“I smell a Smena 8”: those were the first words I heard from Anton Orlov as he emerged from the darkroom of The Photo Palace bus. Yes, THE Photo Palace bus of Kickstarter fame. You’ll recall, Anton and his former partner in this photographic adventure were raising money to take the bus around the country, putting on workshops and spreading the word that analogue photography is NOT dead. The Kickstarter project did not raise enough money and Anton’s original partner Ryan Kalem moved on, but the Photo Palace bus is touring the country, nonetheless.
My family was visiting Salem, MA, just like we do every year, as part of our annual summer vacation to New England. After a great lunch at Salem Beer Works, we turned a corner near the Peabody Essex Museum (which is currently hosting an Ansel Adams exhibit) and spotted the familiar shape and color of a school bus. It took me two seconds to realize it was the Photo Palace Bus and another minute to actually believe I was seeing it in person. I broke away from my family and explained it was a bit of photo geekery that I had to experience for myself. Fortunately, my oldest daughter Phoebe was just as excited.
After spying my Smena 8, Anton explained it was one of the first cameras he’d owned. After showing him my other camera, the Olympus XA4, I had to get a photo with the man who was responsible for this mobile monument to photography. It’s not the most flattering picture of my mid-section, especially considering I’m training for a triathlon, but I was so excited!
Anton had travelled from Maine, where a witch told him he needed to come to Salem. Check out his blog post about his Salem experience and you’ll see what a great adventure he had. Our personal tour of Gilli began in the darkroom, located in the rear. Anton covered the back windows with a very well-designed fabric and wood contraption that allows him to display pictures through the windows as well as block out all the light. Here is his printing area.
Three metal trays sit in a large plastic sink, supplied with water from 75 gallon tanks mounted beneath it all. Next, he busted out some insane glasses that were a cross between bifocals and a jeweler’s loupe. These he uses when hand coloring his prints.
Anton’s two enlargers are opposite the sink.
There’s also a door on the back right side of the bus, which is a good thing because it was HOT in that little room. Back in the main part of the bus it was revealed that a sink and stove were hidden beneath a table displaying old cameras and prints.
Near this area is a cabinet that holds a few batteries. There are others beneath the bus. They can’t be stowed in the main are because, in Anton’s words “they leak hydrogen”.
A little transistor radio perched atop a beautiful wooden table supplied some background music. The tabletop came from a guitar manufacturing place and the little Polaroid radio runs on the battery pack from the film cartridge.
My unexpected discovery of the Photo Palace bus was one of the highlights of my vacation. It was a thrill to meet Anton and see what he’s done to Gilli. Lots of folks visited the bus while I was there and to see them get excited about Polaroids and old film cameras was really cool.
Many people from the Peabody Essex were there as well. One man was giving out cards advertising a project called “A Year of Photography”, in which you can participate via their website. It’s worth checking out.
Anton was so friendly and answered all my questions with enthusiasm. I’ll continue to follow his adventures and who knows? Maybe I’ll run into again in another part of the country.