Still Life, With Old Cameras

The Band Big Pink, Petri Color 2.8, Nikon Nikkormat, Bob Dylan, Tensor Lamp
   Stuck the Lumix L1 on a tripod one night and took this shot; I guess it could be called a "still life", although I only have a vague clue what that actually means.  Could it be a descriptive phrase left over from paint on canvas terminology, meaning whatever it is you're doing a picture of, it sits still and doesn't fidget, fart, or insult the artist?  Maybe.

Here's a few words about about some of the items on that book shelf above:

• Set during a time of great change for the peoples of the Rio Grande Valley, Harvey Fergusson's "Conquest Of Don Pedro" evokes the waning days of 300 years of semi-autonomous Spanish Colonial self-rule in the region, prior to its annexation by the United States, as seen through the eyes of an itinerant Jewish peddler who travels to, and settles there.  Like Father Jean Latour, the main character in that other great work of New Mexico historical fiction, Willa Cather's "Death Comes For The Archbishop", Leo Mendes is an outsider who, upon coming into an utterly foreign society, not only is gradually assimilated into that culture, but also over time becomes an important part of it.

Even though the events of "Conquest Of Don Pedro" take place in another century, anybody who's ever lived along the upper Rio Grande will read it and know that Fergusson really gets it right - his descriptions of the landscape, the architecture, the people, even the high desert air itself, still ring true today.  If you really want to get a good feel for New Mexico, as well as soak up some of its history, short of actually being there, this book, along with Cather's, are all you need.

• Jack Vance is one of a handful of the all-time greatest authors of science fiction and fantasy, period.  "Ports Of Call", and its concluding volume "Lurulu" are the last books that Vance wrote, published in 2002 and 2004, capping a long writing career that began in the mid 1940s.  In many ways "Ports Of Call" is a distillation of all the stylistic traits and narrative devices that have made Vance a unique literary voice: compact yet highly descriptive portrayals of the many, often bizarre, ways that human society - and the humans themselves - might evolve in isolation on far flung worlds over the next few thousand years (for sociology is the "science" in Jack Vance's science fiction); high adventure, sometimes with no apparent connection to or affect on the plot; potentially lethal overland journeys complete with details of the geology, wildlife, and botany of the regions travelled through; extremely droll and dry humor often regarding grim or otherwise tragic events; and realistic descriptions of the cuisine and drink of those far worlds.

In the case of "Ports Of Call", the drink is beer - the four man crew of the tramp space freighter Glicca travel the back water commercial space routes, seeking profit but often winding up with unforeseen peril or comic situations, and whenever possible during their adventures, sampling as many as possible of the almost infinite varieties of beer and ale from master brewers throughout the galaxy.  Where do I sign up?

• "Music From Big Pink", by The Band, released in 1968 - this is a reel-to-reel box version here.  Sometimes Bob Dylan's backup group, The Band was totally unique in their day, as original sounding as it was possible to be within the constraints of a rock band musical format.  Big Pink, their first album, was so crazy outa left field one of a kind distinctive, that it took awhile for everybody to pull their jaws back up, close their mouths, and drive to the record store and buy a copy.  Cover art by Mr. Dylan.

• Petri 2.8 Color Corrected Super.  Made by the Kuribayashi Camera Co, in (where else?) Japan.  Sort of looks like a copy of a Leica, it's a rangefinder focus 35mm format, with a fixed-mount 4.5 cm f2.8 lens and an ultra quiet leaf shutter.  The Petri 2.8 was my father's first 35mm camera, bought new in Japan when he was stationed with the army in South Korea during the mid 1950s.  I ran a lot of rolls through it back in the film days, and what's interesting is - it took really great sharp and clear black and white photos, usually with Plus X, but with Kodacolor the prints were not quite perfectly focused looking, although pleasing in a dream-like kind of way, like how memories seem to be.  I should really get some of those old shots blown up while it's still possible to do the film thing.

• Nikkormat FT, with a Nikor 50mm f1.4 lens.  From the late 1960s, also made in Japan.  Built like a tank or a brick house or like any other old brass bodied Nikon - literally almost indestructible, always worked, mechanical shutter, only electronics on it is the meter, and most of the time that was turned off.  "Sunny 16" rule of thumb exposures, using the eye and brain, in low light whip out the Sekonic or the Luna, or just use a tripod and guess the exposure - those were fun times, when the mechanics of taking a photograph was as important as the composition of the shot.  Lately this lens has been on a Nikon FM body, another great rugged mechanical shutter 35mm SLR, but less massive than the Nikkormat.

I will confess, though, that I hardly ever shoot film anymore, but...  I can't seem to totally let go of the past, and I'm keeping a couple old film cameras around.  Anyway, they look cool and sexy laying around the house, like the '50s blonde spinet piano that's rarely played but sounds so organically real and toneful whenever it is.  Film cameras may be industrial sculpture, obsolete technology posing as fine art.

• Tensor "High Intensity" lamp.  Also from the '60s, made in New York.  An innovative lamp design, the Tensor company made many different models of these lights, all using a #93 bayonet base automobile bulb powered by a 117VAC to 12VDC step down transformer.  It's possible to put a lower current bulb in and turn a Tensor into a unique night light; a bulb with a higher current draw will be brighter for a while, but eventually the transformer will blow and effectively kill the lamp.  This particular one has a crackle finish turquoise base and shade, with a brass plated gooseneck, shade cap, and bottom plate.  Still works flawlessly after all these years.

• The cute little dog in the photo below is one of those toys that expand when placed in water, swelling to about four times its usual size.  When you take it out of the water and put it on any surface, the puddle under it gradually grows, as the dog shrinks.  It's not apparent what the actual point of all this is, but you have to admit, it's cute.  

Photos taken with a Lumix L1, no p-shop.  Click or tap on any picture for larger images.

Petri 2.8 Color Corrected Super, Kuribayashi Japan, Water Absorbing Swelling Dog