Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Photo Palace Needs Your Help

It all started in the early 1990’s as an idea to capture portraits of America but with the advent of digital photography, Anoton Orlov decided his traveling darkroom, called The Photo Palace Bus, could serve a higher purpose: to educate and spread the knowledge of traditional and silver based darkroom techniques. Now he and co-creator Ryan Kalem need your help to spread analogue love.

Orlov and Kalem, both graduates of San Jose State’s photography program, are trying to raise $16,000 by February 1, 2012 so they can take their 1978 vintage yellow school bus on the road. Visit their kickstarter site to support them. If they don’t reach their goal by February 1, they get ZERO DOLLARS so it’s important to get your pledge in before the deadline. This is a sketch of what they hope to create from the vintage bus.

The two main goals for The Photo Palace Bus, according to their kickstarter site are

• The Photo Palace will provide traditional photographic education and hands-on experience opportunities in every corner of the country. The goal is to preserve the traditions of analog photography.

• Using the north-light studio and incorporating street photography we will create a 10.000-negative portrait series about New Americana. From pop to fringe – all aspects of culture will be addressed via portraits accompanied by narration and quotes.

Impromptu and scheduled art exhibits; free lectures, demonstrations and workshops will be the core of The Photo Palace’s curriculum. Topics such as photo history, gelatin, silver and alternative printing techniques as well as studio and location photo techniques for portraiture and still life photography are just some of the subjects that will be covered.

The vintage yellow school bus will be equipped with darkroom equipment, a viewing area, a fold-out North-Light studio which can be installed on either side of the bus and living quarters on an upper-level, which will be created by installing the bodies of two VW buses on the roof of the school bus. Here are some Polaroids taken the day the two bought the bus.

Orlov and Kalem are following in the footsteps of some of the pioneers of the trade, most of which had no choice other than to have all their materials on-hand at all times. Early photo techniques, like wet-plate collodion, depended on having a darkroom set-up within feet of the place the photo was taken. Even after the invention of dry film photographers continued the tradition of setting up darkrooms in the field so they could be fully immersed and integrated with their projects.

Anton Orlov moved to California from Moscow when he was 17. His passion for photography has taken him to Central America, Asia and all across the continental US. He operates a darkroom facility in San Diego where he offers workspace to photographers and private lessons in analogue photography. His favorite camera is the Rolliflex TLR. These are a few of his works, which are being offered as thank you gifts.

Ryan Kalem works in primarily large-format photography. This format forces him to slow down the process and really think about all elements of the photo. During The Photo Palace’s tour, he will take up permanent residence in the bus, which will give him a deeper understanding of the area and people he is capturing. Here is one of his gelatin silver prints that is also being offered as a thank you gift.

You can follow the adventures of the construction of the project at The Photo Palace blog. This is a picture of their vision of the bus’ interior.

By becoming a backer you’re not only supporting The Photo Palace financially, you’re also helping to plan the route! Orlov and Kalem state that your pledge ensures that the vintage bus will be rolling into your town or wherever you want them to go. I don’t know about you but personally, I’ll be super-excited to meet the photographers and see the bus first hand when they roll into my little corner of the world. Until then, sit back and check out this video.

Recesky DIY Camera Adventures

The Recesky is a do-it-yourself TLR camera kit, much like the Gakkenflex. The camera produces beautiful, soft pictures often with a sweet spot of focus in the middle. The pictures I’ve seen remind me very much of lensbaby-type digital photos. I’ve been wanting to construct my own for quite sometime and FINALLY got around to doing it earlier this month. It was quite an adventure.

It looked innocent enough when I opened the package so I figured I’d give it a go around dinnertime one weeknight (what was I thinking?). Then I opened the directions

They were in a language that I didn’t even BEGIN to know how to read! My husband and I had a good laugh about this for a few minutes before I dove into the project (directions are available in English on the web but I didn’t find out until I was finished the project. Thanks to Nic Nichols of The Four Corners Store for sending me the file).

In retrospect, assembling the camera just using the pictures was much more of a learning experience for me. I’m more of a visual learner and think the descriptions in English would’ve caused me endless frustration however, there were a few steps that just left me scratching my head.

For example, putting the body of the camera together was relatively easy compared to the guts. When I got to the shutter mechanism, it was pure experimentation that finally got the springs and doo-dads to work the right way. This piece came out of the package looking very much NOT like the one in the directions. After careful inspection, it appeared as though that little plastic piece in the middle of the arc needed to be removed in order to get the spring to nestle into just the right spot.

Turns out I was right…yay!!

Hurdle number two came when trying to mount the springs correctly so that the shutter would fire. After a good thirty minutes I figured it out, despite this cryptic picture.

I had the camera mostly together when I discovered an extra piece. Doesn’t that just figure?

I disassembled the camera almost completely (after a few choice words that my children shouldn’t have heard) and could NOT figure out where this left-over part was supposed to go. After some discussion with toy camera buddies Nic and Andrew, I figured out that no, it wasn’t something I had forgotten to put on the camera, it was in fact an extra part included with my kit. How kind of the Recesky folks!

The last hurdle was to get the film to stay taught while shooting. To accomplish this I mounted a piece of foam to the door backing. It held my film in quite nicely, but looking at these pictures from my first roll, you’ll see it may have been a little too tight.

It appears the door has some wicked leakage around the back hinge. These leaks appear to coincide with the advancement of the film, since they’re at pretty regular intervals and are straight lines. There were a couple of shots from the roll that I liked. I can see this camera’s potential for beautiful, fuzzy, selective focus in these shots despite the distraction of light leaks.

If anyone has any good suggestions of a material that would hold my film taught without bulging the door out, I’d love to hear them!

One more thing I discovered involves advancing the film. Take a look at this.

These arrows help you keep track of how far the film is advancing. The one in the middle turns from one arrow to the next as you are turning the knob. In order to advance the film one full frame you just need to turn the knob from one arrow to the next, 180 degrees instead of 360 degrees, which is what I was doing. My method got me lots of blank frames full of light leaks.

I learned a few lessons constructing this camera. 1) I discovered that, despite instructions that put Ikea to shame, it was a lot easier just using the illustrations and 2)I have a much better working knowledge of how a simple camera is constructed. I look forward to more fun with my Recesky and to sharing really good shots with you very soon.

How to Dress Up a Brownie for the Holidays

Purchasing vintage cameras requires a certain leap of faith and sometimes instead of landing on your feet, your fall flat on your ass. Take my Brownie Junior Six-20. I spotted it in an antiques shop and thought it was a bit overpriced at eight bucks, but I got it anyways (turns out that’s about list price but I digress).

After figuring out how to get the damn thing open I shot a roll of film (which I haven’t developed yet). When I tried to get the camera open to retrieve the film, it was jammed. The back just would NOT come off. Disgusted, I set it on a shelf until this afternoon. I decided to pry it open using two small screwdrivers and discovered that the full take up reel had problems fitting (even though I used 620 film and spools). That, coupled with the monumental effort it took just to open and close the camera rendered it inefficient to use as a picture-taking camera. It’s destiny was to forever sit on some decorative shelves until, I had a lightbulb moment.

I’ve had the idea of making a light out of a camera since I saw one a few months ago. I knew it would be pretty simple and it truly is. Here’s how I did it. You need a camera in which the aperture can remain open and a light source. In this case it’s my old piece-of-crap Brownie and a little reading light that I got from the dollar store.

To keep the Brownie’s aperture open you simply need to pull out the little lever on the side (look below the red crayon) then push the exposure lever down.

Then, position the light so that it aims directly through the open lens. You may need to stuff some paper or other soft filler behind the light so that it doesn’t move out of place.

That’s it!

It’s not very bright as you can see, but it’s much more interesting looking than your standard silver and black model flashlight.

I’m really glad I was able to give a new life to this old beauty. It may have fallen pretty flat as a camera but it lights up my nights as a light and my kids are having a blast with it. Plus, I think it might look quite nice dressed up in some festive decor and placed on my mantlepiece or even on my Christmas tree!

The Only ‘Play!’ Book You’ll Ever Need

Looking for something to give the analogue film photographer in your life for, or maybe just a little treat for yourself? Check out Play!, a new book recently assembled by Composing With Images Press (CWIP) of photos made using toy, lo-fi and handmade cameras. It contains images from around the world that evoke playful thoughts and smiles and more importantly, 100% of the proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation to benefit children in areas ravaged by tornadoes in 2011.

The call went out this summer for images that “explore, complicate, and represent in compelling ways the concept of Play.  These might include, but are certainly not limited to, photographs that deal with imaginary play, word play, adult play, children’s play, animal play, games, or the various kinds of materials and/or spaces associated with play. Similarly, photographs might represent play from the perspective of a child’s imagination, or from a toy’s perspective, or they might take up questions about what it means to play or explore the matter of who is allowed (or disallowed) to play”. Artists from 63 countries answered the call and along with their photos, each wrote a short essay on how their photos reflected the theme of the book. Edited by Jody Shipka and Nic Nichols, the book is getting some fabulous reviews from those in the toy camera community. Here are just a few of their thoughts:

“Play! is a fabulous book . . . the images really blew me away. The artists and the editor have created Play! with the best of intentions and it reminds us all to remember what’s truly important in this world: film. Play! makes me excited about toy cameras again.”
Amanda Moore, Juror, The Holga Show 2008

“Play! is reminiscent of childhood, full of blurred moments. Toy cameras lend themselves so well to these youthful subjects. They’re long ago memories of times & places we hold dear. Play! takes you right back, but in a dream.”
Steph Parke (, former Editor, Light Leaks Magazine

“Play! is an amazingly diverse collection of photos by very talented photographers.. By using toy cameras, the photographers convey the memory and dream of play that lives inside all of us.”
Mark Olwick (, acclaimed Holga photographer

You can buy play on Blurb.

I am proud to say that I am a part of this wonderful project and will have these two photos printed in the book. I took them with my cheap $5 underwater Snap Sights camera.

November 2010 Art of Waiting Reveal

In truly random fashion, here are the images from my Art of Waiting roll of film from November 2010. It was Election Day here in the US, November 2, and after performing my civic duty and voting in my local election I decided to get some pictures of all the goings-on with my Brownie Hawkeye. So, loaded with Ilford HP 5+ film (my favorite 120mm black and white film) I drove to a couple of my local polling sites and discreetly captured these images.

I took my Brownie with me inside the voting booth and held it up as high as my arm could reach.

Take yourself back to last November. Here in the US, the Republican party was trying very hard to unseat many of the incumbent Democrats. It was an ugly campaign season full of such elementary-school-style tactics as name-calling, lying and whining.

Here in Delaware the hot race was between Christine O’Donnell, who was a Republican Tea Party supporter. The big story of the election was the revelation that sometime in the not-so-distant-past, she hung out with Wiccans, which for someone running an extremely conservative and Christian-based campaign was pretty much the nail in the coffin of her chances of winning. She ran ads where she looked straight into the camera proclaiming, “I’m not a witch….I’m you”. You can’t make this stuff up!

Chris Coons was O’Donnell’s opponent and the eventual winner of the election

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