Chennai’s Republic Day Parade

Today was a pretty special day in India – even President Obama agreed, as he spent the better part of the day with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having been invited as Chief Guest for the annual Republic Day Parade.

The event was a “first” for several reasons. Here’s the initial announcement from last November:

President Obama was the first President to ask Congress to reschedule the State of the Union address to make this possible.

If, like us, you weren’t invited to this historic occasion, you can catch up on what you missed in New Delhi on Twitter, using the #RepublicDay hashtag.  However, like most major cities in India, we had our very own Republic Day parade here in Chennai, and  we went out and snapped a few photos there to share with you.  We spent most of our time in the staging area, checking out people preparing for the parade, rather than fighting the crowds along the road.

Staging Area

Attention

Bare Feet

Waiting

Once the parade started, it was full speed ahead!

Marching

Cadet Corps

A good time for the entire family!

Patriot

Smile

Don’t know what Republic Day is?  You can read more here.  And you can see some press photos of today’s event in Chennai (much better than mine!) here.

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The Hidden Power of Gummy Bears

I am a clumsy person, unsuited for any sport that involves any sort of stick, ball or other implement.  Running after a ball with a stick would pretty much be a guaranteed serious injury.  My peers in elementary school gym class recognized this well before I did, and could find no better way to convey this observation than consistently picking me last for pretty much any team sport in gym class.

So I decided I wanted to be a runner. This was 35 years ago.  They didn’t have sports drinks, sports gels, etc. The modern running shoe with the Bowerman/Nike “waffle sole” had only been invented 9 years earlier.  But even then, I had trouble keeping up my speed beyond 4 or 5 miles.  Nowadays we call this “hitting the wall” – it’s when glycogen stores in the liver and bloodstream are depleted.  Gifted endurance athletes carry more and hit the wall later.  But the rest of us can delay this point a little by consuming easily digestible, simple sugars along the way.  As a 13-year-old, I addressed this by carrying little bags of gummy bears along with me on runs.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

So nowadays they have these fancy sports gels, with vitamins and sometimes caffeine and other things, along with sugar, in an easily consumable goop. But living in India, I sometimes have a hard time finding them. I’m not sure if they even really work – they may be a security blanket or a placebo, but whatever it is, I’ll take it.  I have a bunch on the way from Amazon.com.

But the mail here is unpredictable; and for this morning’s Cool Runners Republic Day half marathon, I had none of my magic gels.  I was hoping to run sub-2-hours; not really all that impressive a time, but in south India’s heat and humidity (it was 75 Fahrenheit and 79% humidity this morning at 5 am), a 2-hour half marathon has eluded me thus far.

So I had to resort to my tiny gelatin-filled friends from 35 years ago.  And with their help, and on bare feet (no waffle soles for me!), I managed to eke out a 1:57 or so (my watch crapped out at the start, so it’s a guess from those who finished around me).

Which goes to show, sometimes “back to basics” is the way to go.  Regards to the people at Haribo!

I’m actually happier than I look in the photo below!

half marathon

(Caveat for my Indian and/or vegetarian running friends who may stumble across this post – gummy bears are usually not vegetarian, often containing beef or other animal gelatin.  And lots of yummy sugar.

 

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Views of the Great Barrier Reef

We recently had the pleasure of enjoying one of the “seven wonders of the natural world,” the Great Barrier Reef.  Launching from Port Douglas on Australia’s northeast coast, we took an all-day boat trip about 70km out to see and spent the day snorkeling.

There’s no way to really convey what this undersea world looks like, without thousands of dollars worth of video and camera equipment, lights, and protective covers.  But I tried my best with a GoPro and several different photo editing programs to help remove the green tint on everything and help bring out the colors and definition as we remember seeing them.  You can cycle through some of the best results below, if you’re interested. Hover near the right edge of the photo to make the “next” button appear.

If you ever have an opportunity to photograph underwater sea life, I learned that the more light that gets through the water (i.e. the shallower the reef/fish etc) and the closer the camera is to what you’re photographing, the better the results tend to be. Afterward, I used Lightroom on the best photos to help correct the fisheye effect on the GoPro, which causes a bit of distortion/blurriness toward the edges of the photos. You can also do some color correction and help improve some of the blacks. Further correction was done in Photoshop, but I think the best improvement came at the end, using OnOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite 8 – specifically the “temperature” and “tint” tools.

I also took some video footage, both from the air above the reef – extremely stressful as I kept having visions of the entire rig crashing into the sea) and underwater. ProDAD’s DeFishr program removed the fisheye effect from the video, and I was able to use Premiere Elements’ tools to make most of the color corrections. The choice of music may seem odd – but my daughter insisted I use it, as this was the tune that had been going through her head most of the day. Again, Premiere Elements was used to give the “underwater” effect to the music. Hope you enjoy it, and be sure to select the highest HD resolution (bottom right of the video window) if your internet speed supports it!

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Found Film: Trips to the Zoo and to Montreal

This is another post in the series on the photos taken by Raymond Albert in and around Rumford, Maine in the late 1940s and early 1950s (see “Introducing the Alberts”).  In this post, I share two rolls of film, in which they took pictures of 3 different trips, including one to the zoo, and one to nearby Montreal, Canada.

The first two photos are from a trip to a nearby cave, which I haven’t been able to identify.  There are many caves near Rumford, Maine, and in the state in general. This is Louise, and her mom Cecile (Fisher) Albert.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 15

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 15

After that, it seems they took a trip to the zoo. Zoos always seem like sad places, and this particular zoo is no different. There are not many zoos in Maine today, but this could be outside the state. And it’s also possible that the zoo could have closed or been redesigned, given the changes in public attitude that have taken place since the 1950s.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 15

Nowadays, the photo below would be a lawsuit waiting to happen!  I’ll share the rest of the zoo photos as well because they are actually pretty good photos, quality-wise – especially given what was probably challenging lighting.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 15

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 15

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 15

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 15

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 15

The scond roll I’m sharing today is mainly just photos from a trip to Montreal. The skyline of Montreal has changed quite a bit since the 1950s. But it seems that the Alberts were pretty serious Catholics, and when they went on trips would often visit churches and church-related institutions. So from the photo below we can recognize Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral from its characteristic dome.  In the photo in the Wikipedia entry from the link above, you can see the building in the right of the picture below – but the cathedral seems almost out of place in today’s modern glass-and-steel skyline.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 16

Montreal-Skyline

Here, the early 1950s Montreal skyline can be seen more clearly. Below that, an image of today’s skyline, borrowed from Google. Completely unrecognizable.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 16

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 16

I believe the large building in the photo above can be seen just left of center in the photo below.

St Mary

I wonder if it’s still possible to take a ride in one of these old carriages?

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 16

There is also a photo of the Oratoire Saint Joseph du Mont Royal, also followed by a modern image:

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 16

250px-Oratoire_Saint-Joseph_du_Mont-Royal_-_Montreal

Finally, a group photo. No idea who, or where!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos. To see other posts about the Alberts, check out this link.  To see more of Raymond Albert’s photos on Flickr, check out this album.

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Cairns, Australia: “The Problem with Flying Foxes”

We were walking through downtown Cairns, a coastal tourist-y town and Barrier Reef jumping-off point in northeastern Australia, when we heard this odd “shrieking” sound.  We realized it was coming from a group of large trees with metal barriers around them.  There was a strong, sweet fruity smell in the air.  Looking up at the trees, we realized what was making the sound…

Understandably, the proprietors (and guests) of a nearby hotel are frustrated with the situation.  It’s a complex situation.  But I’m not sure that cutting down the (majestic and beautiful in their own right) the massive trees in which they roost, and simply hoping they’ll find another place, is the best solution either.

Want to learn more about this issue?  The people working to save the animals have a Facebook page.  Or you can check out this article on Australia Wildlife Tourism.  Or this local news article.  Or this summary by an environmental advocacy group.  Or this photo essay on the protests which took place in May 2014.

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Chennai by Night: Bhogi

I have some interesting photos and videos to share since I last posted in mid-December – but first, some information on the current happenings in Chennai!

It’s Thai Pongal, the four-day harvest festival and one of the most important holidays in Tamil Nadu and for Tamil people in general.  The festival actually begins tomorrow.  But this morning, we experienced “bhogi”, the traditional “day-before-Pongal” activity.

Bonfire

The day preceding Pongal is called Bhogi; this is the day when people discard old things and focus on new belongings. People assemble at dawn in to light a bonfire to discard old used possessions. The house is cleaned, painted and decorated to give a festive look. In villages, the horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted in colors.  For us city dwellers, it is possible to see and experience a bit of the bhogi tradition by getting up at 4 am and seeing the small fires lit here and there on the streets and in alleyways.

No Regrets

A number of families were up with their children, some of whom were playing small drums or simply sitting and gazing into the fire.

Kids at the Bonfire

Burn the Old

Meanwhile, the early morning tradition practiced daily by many South Indian women of making a “kolam” from rice flour is also ongoing.

Silhouette

Many of the kolams are more ornate than usual, and may have the addition of colored rice flour as well. Many mothers or grandmothers are out with their daughters or granddaughters, passing along the designs handed down from generation to generation.

Mother and Daughter

Kolam

It’s also a rare opportunity to see what goes on at night in Chennai. At 5 am the city is at its quietest – but there is always someone moving around in the streets of Chennai.

Night

Bananas for Sale

At the Mosque

And while the people of Chennai, regardless of their faith, continue to prepare for the day’s activities and the festival ahead, the gods silently look on.

Hindu God

You may view all of the photos taken on this walk, here.

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Found Film: The Alberts – Two Weddings

For the last couple of months, I have been sharing photos believed to have been taken by Raymond Albert, circa 1950.  This latest post shares the photos he took of two different weddings, a few years apart.

All of the “conclusions” I have reached about who is pictured is pure guesswork, based on who is in which photos. We know that Raymond had a younger brother Donald (by 8 years), in addition to two older sisters, and I believe this is a set of photos from Donald’s wedding.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 13

As I said, it’s just a guess – but it’s based on the following picture, which I believe to be father Willa and his two sons, and another male relative.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 13

For the wedding, everyone dressed up in their Sunday best, including young Louise – who doesn’t exactly look enthused about having had to dress up.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 13

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 13

As for the second wedding, I believe that to be that of Jules A. Fisher.  According to the 1940 census, Jule [sic] was the younger brother of Cecile, Raymond’s (the photographer’s) wife.  I can’t find any record indicating he was married or the name of his wife, but he appears to have enlisted in the Army in 1943, eventually left as a sergeant, and would have been close to 30 at the time of the wedding.  He ended up settling in nearby Turner, Maine, where he died at age 66 in 1991.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 14

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 14

The wedding took place in the magnificent (yet oddly empty – looks like it was an intimate gathering!) St. John’s Catholic Church, just down the road, which – side note – appears to have some pretty stunning stained glass windows.

Here’s a family shot, followed by some interior shots, probably from the reception held in the Fisher home.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 14

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 14

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 14

I haven’t really written much about Cecile Fisher Albert, who was married to our photographer.  Born in 1923, she was 3 years older than Raymond.  With her older sister Pauline, and younger sisters Marguerite and Therese, she grew up just a couple of blocks away from Raymond, in this house:

Untitled-1

I found it interesting that her parents were named Alfred and Cea (Durand) Poisson. Alfred’s parents were born in Canada, he spent time in Michigan, and at some point they must have all changed their names to “Fisher” – an opportunity still today offered to immigrants when they naturalize as citizens of the United States.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 12

Another photo of Cecile Fisher, in her late 20s, taken by her husband. Cecile died in 2003, predeceasing her husband by 11 years.

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Camera Test: Ansco Shur-Shot Jr

Ansco Shur-Shot Jr.

The 1948 Ansco Shur-Shot Jr. box camera, a simple little contraption of mostly sheet metal and cardboard, uses a basic design that has not really changed much over 50 years. The only real “upgrades” from box cameras you might see from the early 1900s are the plastic winding knob, the bright finders on the top and side, and the silver/black pinstripe design and lettering on the front.  It has one shutter speed – probably around 1/50 of a second, one aperture option – probably around f/8 or f/11, and cannot be focused.  You simply load it with film and click the shutter button on the side.  The instruction manual says you should shoot from at least 8 feet away, but otherwise, this simple camera appears to be designed in a way to be “shur” you’ll get the shot every time!  No muss, no fuss.

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I like the little advertising sticker inside.  Overall the camera is in pretty pristine condition, other than a bit of rust on one corner.

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An additional detail about the camera – unlike most cameras nowadays (and even back then), the lens (a single piece of glass) is actually behind the shutter.  One advantage of this setup is that you have a built-in dust cover.  All very simple, yet somehow also genius.

The 120 film it uses can still be bought nowadays.  So that’s what I did – I loaded it up with some modern Ektar 120 color film.  And here’s how the photos turned out:

Bikes, taken at Marina Beach, Chennai, India
Bicycles

On weekends, Chennaiites flock to the beach. Usually fully clothed, like this, and stand at the edge of the water, just getting wet below the knees. Occasionally some of the local fishermen family kids can be seen actually playing in the water and swimming in shorts.
Watching the Surf

I like how the sky looks with this camera. But I haven’t figured out what the weird “shadows” (for lack of a better descriptive term) are along the left side.
Boats

There is no end to the creativity of beach vendors and their little huts.
Trendly Homely Hut

And finally, this rickshaw driver had the misfortune of actually breaking down in the middle of this huge puddle.
Marooned

I think the photos turned out pretty impressive, given the simplicity of this camera! Compare this to all the different features and settings on a camera nowadays. This camera cost a buck or two back in 1948, and a roll of film with 8 exposures, maybe a quarter. Developing that roll would have cost up to 50 cents. In other words, the cost of two rolls of film and developing would have been more than the camera itself. During the film era, I think the vast majority of cameras were built to be extremely cheap and simple, to bring photography to the masses and remove the cost and mystery of what once required a fair bit of money and knowledge of chemistry, in order to make all those people film buyers and processors. It wasn’t really about the camera, except for those they sold to serious enthusiasts.

You can read additional reviews of, and photos taken with, this camera here and here.  and you can see all photos I take with it, including any I might take in the future, here.

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Found Film: Albert Family Outings

A couple of additional rolls this week from the series of photos taken by Raymond Albert in and around Rumford, Maine in the late 1940s and early 1950s (see “Introducing the Alberts”).  This looks like spring and summer, 1952, in which the family takes a trip to the beach, and also some nice shots from a picnic.  And finally, a visit to Grandma’s.

I’ll start out with a few photos taken of the person believed to be Raymond Albert himself, soon after arrival at the beach. He’s chosen an appropriate tie for the day – stick figure drawings of a trip to the beach!

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 11

What happened to the photos from the camera below?

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 11

Then there was a picnic – it may have been the same trip, judging from uncle’s (?) swimsuit. But it involved roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over the campfire. And Mrs. Albert with a couple of pretty cool cars. On the left is a 1951 Chevrolet Fleetline Deluxe.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 11

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 11

Not sure what the other car is, but in either case, it seems the 1948 Mercury (?) seen in earlier posts and repeated below has been replaced.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 1

The roll also appears to feature photos from a trip to Grandma’s. Cousins (?) joined for a game of dress-up.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 12

Grandma had an amazing garden.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 12

There is also this photo, which I’m not sure I can explain.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 11

Finally, a nice photo of Mrs. Albert.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 12

To see other posts about the Alberts, check out this link.  To see more of Raymond Albert’s photos on Flickr, check out this album.

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Found Film: The Alberts at Christmas

This is another post in the series on the photos taken by Raymond Albert in and around Rumford, Maine in the late 1940s and early 1950s (see “Introducing the Alberts”).  I’m guessing this roll is from Christmas, 1951.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

It’s always interesting to see what’s under the Christmas trees from yesteryear.  The top photo comes from a different roll than the rest of the photos, and presumably from a different tree – maybe a visit to Grandma’s revealed that Santa had dropped off gifts there as well.  This year Santa brought dolls and large stuffed animals for the girls.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Everyone got shoes.  The top photo includes a pair of Kickerinos, and a box marked McGregor footwear.

kickerinos

And below we have more shoes and boots.  And a Parcheesi game!

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

And there is a whole series of photos showing the kids inexplicably jumping off the roof into the snow.  And Dad taking pictures of the whole thing, apparently!  I can’t imagine a soft landing….

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

The Christmas doll makes an appearance both here and on the sled/toboggan – whoa!  That’s a lot of snow!  And below the full collection of stuffed animals and dolls, all on display.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Bunnies were raised in the back yard.  Do you suppose young Louise eventually had to learn the cold, hard realities of why bunnies were being raised in the back yard?

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

It’s hard to know exactly when these pictures were taken.  I initially guessed Christmas 1952 but it could equally have been 1951.   Winter 1951 dumped nearly 6 feet of snow on Rumford, Maine.  And who can forget the blizzard of 1951, in which over 20 inches of snow fell on Portland in a 24-hour period?

To see other posts about the Alberts, check out this link.  To see more of Raymond Albert’s photos on Flickr, check out this album.

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Camera Test: No. 1A Folding Pocket Kodak, R.R. Lens Type

Remember the No. 1A Folding Pocket Kodak, R.R. Lens Type?  With such a distinctive name, who could forget it?

No. 1A Folding Pocket Kodak, R.R. Lens Type

Not like the cameras nowadays – all DSC-something-cybersomething-shot-pix – they all blur together.  Naming conventions were different in the early 1900s.  Over the course of half a century, Kodak only made around 50 cameras with the word “folding” in the title, 50 with the word “pocket” in the title, and a good 125+ cameras starting with the name “No.” followed by a a number between 0 and 6, often with the letter “A” behind it, occasionally a “C”, but almost never a “B”.  But only 6, made over the course of 16 years, with “No. 1A Folding Pocket Kodak” in the title.  And only this one included “R.R. Lens Type,” though they could just as easily have thrown “autographic” into the title to make it distinctive.  And then you think you have it all figured out, and you go to a website talking about the camera, and the picture they have looks different.

DSC02943

For what it’s worth, “R.R.” stands for Rapid Rectlinear, a lens type developed in 1866.  No idea why it was considered significant enough as a component of this camera, manufactured between 1912 and 1915, to be included in the camera’s name.  But it was.  Here is a close-up:

DSC02946

So the problem with testing this 100-year-old camera is that it uses 116-size film, which was manufactured for 85 years, but for the last time in 1984. The closest-sized medium format rollfilm is 120, which is 56 millimeters wide, unlike 116 which is 70mm wide.  As is accurately noted on the Camerapedia website, however, “with some ingenuity,” 120 film can be used in a 116-film camera.

DSC02948

Basically, you have to unroll the film from a 120 roll and re-roll it into a 116 roll, in the right place so the film is exposed when the number in the back window is showing, and tape down the end, and roll the whole thing back up – and all in complete darkness.  You end up with photos where the top and bottom few millimeters are cropped, and because the 120 film is also not as long as the 116 film was, 7 exposures instead of 8.

Figuring out the settings is a little tricky because the shutter speed for the camera only goes up to 1/100 of a second, but you can adjust with the small aperture settings.  To focus, however, you move the entire lens forward or backward in accordance with the markers shown below, which (I think this is interesting) are marked in both feet and meters.

DSC02947

So enough description already! How did the pictures turn out?

Well, the first roll I used was a roll of color film, but somehow I ended up getting mixed up, and processed it as black and white. And here are a couple of the pictures I ended up with:

Couple

Man and Girl

So before I shared my results, I ended up doing a “do-over”, with actual color film that was processed as color film. The results were interesting – what you’d expect with expired film, for example – but the film was new and fresh. No idea about the color aberrations you see in the pictures, but they are definitely unique and interesting.

Fishing Village

Fishing Boats

The line that is seen near the top edge of some of the pictures is most likely due to not having added enough of one or another chemical during the developing process.

Fishing Boats

Fishing Boats

Fishing Village

And finally, the white “cloud” seen in the final photo may actually have been a scrap of paper that ended up in the tank somehow. Remember, the developing tanks are loaded in complete darkness. There’s no telling what may end up in one of these tanks one day. And for what it’s worth, the overhead shots are taken from the top of the Chennai lighthouse – the community below is a fishing community – there’s a daily market toward the left side of the frames. We’ll be doing a photowalk there this weekend, so keep an eye out for the pictures that will come out of that effort. It’ll be from another camera, as this one will go back to the shelf for now.

One last question for anyone who may be interested. There is something scratched on the inside of the back cover of the camera. Can you read it?

DSC02942

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Red Shutter Leica: To Repair or Not to Repair?

Hundreds of dollars spent on a collectible vintage Leica, and it doesn’t work.  What to do?  Naturally, take it apart!

Leica

This is the camera I picked up on eBay.  it’s a Leica IIIc, made in 1941.  I thought I’d gotten a pretty good deal – my McKeown’s guide lists this particular model as being worth $300-$450, and the lens is maybe another $80.  This particular camera is not in ideal shape – the covering is cracked and coming off, the lens aperture adjustment is pretty gummed up and hard to work – but otherwise it looks pretty good, especially considering that cameras of this time frame often have chrome issues due to wartime shortages in Germany at the time.  But it represents some of the finest workmanship in camera manufacturing, and I was excited to run some film through one.

But what makes this particular camera special is the shutter.  It appears that serial numbers 362,401 thru 379,225 were produced with either one or both shutter curtains made from some sort of mystery red cloth reputed to have been an experimental material received from Kodak.  The Leicas use a shutter made of two pieces of cloth that move from one side to the other when released, and the space between them (based on your shutter speed settings) is what allows the film to be exposed to the light.  During the war, Leica apparently used this red material until they ran out of it, and then switched to black parachute cloth.  Later, when owners would turn their cameras in for repair, Leica would replace the shutters for some reason.  So of the 14,000+ cameras made in this way, relatively few survive today.  Consequently, the value goes up to $600 or more.

The cool thing about buying old cameras of this quality is that they retain their value.  So you can buy one, use it for awhile, and if you get tired of it, sell it for what you paid (or more).

So I took mine out for a spin….and here is how all pretty much all of the pictures turned out:

img179

img183 img187

Needless to say, Leicas that take pictures like this tend not to retain their value as much!   Having paid $400 (I’m guessing you were wondering), I went back to the seller, who had claimed the shutter was operational, and we negotiated a partial refund of $100.  It’s hard to say what’s fair – but I’m guessing that, accurately listed on eBay, the camera would have gone for no more than $200-$300, purely as a “shelf queen” collectible.

So what is wrong with the camera?  Is it salvageable, or will it be consigned to a bookshelf forever?  A bit of web searching revealed the likely problem: the shutter that is supposed to cover the film when the camera is in its “cocked” position is full of tiny holes.  So with the help of this website, I decided to go in for a closer look:

DSC02933

This camera loads from the bottom, so taking it apart was the only way to get a closer look at both sides of the shutter curtains.  This is the front of the shutter that sits in front of the film when the camera is not cocked:

DSC02934

I was surprised to see, when I flipped it over, that it appeared someone had already tried painting some sort of black substance over the back of the curtain, and it had flaked off in several places.  Also, some parts of it scraped off sort of like wax – almost semi-liquid.  It looks like black paint.

DSC02935

When I cocked the camera, I could see that the other shutter curtain is also red, but the red side faces the other way (toward the back of the camera).  And some sort of gummy substance had been spread on that as well (glue?)

DSC02936

And the forward-facing side of that shutter is cream/manila-colored, just like the other shutter (where the black paint has peeled off) and someone appears to have attempted daubing paint (?) on this side to repair pinholes as well.

DSC02937

The good part about taking apart a Leica IIIc like this is it allows you to shine a light through the shutter, and really see just how much is reaching the film when it should be fully covered.  The first photo is the shutter curtain that shows when the camera is not cocked – the repair job that was previously attempted appears to have worked, as light only gets through in the places where it has flaked off.  So maybe a touch-up with a similar substance would do the trick?

DSC02940

The other shutter curtain, however, was in horrendous shape – and fully explained why I had gotten the pictures I was getting.  I include another photo below for reference, with the contrast amped up a bit so you can see the areas where light is being let through more clearly.

DSC02941

img181

After a bit of rotating and flipping to get the image to be aligned the same as the shutter, you can clearly see that the red cloth and the black paint, or whatever it is, do a pretty effective job blocking the light.

So the big question is, if I paint only the non-red side of the shutters (and let them dry/cure properly), can I preserve (somewhat) the “collectible” nature of the camera, while making it actually usable?  Am I increasing or decreasing the value of the camera?  I think painting over the red part would be a shame, but I want to make sure all the pinholes are properly sealed.  So the material I decide to use will be key.

If you’re interested in how this turns out, stay tuned – I’ll follow up once I’ve taken a stab at this and put it back together.

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Found Film: The Alberts, Summer and Fall 1951

The story of Raymond Albert’s family, as told through his lost and found photos, continues as we enjoy a late summer in Rumford, Maine around 1951-ish.  There is no real theme to tie these photos together – they come from three different rolls, each of which only had a few turn out well for some reason.  The photographer’s “success rate” is much better on most of the other rolls.  But I’ll just share the photos in no particular order.

I’ll start with a portrait of the family dog, who only appears on one or two of the twenty rolls in the collection:

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

The ladies enjoy mild temperatures out on the porch at 241 Knox Street, and St. John’s Church is in the background. And the kids play in the fresh air on outdoor toys. I wonder if they were bummed because there was no internet.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

…and it’s somebody’s 6th birthday!  Pretty fancy cake….

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

I thought this old car parked on Knox street was worth sharing, though it’s pretty dark. I tried to lighten it up a bit but the negative is pretty damaged.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

…an outing with Grandma, Aunt and Uncle (who enjoy clowning around). Note also the tie.  You don’t see ties like that anymore nowadays.

The waterfall may or may not be in the same place as the group photos; it shows up several times in the collection of photos but I haven’t managed to identify it.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Finally, Louise poses with her doll and stuffed animal collection; and we end with a nice (though a bit dark) portrait of Louise.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

Raymond Albert's Photos - Rolls 7-8-9-10

To see other posts about the Alberts, check out this link.  To see more of Raymond Albert’s photos on Flickr, check out this album.

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Big Photo Contest Win!

No, it wasn’t me.  Although I did get an “honorable mention.”

We used to tease my wife Anne over her insistence on using a camera that had long surpassed its obsolescence date.  Until one day it was mysteriously found inside the (clothes) washer, and she was forced to upgrade her photographic equipment.  And for the last year or so that she has been practicing with a shiny modern Nikon, on photowalks in Chennai and on our trips abroad.

Last weekend was the “prize-giving” for Global Adjustment’s 17th annual expatriate photo contest, and all that practice, an eye for a good photo – and we take credit for insisting she get a new camera – all paid off.  Two 2nd place category winners, and the contest’s overall best photo!

The “Faces” category 2nd place winner:
Faces 3

“Yours truly” participating in a daily pigeon feeding at Marina Beach, which took 2nd place in the “Into India” category:
Into India 4

And the overall “best photo” winner. Wondering what she’s looking at?
Faces 4

As for me, I got an honorable mention for the following submission:

Durga Procession

But I get to share Anne’s prizes. Congrats to all the contest winners!

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Varanasi: The View from Mother Ganga

Varanasi, India is, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.  Also known as Benares, Banaras or Kashi, the city’s identity is inseparable from the River Ganges, along whose left bank the city of just over 1 million residents is nestled.

Dawn

If you visit Varanasi, one of the experiences not to be missed is the early morning river cruise.  Many hotels, like ours, will offer this for free so you don’t have to hassle with the local boatmen.  We met at the boat around 5:30, well before the sun was visible, and slowly headed upstream.

Morning on the Ganges

As we were visiting the city during a major Hindu festival, there was more debris in the river than normal, and much of the smaller bits of refuse that was the byproduct of countless rituals performed upriver would coalesce and form a scum where many of the boats were tied up. As the morning activity picked up, most of this was jostled around and began to be swept downriver. At the same time, people were beginning to gather at the various ghats (stair approaches to the river) to engage in the variety of activities that are carried out each day along the banks of Mother Ganga.

Boats on the Ganges

Boats on the Ganges

Merchants were already bringing fully loaded boats to contribute to the vast amount of wood required for the funeral pyres that burn upriver 24 hours a day.

Funereal Firewood

Some of the sadhus, or Hindu holy men, who have congregated in this city in search of moksha, or the release from the endless cycle of death and rebirth, can be seen walking along the river. Pictured below is one of the more frequently photographed sadhus – in fact, if you type the word in google images, you’ll be able to pick out a number of photographs of him.

Sadhu

As the people began to congregate at the various ghats along the river, so too did the number of boats carrying tourists continue to grow. Sometimes the other tourists were more interesting to watch than the activity in the ghats.

Boats on the Ganges

Bathing

Bathing

As the sun rose over the opposite bank of the river, it bathed everything in an orange light that made for excellent photographic opportunities.

Sunrise on the Ganges

Photographer

Eventually, as the sun continued to rise, our boatman allowed his oars to rest in the water, and the current of Hinduism’s most spiritually important river slowly began to carry us back downstream.

Varanasi

As we headed back, I snapped a few photos with another camera, using black-and-white film. As it turned out later, I had made a mistake re-loading a roll of film and ended up with a roll of double exposures. I thought a couple of them turned out kind of cool, and throw them in at the end of this post.

Varanasi

Varanasi

 

This is the fifth and final post in a series about our trip to Varanasi.  See previous posts“Varanasi by Night”“Death on the Ganges.” or “Varanasi:  In and Around Town.” or “Varanasi:  Walking the Ghats”.  You can also browse other Varanasi photos in my Varanasi album on Flickr. 

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Found Film: The Alberts Go Fishing

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 7

It’s time to share another batch of Raymond Albert’s photos. In this batch, Raymond (shown above) goes on a fishing trip with some friends and family. I’m not sure where this lake is – probably in Maine, but there are so many…

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 7

Here a shot of the inside of the boat:
Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 7

Fishing fashions of circa-1950:Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 7

This batch of photos also contains some of the best pictures in the entire collection (of 20 rolls), in my opinion. Here are the first two:Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 7

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 7

I think this second photo is just great. I don’t know why. I love how the (early morning?) light comes across from the right side and highlights the girls’ faces.

The second roll I’m sharing today is just an assortment of photos. This is Grandpa, who’s into woodworking, and appears to have had a pretty impressive woodworking shop:

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 6

Despite having a collection of about 600 photos that appear to span 7 or 8 years, there are few hints to tell how the people in the photos are related to each other. The man above is likely either Raymond’s father, or father-in-law. Interesting body language though. Were they having a heated debate on Truman’s handling of the Korean War? Or did they just not get along? And I wish I knew the background on that tie!

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 6

Here’s a picture of the girls – Louise (left) and her (cousin?) They spend quite a bit of time together during their childhood.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 6

And I’ll end with this shot of “fun on the farm” – the final of the three “favorites” I mentioned earlier.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 6

To see other posts about the Alberts, check out this link.  To see more of Raymond Albert’s photos on Flickr, check out this album.

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Camera Test: Ansco Readyflash

Ansco Readyflash

The Ansco Readyflash – so named because it’s “ready for flash” (but I don’t have one) via two connectors on the camera – is about as simple a box camera as you could probably come up with.  It’s made of sheet metal and plastic, and takes 8 exposures on a roll of 620 film, 6 x 9 cm each.  It feels like an empty tuna can in your hands and makes roughly the same sound when dropped.  Yet is surprisingly durable, and takes much better pictures than I expected.  Mine is difficult to open and close, and if you look closely you’ll see that there’s a chip out of the plastic part of the case.  But it seems to work just fine.

Lighthouse View

The shots above and below were taken from the top of the lighthouse at Chennai’s Marina beach – above is the fish market, along with a long line of boats and the 2004 typhoon-damaged housing many of the fishing people live in.  I’m not sure what the complex below is – it may be the police headquarters – but it’s just west of the lighthouse.

Lighthouse View

This is a shot of the beach, and all of the debris produced, behind the fish market.

Beach

Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to prevent double exposures, so you have to pay attention to what you’re doing and develop a routine for advancing the film.

Double Exposure

I particularly like the next two shots – this is one of the many vendor carts that “litter” Marina Beach, left stranded in a section of beach that is still flooded from last week’s rains.  Below that is a row of granite “balls” placed at different locations along the beach to prevent vehicles from entering certain areas.  They can be used for creative shots in the right light.  I especially like how you can see where the focus falls off from the center of the (non-adjustable) lens, and the vignetting in the corners – effects some people will add to digital photos using software.  Cheap lenses of this type (think “Diana” camera) are all the rage in the lomography crowd.  You can easily spend a hundred bucks on a plastic Diana.  Or pick up one of these for under ten.

Stranded

Granite Balls

Finally, check out this old carousel, which provides man and animal alike respite from the sun!

Carousel Shade

For another review/photo examples of this camera, check out this guy’s blog post.  For the record, I used the same film (coincidence – Ilford FP4 125) but developed it for 10 minutes at 70F in HC-110, dilution B.

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Found Film: The Alberts and the Korean War

We met the Alberts a few weeks ago, when I introduced Raymond and his family, whom we know from a box of about 20 developed rolls of film Raymond left behind recently.  This installment appears to have been taken around 1950, and daughter Louise is about 4-5 years old.  I’m guessing the Korean War is ongoing.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 3

This is Hosmer Field, in Rumford, Maine, where the family lived at this time.  No idea what’s going on, but it clearly involves the military.  The stands are packed and families are out on the grass watching military marching bands perform and drill.  For comparison, here is Hosmer Athletic Complex, much more recently, from an article about flooding.

RUMflooding_0

Later in the roll, I love this shot of who I believe to be Raymond, fishing.  Fishing was such a more formal occasion back then.  Slacks, tie and sweater vest.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 3

Here we have a photo of Louise in a cute sailor suit. I think people in the ’50s and ’60s were also big on dressing their kids in sailor suits. Those are the pictures grown men keep hidden years later.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 3

This appears to be three generations, following mom’s (Fisher) side of the family. They are posing on a bridge over a river. Can you identify it?

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 3

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 3

This appears to be some sort of vacation house belonging to Grandma Fisher. If you look closely, you can see “Cranberry Lane” just below the roof. Another shot from the short end of the house shows a sign “Andy” on the porch above the door. I couldn’t find anything on the ‘net to suggest where this is.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 3

Moving on to the next roll, there was a whole series of wonderful family photos; here are a couple of examples:

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 5

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 5

Nearly all of these people would be long gone by now. But Louise is still around! She lives in California. Here she is talking on a phone. Which doesn’t fit in your pocket.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 5

And – apropos for today – Halloween!!

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 5

Lastly, the return of a war hero. This would have been during the Korean War, though there could still have been people returning from World War II at this time (things moved more slowly back then). But most likely the Korean War. A wartime loss would have impacted a small town like this, as most people would have known the soldier or sailor returning from war, and much of the town would have turned out.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 5

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 5

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 5

Here is a separate photo of the Rumford rail station with the Rumford paper mill in the background (1919) – which Mike found for me on Flickr.  Paper production was one of the main (no pun intended) employers in Rumford – in fact Raymond Albert, who took these photos, worked in one.

Depot 1919

And thus ends another installment in the Albert Family’s “found film” series.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 5

You can see the previous installment, which gives a bit of history we have been able to glean from the photos, here.  And you can browse through all the photos, including many I didn’t post, here.

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Varanasi: Walking the Ghats

In previous posts I’ve talked about the “ghats” of Varanasi.  People keep asking me, “What exactly IS a ghat, anyway?”

Wilted Flowers

Basically it’s a series of steps leading down to the river.  We spent hours walking along the ghats. And not just because walking parallel to the stairs is much easier than walking up and down them. But we observed first-hand that the nearly 100 ghats of Varanasi are used for lots of different things.  Some are used for kite flying:

Kite Flying

Napping:

Dog Days of Summer

Getting access to the river:

Holy Cow

Playing marbles with a friend:

Banks of the Ganges

Reading a good book:

Thinker

Taking pictures:

River View

Improving your graffiti art skills:

Graffiti

Having a chat with the neighbors from your window:

Neighbors

Or grooming each other:

Monkeys

Among the many impressive buildings that overlook the ghats, and the Ganges, is the Alamgir Mosque – a colossal building which is said to be the largest building built on the banks of the river.  We were greeted by the mosque’s caretaker, Rashid, who explained the history of the mosque, as it had been handed down to him by his father and grandfather, who had also been caretakers.

Alamgir Mosque

If you look carefully at the photo above, you will see where two minarets once rose from either corner. Rashid explained that one of the minarets had collapsed in the 1940s, and then years later, the Indian government had removed the other out of fears it might be growing unstable as well. At this link you can see how it looked with both minarets.  Although the vast majority of the people living around the mosque are Hindu, there are still enough people to make it an actively used mosque.

Alamgir Mosque
This is the third in a series of posts about our trip to Varanasi.  See previous post“Varanasi by Night”“Death on the Ganges.” or “Varanasi:  In and Around Town.” You can also browse other Varanasi photos in my Varanasi album on Flickr. 

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Andy Shepherd’s Camera

DSC02932

The Shaw-Harrison company manufactured these simple, bakelite cameras from 1959 to 1972 in a variety of colors – along with an identical model called the Valiant 620. I picked this one up on eBay for a few bucks because it was advertised as still containing a roll of film. When it arrived, I discovered that the film was only on exposure number 6. With 620 film, there are normally 8 exposures – but this is a rare 620 camera that takes square pictures, so still half the roll was left!

When the camera arrived, I saw that the previous owner had etched his name into the side of the camera:

DSC02931

Was this the inspiration for the film “Toy Story”?

woody
I thought it would be fun to finish Andy’s film roll, and then develop the whole thing.  Who knows what would be on this film – maybe from 50, 60 years ago!

Below are the photos I snapped.  It seems the film had become damaged somehow – maybe the camera was opened at some point?

img020 img025 img026 img027

Sadly, it seems that too much time had passed between Andy Shepherd’s last use of the camera, and my first. This is all I could glean from the photos he had taken, prior to moving on to other cameras. Or interests altogether.

img022

img024

Sorry, Andy. I tried my best.

You can get all the different colors of this camera on eBay for less than $20 each. Or, if you are patient, maybe even less than $10 each. Or you can buy them on Etsy for ridiculous prices – from nearly $50 to as much as $125.  If only Andy hadn’t etched his name into the side of this one….

If you really like the look of this camera (without Andy’s name), you can get a poster of half a Sabre for your home.  The poster costs $67.  How much for a picture of the whole camera?

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Varanasi: In and Around Town

Alley

There is an endless number of interesting faces, places and scenes to photograph in Varanasi. Last week I shared some photos of the ghats along the river – where most of the tourists hang out; but in this city of 3 million and its environs you can go just about anywhere in the city and find things abuzz with all sorts of activity. In this post we go “inland” – into the streets and alleyways of Varanasi, to the Ram Nagar fort, and to the nearby town of Sarnath, the site of Buddhism’s earliest days.

Dueling bike rickshaws

We happened to be in town during an interesting confluence of religious holidays. The Hindu “Durga Puja” festival, which was winding up on the 3/4/5 of October, culminates in processions to carry large Durga idols for immersion in the Ganges. This was to be closely followed by “Bakrid” (Eid ul Adha), the Feast of Sacrifice, on October 6. In preparation for this holiday, Muslim celebrants were bringing animals from throughout the city for the annual ritual sacrifice. Busy times in Varanasi!

Durga Procession

Durga Procession

Above, this Durga procession could be heard from half a mile away as they came down the street with a group of drummers.  Just in front of me, they paused to light a firecracker – and the kids started jumping in the air when they spotted me taking pictures. We followed them down to the beach (photo below), where they performed the traditional immersion. I’m not going to pretend to be any kind of expert on the overall festival – you can read more about it here – but from what I observed, it involves setting up “pandals” (temporary, tentlike temples where the Durga idols are installed), we saw straw effigies in wooden frames and copious amounts of flowers being offered to the river (assume this was related), and then in the end these idols follow the other offerings into the Ganges.  It seems like a lot for the river to absorb, but just downstream, we saw enterprising men in boats collecting the floating wood frames and taking them apart, likely to be repurposed for some other use.

Durga Procession

The group of boys below was going in the opposite direction, and they seemed to be having a great time piled into the back of the cart.  When they spotted me taking pictures, two of them came running over and insisted I take their portrait!

Boys

Boys

One of the places we went that day (we were out and about for 9 hours!) was the nearby Ramnagar fort. The part tourists are allowed to see was not all that spectacular – it houses a museum with extremely dusty old cars and lots of weapons, and there is a small temple in the back, through a passageway filled with BATS!

Ram Nagar

DSC_0387

The Ramnagar Fort is the residence of the Kashi Naresh, the cultural patron of Varanasi and a member of the royal family of a Brahmin state which currently no longer exists.  I didn’t know this when we visited the fort, though – but now I know why the guards there didn’t allow us to wander around the grounds.

Ram Nagar

Above:  Ramnagar Fort – can you spot the monkey?

Finally, we also learned that Varanasi is also an important city for Buddhism. When, at the age of 35, Siddhartha Gautama – i.e. the “Supreme Buddha” of our age, reached enlightenment, he went to a forest near Varanasi to preach his first sermon, and met his first disciples. This forest is the Deer Park of Sarnath, about 13 km from Varanasi.  The Chaukhandi Stupa, which is believed to mark the spot where he met his first companions/disciples, is shown below.  It’s about 1500 years old.

Chaukhandi Stupa

And no description of our day exploring Varanasi and its surroundings would be complete without mentioning Buli, our rickshaw driver. With a pink scarf around his head, he offered to drive us all around the area, and asked a very fair price for doing so. Before we got started, he pulled over to load up with betel nut, and then we were on our way.  Every now and then he’d spontaneously start singing “la-la-la” and chuckle, “My music.”  He suggested places to go and told us about admission prices and how to avoid the odd scam here and there.  The photo below suggests he was unfriendly, but in fact he was extremely jovial and friendly, but when he was driving (betel nut aside), he was completely focused on his work.  If you go to Varanasi and want to hire him for the day, give him a call at 9335029645.

Rickshaw Driver

This is the third in a series of posts about our trip to Varanasi.  See previous post “Varanasi by Night” or “Death on the Ganges.”  You can also browse other Varanasi photos in my Varanasi album on Flickr. Like the one below.

Things you see in India

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Found Film: Introducing the Alberts

Raymond Albert was born on March 20, 1926 to Willa and Annie (Chenard) Albert, who were born around 1880.  According to the 1940 census, at age 14, he and his family lived at 318 Waldo Street, in Rumford, Maine (photo from Google Earth in 2014).

318 Waldo

He had two older sisters: Theresa (Legere), who had already moved out by this time, as she was 10 years older than Raymond; and Lillian, who was 16.  He also had a younger brother named Donald, age 8.

Raymond eventually married Cecile Fisher on July 9, 1945.  They bought a house not too far away from his childhood home, at 241 Knox Street, where they raised their daughter, Louise, who was born soon after they married (the white house to the right foreground is 241 as it currently appears)

241 knox

One of Raymond’s hobbies, besides his love of automobiles and fishing, was photography.  This post is the first in a series of “found film” post that chronicle the photos he took over a 6 -8 year period, from about 1948 until the mid- to late 1950s, and what we know about him based on these photos and a bit of googling here and there.  The photographs came to me as a box of already-developed negatives, dusty from having been packed away for the last 60+ years.

Below is the person I believe to be Raymond.  Because he appears in so many of the photos, it may have been his wife who was the photographer; but it is Raymond’s name that appears on one of the film rolls.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 1

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 1

This is Louise, in what appears to be a 1948 Ford Mercury. And below, I’m guessing this is Raymond, Louise and Raymond’s parents, and a picture where Raymond swaps places with Cecile. Any idea what dam this might be?   Update: this is the Rumford Falls dam – see a contemporary photo below these!

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 1

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 1

Rumford, Maine

In July 1949, it appears that Raymond’s sister Lillian may have gotten married.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

Here’s how we know the date:

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

The reception may have been held at a local community center where bingo could also be played:

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

However, it seems the wedding itself was held at St. John’s (Catholic) Church.

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

This church was literally just a couple of blocks down the street from the Albert home on Knox Street.  In fact, if you scroll back up to the top of the page, you can see the steeple in the distance.  The church catered primarily to French-speaking (Acadian) people living in the area.

It seems the Alberts also had relatives in the country – perhaps Raymond’s grandmother?

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

Sheep! Cows!

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2
Kittens!

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

Lobster feast!

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

The women of the family pose on a trip – perhaps to Lameque, New Brunswick? And what are those odd ruins?

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

Raymond Albert's Photos - Roll 2

Update: Thanks to Mike for identifying these “ruins” in the last photo! Check out this one for another view of harvesting peat moss in Canada.

Want to see more photos in this series?  Check out this collection on Flickr or visit the next post on the Alberts.

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Death along the Ganges

DSC02777

As Americans – like most “Westerners” – we are for the most part, relatively isolated from death.  Not that we don’t have people close to us dying – we just don’t deal with the specifics.  I reflected on this just a few weeks ago, when we lost our longtime family dog in India, and suddenly had to deal with specifics.  In the US and in Europe, when you have a pet put to sleep at the vet, you just leave the animal and it comes back to you as a container of ashes (if that’s what you want) – or you can take it home and bury it, if it’s a small animal.  It’s similar with humans – most of the specifics are dealt with by specialists you hire to do this for you.  Most people have a relatively sterile funeral service, where you look at someone who has been fixed up and filled with chemicals to avoid anyone having to deal with any awkward smells or sights or other unpleasantness, or maybe you look at a closed box that gets lowered in the ground and covered up after you leave, or you end up with an urn.

In India, death is a much more intimate occasion.

Visiting Varanasi recently, one of Hinduism’s holiest cities, we reflected on the separation between the living and all of the business of death in our own culture.  The ghats of Varanasi – nearly 100 of them – are allocated for different purposes – bathing, washing clothes, and other things – and two of them are dedicated exclusively to cremation.  On the banks of Mother Ganga, the funeral pyres burn 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Manikarnika Ghat

The process is simple and unadorned; somber, yet not overtly one of sadness. Because to die in Varanasi, be ritually purified in the holy waters of the Ganges, and then return to the elements, is a fortuitous occasion – one which eases the release from moksha, the cycle of rebirth.  Relatives (usually only male) of the deceased family member carry the body, wrapped in cloth, to the site on a bamboo stretcher.  Led by the nearest male relative, identifiable by his shorn head and white garb, the body is dipped into the waters of the Ganges and then placed on the steps to dry.  With the assistance of funeral workers – frequently from the Dom caste, fees are exchanged for an amount and mixture of wood (the more sandalwood or other aromatics, the better) from one of the endless piles stacked around the site, and the pyre is prepared.  The closest male lights the fire from the nearby temple  – whose flame is said to have been burning continuously for the last 3,000 years – and lights the pile, prepared with ghee to catch fire more quickly.

Manikarnika Ghat

Friends, family members, workers and tourists quietly watch the process as dogs, cows and goats wander undisturbed throughout the area.  The heat from multiple pyres burning simultaneously can be stifling as smoke and ash billow out over the river where the ash leaves a film that moves slowly downstream.  Boats on the river in front of the ghat are loaded to the top with wood.  Every now and then a new group appears with another body.  There are no appointments, yet the process appears to flow smoothly.  It takes about three hours.

Manikarnika Ghat

Manikarnika Ghat

Not everyone may be cremated.  Children under the age of five, sadhus (holy men), people who have died of snakebite, and pregnant women need no further purification.  Instead, a stone is attached to the shrouded body and a boatman is paid to carry them out onto the river where they are consigned to the river.  Yet the river flows, things move around, and the stone may come detached, allowing the body to rise to the surface.  Death is not for the squeamish.  But the cycle of life and death continues in Varanasi, as it has for thousands of years.  And the nearby electric crematorium languishes unused and in disrepair.

Manikarnika Ghat

For an excellent photo essay on the subject, refer to this National Geographic article.

For more of my photos of Varanasi, refer to this Flickr album.  Other posts about Varanasi can be found here: Death on the Ganges; Varanasi by Night

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Varanasi by Night

We finally had the opportunity to visit Varanasi, India – also known as Benares or Kashi – one of the seven holy cities of Hinduism and Jainism, and also important in the development of Buddhism.  Varanasi, a city of 3 million on the western bank of the Ganges River, is said to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

There are plenty of nice hotels in Varanasi, but we chose a “heritage hotel” on the Ganges in order to be at the center of activity and to better experience the atmosphere of the city.  The view is worth it:

River View

The hotel, located on one of the central ghats (there are nearly 100) is only reachable by boat. We were dropped off by taxi at the northernmost ghat, were picked up by the hotel’s boat, and enjoyed a late-afternoon ride down the Ganges. That night, we were invited to take a boat ride upriver to the city’s most spectacular Ghat, the Dashashwamedh Ghat, where Hindu priests perform a nightly dedication to Lord Shiva, River Ganga (the Ganges), Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.

On the way there, we enjoyed a spectacular (just post-)sunset ride.  See some of the photos:

Dusk in Varanasi

Dusk in Varanasi

We were instructed to keep our hands inside the boat to avoid getting them crushed, so thick were the boats on the river. Boys in rowboats were selling onlookers small floating candles to send downstream, while hawkers stepped from boat to boat selling bottles of cold water. We were pretty far out and there are better videos than ours, but this was our experience (very much shortened:

Still images of the ceremony can be found at this link.

Afterward, a meal on the rooftop restaurant at the hotel.  And our waiter explained that this evening was the last in a multi-day Hindu festival (there are so many we lose track – and they vary between cities and regions!), and he encouraged us to get out and have a look.  So we did.  We wandered around the alleys behind the hotel:

Alley

and eventually managed to find our way to the main road, which was packed with people heading in all directions.

Lights

In fact, I recorded a short video clip to try and convey our impressions. The sound is actually from the streets, not music I added afterward.

Finally after a long day we decided we’d had enough excitement for one day, so we headed back. On our way, we saw these guys just above street level:

Red Macaques

For more photos of our trip to Varanasi, check out this album on Flickr.  Other posts about Varanasi can be found here: Death on the Ganges; In and Around Town 

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Project Underwood: Typewriter Restoration

One evening about a year ago, my (younger) daughter and I were checking out typewriters on eBay.  We share an interest in “retro” machines (this is how my camera craze started, and her last Christmas present was a record player), and inexplicably, we both wanted – needed – a typewriter.  So we both picked one out and waited.  Got great deals.  Hers worked.  Mine didn’t.  Doesn’t.  Here’s what it looked like close-up after having removed some parts.

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So I got it in my head somehow I was going to restore this thing.  Take it apart, clean it piece by piece, and put it together, a smoothly oiled and operating machine.  I carefully researched it and determined that to this day, I’m still not sure what it is.  According to its serial number (4808494-11), it should be a #6 made in 1938.  But then there is this website with pictures that lists it as a “late 1940s” model.  (For $1,295!!  Mine cost like 30 bucks plus shipping).

So I started to take the thing apart.  The carriage was all crooked and wouldn’t slide properly, the shift function didn’t work, the ribbon wouldn’t lift up when a key was struck, basically the thing didn’t work at all.  I removed about 15-20 major components and took pictures along the way to help remember the sequence.  Then I was faced with the prospect of disassembling all of the small pieces and levers inside.  I consulted somebody on Instructables.com about next steps, and he cautioned against it – saying the typical typewriter like this consists of 2-3,000 individual pieces!  So I took his advice.

I discovered that the metal frame of the typewriter had a crack in it.  I bought some industrial strength epoxy and glued the thing back together.  As for the rest of the problems, the typewriters of this era are amazing pieces of machinery.  Designing them must have been an endless trial-and-error exercise, but the end product is a triumph in human ingenuity!  Anything that’s wrong with it, you can basically look at it and fiddle around with the different levers and springs and connections, and figure out how it’s supposed to work.  So piece by piece I was able to restore most of its basic functions.

Next I used a vacuum, toothbrushes, rags and q-tips to clean it as thoroughly as possible.  Doing that helped it work even better.  As I cleaned it, I put it back together, somehow, using the pictures I had taken.  The end result is a typewriter that almost works, and simultaneously adds like 100 pounds to our weight allowance.  I could not figure out how the little bell rings.  And there just isn’t quite enough clearance for the carriage to go back and forth smoothly.  And a piece of trim is missing, as well as the carriage knob on the right side.  But it looks pretty nice:

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So now I have a partly working typewriter.

I’ve just bid on another exemplar of the same model on eBay….I just know, if I have two, I can make one working copy….

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