Having a Whale of a Time in Sri Lanka

Mirissa Marina

We recently took our first trip to Sri Lanka.  Growing up on the opposite side of the globe, the only thing you would hear about Sri Lanka was the ongoing civil war, which dragged on for more than a quarter of a century, resulted in between 60,000 and 100,000 deaths, and displaced nearly 300,000 people.  So I wasn’t sure what to expect.

From the limited part we were able to see on a long weekend, Sri Lanka is an island paradise.  To be sure, Sri Lanka faces the same challenges as many developing countries, but we were surprised by the smooth, uncrowded roads, good infrastructure, unspoiled scenes of nature, and happy, friendly people.

Breaking Wave

We arrived at about 3 in the morning and fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing in the bay; we woke up in a reasonably priced but beautiful resort and enjoyed a morning stroll along pristine beaches lined with spectacular cliffs and verdant greenery.


Unfortunately, the rainy weather over the previous few days had left the sea a bit rough – we could see coral near the surface out in the bay, but there were 6-foot swells that made swimming out to them a delicate proposition.  Still, I managed to swim out between the breakers with a GoPro, and managed to capture some cool shots of the coral – in spite of the limited visibility underwater – and some of the waves crashing overhead.

Coral in Weligama Bay

Breaking Wave

I also discovered that beyond the far edges of the bay, there was a pretty decent current moving in the direction of the open sea.  Toward the bottom of the GPS track below, where I turned toward the beach, I could still barely make out the sea bottom…and I noticed with every stroke, I was making little to no forward progress.  Let’s just say I got a good workout that day!  Yes, it’s fun to joke about rip currents.


That evening, I had some fun with my new camera and took advantage of the lack of city lights, taking some long-exposure photos at the beach to make night look like day:

Night Exposure

But the best was yet to come.  Because the waters south of Sri Lanka are home to the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale.  And for a reasonable price, you can hop on a boat and go out and see them.  So that’s what we set out to do – on my 48th birthday.  So we hopped on a boat and set a course for the open sea.


For awhile it was just dolphins, which were pretty cool, but we probably went about 18 km on a pretty slow boat without seeing any whales, and were a bit worried that we wouldn’t see any at all.


We eventually ended up right astride the Chennai-Colombo shipping lane – there was a steady stream of giant container ships and tankers heading by in both directions.  About 500 meters away, we spotted what was practically a small gray island poking out of the water, and the white plume of a blow (exhalation of air and mucus) appeared above it.  The boat edged closer and the whale decided to dive, giving us the classic “whale tale” photo.

Blue Whale

Blue Whale

We waited for about 15 minutes to see where the whale would resurface, to no avail – so we fired up the boat engine, and within 5 minutes, spotted another. Again, as we got closer, it dove.

Blue Whale

This repeated for about 20-30 minutes, until we suddenly ended up in an area where we must have been surrounded by a dozen blue whales – as the boat moved into the area, you could literally look in almost any direction and see one of nature’s largest creatures calmly feeding on the krill which flourishes in the waters south of Sri Lanka. And this is where I made my move, taking this “bucket list” item to the next level.

Preparing for the Chase

Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought any swim fins with me. The guys on the boat kept yelling, “swim faster” and finally one of them jumped in and realized that yes, I was swimming reasonably fast. But it turns out that blue whales are a little bit faster!

Chasing the Whale

Chasing the Whale

There are companies that will take a lot more money from you, put you on a speedboat, and tell you that they have the whales “come to you” – all that I can imagine is that they would drop you in the path of an oncoming whale.  I didn’t want to disturb these gentle creatures any more than we already had.  It wasn’t quite the experience that these people had, but still a truly unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I couldn’t believe that at one point I was no more than 100 meters or so from the heaviest animal that has ever lived – at 30 meters long, almost 17 times as “long” as me, and 1250 times as heavy – gracefully sliding through the waters of the open ocean with scarcely a ripple.

Open Sea

Happy at having seen probably 30 or so blue whales that afternoon but exhausted, we made our way back to the town of Mirissa.  It turns out that three days is much too short a time to experience Sri Lanka.  But by this point, I already had my mind on a completely different trip I was about to take, because that morning there had been a few calls made from my bosses back home, and as we cruised into the harbor, I received a text message confirmation:  immediately after my return to Chennai, I would be heading out to assist in the tragic Nepal Earthquake.  The quake had struck just the day before, while we, completely unaware, had been enjoying our first day on this island paradise.  I’ll share more about that later.

Fishing Trawler

To see the other photos I took in Sri Lanka, mostly with my shiny new Fuji X100 camera, check out this album on Flickr.

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Found Film: The Happiest Place on Earth

It has been some time since the last time I wrote a “normal” found film post – i.e., one which hadn’t yet been developed.  In fact, since October, I have been sharing a box of already-developed found film shot by the late Raymond Albert.  I had a bunch of film piling up, and I have developed a bunch of them, but most have come out blank.  So this hobby is getting expensive.  But I did finally get something from a roll of 127 film:DSC03704


This roll likely dates from the 1960s, when 127 film had its heyday in cheap plastic cameras with star/rocket/flash/fun/magic in their names. After that, the Instamatics took over, with their 126 cartridges.  This particular roll has a clue, in the form of a car and a hairstyle.  Both say 1960s.

Posing with the Car

That’s a 1961 Cadillac in the background.

But then the other photos were a bit confusing.  There’s this one here, with something in the water:

Disney Water Feature?

And then there’s this odd elephant:


And, as far as I can make out, a pile of human skulls:

Faint Skulls

And finally the mystery is solved, when this photo makes its way from the scanner to my screen:


It’s the Happiest Place on Earth!

Once I figured that out, I was able to sort out that this was one of the rides:

Scary Ride

And even this very difficult-to-make-out photo made sense once I figured out which way it was oriented correctly:

Disney Riverboat

That’s right – it’s the riverboat ride!

See more “found film” at this link.

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Hark!! The Breadman Cometh

Every afternoon until well into the evening, at approximately half-hour intervals, you can hear an odd whistling sound loop in the village where we are staying, just outside of Weligama, at the southern tip of Sri Lanka.

At first I thought it was the “ice cream man” but eventually we managed to find the source as it passed through the village – it’s the local baker, delivering bread via a specially outfitted tuk-tuk.  Or apparently several – as we have seen a red version as well.  But they all play the same tune to alert people that they are passing by.


But here’s where I am asking for help:  does anyone know whether this is a standard loop that is used throughout Sri Lanka?  And if so, what is the source of the sound?  My wife says it reminds her of Kill Bill.  But to me, they sound different.  I’d be curious to know where they got it and how it came to symbolize the bread truck.

Here is the tune:  (link in case the media player doesn’t show up on your browser)

I did some Googling, and all I could come up with for Sri Lankan bread trucks was Fur Elise.  I think ours is much more pleasant.  Except for the fact that it reminds everyone of Kill Bill…

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The Ashram: Following in the Beatles’ Footsteps

Graffiti Hall

One of the places we were eager to see on our recent trip to Rishikesh, in northern India, was the so-called “Beatles Ashram.”  The former ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, on the left bank of the Ganges overlooking Rishikesh, is where the Beatles went in 1968 to learn about Transcendental Meditation.   They wrote a few songs while they were there, and soon after released the White Album.  The ashram was abandoned in 1996 and the Maharishi passed away in 2008.  The site is returning to nature and is officially off limits and under the control of the local forestry department.  However, the front “gate” is manned by a “guard” who will let you in for 100 rupees.

The odd front gate to the place, where the “guard” collects his fee. About 100 meters to the left you can get in through a hole in the surrounding wall, but given the stern warning of a 5000 rupee fine seen on this photo, we didn’t want to tempt fate.

It’s a strange arrangement and we were far from the only visitors among a number of photographers and graffiti artists, and groupie types just hanging around.  One of the buildings is a large hall, most likely where the Maharishi gave his lectures.  When we were there, probably 7 or 8 other folks were hanging around, either taking pictures, or painting on the graffiti-covered walls, or talking to an old Indian saddhu who appeared to be enjoying the attention.


Posing with Beatles
There is a set of apartments at the beginning that set the mood, and then you continue up a bath with a cluster of domelike structures that supposedly housed the Beatles, Mia Farrow, and other guests back in the day.

Going for a Closer Look

Dome Roofs

Dome number 9, shown below, is rumored to be where Lennon stayed (hence the song, “Revolution No. 9″) but there’s nothing really out there to corroborate that. The result of that rumor is that this dome has the most interior graffiti.  They’ve all got a small bathroom as you enter on the right, and then there is a living space about the size of a 6-person tent, and another smaller space upstairs.  And then the upstairs parts of the domes are all linked with a platform/pathway.

Number 9

Dome Entrance

Farther up in the compound are a variety of different conventional-looking buildings, along with what appears to be a kitchen with an outdoor eating area where everyone is said to have taken their meals together.  And even higher up is a strange, 4-story apartment building with odd white domes on top that can be seen from the town.  All of the surfaces on the roof and much of the outside are covered with mosaic-like tile chips.  It all makes for interesting photography, even when a stranger pops up out of nowhere.

Oops Sorry


It’s an interesting place to spend the day and snoop around. On the one hand, it’s a shame the place was just allowed to go into decline – but on the other hand, it would be a lot less interesting had it been maintained. Abandoned places are always fun photography destinations.

If you’d like to go through all of the photos I took there, mostly on a 1950 Kodak Retina 1a, you can check out this album.

If you’re interested in a couple of other abandoned spaces I’ve blogged about and photographed (in Namibia), you can check out this Flickr album from abandoned structures on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast or this blog post about a ghost town in southern Namibia.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this picture of the mailbox near the entrance.  I wonder if any letters have been forgotten inside?


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Strolling (and Rafting) through Rishikesh


Not too long ago, we had a chance to visit Rishikesh, in northern India and the Himalayan foothills, known as a top yoga and adventure travel destination.  You may have also heard about Rishikesh as the site of the ashram where the Beatles stayed in the late 1960s, and where they sought (and found, apparently) inspiration for their work.  We visited that (abandoned) ashram as well, but that will be a separate post.

Ram Bridge
Pilgrims sit on the left bank of the Ganga at the Ram Bridge.  Crossing the Ram Bridge is an experience in itself, as you will be joined on the 2-meter wide suspension footbridge by cows, bicycles, and constantly honking motorcycles!  See photo taken by Anne, below:


To be honest, I thought the town itself was overrated as a tourist destination.  It was nice to see the Ganges/Ganga where it flows clean and cool from the mountains, and you can bathe in it without worry – or go whitewater rafting.  In fact, that’s what we did one day:

There are definitely a lot of outsiders hanging around town.  And though there are activities that bring in the tourists and adventurers, the town itself is not that remarkable.  Especially on a drab, rainy day.


I am not a big “street food” eater, but I had to stop and have some fried sweet potato from this guy.  They call it sweet potato in India, but honestly I find this indistinguishable from the ordinary potatoes in Europe that they make delicious Belgian and Dutch fries out of.  These were every bit as good, and when I went back a second time he became very concerned when I refused any of the special sauces (mostly spicy) he was offering me.  Just salt and grease, thank you very much.  And no “maditation” for us either.

Potato Vendor

Another thing people like to visit in town is the nightly Ganga Aarti – the sacred Hindu ritual of worship on the banks of the Ganges river.  Students in the ashram learning the Vedic (Hindu scripture) texts sing songs and prayers, and offerings are made to the fire god Agni.  Everyone is welcome to observe the ceremony, as the people photographed below are doing.

Ganga Aarti

For us, one of the highlights was seeing the beautiful grey langurs we spotted hanging around near the Ram Bridge.  Everyone else ignored them, but we couldn’t stop taking pictures of the monkeys, who didn’t seem to mind at all.  Here is one of Anne’s shots:


Unless otherwise identified, the photos on this post were taken with an Olympus PEN EE-S from the early 1960s (color) or a Kodak Retina 1a from the early 1950s (black and white). You can see other photos taken in Rishikesh in this Flickr album.

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Confessions of an EBay Junkie

This is what sixty bucks worth of junk looks like:


OK, so I admit, I have a problem.  I like to go on eBay and type “vintage camera” into the search bar and see what comes up.  And I sort by time remaining, so invariably an interesting camera or two will pop up with 3 or 4 minutes remaining, but at a tantalizingly low price.  And I’ll throw up a bid to see what sticks.  And then after winning, re-read the item description more carefully and realize why the price was so low.

Or the other thing that pops up is a vintage camera lot.  With a not-completely clear picture of a bunch of cameras that look interesting and some other identifiable stuff and Hey! it’s only at 60 bucks – I wonder if…”   And then the email from eBay, “You won!!!  Sixty bucks worth of junk is on its way RIGHT NOW!!!”

It’s fun to open the box when it arrives too.  Old cameras have a certain smell – partly just “old attic” but also something else.  Dusty family albums and old memories, cheesy black-and-white TV commercials.  Usually there are a couple of old gems in there, occasionally even with a roll of undeveloped film inside.  Maybe a broken camera or two, some junk, but always something to redeem the purchase.

But this last shipment was pretty much just junk.  Kind of like someone else bought 3 or 4 “vintage camera lots” and discarded all of the broken or useless stuff and made a new “vintage camera lot” just for me.  OK so maybe I exaggerate.  But here’s what I ended up with:

Three cheap plastic cameras with cases.  A Bell & Howell “Electric Eye.”  A couple of banged up box cameras and a bakelite “Brownie Holiday Flash”  An Ansco Rediflex.  A few boxes of flashbulbs and cubes.  Some outdated developer concentrate marked clearance for 94 cents.  Strangely, a box of index tabbing.  You know – for manila folders.  A safelight and spare bulb.  A box of metal lens hoods for unidentified cameras. Some 35mm slide masks.  So you can make your own slides.  A Sears exposure meter.  Two plastic 35mm developing tanks, one of which has the reel still enclosed in plastic, with a 1978 receipt for $1.98 plus shipping from New York’s “Garden Camera” to Mr. Arthur Ivey of DeWitt Michigan.  Two unidentified flash attachments, an old metal Brownie Six-20 with is own flash attachment still in the original box.  Then, a 1938-ish Falcon, and two decent-looking 35mm cameras from the 60s with built-in light meters and decent looking lenses.

Sadly, the last three cameras don’t work, and all the other cameras seem to work, but range in value from about $1 to $10 (on a good day).  I can use the developing tank and spool myself.  So then I spent the better part of a day trying to repair the shutters on the two 35mm cameras.  One, a Tower 18B, ended up in the trash.  The other, a Minolta Minoltina-S, I got working within an hour or so.  It cleaned up nicely and is valued at between 40 and 60 bucks.  See?  I got my money’s worth.

And while I figure out what to do with all of this junk, let me do a quick search on eBay for “vintage cameras.”  You never know….

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Raymond Albert’s Photos: Postscript

Since October 2014, I have been scanning, restoring and sharing rolls of film that were found in an estate sale and subsequently put up on eBay for sale.  Unlike the “found film” I usually develop after it has been neglected in an old shoebox or left inside a forgotten camera for decades, this film was already developed and neatly rolled up, with only a single identifying clue on one of the rolls:


From this clue, and the growing body of human history and information that has become the internet, I have been able to reconstruct a great deal about the life of the photographer and those he photographed.  Things like where he worked, the home he lived in, the trips he took his family on, the names of his relatives and the work they did.  I learned a lot from a book I bought, written by someone who grew up in the town across the river just ten years later, and shared these photos with the author.  Of course, a lot of it is speculation and guessing.

Much like these rolls of forgotten, undeveloped film I have been sharing, when you’re dealing with a box of negatives with no connection to anyone you know, you wonder about the people in the pictures, but it’s all with a certain sense of detachment – like you’re studying ancient history…black and white negatives, 1949 Chevrolets, caskets returning from the Korean War…

Then it becomes awkward when you discover that the little girl who appears in every roll, most likely the photographer’s daughter, is still living and has only recently lost her father.  And these are all very real memories of someone’s life, they’ve had to sift through all his belongings and figure out what to keep, what to discard.  And the pictures in this box probably correspond to actual prints pasted somewhere in a stack of dusty photo albums, memories of a childhood, stacked in someone’s attic.

Raymond Albert

I have carefully boxed up all of the negatives, along with a CD containing scanned and restored digital copies of all of the photos, have mailed them back to Louise Agnew.  In her response, she noted that their family had not seen many of these photos until they received them in the mail.

Thanks to the late Raymond Albert and his surviving family members for sharing these wonderful photos and memories.  I hope they don’t mind that I shared them with you.

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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Petri 7S Test

Half a year ago, my mother-in-law asked me if I could use an old Petri 7S and a Minolta SRT101 they had laying around and after some quick research online I responded “most definitely!”  The Minolta will be the subject of a later post – this one is about the Petri.

Petri 7S

The Kuribayashi Camera Industry, a Japanese company founded in 1907, changed its name to the Petri Camera Company in 1962, and in 1963, began producing the 7S, which Wikipedia refers to as a “cult classic.”  Wikipedia calls it “the Circle-Eye System coupled rangefinder leaf-shuttered model, that was used by some professionals in the 1960s, and that was so well built that this model is still used by enthusiasts today and has a following amongst street photographers.”  It was in Japan where my mother-in-law’s husband Ed, a former marine, picked up the camera while stationed there.

What all of the “circle eye rangefinder” jargon means is that the camera has a selenium light meter that encircles the lens. and a rangefinder to allow focusing through the viewfinder rather  than estimating distance or settling for a camera that performs somewhat decently at all distances.  Based on varying luck I have had with selenium-based light meters on older cameras, I expected I’d still have to rely on my own eye and experience for setting aperture and shutter speed, because the selenium tends to wear out over time, based on factors that make any sort of “Kentucky windage” method unreliable until you get to know the camera pretty well.

Kolam Contest

I first took the camera out to a local community festival and its annual Kolam contest (which I wrote about last year).  The camera is fun to use – it feels solid in your hands, and its shutter makes a pleasant and satisfying click when activated.  I was pretty excited about the results I’d be getting.

Ferris Wheel


Unfortunately, the photos I got all had a greenish sort of tinge, with dingy-looking colors.  I was disappointed and set the camera aside for a few weeks.  Eventually I would load it with black and white film and carry it around as an extra camera from time to time – a few shots here, a few shots there.  This time when I developed the film, I  was amazed at the results! These beach photos, for example, taken at the popular tourist destination Mahabalipuram:

Mahabalipuram Beach

Mahabalipuram Beach

Or this temple at Tirukalukundram:



The second photo above shows bundles of cloth tied to a tree above the temple steps. I believe these have been hung here by women seeking to become pregnant – according to some traditions, a stone is hung within a piece of cloth to signify a baby in a cradle. Of course I could be completely wrong!

In any case, this camera has definitely proven itself as a great camera for black and white photos. I could probably err on the side of more light versus less, but I was pleased that virtually every shot on both rolls was extremely sharp and in focus. As a final photo, this man in a village asked me to take a picture of him with his son but then was kind of upset with me when I couldn’t show him the result. Finally he accepted that I would get the photo and print it for him at some time in the future!

Proud Father

To see all of the photos taken on the Petri 7S, check out this Flickr album.

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When 2000 Giant Ganesha Idols are Immersed in the Sea

My Indian friends who grew up nearby tell me it wasn’t always like this.  They say when they were growing up, during the festival Ganesh Chaturthi, they would have a small clay statue of Lord Ganesha, one of Hinduism’s most important deities, which would be dissolved in a pond or a container of water at the end of the festival.

Nowadays in some parts of India like Chennai, the statues can be several meters of height – one has measured as tall as 70 feet!  After being on display for worship in their communities throughout the 10-day festival, they will be brought, amid much fanfare, to the sea for immersion.


Participants in the immersion reach for a cable suspended from a crane, which will swing the idol out to sea

The sheer number of these idols moving through a city like Chennai and the traffic congestion and environmental concerns they cause, has resulted in the city implementing regulations to ensure the process is orderly, safe, and not overly destructive to the environment.  Ganeshas must comply with certain guidelines, be registered, and immersion must take place at a handful of specially designated points.

This is a rare “100% biodegradeable” Ganesha – its owners proudly explained that it is entirely made of materials like coconut shells.

It is difficult to capture the energy and excitement that surrounds this annual event, but I was determined to give it a try.  Last September.  And then the SD card with all the footage went missing for months and months.  And then I had to find the time to put it all together.  That’s where four days of being sidelined by kidney stones came into the picture.

You probably didn’t notice the introduction with the colorful letters – but that was a separate project I had done a few weeks ago, just to see if it was possible.  Would you believe I used a knife to carve the letters (backward) on pieces of potato, and then used craft paints to stamp the letters onto the floor?

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The Androscoggin Flood of 1953

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23
The Androscoggin River roars past the Rumford Dam in Maine during the March 1953 flood.  Compare the river to this photo of the same dam taken recently.

Since October, I have been sharing a collection of photos rescued from the estate of the late Raymond Albert – believed to have been taken by him in and around Rumford, Maine in the 1950s.  Of the 23 rolls, 22 are family photos showing weddings, family trips, important events, that sort of thing – all of which have been shared here.  This last roll is a little different in that the photographer went out to document a natural event during that time period – a flood which I believe to have taken place beginning on March 27-30, 1953.

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23
Here, Rumford’s “Memorial Bridge”, also known as the Portland Street Bridge, can be seen in the background

I thought the photos were all so fantastic and captured the energy of the rushing river so well that it was difficult to narrow down the photos I’d share in this post.  Below is another photo showing the dam, with what appears to be chunks of ice tumbling over the rapids.

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23

This photo shows where people have parked to have a look at the Falls, taken from just a few hundred yards back from the picture above.  It seems the flooding river did not pose much of a danger – no lives were known to have been lost that year, and despite the peak water runoff, the absence of a great deal of ice kept damage to a minimum.  You can see the scale of the falls relative to the cars and people in the foreground.

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23

The site of the photo below is a mystery.  I thought it might be a photo of the falls, taken from above the dam, but current photos don’t show any road along the edge of the dam where the photo could have been taken.

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23

In between Memorial Bridge and the falls/dam can be found the Morse Bridge (seen below).  I assumed the photo below that to be River Street – if you were to cross the Morse Bridge from Rumford heading east toward the Oxford Paper Mill, and then turned left.  But today’s River Street along that section bears absolutely no resemblance to the River Street of 1953 (if that’s where this was).  But there are few other places it could be.  Maybe when the mill downsized they completely razed the buildings on the riverfront.  Nothing appears to be the same.

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23

Morse Bridge  The Morse Bridge and River Street as they appear today

Although no lives were lost, many of the lower-lying sections of town ended up underwater.  This unidentified road ended up submerged, and was a convenient boat landing for a few days, at least. At far left you can see a shed afloat.

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23

Another street that became a boat landing for a few days was this one, where the (long disappeared) Bob’s Esso Service Center was located, along with a number of other small shops that can no longer be found in any Yellow Pages.  There’s another photo out there being claimed as Bob’s Esso, but it’s clearly a different place.  Maybe he had two?  Unlikely in such a small town.

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23

Finally, there is one last photo that’s a mystery. Every other photo on the roll is from the flood. This one is too sharp and specific to be an accidental shutter release. Any idea what it might be?

Raymond Albert's photos - roll 23

To see the remaining photos from the 1953 flood of the Androscoggin in Rumford, Maine, check out this album on Flickr.

To see the other photos from this collection by Raymond Albert, check out this album on Flickr – or start reading about them from this blog post onward.

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Thousands of bugs were bubbling up out of the ground…you’ll never guess what happened next!

On the grounds of a posh Himalayan resort – where the monkeys are normally kept at bay by G4S guards carrying long sticks – thousands of winged insects were bubbling up from the ground – seemingly from nowhere – and taking wing. It was the weirdest thing, because it was like they were appearing out of thin air. We checked the area later and there appeared to be no tunnels that they could have come up from. Of course this was a feast for the birds. But we didn’t expect monkeys to be feasting. Neither did they! As they frantically feasted on what must have seemed like manna from heaven, they kept looking around nervously. It was like they were looking for a hidden camera. But probably they were keeping an eye out for the guards…

If you can help identify the insects and where they might have come from, there are a few photos below. We thought maybe “mayflies” – but those tend to live most of their lives in water, not underground.



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Hiking in a Himalayan Hailstorm

DSC_0704We went on a trek this morning – quite short and easy by trekkers’ standards, but pretty long for old(er) folks staying at a resort in the Himalayas where there’s a golf cart and driver if you don’t feel up to walking down the hill from reception to your room.  In total it was about 6.3 km in length, climbing 500 meters vertically, with a destination of the Kunjapuri Temple, which (on a clear day) boasts views of snow-capped mountains.


There were about a dozen of us – mostly foreigners, which included a couple of middle-aged Russian ladies who talked nonstop and wore way too much perfume (don’t get stuck behind them on the trail!), a male couple from Bavaria wearing dress shoes and black socks, and a few other folks, all generally pretty fit.  As we were about to leave the paved road and start climbing a series of switchbacks, one of the hotel vehicles showed up with an Indian couple who had decided at last minute to go on the weekly hike instead of taking part in the daily beginner yoga session.


Terraced fields at every semi-level spot along the way – think of the work it must have taken to move all these stones!

As we worked our way up the hillsides, we’d get an occasional few drops of rain here and there.  The mist and clouds kept us from getting the long-distance views of the surrounding mountains.  I didn’t think too much of it, other than I was kicking myself that I hadn’t thought to bring along the Ziploc bags in our room that were specifically for the cameras in case of rain.


On the way, we passed through a couple small villages. Settlements, really. We saw the most amazing back yard ever. Driving down to Walmart or wherever would be a pain – but what an idyllic place with the most amazing view.



Anyway, we were already patting ourselves on the back as we approached the last 5-7 minutes of the hike, where it became necessary to climb over an old tree that had fallen across the path. And that’s where the Indian lady who had opted not to do yoga that morning ended up doing a faceplant. “I’ve never seen so much blood in all my life!” (she had a nosebleed).  While she was being patched up (i.e. handed some tissue to wad up in her nose), a troupe of monkeys was jumping through the surrounding trees.  While we were taking pictures of the monkeys, the gay couple was surreptitiously snapping pictures of the nosebleed as she alternately called for “her babies” and berated her husband for making her come on the hike instead of doing yoga.  And then the skies opened up.  Hailstorm!!  Probably punishment for our lack of sympathy.

We finally made it up to the temple, where all of our fellow hikers ran down to the waiting vehicles after a quick glance at the temple. The Russian ladies were clomping around the temple area with their shoes – apparently they hadn’t noticed the 50 pairs of shoes at the entrance – while Anne stood in line for the BEST CUP OF PIPING HOT COFFEE EVER.



I stood shivering in the rain as the hiking guide asked, “Cold?” and watched as visiting worshippers rang the bell at the entrance and walked down the stairs, touching each one with their hands. Finally, we were ushered down the stairs to the waiting SUV. I snapped a couple more photos along the way as we headed back to the resort, with numb fingers and toes, for breakfast.

DSC_0722 DSC_0716

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Raymond Albert’s Photos: One Last Wedding

For months, I have been sharing photos believed to have been taken by Raymond Albert in the late 1940s through the late-1950s.  In total, the collection consists of about 23 rolls.  This post highlights roll number 22, probably from around 1958 or 1959.

As an aside, Raymond Albert would have been 89 today.

This roll features photos of a wedding – from the looks of it, a double wedding.  If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably the younger sister of Mrs. Albert. She would be the bride on the left. Like all the weddings that we’ve seen thus far, this one takes place in St. John’s (Catholic) Church.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 22

Here is another photo of the bride, and the newly-married couple as they take off in their car marked “just married,” and a few shots at the wedding reception.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 22

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 22

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 22

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 22

And a good time was had by all. Above right is the photographer, and below, he enjoys a dance with young Louise. I don’t know who’s in the photo below them, but I think it’s a great capture.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 22

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 22

….and finally a family pose. I believe these are all members of the family of Raymond’s wife, Cecile – which is why I think the bride might be one of her younger sisters. She had three sisters in all – Marguerite and Therese were 5 and 7 years younger, respectively, and would have been in their late 20s by now, which is probably later than most would have married back in those days – so I could be mistaken.

Other than the wedding photos, there were a few unrelated photos, possibly taken because friends and family were in town. These photos appear to be Cecile Albert (top) and Louise Albert (bottom), with an unnamed relative or friend’s child.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 22

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 22

This is the last roll taken in the series and pretty much completes this collection. Next week I will share one final roll which, unlike all the rest of the photos which show friends and family doing things, capture the overflowing Androscoggin River as it passed through Rumford and Mexico in the spring of 1953.

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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Eighteen kilometers west of the Tamil Nadu tourist town of Mahabalipuram is a town of about 24,000 called Tirukaludundram which is known for its hilltop temple, the Vedagiriswarar temple.  The temple consists of an upper part up on a hill, which can actually be seen all the way from Mahabalipuram:

Temple Above

and a lower part consisting of multiple towers and the customary temple tank (taken on a very clear day!):

Vedagiriswarar Temple

Connecting the upper and lower part of the temple are 565 steps, each with splashes of yellow paint and red dots:

565 Steps

You can read all about the temple itself and the legend surrounding this Shiva temple and the two eagles (actually Egyptian vultures) that came every day at noon (last sighted in 2000), at this website.  The website has a super-easy-to-remember address:  www dot thirukalukundramvedagiriswarartemple.tnhrce dot in.  Try saying THAT quickly three times!  Or you can check out this blog post written by a foreign visitor to the temple – very informative!

We paid our admission fee and spent the next 15 or so minutes climbing the steps in increments.  It was about noon and by the time I reached the top we were soaked in sweat.  We had been warned not to pay additional money at the top, and were told by a temple priest that it was only a couple of hundred additional rupees to see the inside of the temple.  Meanwhile Indian visitors walked right past him.  On principle we declined, but would have made a donation otherwise.  But we got a nice photo of the town below (see above) using a film camera – and I haven’t seen such a clear shot on any of the other websites – they all look a bit hazy in comparison.

We were joined at the top by about a dozen monkeys.  I know you’re not supposed to feed them (they can be aggressive) but we thought them might enjoy a Chee-toh (all the food we had with us).  The monkeys sniffed them, and examined them visually and rolled them around on the ground a bit before taking a bite.  And afterward, they licked the bright orange “cheese” powder from their fingertips.  Yum!


Once we made it back to street level, we had to find some smaller bills in order to pay the fee for leaving our shoes below (you have to walk up the stairs barefoot). While waiting, I saw this saddhu, or Hindu holy man, leaving the temple area as well:


There is also this odd contraption, basically “center stage” as you approach the temple. I don’t know what it is and don’t want to speculate too much – but it looked like a giant pile of salt. Maybe someone reading this, who knows the temple, can educate me?

Afterward, we walked around town for a bit.  We got a close-up view of the towers we had seen from above, and I thought this one, with India’s iconic Ambassadors parked underneath, was pretty nice in black and white:

Temple Tower

Within the town itself, this is basically what it looks like.  The flags belong to some political party.


As we walked by some different merchant stalls, we spotted a bicycle tire repairman sitting down for a coffee (while repairing an inner tube) with another saddhu, this one dressed in white, rather than the typical orange we see elsewhere. In a combination of simple English and sign language, we showed them our cameras and asked if we could take a photo. Initially they were reluctant, but I showed them that I was carrying one of those new “instant” cameras – a Lomo’Instant I had recently acquired as a part of a Kickstarter project.  I explained that I would take one photo for each of them, and then a photo each for myself.  This sounded like a good idea to them.  So here are my photos:

Tire Repair

Holy Man

And as you can see in the lower photo, I have also given him his instant photo (in his right hand). I’m not sure if he was impressed or not.

My final photo before getting back on our ride back to Mahabalipuram was this shot of a poster of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, quietly deteriorating behind a couple of bicycles. I think it’s a pretty cool photo.


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Found Film: Grandpa Albert’s House on the Coast

For 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 roll number 21.  I’m guessing the current roll was taken around 1956 or 1957.

In this roll we are mainly looking at a family reunion of some sort.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

In our previous post, I thought we might have been at a lake house owned by Raymond Albert’s parents, but instead, the much more modest home on this roll is more likely where they lived. They spent much of their lives on Waldo Street in Rumford; this appears to be a bit more rural, near the coast, and possibly where they moved after retirement.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

What a great photo this is. Peeling potatoes in the open air.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

Lots of group photos on the front stoop with Grandma and Grandpa.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

And it appears that Raymond Albert may have sprung for a brand new car – a 1955 or 1956 Plymouth Belvedere.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

And somebody was into boating…

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

I love these photos of the kids. And bunnies!!

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

Finally, a couple of pictures which appear to have been taken elsewhere – maybe back in Rumford. Catholic readers may be able to tell me what type of event this was.

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21

Raymond Albert's Photos, roll 21


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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Backyard Aquaponics Project

A few years ago, my daughter wanted a fishtank for Christmas, which was cool for everyone because we all got to enjoy it in the living room.  We kept live plants with the fish, and I noticed at the time that they tended to thrive in the water the fish lived in.  Nitrites or nitrates or something.  Made them all very green.  I wondered whether there was a way to make use of this idea in gardening.

It turns out that this concept already exists:  aquaponics.  You’ve heard of aquaculture – growing fish for food – and hydroponics – growing plants in  water and/or growth medium, instead of dirt.  Aquaponics combines the two.  You can fit a lot of plants in a small space because they aren’t competing for nutrients or water, and using a pump, circulate the water between the plant area and a big fishtank.  The fish poop fertilizes the plants, and the plants clean the toxins out of the water on its way back to the fish.  And thus, you can also put a whole lot of fish in a small space.  To eat, for example.


So when we arrived in India, I thought about trying to construct an actual aquaponics system.  There are all kinds of videos and kits out there that show different “easy” aquaponics systems, where you just run down to the hardware store and buy everything you need in one trip, and basically snap or screw everything into place, and you’re all set.  Only there is no Home Depot or Lowe’s here in Chennai.  The best I have been able to figure out, if you need ten different hardware items, you might have to go to 15 different little shops to buy it.  And explain it in a foreign language and/or hand signals, and make do with the closest approximation in many cases.  With the help of a driver, for example, I had to go to four different stores to find a few meters of steel wire, for example.  It cost me two bucks and three hours.  So that’s one challenge.

The other consideration is that we know we will only be here for two years, and it’s not my house, so it has to be a very temporary and inexpensive setup.  So you may scoff at what I came up with, but the whole setup cost about 75 bucks, plus stuff I found around the yard.  Here is what I made.

Needless to say, the natives were skeptical.  And with good reason.  I planted every type of food plant imaginable.  And everything would sprout, grow about two inches, and promptly wilt and die.  The locals said I was growing things that don’t grow in South India.  I figured, it’s sunny and warm – everything should grow, right?  I did attract some wildlife.


I realized the lack of fish was probably a factor.  No poop.  I had been unable to find tilapia or other food fish (fish store owners would look at me like I was crazy when I would ask for “fish I can eat”).  So finally I bought half a dozen big goldfish-looking things (parrotfish) that would be hardy enough to survive just about any conditions, and I managed to get a few plants to grow quite large – melon, cucumber, tomato – and then they promptly wilted again.

Finally, I got a few things to grow.  Basil (rear left) and mint (rear right).  spindly tomato plants in the front, but so far only two tiny tomatoes.  We had a crop of baby lettuce – enough for one salad.  And in the front left, a tree that sprouted on its own.  I’d take it out, but it makes the setup look like a success.


So basically I had given up. This has been the situation for about half a year now. I feed the fish. They grow. Basil and mint.

And then I ran into a guy the other day who has a degree in aquaculture. I asked him if he’d heard of aquaponics, and when he had, I couldn’t wait to tell him about my setup and ask his advice. “You need more fish,” he said right away. “Yes, but I’ve been unable to find any live food fish” I responded. “We own a fish farm outside Chennai” he replied.

So now I am the proud owner of a small school of tilapia. This is going to be what brings it all together, just wait and see…


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Drones, Kingfishers, and Joey Cook’s Ukulele

Goa, India’s diminutive state on the west coast, enjoys a certain reputation as a party destination, full of backpackers and bikinis, in search of yoga or outdoor sports.  But it also has its wildlife – especially birds.

I wrote about our visit to Goa’s Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary about a year ago when we visited.  I went back a month later again with a camera-toting quadcopter and a digital film camera to try and capture some video from the boat and overhead.  It didn’t turn out all that spectacular – I was still learning how to fly the thing effectively – and so the footage languished on my hard drive for the next year or so.

Then I was trying to put something together the other day, and my daughter shared something about a current American Idol contestant named Joey Cook, who plays accordion and ukulele.  I checked out some of her music online and was immediately grabbed by track #7 as the basis for a background track for the Goa video.

After paying a fair price for her song, I borrowed the ukulele intro, and used my V-accordion (“virtual” – it makes all sorts of different orchestral sounds) to layer additional music on top of the ukulele.  And that’s how drones, kingfishers, and Joey Cook’s ukulele are related.

So far it seems Joey Cook doesn’t mind.  But if she wins American Idol and gets all famous I might have to come up with something else for the video.


Watch the video in HD if you can.

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Guest Post: Darkroom Blues: A Blast from the Past (Part II)

This is part 2 of an article shared by a photographer friend here in Chennai which was originally written for the Photographic Society of Madras, a local photographic society founded in 1857.  The first part of the article is published here.

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 made forays into darkroom adventures like push processing – to expose 400 ASA film at 800 ASA or 1000 ASA – usually Kodak Tri-X or ORWO NP27 film and then extend the developing time. You would get pronounced grain like Raghu Rai’s early images, and that added much impact to the final enlargement – absolutely no need to clean up noise as we do today.  Agfa print paper was sold in three grades – soft, medium and hard – hard grade that produced more contrast and the soft grade, the least. Indu paper was affordable, and Kodak paper was expensive.

I did not have an enlarger timer switch that would switch it off after the preset exposure. Instead I learnt to count 101,102,103,104, each count denoting a whole second and it got me there with perfect exposures in the end.

I learnt the hard way when I ‘pulled’ a print – taking it out from the developer too early and into the short stop solution before fully developed – that produced smoky grey tone results. I learnt the hard way when I wrecked negatives by pouring hypo solution of a different temperature, from that of the developer ( an unintended error that caused reticulation), – one such calamity was an engagement ceremony that I shot for a friend – the people in the resulting pictures looked like they had all contracted some contagious skin disease. My friend let me go lightly, and promptly hired a pro for the wedding.

One day I discovered a black film changing bag – this meant I could stick the film and the developing reel and tank into the bag, shove my hands through the light proof ‘gloves’ to load the film into the tank, and then on develop under normal light. This further meant I did not even need a darkroom for loading film. This was perhaps the first indication of the slow demise of my dark room exploits.


(one of the last remaining prints the author still owns, photographed through the glass holding it in its frame)

And, If it took me an hour to convert the bathroom into a darkroom, it took me twice that time revive it to bathroom mode. There were times when I used to go through all this trouble just to make one important enlargement. The effort then began to tell on me.

Moral of the story – if you were serious, you should have had a permanent darkroom that was air conditioned to keep out the dust, a dry side where the enlarger and electricals were placed, and a wet side where the chemical trays were located, including a wash basin with running water. This would mean you could walk in anytime you want to process, and walk out when you are done, leaving the darkroom intact for future work. My darkroom was nowhere like this, but it was still full of excitement for me!

Then came the era when those coin slot colour labs opened up all over the city. Colour film and processing was now cheaper and colour photos were trending and affordable. I left India for about six years to work in the Middle East, and the curtains came down forever on my darkroom. Even in the UAE, I went window shopping for the latest in darkroom gear, including that much sought after Durst enlarger, thankfully I did not invest in anything.

When I came back to India for good, both Kodak and Ilford sold B&W film that could be processed in the neighbourhood colour lab using C-41 chemistry. That was the last nail in my home darkroom coffin.

I went digital in 2006 and as we all know now, there is little reason now to look back.

But, it was film that teased and taunted the photographer till it was developed – to either stare at a total disaster in the face, or get decent images as the case would have been. It was film that added the element of mystery behind the term ‘capturing’ images – you had it all ‘captured’ but never really knew what to expect till the negatives were developed. It was film that taught photographers the true meaning of the word patience. And, never was I more religious till I got the film developed!

I have since sold all my film cameras, except my workhorse Nikon F3, the first Nikon SLR that I ever bought with my hard earned money in the UAE, back in 1982. That will never be sold and will turn into a family heirloom, just like my Father’s 1954 Kodak Brownie 620…


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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!

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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 am guessing this may have been a vacation rental – the person believed to be Raymond Albert’s father appears in one photo, but the next post I will share, with a completely different house, is more likely where his parents actually lived.

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.


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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.

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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.


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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.

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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

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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.

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