Mark Hahn Photography

Artist Website

Category: Art

Some New Model 150 Polaroid Land Camera Shots From Around Town

I’ve been taking the Model 150 Polaroid Land Camera out with me when I’ve been shopping and doing errands. You never know when you will find an interesting environmental emotional study that needs to be captured. Once thing I like about shooting sheet film cameras with paper is that you can shoot a single image and then quickly develop just that one image without much effort. Here are a few recent shots taken with my modified Polaroid Camera on Fomaspeed Variant 311 RC paper and developed in Tmax 1:9. Many people claim this paper is super fast (for paper) and can be exposed as ISO 25 or 50. I’m finding that the best I can do is ISO 6 at midday and ISO 3 in the late afternoon (including a yellow filter).

A Small Office Park – Seen Through a Kodak Bausch and Lamb Rapid Rectolinear Lens

So I’ve taken out my Burke and James 4×5″ Orbit camera into the more urban setting. This time fitted with my Kodak Bausch and Lamb Rapid Rectolinear lens. It is much brighter than the Kodak meniscus lens and a bit sharper in the corners and edges, but still not exactly up to modern standards. Again, I was shooting Ilford MC RC paper rated at ISO 6 (developed in Kodak Tmax film developer). Of the four shots I took in this small office park, these three were exposed pretty perfectly. A fourth was under exposed and couldn’t really be rescued. It is quickly becoming apparent that paper negatives are very sensitive to any under exposure. I’ve been using my Sekonic Twinmate meter for all my shots to try and get more reliable exposures.

I’ve shot all these photos with the lens set to f32. Stopped down this far and shooting after 5:30 pm, gives very long exposures–these mostly around 4 secs. On a windy day, like this one, you can see a lot of motion blur in the trees and foliage. I think I like this effect.

Between the motion blur, the paper negative giving a more old fashioned orthochromatic film look (being mostly sensitive to blue light) and the hundred year old Rapid Rectolinear lens giving a less than sharp image from corner to corner, these photos have what I think is a somewhat unique (and might I add, “romantic”) look.

Burke and James 4×5″ Orbit View Camera, First Impressions and a Few New Photos

Taking the Burke and James Orbit out for a little alley shots. I have it fitted with Kodak meniscus lens. Shots are all done at f32 on paper negatives (rated at ISO 6). I’m starting to get used to shooting this giant old beast! Though it is hard not to make occasional mistakes (such as: forgetting to close the shutter before pulling the dark slide, forgetting to stop the lens down before shooting, or pulling the rear facing dark slide instead of the forward facing one!) I’m sure I’ll make other mistakes as time goes on, so good thing paper negatives are cheap and nothing I shoot is ever really a “once in a lifetime” shot! I’m happy when I get a good image.

The low end hundred year old Kodak lens is pretty adequate for these large negatives so long as they aren’t enlarged too much and you aren’t too critical of the corner sharpness. The lens has a pleasant look to it, but for my next shots, I’ll be trying out a Kodak Bausch and Lamb Rapid Rectolinear lens, which is supposed to be much better (especially based on modern expectations) even though it too is another hundred year old lens.

The Zen of Camera Design

When I was in elementary school, I watched Jimmy Stewart in Carbine Williams. In it, Williams (played by Stewart), a convicted moonshiner and murderer, passes the hellish hours in prison designing innovative firearms in his head as a way of preserving his sanity. I was always a fan of Stewart and his soft, thoughtful, and yet forceful persona in his movies. In Carbine Williams, Stewart makes you both forgive his past and respect the mental escape he found in inventing his rifle. I could identify strongly with this premise as I was often caught passing hours and avoiding life’s difficulties by concocting complex plans for different inventions in my mind—one of the main subjects being cameras and related photographic devices.

Due to a number of unforeseen financial burdens, I was recently dealt, buying a new large format camera would not be responsible at the moment. I used to own a nice Speed Graphic which would have been a good experimental platform to play with now, but I sadly sold that years ago. So, since I’ve always thought about building a large format camera, it has me rethinking this project. Also, I’ve been shooting semi-large format (616) roll film in a couple old Kodak Brownie box cameras. Somehow, once you start shooting larger formats, you want to shoot even larger. The next logical step is of course 4x5” sheet film.

So now I’ve found myself obsessively imagining the details of a custom built 4x5” camera. Starting with the lens. After a few weeks of coming up with preliminary design ideas, I managed to sketch them out on paper (above). I am collecting the detailed measurements in a working lab book to refer to while developing my detailed design.

For the modeling work, I’m using an open source parametric modeler called FreeCAD. 25 years ago, most of us couldn’t have even dreamed of the power such a 3D modeler had to offer. Couple this with an inexpensive 3D printer like my Ender 3 and you become practically your own rapid prototyping service.

For my lens design, I’m starting off with a Wollaston Landscape Lens mostly because of its simplicity, but also for its classic “pictorialist” imaging properties. It’s comprised of a single positive meniscus lens with an aperture placed in front of the lens at an optimized distance (I’m using 1/6th of the focal length as my starting point) to improve image quality. It was first designed and patented in 1812, predating even the invention of photography, but was used widely in early large format cameras and later in the more inexpensive box cameras like the Kodak Brownies.

I read once that Edward Weston shot many of his iconic photos using simple meniscus lenses that he modified to have extremely small apertures (ignoring the diffraction effects that this would introduce—absolute sharpness is not always everything in a photo!). Weston’s Pepper No. 30 image was reported to have been taken at f240 with an exposure time of 4-6 hours!

There are more complicated two and three element classic lens designs that I can play with too, or I can simply find old cameras with interesting lenses and modify my modularly designed large format camera to accept them. Edmonds has many “experimental grade” lens elements that sell for only a few dollars. My first build it going to be around a 42mm diameter 195mm lens I bought from them—a slightly long “normal” lens.

One detail I’ve struggled over and have decided to simply ignore in my first prototypes is a shutter. The reason I’m ignoring this feature is that it greatly increases the complexity of the design while not necessarily adding a needed feature since I plan on starting out using paper negatives rated at ISO 4! Coupling this slow negative speed with a small aperture of around f32, I’ll be shooting on a tripod even in sunny conditions outdoors—and I can easily convince myself that sounding out “one-thousand-and-one” gives a perfectly precise one-second exposure.

Early 19th century large format banquet cameras often didn’t have a shutter built into the lens and the photographer controlled the exposure by taking off the lens cap, or more commonly, used his black hat as a shutter. Given that I primarily shoot photos out in the local alleys, I think choosing the appropriate black hat for myself will be almost as important as the details of my lens design!

Basic Pinhole Photography Concepts

Introduction   
Although there are many good sites devoted to pinhole photography, I felt it would be useful to outline the basic pinhole photography concepts that I have found to be important.

In a nutshell, a pinhole camera does not have a lens, but instead has a small pinhole that lets light into the camera to form an image on a piece of light sensitive material.  Pinhole images are much "softer" than images formed by cameras utilizing a quality system of lenses, but have nearly infinite depth of field.  Pinhole cameras can be made from anything that is light-tight and can hold film behind a pinhole.  Many pinhole cameras have been made from old cookie tins, oatmeal canisters or precision built large format cameras.  For many "pinholers," building their pinhole camera is part of the pinhole "art." For me, there is something very satisfying about building such a low-tech piece of gear that can actually be used to produce pleasing images.

I require that all my pinhole cameras accept either cassette, roll-film or large format film backs so I can go out in the field and conveniently shoot multiple photos.  The easiest way to do this is to cannibalize an existing camera and install a pinhole in place of the lens.  Argus A's and Lubitels are good candidates for this because they are both practically worthless as actual cameras and have all the features required for pinhole cameras. This essentially means having a shutter with cable release that has a bulb (B) or time (T) setting.  The Argus has a bulb and time setting which is very useful for long exposures.

Technical Details   
Once you have settled on a camera, you have to decide on the focal length that you plan on using. This is simply the distance from the pinhole to the film.  If you are after the sharpest images possible from your pinhole camera you have to use a pinhole that balances being as small as possible, but not being so small that diffraction starts to degrade your image.  Lord Rayleigh presented the following formula for the optimum pinhole diameter  (do):

        do = 1.9 Sqrt[lamda*F]                           [Eq. 1]

where, F is the focal length of the "lens" and lamda is the wavelength of light that the camera is being optimized for.  Lamda is generally assumed to be .00055mm (550 nm = the green portion of the visible light spectrum).

There are multitudes of equations for determining the optimum diameter for a pinhole, but for historical  reasons I feel that you should just use Lord Rayleigh's simple formula (especially since his formula agrees well with most modern formulations anyway).

There are many ideas how to create a proper pinhole, but I will present my  approach because I have never had a problem easily producing very precise pinholes.  I first set my Vernier calipers to the desired pinhole diameter and place it in my negative carrier (with my enlarger head as high as it will go) and focus the caliper gap onto a piece of paper held flat in my easel and then mark out the gap using a sharp pencil.  Without moving my enlarger head I next proceed to make my pinhole.  I use a common pushpin and poke a hole in my .001 inch brass shim-stock (available at Ace Hardware and hobby stores) with a rotating motion while it is held on a hard surface.  I then steel wool both sides of the shim-stock, blow it out with compressed air and then slide it into my negative carrier and check the hole diameter as compared to the marks on the paper below.  I do this several times until I get the pinhole just right.  You will be amazed at how perfectly round your pinhole will be using this method.  I see no need to purchase laser cut pinholes for use in experimental cameras.

Now that you have your pinhole made you have to attach it to your camera.  There are many ways to do it depending on your camera design, but never underestimate the usefulness of black electricians tape.
The next step is determining your camera's f-stop (f).  This is simply:

         f = F/d                                             [Eq. 2]

where F is the camera's focal length and d is the pinhole diameter.

If you used my method for making the pinhole, this f number will be very accurate.  The only problem is that you probably don't have a light meter that goes past f-100 so the easiest method for determining outdoor exposures is to use the "sunny 16" rule.  This rule states that for general outdoor shots in "bright" sun your exposure time (t sec.) should be:

        t = 1/ASA  @ f-16                            [Eq. 3]

were ASA is the ISO number of the film you are using.

Since your pinhole camera will have a "lens" nowhere near f-16, you have to do some side calculations to adjust the rule for your particular pinhole.  The first step is to determine how many stops (x) you are above f-16.  This is accomplished by solving the following equation for x:

        16 Sqrt[2]^x = f                                [Eq.4]

where f is the calculated pinhole f-stop.
  
It should be noted that each f-stop is Sqrt[2] times greater than the proceeding one.  This is because the f-stops are defined to represent a doubling of light entering the camera which comes from the area of the "lens" opening, where:

        Area = Pi d^2 /4                                  [Eq. 5]

Note that it only takes an increase in d of Sqrt[2] to double the Area and consequently the amount of light admitted in the camera.

I personally find it convenient to select film that results in a one second exposure for "bright sun" conditions.  This is because I can easily count out "one thousand one" for my exposure time and get fairly accurate exposures.  Longer exposures are not a problem, you simply count longer.  You can determine the required film speed to achieve this condition by using the following equation and solving for ASA:

        2^x/ASA =  1                                        [Eq. 6]

where x is the number of f-stops your camera is above f-16.

Once you know how many f-stops your camera is from f-16 you can use any exposure meter to take precise exposure readings.  The easiest way to do this is to set your meter's ASA setting to that of your film and take a reading from you scene.  You can then just count how many f-stops the scene is from the sunny 16  prediction and adjust your cameras base sunny 16 exposure time by that many stops.  For instance, if you are using 125 ASA film and your meter suggests 1/30 at f-16, you are two stops away from the sunny 16 "bright sun" condition and have to increase your pinhole exposure by 2 stops.  As in f-stops, each "stop" increase in exposure is a doubling of the previous "exposure stop," hence the adjusted exposure (E) is determined from:

        E = 2^z Es                                            [Eq. 7]

where Es is the shutter speed at sunny 16 conditions and z is how many stops the scene is away from sunny 16 conditions.  

For my cameras with a base sunny 16 exposure time of 1 second, my exposure times are:

        Ei = 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, . . .

where Ei = 1 sec. for bright sun, 4 sec. for cloudy bright (no shadows) and 8 sec. for heavy overcast.  Past this you really need a meter for any accuracy.  Note too that this is for an average subject and further adjustments might be required to make a proper exposure; with some practice you get very good at shooting without a meter.  Below I present an exposure chart [Figure 1] for my pinhole camera.

            Pinhole Exposure Chart
        Figure 1.  Exposure chart for my pinhole cameras.

You can simply scale my exposure time by the your base exposure time, for example, if your base exposure time is 1/2 second and you are shooting a scene that requires 4 additional stops you read my required time for 4 stops to be a 16 second exposure which you then scale by your base exposure time of 1/2 and you know that your required exposure time is 8 seconds.

Conclusion   
We have discussed all the relevant aspects of building and using a pinhole camera while keeping the discussion completely general.  I suggest that anyone planning on building a pinhole camera contemplate what would make the camera a pleasure to use and then put the effort into building one the way you like.  I will show a couple of examples of my pinhole cameras along with images that I have produced from these cameras on other pages to give you a possible starting point.  As I said at the beginning of this page, there are many other sites devoted to pinhole photography and I suggest that you search out some of the better ones for more in depth information and other people's ideas.  My aim was to present a concise overview of all the concepts, theories and practical steps required to understand fully how to make and use a pinhole camera, now the rest is up to you.

Postscript   
While we have discussed how to make and use a pinhole camera we have completely avoided the question, "why?"  There is of course no really good answer to this question, but as you research the subject you will find that there are many people involved with pinhole photography, there is obviously some some draw to the process if people keep returning to it.  My theory is that pinhole photography puts you back in touch with an original technological form of magic that is very refreshing in this age of impressive auto-everything cameras capable of producing super-sharp detailed images of reality with the push of a button.  From a practical standpoint, we could take "good" photos and just mess them up in Photoshop to produce the same images that we get from pinhole cameras, but then there is no magic.  Further, it has been said that the problem with photography and why it isn't considered "art" by some in the traditional sense is that it just contains too much detail.  Pinhole photography give random and sometime surprising results that can feel more artistic. There is plenty of room for the viewer's imagination to wander and fill in the unstated boundaries of a pinhole print.  Pinhole images are often unpredictable, though all your traditional photography skills greatly improve your chances of producing really good pinhole images.  We are still just capturing light to record an image in front of us, but the unpredictability gives the practitioner a feeling that they are somehow conjuring images out of the air.

Note: This is a copy of a post I made on my geocities page many years ago. Geocities has been shut down for almost 20 years, so I plan on archiving some of my work here.

Target Six-16, the Big Brownie

A selection of Common Box Cameras

Loading up my Kodak Target Brownie Six-16 this morning, I was marveling at the sheer size of the camera. Even though the image goes all the way out to the edge of adapted 120 roll film, the massive 2 ½ x 4 ½ inch negative size pushes it right into the realm of a “large format” camera. I snapped a quick photo of it next to a more “normal” sized 6×9 Zeiss Box Tengor (Type 54/2, intermediate version) from around 1945 and the tiny 127 Kodak Baby Brownie from around 1940. The Target Six-16 is probably from the late 40’s.

The Target Six-16 takes the obsolete 616 roll film, but can easily be adapted to taking six large images on a standard roll of 120 film. The 2 ½ x 4 ½ inch negative size was chosen to give a “postcard” format image when contact printed. Unlike the Zeiss which has three apertures and three focus zones, the Target Six-16 is basically a point and shoot. The only adjustment you get are two apertures. Nowhere does Kodak specify what these apertures are (which is somewhat annoying!), but my guess is they are around f16 and f22 based on film results. With high latitude b&w film, it hardly matters which you use, but in the vintage manual for the camera, Kodak suggests using the smaller aperture when shooting distant scenes (IE. to get greater depth of field). Kodak did market a “portrait” adapter lens that could be pushed onto the camera to take *portraits* of objects 3 ½ feet away. Of course there is no parallax guidance for using the close-up lens. I didn’t have a hard time finding this accessory lens along with a yellow “cloud filter” for a reasonable price on ebay.

Aside from making a clip-on sports finder and 120 to 616 film adapters for the camera, the Target Six-16 is pretty much ready to shoot. Even my custom finder was more a luxury accessory since, unlike the horrible little ground glass finders on the Zeiss, the large “brilliant finders” on the Target Six-16 are very usable. One nice feature of the Baby Brownie is that it is one of the few box cameras to come with a pop-up sports finder.One of my initial concerns was that the camera, like almost all box cameras, has a very slow shutter speed. I measured mine to be between 1/30th to 1/50th of a second. As anyone who studied photography knows, the rule for hand holding a shot is 1/focal length. Most sources suggest that the focal length of this camera is around 100mm, so no way to get to that magic 1/FL guideline. Without thinking too much about it, I decided to just hold my breath and do the best that I could. But since the guideline is really based on shooting 35mm film, not large format, motion blur was not a problem in any of my photos! Reasoning it out, I realized that the assumptions that go into the 1/FL rule are not only dependent on the angle of view, but are also directly dependent on the negative diagonal dimension (enlargement factor). Using these factors, the angle of view is roughly equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera and the diagonal is roughly 3 times larger.

Running through all the numbers, a 616 camera like this should be able to be handheld with a shutter speed of 1/16th of a second! Whew! Nothing to worry about! And this makes sense, since the people using these simple cameras in the first place were getting acceptable photos even though most buyers were complete photography novices. The downside of course is that at the low end, 1/30th of a second is hardly fast enough to stop action so even in an otherwise static landscape photo, even with the slightest breeze, motion blur in trees and foliage are to be expected. I’m trying to embrace this a an aesthetic effect.In the future, I plan on making a clip-on finder for the Zeiss since it is capable of taking very good photos, but I cannot reliably using its finders. I’ve used the Baby Brownie once, but I honestly don’t think the relatively tiny and impossible to find 127 film gives much benefits over just shooting 35mm. If I were to go back to a esoteric small roll film format, it would be for 828, but interestingly, never made a box camera using this format.

I think I’ve said elsewhere that my first *serious* film camera was an old Agfa 6×9 box camera that I picked out of the neighbor’s trash one night when I was around 11 or 12 years old. While I didn’t understand focusing or exposure at the time, I did understand that the camera took really respectable photos outdoors. It certainly took better photos than most of what I was seeing from the low end Kodak Instamatics that were becoming popular at the time.I don’t know why this Brownie box camera has become my current photography passion, but aside from a reconnection to my past, the challenge of using something that is both capable and terribly limited coupled to a technology that is very nostalgia is appealing… not to mention the physical elegance of the camera’s simplicity.

I used a photo shot in this camera for the cover image of my youtube song post:

Franka Rolfix Photos

mh_franka

After cleaning and adjusting my 1940’s Franka Rolfix folding camera, I took it out for a spin in the alley behind my local Ace Hardware (where I had to stop and buy some household stuff). The camera is about as small and pocketable as you can make a 6x9cm folding camera and a real joy to hold and shoot. The popup optical viewfinder is pretty bright and pleasant to use for framing shots. A camera like this is best suited for scenic shots and not for close ups because of the viewfinder has no parallax correction and lacks any kind of focusing aid—IE. you have to guess your focus distance. The Prontor-S shutter in mine is very crisp and accurate, even though somewhat limited. The Schneider Kreuznach 1:4.5/105mm lens is a fine coated lens—nothing special, but not a bad performer anyway, especially when you take into account the huge negative you get out of the camera.

You only get 8 exposures from a roll of 120 film with this camera, which doesn’t seem like much, but on the other hand, it forces you into giving your shots a lot more thought before pushing the shutter release! Unlike shooting with an iPhone or digital camera in general, other than the cost per shot, there’s also just the labor required for processing the film (especially if like me, you are doing the developing yourself).

franka1

While it has really been years since I’ve done traditional darkroom work, I still remember how much I hated getting behind with my negatives. For instance, when shooting 35mm film, just two long 36 exposure rolls sitting in your camera bag could represent many hours of work. Maybe I’m just lazy, but I prefer going into the darkroom and only working up a few good prints. My plan for 120 is to shoot maybe a roll every week or two and then make prints from the best shots only.

Making prints first turns everything I’ve been doing for the last 20 years on its head. With digital or scanned film before that, the internet ports were mainly my “product” and then getting prints to match my virtual images was a secondary challenge. Early on, I explored exotic and experimental archival b&w printing, and after that, while embracing the world of color photography, I gave up home printing altogether for the repeatability (and mediocrity) of using a pro lab. I can’t say I ever hung work in a gallery that I wasn’t proud of, but the prints were still secondary.

franka2

The three example shots here are the result of my third attempt to reacquaint myself with working in a darkroom. It’s amazing how much you lose after twenty years of disuse. These are scans of carefully printed contact prints. I am very happy with the feeling and quality. A traditionally printed contact print has a much different—and dare I say, “special” —quality than a digital print.

After making these prints, I showed them to my son and his girlfriend. His girlfriend’s immediate reaction was, “Wow! Look at all the detail!” Kids these days see almost everything on the internet, their phones or maybe digital prints. The tonality and detail in a medium format chemical print is at whole different level (not really captured here!). I was happy to hear her reaction because otherwise I was doubting whether it was real or if it was just me romanticizing the history of film photography.

franka3

The reason I’m only posting 3 prints from my first roll of film in this camera here is because the latch on the camera is a little touchy to ensure that it is locked and while out shooting and midway through the roll, the back swung wide open in full sunlight! I won’t let that happen again! I think I was lucky only have lost three exposures.

There was one additional image that I probably could have included, but I somehow didn’t really connect with it, so I left it out. There was only one “bad” shot and that was because it was slightly crooked! Commiting to full-frame contact prints means the shots have to be composed perfectly in the camera!

These were shot on Ilford FP4+ film, but I plan on transitioning to Fomapan because I cannot see the new light grey numbers on the Ilford film through the ruby window.

I’m shooting more film in this camera currently, and have another 120 6×9 roll waiting to be developed that I shot in my Moskva-5.

Minox Time

IMG_20200418_191405

After a lot of upheaval in my life, ultimately ending in a big move, I needed to go through a lot of things from my past. One of these was putting my small Minox camera collection together. Seen above are the cameras. There is a Minox IIIs (far right), Minox B (middle rear), Minox C (far left) and the smallest Minox EC (center front). In the back is a nice example the Minox 35 GL and the collectors mini Leica M3 with the accessory flash gun.

It’s been almost twenty years since I’ve shot any of these cameras, even though there was a period of time before that when I was a total fanatic. So after putting them all together and packing up my Minox darkroom setup, it got me thinking of getting back into them.

It’s somehow hard for me to get back into 35mm film photography since digital has actually become “better” than that film format in most real terms, but these submini format cameras offer something much different–even if a large part of it comes down just to a personal challenge.

IMG_20200503_112122

Aside from the very limited Minox EC which I shot a lot of “snapshots” with when my daughter was very young, the Minox IIIs (shown above) was always my favorite for serious shooting. It is the most basic mechanical camera and you need to either guess your exposures or use a separate meter. (I always preferred using the Sunny-16 rule for my outdoor exposures).

My mint in box Minox B has a selenium meter (reworked by DAG),  but it always seemed to be so inaccurate that I would end up using my own guesses over the meter all the time. As a camera, it is probably the pinnacle of classic Minox evolution (Minox sold more of these than any other camera), but I still prefer the IIIs.

The Minox C is technologically the most evolved camera with both electronic exposure control and the ability to EV correct your shots (not to mention only advancing the film if a shot had been taken!), but the camera is very large by Minox standards.

The smallest of the group is the EC. It has a sharp fixed focus f5.6 lens and takes good photos of any subject roughly 4.5-18 feet away. It also has automatic exposure control. It is a great snapshot camera. The viewfinder is reasonably sharp, but nowhere near the brilliance of the older cameras which all have lovely brightlines and sparkling crisp optics.

While Minox film and developing is still available in the USA at bluemooncamera.com (along with a lot of other ancient film formats). The problem of course is that the cost of the film and developing gets to be cost-prohibitive for most people–around $50 for one roll of film with the prints and shipping.

I made myself a film splitter for cutting down 35mm film to Minox width to reload my old Minox cartridges. By doing this, I get four 36 exposure Minox films out of one 36 exposure 35mm roll.

Back in the day, I was always searching for the “best” film to shoot in a Minox and mostly used the now discontinued Kodak Technical Pan Film and developed it in an exotic Photographer’s Formulary developer, but this go around, I’m sticking to the KISS approach (keep it simple stupid!) and have loaded by cartridges with Kodak Tmax 100 and plan on developing in Tmax developer. While probably a bit pedestrian, Tmax 100 is considered the finest grained standard B&W film ever produced. And the few times I shot this combination in a 35mm camera, I got excellent tonality.

With my trusty IIIs in my pocket, I’ve been out starting to shoot new photos with it. After shooting digital for so long, it feels a bit odd, but pleasantly nostalgic. Part of me has to answer the question of why start shooing this now? Other than the nostalgia and challenge, I think there is a materiality aspect to the whole process that is lost in digital. Even though I will only be making small prints from the tiny Minox cameras, they will be my prints. I will cut down the paper and develop the film and make the prints (using my original Minox enlarger).

Also, the process of shooting a true B&W film instead of converting a color digital image into B&W forces you to make different choices right from the beginning. It forces you to see things differently. In a sense, for those not color blind, it forces an immediate abstraction of reality before you even snap the shutter!

Anyway, this is my re-introduction into Minox B&W film photography. We’ll see how far I go with it!

A Philosophy on Typesetting and Using LaTeX

latex

While starting to work on my Salton Sea photo book, I had a decision to make. What tools should I use to create the book with? In the past, I’ve defaulted to either Microsoft Word or Libre Office. Like many people, this seems like the natural choice because, while most word processors are not ideal for book typesetting and layout, they do have all the rudimentary functions needed to produce a decent final product. Also, the myth is that if you are already familiar with a word processor, it shouldn’t be that much harder to figure out how to click all the right buttons to layout a simple book.

Well, from experience, let me tell you, “It isn’t that simple!” In their quest to make a do-everything package, word processor makers end up producing a product that is sub-optimal for almost everything it does! So many important things to the desktop publisher are buried three dialog boxes deep and have poorly documented side effects. This is where the whole what-you-see-is-what-you-get promise falls flat! So when I started to think about this book project, the idea of having to choose between my two word processors I let out a huge groan of anticipated dread!

When I was a young art student going to the Chicago Art Institute, I would often spend my afternoons at the downtown Main Chicago Library just going through all the stacks and I was always fascinated by the subtleties of good book design, typography and typesetting. So much so, that I took a few basic classes while pursuing my fine art. This was a time when computers were just starting to reach the masses so most of what I learned was old-school font development on vellum or Letraset dry-transfer lettering on illustration board.

While looking through all the example books to learn about typesetting, part of me imaged if I was ever going to make a living from my arts education, perhaps it would be as a typesetter in a major publishing house. I had a Dickenson fantasy of sitting in the dark at a drafting table and working into the night to get my layouts just right. Of course, being a young artist hoping to be catapulted into art-star fame, I never really pursued what it would entail to get into this profession (or any other for that matter!)

But that never stopped me from being interested in the craft or appreciating a well laid out book. For the most part, I think that a truly beautiful book layout seems transparent to the reader — where everything seems like it’s just in the right place and that it was really simple to put it that way. I belief that the content should be designed for impact and not the layout.

While both the Bauhaus and the Russian Constructivists showed in their early efforts to develop a new aesthetic and train artists to serve in art’s new societal function, it is more in their graphics where they really shined. Both movements produced book cover and poster designs that are still a marvel to look at today. But when it came to layout and typography for actual books, their new methods for laying out the content, while applying the same aesthetics to their work, ended up producing books where the layout actually gets in the way of delivering the content — being kind of at odds with the “form follows function” directive.

In his 1923 book, Towards an Architecture, Le Corbusier discusses the abandonment of style in favor of an architecture based on function and a new aesthetic based on pure form that facilitated a natural interaction between humans and buildings. His principles can be directly applied to the typesetting of books. Le Corbusier describes it as, “build[ing] simple, effective structures that serve their purpose and are honest in construction.” “Regulating Lines,” and constructing forms around naturally pleasing and simple ratios with little or no embellishment can lead to a beauty of a structure that transcends style or fads — and really, a book can be seen as a structure or construction.

While appreciating the simplicity of creating a professional looking document in any one of the current word processors, it always felt like a fight to me. Part of it was my approach, but this seems to be somewhat common. When working in a GUI world of the word processor, I have always tended to get all my content into the application and then try to navigate the multi-level dialog boxes to hammer the content into the form I wanted.

When I was recently complaining about this to a friend (who is currently working on his PhD and uses LaTeX all the time), he started raving about how I should go to LaTeX too. I had never really heard of the package or how it works, but as I said, I was dreading the inevitable journey to the center of the word processor hell and was open to any alternative.

As it ends up, LaTeX is more an open-source typesetting programming language than an actual software package and is rather daunting to get started with. But last week, I made the commitment to both learn it and produce my Salton Sea photo book using it. After a couple frustrating days while getting started, I’ve now completely constructed the entire structure of the book! It feels like a real achievement — the type of feeling that I never got after doing my best with a word processor.

Conceptually, I’m finding that using LaTeX drove a fundamental change in how I saw the typesetting process because it shifted the process away from formatting content to building a book structure that content could be ported into. To me, this is a huge difference, even if somewhat abstract in nature. Part of this was due the ability to use previsualized parameterization and control of all placement variables and formatting commands and the ability to outline them all out in a single text file. The second being the manner I chose to debug my template — using self-generated Lipsum (dummy text) and gray rectangular placeholders for images. This let me focus exclusively on the actual typesetting and layout completely independent of the content.

In a sense, going this route let me revisit the joy that I had looking at the typesetting and layout in those old Chicago Main Library books. The whole process has become addictive, fine-tuning my book’s layout and parametrically shifting elements by fractions of a centimeter until they’re perfectly balanced to my eye. My inner OCD spirit is completely enthralled by the project!

 

 

 

 

The Blurry Line Between Then and Now – My Work in Solar Culture Gallery

After helping my mom sell her house in Michigan, I drove her old station wagon from Detroit to Tucson. Since Detroit was my hometown and this time was probably the last time I would ever be there, it was wrought with emotions and the 2000 mile road trip by myself was time for reflection. Due to timing, I was unable to get anyone to make the trip with me so it was almost downright sad. Just me and my little Recording King parlor guitar. I had broken my phone somewhere a long the way and I ended up liking the blurry photos that came from the camera and its broken lens so most the photos I took along the way were shot with the phone.

blurry line-2

These are from the set of photos I’m using for the cover of my next music CD (Forever and Nowhere) which I wrote and recorded entirely on this trip — sitting at the edge of some bed in a nondescript motel in the middle of nowhere. After completing the final mixing mastering of the 10 song album, I’ve decided that even in its spareness and rawness that it is perhaps my favorite. It’s just me, a small guitar, trucks roaring by and single takes of songs written in my head while driving. I think the whole thing became very beautiful and hypnotic, the words, the music and the photos.

I am showing these three new photographs in the gallery:

Come see the show if you are in town!

Opening Saturday 18 February 2018

6-9 PM

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701

All images and content copyrighted 2018 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.