Guest Post: Darkroom Blues – a Blast from the Past (part 1)

A friend of mine here in Chennai shared an article with me the other day, which he had written for the Photographic Society of Madras, a local photographic society founded in 1857.  It reminded me not only how far we have come – in this day and age where everyone is taking perfectly lit/focused photographs at the touch of a screen – but also how much we have forgotten.  As someone whose initial experience with film cameras was usually something “instamatic,” I am only now discovering for the first time the combination of craftsmanship, chemistry, and improvisation that was necessary in the days of film photography, which were not really so long ago.  He agreed to let me republish his article here, and I am happy to post the first of two parts below.

The author, Rags Raghavan, has since moved on to digital photography.  You can find samples of his current work on his website, or on his Flickr page.  Enjoy!


I have been taking photos since I was ten years old with the family Kodak Brownie 620 camera, which is still with me and a treasured family heirloom. I am sharing some time slices from my early teens when I was discovering photography in a big way, when photography was both physics and chemistry. My main camera then was a Yashica 635 Twin lens reflex that could shoot 120 square 6×6 format as well as 35mm film.


During the 70’s when I must have been sixteen years old, was about the time when I set up my home darkroom. A family friend gave me his sparingly used Gnome Beta enlarger that had a Leitz Wetzlar lens. Four years or so of darkroom excitement and chemistry followed – Kodak D76, Microdol – X fine grain film developers, DA-163 paper developer and photo paper from Kodak, Ilford, Agfa and Indu. Fixer solution that could be used for film as well as prints was called Kodafix, if I remember right.

I was dodging and burning long before Adobe made that process into a tool!

My darkroom was basically a bathroom to start with. Before I began developing, I had to remove the main light bulb over the bath room mirror – the switch for the main light was outside and I did not want anyone from my family turning it on by mistake.

Ilford had their own building down Woods Road off Mount Road in Madras where I sometimes bought chemistry and paper – the building is now occupied by FabIndia. I used to buy cut 35 mm film from Lingans Photo studio in Mylapore – they bought 100 foot rolls from ORWO and repacked into 35mm cassettes . I had a choice of two speeds in B&W -125 ASA or 400 ASA, loosely called ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ film. Packed ORWO film had their speed indicated in DIN numbers – 22 and 27 for slow and fast. ORWO was way cheaper than Kodak, because it was an East German product, long before the Berlin wall fell.

Film developing was boring because you relied on the timer clock which was the boss. Print developing was fun as you could work with a red/orange safe light and see the image gradually emerging when the exposed paper was being agitated in the developer bath. This was the very essence and the name of the game – I took the shot in my camera, and it was a negative that I developed myself and it was a final print that I was processing myself – beginning to end satisfaction at its best! A popular photo album size was called ‘cabinet’ size – roughly 6″x4″ which is today’s maxi.

Print glazing was on glass sheets with a bare bulb to add heat. Buying chemicals and paper left me broke, so there was no money left to buy a glazing machine. Nor could I afford a Print trimmer/cutter, so a large scissor and deft hands did the job well. Cannibalizing was another name for a home darkroom and instead of a brand name photo print easel, I made masks out of cardboard sheets which did the job well if I needed white borders, which I hated in any case. Developed film drying was under a fan with clothes clips with weighted clips at the bottom end. I could not afford those sleek developing trays that Ilford marketed here, instead used enamel trays bought from the surgical shops on Mount Road. They even had name brand thermometers (!) those days, the most popular was by Paterson. Print tongs were made from chopsticks held together by rubber bands. Contact sheets, both for 120 and 35mm, were easily achieved with the negatives sandwiched between a glass sheet and photo paper

As we dream of buying the latest in high end camera gear today, my ambition in those days was to earn and save enough to eventually buy an Italian made Durst M606 enlarger, with a Schneider Componon enlarging lens! I would have been the talk of the darkroom town if I even owned one! Beseler was another well known brand, but that was not as radical and streamlined as the Durst.


I had a Paterson developing tank that could take two reel sizes – 120 and 35 mm. I made several 12×10 prints in those years, many which I simply gave away to friends and family. Today, except for my Nikon F3 SLR – unfair to call it a user collectible yet – which I run a roll of film even now, everything else as you read above is firmly etched in my mind and gone into history. One cracked developing tank morphed into a flower vase though!

Sadly, the photo album concept is long dead. There was once the thrill and pleasure of picking up an album and browsing through photographs – today we share lo-res images by email and social sites. How many people, with their huge investments in expensive high end camera gear, even make prints today? My home has long since turned into a photo gallery and the only display space left for mine and my son’s prints is on the ceiling.

In case you get the impression that I am 140 years old, far from it – I am running sixty and growing younger by the day! And I am glad I learnt the subtleties and nuances of photography by the trial and error method, rather than the Auto everything mode we use today!

Posted in film processing, Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Found Film: Lakes and Rivers

For the last few months, I have been sharing photos believed to have been taken by Raymond Albert in the late 1940s through the mid-1950s.  In total, the collection consists of about 23 rolls.  This post highlights the 19th and 20th roll I am sharing/have shared, in the approximate order they were likely taken.  I’m guessing the current rolls were taken around 1955-56.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 19

The main employer in 1950s Rumford, Maine, today a town of less than 6,000 people, was the Oxford Paper Company.  Of the 14,000 people who lived in the twin towns of Rumford and Mexico, Maine, a good 3,000 worked daily at “the Oxford.”  One writer described it as “that boiling hulk on the riverbank, the great equalizer that took our fathers from us every day and eight hours later gave them back, in an unceasing loop of shift work.”  She continues:

The mill.  the rumbling, hard-breathing monster that made steam and noise and grit and stench and dreams and livelihoods – and paper.  It possessed a scoured, industrial beauty as awesome and ever-changing as the leaf-plumped hills that surrounded us.  It made a world unto itself, overbearing and irrefutable, claiming its ground along the Androscoggin, a wide and roiling river that cracked the floor of our valley like the liveline on a palm.  My father made his living there, and my friends’ fathers, and my brother, and my friends’ brothers, and my grandfather, and my friends’ grandfathers.  They crossed the footbridge over the river’s tainted waters, carrying their lunch pails into the mill’s overheated gullet five, six, sometimes seven days a week.

(excerpt from When We Were the Kennedys, a Memoir from Mexico, Maine by Monica Wood.  Mexico was just across the river from Rumford.)

The Oxford Paper Company was at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, and it helped make Maine the top paper-producing state in the nation.  You could see the mill from everywhere in Rumford, and you could it from much farther.  The chemicals used in paper making were simply dumped into the Androscoggin River.  When these photos were taken, one of America’s early environmentalists and a Rumford native, Edmund Muskie, had just been elected Governor.  Paper mill workers spoke with a variety of accents, having come to Rumford or Mexico from a many different places in search of a better life, which many of them found in Rumford.  There was plenty of work to be done, and it was difficult, and dirty.  But it was steady work, and an honest living, in the 1950s.

The men of the Albert family most likely worked at the mill.  When they got time off, they would take their families out of town, to some fresh air, away from the smell of the mill for a bit. The grandparents on both sides of the family were well into retirement age, and from the photo collection, appear to have had vacation homes where the kids and grandkids could enjoy nature. I believe this would have been Raymond Albert’s parents’ place.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 19

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 19

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 19

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 19

It seems like it would have been a great place to go with your cousin (?) to fish, learn about nature, and spend time cooling off in the lake.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 19

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 19

Maybe Grandpa lived somewhere up north or northwest, closer to the St. Lawrence? The photo below is probably from the St. Lawrence.  The girls are each enjoying a box of Cracker Jacks! I wonder what their prize would have been?

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 19

The second roll I’m sharing in this post differs from most of the photos in this collection in that many were taken through a moving car window, or from a boat, and are therefore of varying quality. So I’ll just share a few of the ones that turned out, and give a flavor of the trip they photographed with this roll.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 20

This trip was to Alexandria Bay, New York – a small town that balloons every year with boaters and tourists visiting the “1000 Islands” region of the St. Lawrence River. From there, you can take a cruise and have a look at many of the islands. On many of these islands, there are huge mansions built by the rich and famous. In addition to the shots taken from the moving car window, many of the photos on this roll are of such structures.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 20

One of the buildings they saw was the Boldt castle, started in 1900 by George Boldt, general manager of New York’s Waldorf Astoria, for his wife. When Boldt’s wife abruptly died four years after construction began in 1900, the project was abandoned.  When one of the Alberts took the photo below of it in 1956 or so, it had been languishing at the mercy of the elements for half a century.  In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority would eventually acquire the property and set out to restore it to the condition it was in when construction was halted.


The film roll contains a number of other multimillion-dollar constructions on private islands. Probably the Alberts took a tour on this boat:

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 20

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 20

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 20

And finally, they also caught a glimpse of the Rapids Prince.  Under the motto “from Niagara to the Sea,” the Canada Steamship Lines had large inland fleet which included several passenger steamers on which you could book a ticket to “run the rapids.”

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 20

The Rapids Prince was added to the fleet in 1913, and it was apparently the last passenger steamer in the fleet when it ran the rapids for the final time in 1949. Prior to the 1950s, when the St. Lawrence Seaway was completed, cargo ships had to unload their cargo onto other ships downstream due to the rapids, but smaller ships such as the Rapid Prince could navigate them in relative safety (though it was grounded twice in its service – in 1922 with passengers stranded about until they could be rescued the following day).



The ad above is from around 1950.

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.


Posted in Found Film | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Camera Test: The Ensign Commando

In 1945, London’s Ensign Ltd. designed a rugged, all-purpose camera for the British military that never saw much action because the war ended shortly thereafter.  It was subsequently “civilianized” but never got much traction due to supply shortages and the reputation German cameras still enjoyed.

Ensign Commando

It’s a shame the Ensign Commando never really caught on as well as it could have.  It’s an attractive, and well-made camera that is easy to use, feels solid in the hands, and has a number of innovative and interesting features.  For example, most cameras of that time frame and earlier are either focused by sliding the entire lens/shutter assembly back and forth (for the earlier ones) or by turning the lens – basically screwing it and unscrewing it – to change the distance between the lens and the film.  On the Commando, the lens stays in place but the film is moved back and forth, using the knob on the top right (in photo), so that you don’t have to let go of the camera and grope around in front of the optics.  Plus, a distance gauge on the focus knob in addition to a rangefinder, to make extra sure your shots are crisp and focused correctly.


The camera uses 120 film, but instead of taking eight 6 x 9 cm exposures, the default is 6 x 6 cm, which allows for 12 square shots.  It can also take 16 6 x 4.5 cm exposures, however.  Other cameras that allow two sizes of photos to be taken typically use a mask that gets lost over the years – but the Commando has two flaps that can be folded in to turn the square to a narrower rectangle.  Depending on the size, a slider in the center can be moved to assist with the proper framing.  It has two separate windows in the back which can be opened depending on the size you’re shooting, but the winder will also stop automatically if the slider on the winding knob (top left in photo) is in the correct position.  For 16 exposures, the slider is moved the other way, the winder turns freely, and the red window has to be used to wind the film the correct distance.


The camera came in three “civilian” versions after the 1945 military version, and this is the final (1949-1950) version, which has a faster (1/300s) shutter than previous versions.  It’s a fun camera to use once you figure out all of its features.  The first roll I shot was a new roll of color Ektar film, which turned out OK but had some odd color aberrations.


Ferris Wheel Sunbeam

So next I decided to try some black and white film – but because film can be expensive and I was just testing out the camera, I grabbed an expired roll of Orwo (former East German, manufactured well before the Wall came down) black and white film. Orwo was considered “cheap” film even when the film was freshly manufactured – so 30-40 years after expiration, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

Day at the Beach

Horse Rider


At Play

What I find interesting about all of these photos is that they are all so well-focused. The rangefinder can be a little tricky. For those who don’t know how a rangefinder works, you look through the viewfinder and move the focusing knob until the image and a “ghost” of the image are exactly superimposed. In bright sunlight on the beach, with a quickly changing scene, it can be tricky to catch an image before it’s gone. So I took most of the pictures by estimating the distance using the marks on the focusing knob. And for virtually all the photos, contrast and brightness came out pretty well also, which suggests the shutter is still operating at the correct speed (I estimate shutter speed and aperture without a light meter).

It’s a fun camera to use. For a vintage camera from 1949, it seems heavy and bulky, but it’s not really any worse than today’s DSLRs. But it somehow feels a lot more solid and rugged.


For more photos taken with this particular camera, you can view this Flickr album.  To learn more about the camera, see this link.

Posted in Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Camera Test: Olympus PEN EE.S

A few days ago, I blogged about another vintage camera that I characterized as somewhat unique in that there were virtually no settings or adjustments you could make on the camera.  I thought it might be one of the earliest “point and shoot” cameras.  Afterward, I realized that virtually every box camera of the early 20th century was in fact a “point and shoot.”  But for a folding camera, it was pretty rare to not be able (or have a need to) set the distance from the subject (i.e. focus), aperture and/or shutter speed.

Olympus PEN-EE S

Fast forward to the 1960s, and there is a sudden proliferation of so-called “point and shoot” cameras.  Most are pretty cheaply made and simple – think Kodak Instamatics, and all of the plastic Kodaks using 127 film.  Most of them, like the box cameras for decades preceding, basically just used a single aperture and shutter speed that would work for most “average” photographic conditions.  The Olympus PEN EE.S, pictured here, is a bit more complicated, and could more aptly be called a “fully automatic” camera, as it uses a selenium meter to determine whether the aperture would be f/2.8, , 4, 5.6, 11, 16 or 22; and also whether the shutter speed would be 1/40 or 1/200s.  You have to set the film speed (outer dial, see “ASA 200″ on photo above) and select between close-up, group, or landscape to focus the camera.  It measures the light, and if it can’t come up with a workable aperture and speed setting based on the film speed you’ve selected, the shutter won’t release, and a little red flag shows up in the viewfinder.  The only thing that keeps this from being a “fully automatic” camera is the fact that you still have to focus – that feature didn’t appear until 1978, 18 years later than this 1962 camera.

AND it’s a so-called “half-frame” camera – meaning it takes half-size negatives, or 72 photos for the standard 36-exposure 35mm roll.

But this camera is interesting for another reason:  it’s got some numbers engraved underneath.


The guy who sold me the camera (via eBay) told me he had bought it at an estate sale, someone named Peter, in Portland Oregon, who had died in his 60s.  The numbers on the camera, however, appear to be a social security number.  And while social security numbers are generally supposed to be kept private, once you pass away, they can easily be tracked down in the age of the internet.  And if you’re lucky, that will lead you to more information.  So unless I’m mistaken about those random numbers under the camera, here’s some information about its former owner:


There is additional information here and here, but no mention of anyone named Peter.  But presumably at some point, the camera passed from Erwin to somebody named Peter.  And regardless, I suppose both of them would have been surprised to know that in 2015, somebody would be using their old camera to take pictures in Chennai, India.  But that’s what I did.

Because I assumed the selenium light meter was a little worn out after 50 years, I used ASA 400 film on the ASA 200 setting.  I’m not sure if that was sufficient – all of the photos are a little dark and have an odd tint to them which could have something to do with the lens coating?  It was pretty easy to fix with a couple of clicks in Photoshop.  Here is an example:

(original photo)


(adjusted photo)

Decorated Cow

The rest of the photos are all “post” Photoshop.  But I’d be interested in knowing why they all have the tone of the first photo, if anyone has a clue.



This one is a little grainy – which brings up an important point about half-frame cameras: because the negative is half the size, enlarging the photo will double the graininess of a “normal” 35mm negative.
Shop window


A few of the photos fade to white at one side – this is a processing error, not the camera.

Welcome Ambassador

A couple of problems I had, in addition to the color tint.  There’s only one adjustment you need to make on this camera once it’s set up – turn the focus ring to one of three positions.  And of course I was so spoiled because of the “automatic” nature of the camera, I kept forgetting to do that.  So lots of blurry pictures.  If you have one of these, I’d also overcompensate for the older selenium light meter – in other words, make sure the ASA setting on the camera is lower than your actual film.  Experiment to figure out what works.  And the other error I made:  because the standard 35mm exposure is split in two, the aspect ratio is the other way than what you’d expect.  In other words, holding the camera horizontal produces a “portrait” photo, not landscape.  So that’s something to get used to.

The best part about this camera, besides the number of pictures you can cram onto a roll, is that it’s so darn compact – it fits in your pocket almost like a modern point-and-shoot.

If you’d like to see more of the pictures I took with this camera, refer to this Flickr album.  For someone else’s review of the PEN EE.S2, which only differs in that it has a hot shoe, check out this link.  And if you have one of these cameras, here’s the manual for it.


Posted in Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Found Film: The Alberts visit Quebec

For the last few months, I have been sharing photos believed to have been taken by Raymond Albert in the late 1940s thru the mid-1950s.  This latest post features photos from a trip the family took to Quebec, circa 1955.

On this trip, they visit a number of different cultural and/or religious sites.  I was able to identify a few of them.  If you’ve been to Quebec, I welcome help on the rest!

To start out, here’s a picture of the “Pont du Quebec” (Quebec Bridge), which spans the St. Lawrence River.  It was started in 1903 and collapsed twice at the cost of 88 lives, and took 30 years to complete.  It is now a National Historic Site.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

As far as I know, Raymond Albert only had one daughter – the other girls are his cousins, who consistently appear together in almost every roll in this collection. I believe the other woman is an aunt.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

While we are on the banks of the St. Lawrence, it’s worth noting that the camera in the above two photos is an Argus / Argoflex Seventy-five.  It took square pictures on 127 film and was manufactured from the late 1940s to the late 1950s.  Pretty modern camera for its time.  The woman above is holding the camera in the position required to snap a photo.

Then we have a few unidentified sites.  Below it says “A mari usque ad mare.”  No idea?  it’s Canada’s national motto.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

Here are the three girls again.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

I couldn’t identify this large building either. I believe it is facing the roundabout directly below. Googling the motto on the grass didn’t help – it’s most likely “de bon vouloir servir le roy,” but that brings up a number of different things other than a roundabout. On the backside, it says “Quebec.”

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

In the photo below, the family is visiting the Basilica of St Anne de Beaupre, about 30 kilometers east of Quebec and an important site for Catholics.  Near the Basilica is a walkway leading up a hillside with the “14 Stations of the Cross.”  This statue is the second in the walk, depicting Jesus receiving his cross.  A video showing all 14 stations can be seen here.  It took me some time to identify the correct “station” because in the photo below, there is an additional figure which does not appear to exist in the video (start at the 30 second mark).  I’d be curious for any explanation.  Was the figure on the extreme left removed since the mid-1950s for some reason?

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

There is also a double (or is it triple?) exposure on the roll, which I was able to partially identify as a statue of Samuel de Champlain.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

Lastly, I would have expected the family to snap a few photos at the Citadelle. I thought that might be the photo below, but I am unable to reconcile the wall in the background with any other photos I can find of the Citadelle. There are, however, a number of these cannons there as shown in this blog.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

For fun I’ll end with a couple of photos that seem to be out of place on this roll. I like them both, especially the last one. Men with odd expressions.

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 18

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.

Posted in Found Film | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road

This is one more / the last post from our recent trip to Australia.  Over a two-week period, we were fortunate to be able to pass through (though without actually seeing much of it) Sydney, and this was followed by a few days in Port Douglas /a day in Cairns, including several outings to the Great Barrier Reef; Katherine and Katherine Gorge via Darwin; and finally Melbourne.

The slideshow above (click right to advance, and you can make it full screen using the arrows on the bottom right) covers Fitzroy, where we found a nice AirBnB apartment, and the Central business District. The video below is an overflight of Fitzroy.

The thing that really struck us was how few people there seem to be. It’s probably because we’re used to being in India, which is a wonderful country, but you forget just how many people you’re surrounded by constantly. In the aerial footage of Melbourne you can clearly see there is hardly any traffic – granted, on a Sunday morning, but still… and Melbourne is strikingly clean. The amount of graffiti in the absence of trash made me think maybe the graffiti had been placed with the blessing of the city authorities and/or building owners – like paid murals. So I started digging around a bit – and discovered that the graffiti in Melbourne gets online raves as a tourist attraction in its own right!

Besides lots of shopping and walking around town, one of the best things to do in Melbourne is actually to leave town.  For the purpose of taking a drive along the Great Ocean Road, that is…

Though it’s a road, ironically one of the things we saw a lot of, besides scenic views of southern Australia, was wildlife.  Specifically, koalas.  At many points along the Road, but notably inside Great Otway National Park, on Australia’s southermost tip, we’d come upon a cluster of parked tourist cars surrounded by groups of tourists pointing their cameras skyward at the upper reaches of the eucalyptus trees above.  And this is what they would see:



Sleepy, furry, grouchy old men living in trees.

The farthest we made it along the Great Ocean Road was to Port Campbell, where you’ll find such attractions as the “12 Apostles” and several huge arches.  The one below, called “London Arch,” apparently had a span connecting it to the shore.  Which unexpectedly collapsed one day in 1990, leaving two tourists stranded (they were later airlifted by helicopter):

Broken Arch

These are the “12 Apostles.” I’m not sure if there are really 12. I so wanted to fly the drone/camera over them, but there were constantly helicopters zooming over, and hundreds of tourists. I didn’t want to be the guy who caused them to change the law governing personal drone flights in Australia.

12 Apostles

But later on, we got to this amazing arch, with hardly anyone around, and I sent it out for a quick flight.

It was late in the afternoon. We had driven all morning through beautiful sunshine, and kept thinking we would stop at all the amazing beaches we were seeing. Then it turned cloudy, and we hit the farthest extent of our drive as the sun was setting. Which we would have missed, had we stopped for a swim. And then suddenly the clouds opened up one last time so we could capture a bit of the spectacular view, the size of which can’t really be conveyed by photograph.  Want to see more koalas, or pictures of the things we saw in and around Melbourne?  Check out this album on Flickr.


Sunset at the 12 Apostles

Posted in Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Camera Test: Agfa Ansco No. 1A Ready-Set Special

Agfa Ansco No 1A Readyset Special

This is a camera I bought, not knowing anything at all about it, simply because I thought it looked cool. It turns out that this particular model is not all that well-known, but the overall Ready-set series is. The Ready-Set series was introduced around 1928, around the time Ansco merged with the German firm Agfa (a bad choice, as it turns out, as the US government took over this company, which predates Eastman Kodak, in 1941, due to its ties with Germany). The Ready-Set series was introduced to challenge Kodak’s new colored models, and featured bright colors and simulated leathers of various types such as ostrich. They were inexpensive and could be carried as a fashion accessory, depending on the particular look of the camera.

Best of all, they boasted an ease of use that would allow just about any amateur to take decent pictures. Back then, most cameras required a fair bit of knowledge and understanding of photography, chemistry, and an ability to estimate light levels, distance, and other factors. In contrast, the Ready-Set made things easy, as spelled out in an advertisement of the day:

Here’s a camera that’s got thousands of people taking pictures again! Intelligent people who had given up in despair are now enthusiastic, for the Ansco Ready-Set gets such clear, beautiful pictures.  Maybe you have had trouble? Lots of people do. some forget to focus – or judge the distance poorly. Then what shutter speed and what opening is the right one? Many fine cameras are made for the expert, who demands a lot of features that just get in the way of the average person.

The No. 1A Ready-set has done away with all those chances to go wrong. No focusing, no judging of distance is required, for 10, 25, 100 eet are all (illegible) for the Ansco Ready-Set. As for the shutter, not even a box camera is so simple. You set either for snapshots or for time exposures. On time the opening is automatically made smaller. Finally, there’s the automatic two-way finder that prevents chopped-off heads and arms, a wonderfully helpful feature.

Sunshine, and someone to take the pictures – that’s all the $11.50 Ready-Set asks for fine results. If you’ve failed continually, try the Ready-Set with Ansco film, and get good pictures from the start.

Here’s another ad, maybe from a couple of years earlier, with an even lower price:

readyset ad combo

There is really only one setting on the camera – if you rotate the dial to “inst”, the shutter opens and closes on its own – I’m guessing around 1/50 of a second or so.  On the “time” setting, the shutter stays open until you click it again to close the shutter.  For example, if you were to take a photo indoors – this preceded the days of flash bulbs and cubes.  So your subject would have to sit very, very still….

Agfa Ansco No 1A Readyset Special

As indicated in the ad above, the camera came in several different sizes.  The one I have is one of the largest models, using “film same size as 116″ (Ansco had their own film size naming conventions).  As this film is no longer available, I had to get creative.  Some people modify the camera, but I prefer to modify the film – i.e. I take the smaller 120 film and respool it into a 116 backing paper and spool, as explained in this post.  This allows me to take 7 photos that are slightly cropped along the longer edges.

How did things turn out?  Well, I’d say there is a reason why most cameras of the day had all the different settings they did.  But the camera companies were trying to expand their customer base to the casual photographer, so it was in their interest to produce cameras that gave decent photos in “average” conditions.  It would be great to experiment with Ansco’s film of that time era, but using today’s film, here are my results:

Father and Daughter

Clowning Around



The last one is my favorite, even though it is slightly blurry.


Overall the photos are all a bit “muddy” in terms of color – probably because the streets of Chennai are always a little bit darker than ideal would be for these old cameras.  It would be worth trying this on the beach with black and white.  The red light flares along the edges of some of the shots suggest a light leak somewhere in the camera.  But I’m pretty confident there are no leaks – you can check this with a flashlight in a dark room – so it may actually have been light that leaked in as a result of, or during the process, of re-spooling the film.  Who knows?

But in an age where we take “point and shoot” cameras for granted – and have done so for years – it’s interesting to see that this wasn’t always the case.

Posted in Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pongal in Chennai / Camera Test

Often I blog about old cameras I’m testing out, often I blog about things we see and experience in India.  This post has a little of both!

The Ansco Agfa Karomat 36 (known by variants of that name) is an Agfa Karat 36 rebadged for the American market, where it was sold by Ansco from about 1948 through the early 1950s.  In the line of Karat cameras, it’s one of the only ones to break from tradition and use a standard 35mm cassette, instead of the “Rapid” cartridges Agfa/Ansco would later re-launch as an unsuccessful alternative to Kodak’s 126 cartridges.  But the nice part is that, although the Rapid cartridges can still be found and loaded, it makes it much more practical for modern use.

Agfa Karomat 36

The camera feels really solid in your hands, and it’s a nice piece of technology for 1950: a functioning rangefinder with a clear, Schneider-Kreuznach F/2 lens. To use it, you have to pop out the bellows, and of course like most cameras of that era, manually set the f-stop (f/2 to 16), shutter speed (B to 1/500) and focus, with the assist of the rangefinder. In 1953, it sold for US$164 (over $1200 in 2007 US dollars – these were not cheap cameras!).

On my first venture out into the streets of Chennai, the results were a bit disappointing – all kind of murky and dark. Photography with old cameras can be a challenge in Chennai, because it’s always somewhat overcast, and with narrow alleys and things, light can be a challenge. Here are a couple of examples, artificially lightened after the fact using Photoshop on the scanned version:

Going to Temple

Buying a Snack

A week or so later, however, we ventured out to Elliot Beach, where the light is typically much better, even though it was later afternoon and the sun was settling in the distance over the Pacific.  It was also the fourth and final day of Thai Pongal, the Tamil harvest festival, which has been celebrated for as long as a millenium.  I have already shared with you what happens on the first day, or Bhogi Pongal, and you can read here about the intervening days.  The fourth day is “Kaanum Pongal”, and I have the excerpt from Wikipedia below:

Kaanum Pongal, the fourth day of the festival, marks the end of Pongal festivities for the year. The word kaanum in this context means “to visit.” Many families hold reunions on this day. Brothers pay special tribute to their married sisters by giving gifts as affirmation of their filial love. Landlords present gifts of food, clothes and money to their tenants. Villagers visit relatives and friends while in the cities people flock to beaches and theme parks with their families. Celebrants chew sugar cane and again decorate their houses with kolam. Relatives and friends receive thanks for their assistance supporting the harvest.

So that’s why we were at the beach.  Along with the rest of Chennai, including all of the food and knick-knack sellers.

Fruit for Sale

Beach Food

Carnival Shooting

Trinkets for Sale

The mood was jovial and everyone wished us a happy new year and asked for their picture to be taken.  Basically when I spotted and photographed these girls, it set off a chain reaction, and we were hard pressed to get off the beach as the light began to fade!

Two Girls

Family Photo


The pictures I included from this second batch have hardly any adjustments made to them at all – occasionally a bit of lightening and increased contrast.  But I’d say all in all, the camera performed well, and I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about this 1950 camera, along with one of the most important holidays in Tamil Nadu!

Other photos taken with this camera can be found here.

Posted in Life in India, Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Katherine: Hiking the Gorge

When planning our recent trip to Australia, we wanted to include a few days exploring the country’s amazing “outback.”  Confronted with endless options, we decided on the Northern Territory, but rather than the usual Uluru/Alice Springs outing, we opted for the area surrounding the town of Katherine, with emphasis on Nitmiluk National Park and Katherine Gorge.

It turns out that our trip was taking place during/slightly after the rainy season, which means that many of the surrounding attractions were closed, and the activities that could be undertaken  were extremely limited.  On the bright side, the campground was nearly empty (maybe that should have been a hint!)  We had been promised by camp staff that if the rains prevented access to the park, we’d be given a refund, but fortunately it never came to that.  Off we went on a 300 km drive from Darwin, in the north.


Katherine gorge is a huge, winding gorge that has been carved by the Katherine River in age-old sandstone.  Apparently seen from the sky, there are a lot of criss-cross fissures as well – when the (formerly undersea) land was lifted up, it broke much in the way a mango breaks into criss-cross cracks.  It is divided into 13 separate gorges by rapids or waterfalls.  During the non-rainy season, you can take boat rides from the lower gorge up through the next half dozen or so, stopping at each gorge to walk to the next successive boat.  And you can swim in the waters.  During the rainy season, the rising water not only causes hazards to the boats, it allows (extremely dangerous) saltwater crocodiles to join the (harmless) freshwater crocodiles in the upper gorges.  The running joke among the park staff was, “how do you tell the freshwater crocodiles from the saltwater crocodiles?  The freshies swim away from you, the salties towards you.”  The fellow below is a “freshie” spotted near the campground.


The campground itself is a no-frills affair – but highly recommended over any of the small simple hotels in Katherine, 26 km away.  They have spots for tents, a nice pool, and single and double cabins, which are quite comfortable, and you can stock up the fridge from “Wooly’s” (Woolworth) in Katherine and prepare meals on the stove with plentiful pots, pans and dishes.  There was supposed to be internet, but it wasn’t working.  Which was OK too.  And the bonus is that you get to see animals hanging around the campground – right from your window! – like these guys:




So what can you do at Nitmiluk campground when most of the nearby attractions are closed, there’s no swimming, and the boats aren’t running up the gorges?  Hiking!  Even for the most inexperienced hikers, there are gorgeous views to be seen near the campground, within 1-2 km.  You will need to climb stairs, however!



Bring water bottles – there are rainwater caches scattered around the grounds – and enjoy this amazing landscape which is a place of great ceremonial significance to the native Jawoyn people – so much so that they were able to convince the government of Australia to give the land back to them, after which they leased it back for 99 years to allow people like us to enjoy the amazing sights.  One downside, however:  flies!  You’ll notice in the photo above I’m carrying a red shirt – as we walked we had to constantly flick these by our faces or the flies would drive you crazy.  Some people had hats with nets attached, which you can apparently by in the camp store.


DSC_0061 (2)

No swimming allowed?  This was a tiny pool with its own waterfall that we encountered in our 8-10 km hike which took the better part of a day.  A perfect place to take a break.

On that particular hike, the landscape changed so many times as we descended toward a bend in the river, where you can sort of make out the criss-cross pattern.  The video is a bit shaky – the water was so calm and we were standing right next to it – and I kept having visions of saltwater crocodiles jumping out of the water…

We did manage to take one day trip – Edith Falls, also technically part of the park, is about 50 km to the north.  The walk was pretty short, and in this case, we were permitted to swim in the upper pool.  Because, as you can see from the photo below, it’d be pretty hard for a croc to make it up the lower falls.




One thing we did sort of miss was wildlife.  We had this idea that we would see kangaroos and wallabies and koalas on our hike.  Instead,  most of the wildlife was just tiny creatures – lizards water monitors and frogs and flies…still all in all a great trip, even in the rainy season!


All photos in this post were taken by Anne.



Posted in Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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


Bare Feet


Once the parade started, it was full speed ahead!


Cadet Corps

A good time for the entire family!



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.

Posted in Life in India, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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

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.


Posted in Random Thoughts, Observations and Weird Stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Australia, Tips and Tricks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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


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


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

Raymond Albert's Photos - roll 16

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.

See the next post in this series here.

Posted in Found Film | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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.


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


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.


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.

Posted in Life in India | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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:


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.

Click here to see the next post in this series.

Posted in Found Film | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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


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

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.

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.

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.

Posted in Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Here is the next post in the series.

Posted in Found Film | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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.

Here is the next post in the series.

Posted in Found Film, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.


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:


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.


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.


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:


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?


Posted in Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!


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:


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:


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:


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.


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?)


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.


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?


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.



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.

Posted in Tips and Tricks, Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

Here is the next post in this series.

Posted in Found Film | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Photo Contest | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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.


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



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


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.


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.




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. 

Posted in Life in India | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

The next post in this series can be seen here.

Posted in Found Film | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment