February 23 – All

02-23 All post“Pictures, abstract symbols, materials, and colors are among the ingredients with which a designer or engineer works. To design is to discover relationships and to make arrangements and rearrangements among these ingredients.”

~Paul Rand

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No flowery words today. Film February marches on with this very basic composition, taken with my first real camera, the Nikon N80 that my parents got me. Up until that point, I was using an old Canon with a broken manual rewind lever – it would take about five minutes to wind the film after finishing a roll.

This picture was made using my favorite film stock, a color-reversal stock from Fujifilm called Velvia. It was pretty expensive film, so I never used it much, but it produced these rich colors that always seemed to take the most basic, common, mundane, and forgettable subject matter leap up at you.

A faded practice, film photography, for the faded paint lettering on an old building.
Seems appropriate enough.


February 20 – The Serpent (and semiotics)

02-20 The Serpent postToday’s photograph for the continuation of ‘Film February’ corresponds to a time when I was first exposed to a different, more literary side of photography. After reading “Subculture: The Meaning of Style” by Dick Hebdige, the door to semiotics was opened. It was nauseatingly confusing to me, this new philosophy of graphic language, but it was also intriguing. I fell down the rabbit hole and found myself thinking about my photographs in a completely different way. I’m reminded of one of photography’s seminal publications, “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography,” and a particular passage by author Roland Barthes which summarizes my feelings perfectly:

“For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches — and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.”

From the moment I began these new studies I started looking through the viewfinder differently. This is when I became interested in macro photography, and it’s when I became much more deliberate with my compositions. When I take the time to really investigate, I discover that there are interesting things all around, that there is always something interesting to investigate with my photographers’ tools. With camera in hand, I’m a kid looking under rocks and discovering whole worlds that I never knew were there before.


The Yashica-D

Yashica-DThis camera is closely associated with what press photographers carried during the 1950s and 1960s, although I must admit that the Yashica is a bit of a knock-off; the Rolleiflex is the original sensation. The reason these were considered more professional had a lot to do with the lens specifications and the selective-focus feature, allowing for more artful and aesthetically pleasing compositions.

This is a medium format camera – accepting 120mm medium format film – and makes 6×6 centimer square images.
Most of the latter models were equipped with a three-element 80mm lens capable of opening up to f/2.8 – this is considerably “faster” glass than many contemporaneous camera models, allowing for faster exposures, effectively giving the photographer the power to ‘freeze’ moving objects on the film plane. Earlier camera models had darker glass and slower shutter speeds, so moving objects would render as a blurry jumbled mess.

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With the discovery of Vivian Maier‘s work and the release of her books, the often ignored TLR style camera has seen renewed interest. Prices for the Rolleiflex have risen significantly, leaping from as low as $150 to figures closer to $1,000. The Yashica (and the Rollei) are relatively easy to find, and because they aren’t as user friendly as your smart phone, I’m confident this fad will die down. When the fad dies down, so will the price.

If you’re a camera freak like me, I suggest you keep your eyes peeled – get one of these as soon as possible. They’re cumbersome to work with compared to modern DSLRs, but they are reliable, sharp, and produce stunning negatives. Like any tool, a well-built camera is a joy to work with.

And if you haven’t heard the name Vivian Maier, go and see  John Maloof & Charlie Siskel’s documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” immediately. It’s blasphemous if you haven’t at least heard the name.


Vivian YouTube

February 03 – Drive Thru Liquor

02-03 DriveThru Liquor post

“Film February” continues with this little gem, taken using another one of my handy-dandy vintage film cameras.

Folding cameras were a mid-century fad, dominating the post-war market. You had the style of accordion bellows, but in a handheld package for ease of use. These were imprecise cameras, to sum them up succinctly, but black and white film stocks had a lot of latitude. A poorly exposed negative could still yield a pretty decent print.

Learn more about the Sears & Roebuck Tower Series of cameras here.

Today’s photo of the day comes from Stone Avenue in downtown Tucson, across the street from the police station. I have no hard confirmation, but the rumor goes that Texas is responsible for the grand innovation known as the drive-through liquor store. The source of so many an absurd idea, Texas seems as good a candidate as any; I’m inclined to believe it. In any event, they’re scattered across the southwest like jacks.

This was the maiden voyage of my Tower ’52. I’m pretty sure that this is the very first exposure I made with the camera, which I’d purchased at an estate sale on Tucson’s east side (along with about two dozen other camera bodies). The compression plate is bent, so the film focus falls off on the left and right edges, but it’s this kind of imprecision that makes old cameras fun to work with. Unpredictable things happen, and you never know what the film is going to look like until you develop it.


The Sears And Roebuck Tower ’52

tower folding postThe 1950s saw continued expansion in casual consumer photography. Film costs were prohibitive, but newer models with ease-of-use features attracted new buyers. Bulkier, double-lens cameras (the twin-lens reflex model) were still considered the gold-standard for press photographers, but folding cameras had quickly begun to replace box cameras. Kodak’s turn-of-the-century innovations – the ‘Brownie’ and ‘Brownie No.2’ – fell out of fashion as cameras such as the 1950s Tower series arrived, manufactured and distributed by Sears, Roebuck & Company.

A folding camera is precisely that – a camera with bellows that can be folded down so that it occupies less space when not in use. The self-erecting bed camera has a fixed viewfinder, a simple pre-set lens aperture, and a synchronized shutter. Without having to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, or focal length of the lens, the user literally only has to “point and shoot.” Using medium format 120 film – the most common film size before the transition to 35mm – the Sears & Roebuck Tower produces negatives measuring 6×8 centimeters.

Most folding cameras I come into contact with are metal-construction models, although I’ve read that Bakelite models were also used. Metal models are durable and almost always function (so long as they haven’t rusted). Bakelite models, on the other hand, are infinitely less common (most likely because Bakelite plastics become brittle with age). Folding cameras in circulation today usually require some rudimentary maintenance if they’re to be used – torn bellows will leak light into the camera and fog your film. This is easily remedied with a bellows repair kit, or even black gaffers tape or shoe-repair liquid rubber.

The beauty of old cameras – of old technology in general – is that they can pretty much be held  together with rubber cement & tape and still produce interesting images.

Images produced using my personal 1952 model are quite good, especially when you consider how rudimentary this series of cameras is. Images made with these cameras weren’t intended to be enlarged, but rather contact-printed, yielding prints the exact same size as the negative. Because of the fixed lens and lack of adjustable focus, enlarged prints will reveal a lack of sharp focus. The only other downside is the frame-count – you can only get eight exposures from a standard roll of 120 film. Large negatives make for fewer exposures, and there’s just no way around it.

In my experience, a limited frame-count usually means that the photographer has an incentive to make every picture count. In the age of digital cameras and smart phones, where we can just delete whatever doesn’t turn out, we wind up making a lot of junk that we have to sift through later on. If nothing else is to be celebrated about the era of film, it forced the camera operator to actually think before they pressed the button.


February 02 – Tucson Streetside

02-02 DoubleFrame post

Monday saw the start of Film February – only film photographs for this month during the 2016 ‘Photo A Day’ project. I began with an image taken using one of my favorite vintage cameras from the 1960’s. I realized that my explanation about how the Fujica Half works might not be entirely coherent to those of you who aren’t as absurdly gear-headed as I am.

For more detailed specs, read about the Fujica Half here.

Today’s image is intended to illustrate a little more clearly what the Fujica Half accomplishes. Instead of one horizontal picture, like what you would get using a regular old 35mm film camera, the Fujica half makes a series of small vertical exposures – two exposures fit in the same space that one standard 35mm picture would go. It takes some getting used to; when you look through the viewfinder, the image plane is vertical. I can’t think of any other camera out there that operates like this.

These two images were taken a few years ago. I used to carry the Fujica Half everywhere I went because it was such a compact camera. In my free time, I would go on bike rides all over Tucson, looking for interesting things to photograph. If memory serves correctly, the palm tree is from the center median along Swan Road, just north of the Rillito River wash. The statue on the right is from Evergreen Cemetery, located near Oracle Road & Miracle Mile.


February 01 – San Pedro Chapel

02-01 San Pedro post

Film is not dead! It’s only kinda, sorta, half-way, a little bit, almost dead.

February over here at LenseBender Design is going to be the month of film. Every single day I’ll be contributing a new film-based photograph made exclusively with one of my vintage film cameras. I have an extensive collection of old cameras – and even some vintage film stock – so this should be a pretty fun ride.

The first photograph of the month was made using a little-known camera known as the Fujica Half. For more information on this nifty little hand-held miracle machine, you can read about it here.

The San Pedro Chapel (pictured above) is located in the historic Fort Lowell neighborhood near the Rillito River north of Tucson. The neighborhood is named after the military outpost that once stood nearby. Fort Lowell was an Army outpost active from 1873 to 1891 and was intentionally placed on the outskirts of Tucson at the confluence of the Tanque Verde and Pantano Creeks. Year-round water at the mouth of the Rillito River made this area prime real-estate for a camp.

Once the fort was decommissioned, the Department of the Interior put the fort’s lumber, windows, doors, and other salvageable items up for sale; the fort was quickly dismantled and hauled off. The old adobe structures were already disintegrating back into the desert by the turn of the Twentieth Century, when immigrant families from Sonora, Mexico began to settle into the territory.

The migrants occupied the remaining fort structures and replaced the missing windows, roofs, and doors. The enclave eventually became known as El Fuerte. The community mainly raised livestock and sold lumber to residents in the town of Tucson.

The community developed strong roots. They built new houses in the Sonora Ranch style, dug wells (finding water at less than thirty feet), built a school house, and established a cemetery and built a church. The first church on this site was just large enough for the Carmelite Fathers to stand in while serving mass; the congregation would gather under the mesquite trees outside.

A more permanent structure was built in either 1915 or 1917 (the records are not clear on this), but was destroyed by a tornado in 1929. The San Pedro Chapel that survives today was built directly over the ruins of the previous chapel in the Mission Revival Style and dedicated in 1932.

In the 1940s, as Tucson was growing, the Church and general store of the El Fuerte community made this area a de facto town center. Mexicans living in the east of the territory would travel to El Fuerte to attend mass & school as well as  enjoy family parties, baptisms, and other social events. The Chapel is still in use today, as it was then, for baptisms and weddings. At its height, the community was only about three-hundred people, and this building is one of the few reminders of what once existed here.

And I just happened to stumble across San Pedro Chapel on a bike ride.
Pretty darn neat.


The Fujica Half

fujicaOriginally marketed as a “true candid camera,” the Fujica half was a wonderful new addition to the world of casual “economy photography” in 1963. Using standard 35mm film, this camera split the 35mm frame size in half, allowing for two vertical exposures for every single frame – hence the name “half.” Seventy-two exposures were now possible from a thirty-six exposure roll of film. Pretty snazzy.

The Fujica Half was likely developed to compete with the Olympus PEN half-frame camera, which had experienced a great deal of success. Boasting crisp pictures from a wide-angle (28mm) five-element lens, the Fujica Half could also open up to a 2.8 f/stop, making it unusually versatile. Wide angle, low-light friendly, sharp fixed-focus, extended frame count, and all in a compact design small enough to fit in your pocket.

Designed for a point-and-shoot audience, the built-in selenium light meter and compact design made the Fujica an ideal machine. It was one of the most accessible, user-friendly camera models designed until this time, delivering the practice of photography into the hands of an unprecedented number of consumers.

It was the iPhone camera of the 1960’s. Period.

As film prices dropped throughout the latter 60’s, “whole-frame” cameras supplanted the half-frame models. By the end of the decade, major manufacturers abandoned the half-frame model altogether. It was a short-lived fad, but these metal-constructed beauties were built to last. For any camera enthusiast, it’s easy to find a functioning model for a cheap price. They’re a lot of fun to shoot with.