sits on an overgrown lot near the junction of US 80 (the former Dixie Overland Highway) and Mound Road (also shown on Google Maps and Thomastown Road). I first saw this abandoned school when I biked on Mound Road as a way to bypass some of the traffic on US 80. Well, maybe it is not technically abandoned. A farmer must own the buildings because he stores hay rolls on the the former parking lot and parks tractors and machinery in the former gymnasium. But the classrooms are a mess and totally neglected.

According to one website, the Thomastown High School was an all-black establishment that closed in 2001.The 1-storey section on the north was mid-1960s mass production with a brick exterior. The bricks are in good condition, but the roof is leaking. The large windows show that this building did not have air conditioning when built.

The south section was 2-storey, and when I first saw the building from the road, I thought this might be an abandoned mid-century motel. The wide overhangs on both floors were designed to provide some shade to the windows (an architectural feature that more homes should use). The panels on the overhangs were asbestos sheets; many have fallen they crunch underfoot when you walk next to the building.

Classroom on west side (Kodak Gold 100 film, Hasselblad 501 CM, 50mm ƒ/4 Distagon lens, minor fill flash on ceiling)
Central hallway with cheap but intact cinderblock walls

Needless to say, the interior is a mess of debris, with dripping roof panels, standing water, and chipping paint.

This has been our short tour of a semi-abandoned school. I have no information about its fate. If it is privately-owned now, it may sit here moldering for decades.

The color photographs are from 120-size Kodak Gold 100 film. The film was long expired but had been stored in a freezer. I exposed it at EI=64 in my Hasselblad 501CM camera, all frames tripod-mounted.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Small Towns in Mississippi: Blue Hill, Pleasant Hill, and MS 522

En route to Union Church (see the previous article) I drove south to Lorman, Mississippi, and turned left (east) on MS 522. It is 2-lane and winds through woods and farms in west central Mississippi. I had never been on this road before and was not sure what to expect, but turned out very well, with some interesting old farmhouses and other appropriate decay.

House off MS 522 near Harriston Rd. (Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera) 
House off MS 522
This beat-up old House was sitting forlorn in the woods just off the road. Amazingly, the poison ivy was not too bad. These were 1 sec. exposures on Panatomic-X film.
Silos on MS 522, Blue Hill
The modern silos attest to active agriculture in the area. These are in Blue Hill, which looks to be not a real town but just spread-out farms and homes. 
Cottage on MS 522 (McBride Road), Blue Hill
Combination bus and shack off MS 522. 
Proceeding east on MS 522 (also known as McBride Road) I saw the standard mixture of trailers, old wood cottages, steel sheds, and an occasional McMansion. 
These were nice little farmhouses in their day, but many have been abandoned. Where did their occupants go? Do they live in new houses nearby, or did they move away? Are they happy in their new cities/states? Abandoned homes are a graphic symbol of the hollowing-out of rural America.
Tractor off MS 28, Pleasant Hill (Acros film, Leica IIIC, Canon 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens)
Finally, two more examples of forgotten cottages or farmhouses in Pleasant Hill. I need to take more road trips into central Mississippi, which is nice terrain with its rolling hills and woods. It has a different character than the flat Delta, where I have explored often in the past.

Thank you all for riding along.

The photographs above were from 120-size Kodak Panatomic-X or 35mm Fuji Acros 100 film, exposed in a Leica rangefinder camera.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Small Towns in Mississippi: Union Church

Union Church is an unincorporated community in Jefferson County at the Junction of MS 28 and 550 in west central Mississippi, approximately half way between Fayette and Hazelhurst. According to Wikipedia, "The community of Union Church was formed primarily by a group of Scotch settlers who left North Carolina around 1805 for the promise of fertile land to be farmed on the eastern banks of the Mississippi River. The town was originally called Scotch Settlement. The founding families were headed by George Torrey, his son Dougald Torrey, Laughlin Currie and Robert Willis."

Union Church played a role in the daring raid by Col. Benjamin Grierson and 1,700 horse troopers, who rode over 600 miles through hostile territory from southern Tennessee, through Mississippi, and finally to Union-held Baton Rouge, Louisiana during April-May of 1863. The troopers briefly stopped in Union Church during the night of April 28-29, after which they continued east and then south.

I drove into Union Church on a blazing hot and muggy day in early August (2020) while I was on one of my photographic tours. Some handsome old churches, farm houses, and stores caught my eye.

Former church? (Fuji Acros film, Leica IIIC, 50mm ƒ/1.4 Canon lens, green filter, 1/200 ƒ/4.0)
Driving in from the north on MS 28, I saw this big white wood building that looked like a former church. If there was a sign describing current use, I did not see it.
Old shop (Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera, minor fill flash)
Two old stores sit at the junction of MS 28 and 550. On the first store, the roof looked reasonably sound, but there were fallen tree limbs and debris on it. That is definitely trouble in this damp climate.
Store 2 was engulfed with a mess of vines and jungle. The walk-up window may have been for ice cream sales, but who can tell at this stage? It is sad that these places are no longer in business.
Union Church Presbyterian Church (Moto G5 digital file)
Heading west on 28 towards Fayette, I saw two churches, one no longer in use and the other in nice condition. Union Church looked like a quiet little town with some prosperous farms. I was glad to stop and look around.

Most of these photographs are from medium format Kodak Panatomic-X film from my Fuji GW690II camera or 35mm Fuji Acros film from my Leica IIIC camera and a Canon 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Optical Treasure: 1960s Jupiter-8 Lens from the Soviet Union

This will be a short review of my new/old Jupiter-8 50mm ƒ/2 lens from the Soviet Union. It was built for use on Soviet thread-mount cameras like the FED, but uses almost the same 39mm thread as the original Leica bodies as well as most Japanese post-war rangefinder cameras.

Jupiter-8 lens mounted on my 1949-vintage Leica IIIC camera
Coated front element of Jupiter-8, probably 1962 construction (note: scratch-free and clear)

Many film photographers love the rendition from the classic Zeiss Sonnar 50mm ƒ/2 lens. Dr. Ludwig Bertele at Zeiss Ikon, the German optical giant, first formulated this lens in 1929. The name comes from the word “Sonne,” meaning Sun. In the 1930s. Zeiss sold it with their magnificent Contax rangefinder camera in the 1930s and later. This competed with Ernst Leitz's popular Leica thread-mount cameras when equipped with their 5cm ƒ/2 Summar lens or the later 7-element ƒ/2 Summitar lens. 

After WWII, the Soviets packed up and moved remnants of the Zeiss factories, tools, machinery, glass, and technicians to the Soviet Union and painfully began to rebuild their home optical industry. They largely copied the Zeiss optical designs but made minor changes over the years and coated the glass surfaces to reduce flare. They renamed these new lenses Jupiter (ЮПИТЕР). The 50mm ƒ/2 version is the ЮПИТЕР-8. They produced these lenses from the early 1950s until about 1991, when the Soviet economy collapsed. The Jupiter-8 was the standard lens on many Zorki, FED, and Kiev cameras, which were made in the millions. The Soviet lenses had aluminum mounts instead of the superior brass/chrome mounts of the older German production. The Internet is full of excellent reviews of the Jupiter-8, so I will not try to repeat the same material. 

Recently, the Lomo company has reintroduced the Jupiter-3, which is the 50mm ƒ/1.5 model. Note that Zeiss still sells a modern Sonnar lens, an amazing testament to a long-lasting design (but the current lens is significantly different then the original).

Eighty years after the original design, photographers still like the way the Sonnar reveals details on film. Original 1930s and 1940s German examples are seriously expensive. As an alternative, I decided to try one of Jupiter-8 versions and found one from a seller from Arizona. He said he bought it decades ago along with a set of Soviet thread-mount cameras. Arizona - that suggests dry and no fungus. This one was a Version 2 (design PT3060) from 1962 production (earlier is better for Soviet optics). The lens was clean and the coating perfect, but it was need of re-lubricating, as do almost all of these old Soviet optics; after all, they are 50+ years old. 

This lens uses a filter mount thread of 40.5mm. This was common for German lenses in the post-war era. I already had a 40.5mm Series VI filter adapter, allowing me to use my Series VI filters. Note that Japanese lens makers often used a filter diameter of 40.0mm for their ƒ/2 or ƒ/2.8 rangefinder lenses. Why did they do that? Was it to sell brand new filters and accessories to buyers of Japanese lenses? (Yes, of course!)

Here are some Jupiter examples around town, both when mounted on a digital camera and when used with film on my Leica IIIC camera.

Digital


I mounted the Jupiter-8 on my Fuji X-E1 digital camera using a Leica thread mount-Fuji-X adapter. On all of these scenes, I set the Jupiter at ƒ/5.6 and mounted the camera on a tripod to eliminate vibration. This digital camera has an APS-size sensor, so a 50mm lens provides a field of view similar to a 75mm lens on a 35mm camera. Click any frame to expand to 1600 pixels wide.
 
Approaching storm, Kansas City Southern rail yard, Levee Street, Vicksburg (ƒ/5.6)
After the storm, Levee Street, Vicksburg
Washington Street view north

Panatomic-X Film 


I loaded Kodak Panatomic-X film in my Leica IIIC. I thought it appropriate to expose an old-fashioned film in an old camera body mounting an old lens. The package proved to be compact and convenient to use, but I do wish the Jupiter had click-stops on the aperture control. I exposed the Panatomic-X at EI=20, so most photographs required a tripod. I used a Gossen Luna Pro Digital light meter in incident mode for most measurements.

Sondheimer, Louisiana (1/10 ƒ/11.5, yellow filter, tripod-mounted)
1101 N. Chestnut Street, Tallulah, Louisiana (1/10 ƒ/8.0)
PoBoy Don's, LA 602 east of Tallulah, Louisiana (1/100 ƒ/4.0, hand-held)
Footbridge from Avenue B over Stouts Bayou, Vicksburg, Feb. 15, 2021 (1/10 ƒ/11.5)
Acadia Place, Vicksburg, Feb. 15, 2021
Kansas City Southern rail tracks at Maloney Circle, Vicksburg National Military Park (1 sec. ƒ/16)
Fairground Street Bridge (¼ sec ƒ8; click to see 2400 pixels)

Fuji Acros 100 Film


Old bus, Moseley Gap Road, Vicksburg (¼ ƒ/16)
Ford Fairlane, Mt. Alban Road, Vicksburg (1/10 ƒ/11.5)

I also finished a roll of Fuji's amazing Acros 100 film with the Jupiter-8 lens. Being an ISO 100 film, it is easier to use out in the field than the slow Panatomic-X film (but the examples above are tripod-mounted).

 

Comments and Summary

 
This old Jupiter-8 is a nice lens, and I like the results on both a digital camera and on black and white film. I think it sings with film. I do not see any obvious barrel or pincushion distortion, and exposure is even across the frame. At apertures wider than ƒ/5.6, sharpness falls of at the corners, but on the scale of web pictures, the falloff is barely visible. I do not see (or do not know what to look for) the unique Sonnar rendition on these examples, but my photography friend in the UK said the special magic is at ƒ/2. This Jupiter has less field curvature then my 1949 Leitz Summitar lens. 

The Jupiter has an aluminum body, which is conveniently light weight. The finish is not up to German or Japanese standards, but at least on my sample, the numbers are perfectly legible. No issues.

Many photographers have written about focus shift with Sonnar lenses. I have not seen it yet, but have not taken close-focus photographs at wide aperture. This lens and my Summitar both focus perfectly at infinity using the same Leica-Fuji X adapter on my Fuji X-E1. Therefore, I assume that the Jupiter-8 is correctly adjusted for infinity on a Leica thread-mount camera. So close-up, it may back focus a bit, but I will need to test some more (one day in my non-spare time). I may send it to Skyllaney Opto-Mechanics in the UK for a rebuilding and adjustment for exact focus on Leica cameras.
 
I have also used one of the superb 1960s Canon 50mm ƒ/1.4 lenses. The Canon was more uniform across the field and may have had marginally better resolution. The mechanical construction was much better, typical Japanese excellence and precision from the 1960s. Its downside for me was the size of the overall optic. It blocked too much of my viewfinder, and the auxiliary 50mm finder was clumsy. 
 
In summary, the Jupiter-8 lens works well and has a nice rendition on film and digital. It is conveniently compact. When I use my little IIIC camera, I just may end up taking both the Jupiter and Summitar 50mm lenses in my camera kit.