Final Chennai Photowalk

I’ve been out of India for over three weeks now, but wanted to finish sharing our experiences of our last few weeks in India before closing out that wonderful chapter in our lives, as documented in the TAZM Pictures blog.

Street Dog FriendlyWe have been doing photowalks for the last couple of years, and would often return to areas we’d visited and hand out prints.  But a few months back, I bought one of those Lomo’Instant cameras from their Kickstarter campaign.  The idea was to be able to hand out photos on our walks, so that we would be “giving” in addition to “taking” photos.  We went through several packs of the instant photos and I had ordered a second load of them, with glittery frames, rainbow frames, things like that – which kids would like.  But I still had 3 packs (30 photos) sitting on my shelf when the packers were cleaning out our house, and I realized that the film needed to be used up because it would never survive being x-rayed.  So after all of our things were gone, we went on one last photo-walk through the local neighborhood, with the Instant camera and our digital cameras. Front Yard

Bike Repair ShopAbove are some shots of the neighborhood we walked through – really just a couple of blocks from our house.  The “shopkeeper” is missing but this is a makeshift bike tire repair shop.  He can’t be far, he’s left his shoes! Even after all this time it is still a bit nerve racking to walk up to strangers and ask to take their photos.  But we decided to focus on moms with babies, and thankfully nobody got too weirded out since my wife was with me.  Some were a little confused, because the photo initially comes out of the camera blank – it takes about 30 seconds for the image to begin to materialize.  But once they realized how it worked, they all appreciated the instant photos we handed them.   We had to keep moving, because once people figured out we were handing out photos, they all wanted one as well, and this can quickly snowball. So we came around a corner and I saw sparks flying, and as I mentioned I was planning to ask this guy for a photo, he shouted out, asking me to take his photo.  Too easy!  He also got an instant photo with a cute pink frame.  But soon his buddies wanted a turn at the metal cutting tool, and quickly we had to make our exit. Cutting Metal

The men below were all hanging out at a bus stop.  I don’t think they were waiting for the bus, just hanging around.  When they saw two foreigners with cameras walking by, they quickly called out to us and asked us to take a picture of the older gentleman in the center of the photo.  No idea how they are related but they were all extremely enthusiastic.  For the photo itself, of course the expressions all turned serious.

We were able to give an instant photo for the older gentleman but not one for each person in the group!

Men

We ran into the proud dad below who wanted us to photograph him and his daughter.  People reading this blog from outside India may wonder about the dark eyebrows and spots.  The spot on the cheek is common on small children and is thought to ward off the “evil eye,” I believe.  And in southern India it is common to darken the eyebrows.  Some people think that it will help the eyebrows grow in thicker, while others just think it looks nice.  Often the black material is “kajal” or kohl, and thankfully it is being applied less frequently as eyeliner, as it often contains lead and can cause health problems.   All that aside, this is a really proud Dad, and he also got an instant photo. Proud Dad

Next, we passed this gentleman and his wife – he is confined to a wheelchair – and he got our attention and asked us to photograph him and his wife.  She was a little shy but eventually agreed to his wishes.  Instant photos for them and a digital one for me.

Couple

Of course, once she got her nerve up and allowed herself to be photographed, and asked for some additional group photos!

Women Posing

The entire time, these little guys were following us – they had clued in to the fact that we were handing out photos and were insistent until we finally had to announce that we were out of instant film.  Then they were just happy to pose as a group. Group Photo

And on the way home we passed by this shop where they turn rice into rice flour. Rice flour is what the (mostly) women use to make kolams – geometric designs outside their front doors – every morning (Here is a blog post about kolams from our first week in Chennai).  But making the flour is dusty, hot work!

Rice Flour

As we rounded the final corner, we came upon this cow, eating out of a discarded suitcase.  And so, my blog posts chronicling our adventures in Chennai, India, end as they began.  With a cow on our street.

Cow

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The Chennai Photowalk

One of the best things about Chennai, for us, was the “photowalks.”  A photowalk is basically just walking around with a camera and seeing what you can photograph.  Often these walks are in groups.  I discovered photowalks in Chennai, though they happen all over the world – and there is even such a thing as a “global photowalk.”  But Chennai is especially well-suited for them, for three main reasons.

Water Delivery

First, the people in Chennai are some of the friendliest you’ll meet anywhere in the world, and they seem to love being photographed. I usually give people a chance to let me know that they’d rather not be photographed, and in my two years living in the city, I can’t remember the last time anyone objected. If you are trying to capture a specific expression, or pose, or moment – which in most places you’d have to be either fast or sneaky about, to avoid people specifically posing for the camera – in Chennai people will often freeze in place and give you time to “get the shot.”

Jesus GraceIn many cases, people will see you have a camera, and ask you to photograph them.  Which is OK, but once you start doing this, you’ll have more and more people asking you to do the same for them!  And while this can detract from your street photography experience, it all underscores the friendliness and willingness to be photographed, of the people in Chennai. PoseThe second reason Chennai is so great for photowalks is there’s just so darn much going on.  OK, so to the locals, cows walking in the streets, traffic going in all directions, and lots and lots of people may seem like ordinary daily life to the locals – but to an outsider, the colors, and conversations, a bike leaning against a wall, even just the wall itself, represent millions of stories in a city the size of Chennai.

DuckWall The third reason Chennai is so great for photowalks is  in Chennai, they are organized within a number of different groups.  Some are organized by photography shop owners, others by clubs (not just photography clubs!) and others by photography enthusiasts.  As a result, photographers gather every weekend – generally early Sunday mornings – in groups of anything from 5-6 to nearly 50!  One of the biggest groups is the “Chennai Photowalk” group.  The group’s Facebook Page announces the walks, which take place every two weeks, and on the group’s Flickr page, participants are invited to post their best photos. Chennai photography enthusiast and group organizer Ramaswamy (Ram) Nallaperumal, has mapped out around 90 different routes around the city, and he also stokes interest in all things photographic in Chennai with his photoblog “Daily Photo Chennai.”Meat ShopEach photowalk includes a group photo of the participants, and while the number of people – rarely under 40 – can be daunting, it does provide access to other photographers who may have feedback or advice on photography or equipment, a place to buy and sell used photography equipment, ideas on what makes a good (and bad) photograph, and if you share your photos, feedback. Ram or other volunteer group leaders will often provide information on some of the historic or cultural aspects of the sights along the walk, which helps you appreciate Chennai that much more! Priest

If that’s just too many people for you, there are plenty of smaller groups around, but it often helps to join the bigger group and talk to some of the others who may be aware of smaller walks taking place in the future. It’s a great way to discover parts of Chennai you may have never seen before – or were afraid to visit all by yourself.

The photos included in this blog post were all taken on “retrowalk” #18 – after doing the 89 or so initial walks, the group has circled around to the beginning and is repeating all the walks.  That walk took place at Tirusulam, and led us to the tallest hill in Chennai, which offered an impressive view of the city and its surroundings.  Happy photowalking!

Tirusalam

Chennai Skyline

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Langkawi: the Jewel of Kedah

Sunset PalmAs our departure from India loomed closer, thoughts turned to all of the wonderful places in India we hadn’t yet managed to visit. India is so vast and diverse. We thought two years would be plenty of time to see all of the things that needed seeing. On the calendar, a few weekends that offered themselves as potential three-day weekends. And for Independence Day, four.  So we researched destination options, prioritizing, checking weather, hotel availability, how the flights would work out. Sunset Surf

The more we considered, the more we realized that, in July, all of the Indian options were either too hot, too rainy, unavailable, or would see us wasting half our time off waiting for planes.  But as the 4th neared, we had to give up on India and cast a wider net – or risk losing the weekend altogether.

We found a flight that left around midnight (after a mandatory function) to Kuala Lumpur. We’ve been there. But from there, a connecting flight to an island just off the coast of Malaysia: Langkawi.  Langkawi, officially called Langkawi, Jewel of Kedah, consists of around a hundred islands. More or less, depending on the tide. Two are inhabited, and the island group has the status of a UNESCO geopark, with two of its main conservation areas on the main island and a third just to the south. It’s a great place to spend a four-day weekend. Even better when your flight back is cancelled (as it would turn out) and you spend a five-day weekend!

Map-Langkawi-July-2014

IslandsLangkawi Geoforest

We stayed on the southwest corner of the island, and a bike ride covering most of that quarter of the island takes 3-4 hours. We never made it to the island geopark to the south, but it apparently has a pretty cool lake you can swim in. We visited the northwest geopark, where you can find a cable car. We checked out the bottom of a waterfall (see the video later) and rain kept threatening, and then completed the 600-mile climb to the top of the waterfall in a pouring rainstorm. But we spent most of our time in the geopark on the northeast side of the island, where you can boat and kayak around/between/through the mangroves and islands

Langkawi Geoforest

and you can stop at this fish farm: Langkawi Geoforest see bats in a cave, giant lizards (monitors): Monitorand if you’re lucky, some of the cutest monkeys you’ll ever see, anywhere, hands down. We saw them only from far away but this is what they look like (not my photo): monkey Driving home late that afternoon along the northern coast, we saw signs of a “black sand beach” and decided to stop. As far as I could tell, the “black sand” was somehow oil that was seeping onto the beach, but I could be wrong. And in the distance, a cement factory. DSC03822-2

But as the sun went down, the light became more and more golden, and we took the opportunity to snap some photos.

Sunset SurfPhotographer

A father and his daughter came to enjoy the sunset as well.

Father and Daughter

Finally, I put together a video with some of the scenes we saw along the way. From the boat(s), and from the drone – although I learned that the insufficient “speed” of the SD card is what has been cutting off the recording when I least expect it. I regretted it this time especially, because I flew the drone up near the crags overlooking the water, and even managed to hover just a few feet from a hornbill in a tree.

DSC_3728ed

It seems like a bad thing to do, but the hornbill didn’t seem to mind at all. We have a photo of the drone near the hornbill, but not the video footage from the drone itself.

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Found Film: My Very First Camera

his-first-kodak-camera_00018wqr-519x700

What was your first camera?  Mine wasn’t the one pictured above, but it was close:  A Kodak Instamatic X-15 like the one pictured below.

Kodak Instamatic X-15This camera was manufactured between 1970 and 1976.  I got mine toward the end of that period, when I would have been 8 or 9 years old.  But mine is somewhere in a box, in storage, where it has been since before I started collecting vintage camera or developing “found film”.  So I was pretty excited when I saw the listing on eBay for a Kodak X-15 with a roll of film still inside! Kodacolor_II_film_C_126-20_126_film_cartridge_(1)(photo above is an example for illustration purposes, not the actual roll!) I haven’t had much luck developing film from 126 cartridges of this type found in the instamatics.  I’m always careful to gently bend the cartridge back and forth until I can access the film in the dark, but usually it comes out completely blank.  I was starting to assume it was somehow an inferior film, but I think it has more to do with how such inexpensive cameras may have been stored, in comparison to some of the more expensive cameras that have held secrets on a roll of forgotten film left inside.  But I wasn’t sure whether I should try and develop the roll in color, or just use black and white chemicals, which is more likely to yield images even after the less durable color dyes have faded. So I was pretty excited when the I pulled the roll out of the developing tank and saw what appeared to be sharp color images on the roll! I’m not sure where this barn was being built, but somebody wanted to document it: Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticFound Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

In addition, there were a couple of other pictures of a house, and this couple. From their clothing style, it doesn’t look like the film roll was all that old, which explains why the colors turned out pretty well.  Were they visiting a cemetery?  That may be a grave in the background on the portrait, which would explain the flower bouquet maybe?

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticFound Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticOnly the final photo gives much of a clue as to the origin of the roll. The van on the left appears to have “Merrimack Valley Baptist Church” painted on the side. This church is located in Merrimack, New Hampshire. According to the church’s website, they send missionaries all over the world, but I’m guessing the van would not have strayed far, and the vegetation looks like it could be in New Hampshire. Maybe the happy family will stumble across this blog post someday and discover the photo they had taken but never developed! Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

But the cool thing about this roll is that it was only on exposure #12 when it arrived.  Which meant that there were 12 exposures left!  So before I developed the roll, I walked around my neighborhood in Chennai, India, and snapped the rest.  I had to finish and develop the roll before the packers arrived to load up all of our stuff and take it away from India, so it wasn’t really the most amazing pictures ever.  Plus I doubted they would come out anyway, given my past experience with 126 film.

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticAbove is a little difficult to make out, but people have left pictures of Hindu gods at the base of a particularly large tree. Not sure what kind of tree – maybe I should have asked.   Along the wall below are political advertisements.Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticNear my house is a canal. Unfortunately a lot of trash gets dumped into it. Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Unfortunately with the small aperture of the Instamatic (to maximize having everything in focus) there needs to be a lot of light. So on a hazy Chennai day, even standing under an overhang can result in insufficient lighting. And flash cubes are hard to come by these days.

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticBut with the right amount of light, the photos came out pretty good. Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

Found Film Kodak X-15 InstamaticAnd that pretty much rounds out this roll of found / expired film – half taken near Merrimack, New Hampshire, and half taken years later in Chennai, India.  If you have an old Instamatic laying around and would like to try and take pictures with it, they haven’t made the film cartridges since 2008.  A few expired rolls can still be gotten, but you have to process them yourself.  If you’d like to try and load a used cartridge with ordinary 35mm film, that is also possible – try this tutorial or this tutorial.

Found Film Kodak X-15 Instamatic

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Birdwatching from the Hotel Pool

Green Bee-EaterOne of the highlights from our recent trip to Jaipur was the beautiful hotel pool.  On our last day there, fed up with the heat, waiting for an evening flight, we arranged for a late checkout and decided to spend the morning lounging by the pool.  After reading a bit, I noticed a couple of strangely colorful birds in the tree on the other side, and realized they were a group of green bee-eaters dive-bombing the pool between hunting runs to stay cool in the 104 degree weather!  So of course I had to run and fetch the camera.  I positioned myself behind the built-in “blind” and waited.

DSCF3625 Bee-eaters are known for their tendency to, well…eat bees!  Most of them are pretty brightly-colored, and I had come across this particular variety once in Namibia, because a group of 5 or 6 would settle in every night in a neat little row on a branch in my back yard.  But they don’t just eat bees – they catch them in mid-flight, and in fact will ignore bees that aren’t flying.  I don’t know, maybe they enjoy the sport of it! Green Bee-Eater

After catching a bee, they will basically whack them again and again on a branch, both to remove the stinger, and in the process, most of the venom.  And then it’s snack time!

Green Bee-EaterSome of the birds had an elongated center tail feather, and I thought this was a distinguishing male/female feature. But it turns out that the males and females are identical (on the outside, anyway!) and the elongated tail feather grows when the bird is mature. Hence in the sequence of photos below (a bit blurry but arranged in sequence like a comic strip) it appears that the adult has caught a bee and hands it off to the juvenile, possibly as a teaching tool. Bee-Eating Training

But what fascinated me was the dive-bombing in the pool.  They really didn’t seem to care that I was there.    There were a total of four of them, and they would appear every 10-15 minutes or so and take 2-3 diving runs each before going back on the hunt.So armed with a 300mm lens, I thought I might be able to catch them mid-splash.

It turns out that this is harder than it seems.  I put the camera on “sport mode,” which takes a series of photos in rapid succession so you can catch the exact moment when they come out of the water, hopefully with a lot of droplets following.  But they are so fast!  And if you’re zoomed in, it’s hard to find/track them.  With sports mode I think the camera was taking shots at 1/2400 second or so, and they were still turning out blurry.  So then I tried setting it up for single shots, but around 1/4000 second.

Bee-Eaters BathingThis kept me entertained all afternoon.  I got a few good shots too.  They are all digitally enhanced a bit.  This is where you see the difference between a decent consumer level lens and one of those big fancy ones – I think that ultimately there is a limit to what you can capture in a case like this if you don’t spend thousands on a lens. Bee-Eaters Bathing

Bee-Eaters BathingBee-Eaters Bathing

Bee-Eaters BathingPretty cool little birds, and fascinating to watch!  In between, we took some time to walk around and snap shots of some of the other birds hanging around the pool.   For example, the red-vented bulbul below kept appearing around the pool deck chairs and would perch very close without flying away. Red-vented Bulbul

Red-vented BulbulI finally figured out why he – actually probably she – was hanging around when she disappeared into the vegetation that grew over the trellis and provided shade for the deck chairs: Red-vented bulbul nest

Eventually it was time to head back, pack up and prepare for our ride to the airport. Before we left, I also got shots of these unidentified birds.  Maybe you can help identify them!

Unidentified BirdUnidentified Bird

 

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Vintage Camera Test: Brownie Reflex Synchro Model

Kodak Brownie Reflex (Synchro Model)The Brownie Reflex Synchro Model was made between 1941 and 1952 in the US, and until 1960 in the UK, and closely followed the (non-synchro) Brownie Reflex. It was called a “Reflex” because, like most SLR (single lens reflex) cameras still in use today, it used a mirror to reflect the image from the lens to a viewfinder where the user could see what the lens was “seeing.” A twin-lens reflex like this one used a pair of lenses with identical focal lengths. The lower lens was used to focus the image onto the film, while the upper lens reflected the image to a large viewfinder facing upward, so that the camera could be held steady at waist level. True twin lens reflex cameras allowed focusing and the lenses were connected to each other via the focusing mechanism. Pseudo TLRs like this one have no focus mechanism – they used an aperture that was likely to produce a sharp image for anything more than five feet from the camera. The “synchro” was added when twin contacts for a flash attachment were added to the design.  The camera requires no focusing, has only a switch for “bulb” (shutter stays open) or “instantaneous” (about 1/50 of a second).  There are millions of these still out there and can be had for not much more than their original purchase price of $5.50 or $6.  This particular model was interesting to me because it was advertised as still having a roll of film inside.  So I got the camera and developed the film, and here is what I got: img853 img854 img856 So yeah, not too impressive.  So a few weeks went by and I finally loaded the camera with some of that new 127 film (Rerapan 100) that is being sold by Freestyle Photography and took it out for a spin.  In the first photo, you can just make out that I was trying to snap a photo of a chicken sitting inside an auto-rickshaw.Rickshaw Chicken

No ParkingTLRs can be handy in street photography because people often don’t realize they are being photographed, thus the scene is not spoiled – the camera dangles around the neck at waist level and the user is looking down at the viewfinder when the photo is taken.  It can take up to 12 square photos with a roll of 127 film.  The down side of a camera that requires no focusing and has no speed or aperture adjustments is that the light conditions have to be just right, or pictures end up too light or (usually) too dark.  And if you move even a little, too blurry.  I got a little of everything. Fried Food

PedestrianI also lost a few shots because I loaded the film incorrectly on the spool, so that the spiraled film ended up touching in a couple of places, giving photos like this: Fruit Stand

A few of the photos didn’t turn out too bad. This first shot is a tall building we have seen a million times – it stands near one of the major temples in Chennai, and usually the open side seen on the photo below is just corrugated sheets of metal. We were surprised to see it was open, and this structure inside, but don’t really know what it’s for (though it surely has something to do with the temple)

TempleHere you can definitely see the effect of either the camera or the subject moving, and causing blur. Bike Cart

The only picture that came out well ended up being pretty boring, but the light was right, the subject was far away and there was not a lot of movement going on so everything was sharp.

Wall

In all, it can be a fun camera to carry around and see what you can capture on the streets, but given the somewhat high failure rate on photos – even if I’d had some practice – nowadays a roll of Rerapan costs $11.99 (or you can trim down a $5 roll of 120 film) – it gets much more expensive than it needs to be.

 

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Jaipur, India: Street Photography Goldmine

DoorsI have done a few posts already about our trip to Jaipur, India.  It was only a 4-day trip, but as I have been looking through our photos, it’s surprising the number and quality of interesting shots we were able to get in such a short time.  Especially considering that it was 104 Fahrenheit and we eventually had to retreat to the safety and comfort of an air conditioner for many hours of the day.  I’ll start with the huge wooden doors of the Royal Heritage Haveli, an 18th-century structure we stayed in for an extremely reasonable price, by the way – here’s my review) Trikes

There’s so much going on in the streets. You can see all types of things being transported for sale in local shops, such as the load of tricycles being taken on the back of a motorcycle (above) – or humans being ferried around by bicycle rickshaw, below.

Bike RickshawConspicuously absent were the hordes of motor-driven rickshaws we have come to take for granted. These “auto-rickshaws” with their noisy, polluting engines, are ubiquitous in every other Indian city we have visited. I have often thought that an inexpensive low-polluting alternative would be of huge benefit to any large Indian city, but the question would be how to charge the vehicle. Yet somehow in Jaipur this problem has been solved – as this was the first place in India where we have seen mostly electric rickshaws. No idea how they get recharged overnight.   Below a “traditional” autorickshaw (long exposure) followed by a couple of the electric ones, shot while we were trapped by the first hints of the coming monsoon. Gate

Rain

VendorA number of the street names in the city center end in “Bazaar” – and are lined with small shops like the one above, with protection from the sun and rain, in addition to many vendors who set up on the streets themselves (below). It’s all buzzing with constant activity as people go from shop to shop finding the best deals.

Vegetables for SaleMan with Beard

In some places, people are literally making the goods you can buy right in front of you.   Below, guys are cutting and welding metal bars into security grates.  We thought this guy could double as a model in his off time.

MetalworkerIn between the shops you can spot scenes like the one below, which can also make an interesting photograph.   A bit of patience waiting for a person to walk by, even a dog, would have made this shot more interesting, but we had to keep moving! Wall

Along the Tripolia Bazar you can also see and snap a photo of the 7-storey Swargasuli Tower, also known as the Ishwar Lat, which was built in 1749 by the Maharaja Ishwari Singh to celebrate a military victory. If you want to get this particular angle, you’ll have to spend some time removing the electrical cables using Photoshop, as I did…

Ishwar LatAll the grainy photos you see on this post were taken with a 65-year-old Agfa Karomat 36 – the rest (including black and white shots) were taken with a Fuji X100.  I like the shot I got of the four men below – they came across the street to the public faucets and I was semi-stealthily snapping photos of them, advancing the film, snapping again – and when I stopped there was a guy grinning at me because he could see I was trying to be sneaky so I wouldn’t disturb the scene. It’s hard to be sneaky when you’re a white dude in India wearing Vibram Fivefingers shoes and taking pictures with a 65-year-old camera. Four Men

I was also carrying around a 100-year-old folding camera that day. I can’t remember which one it was. But as we were walking around a guy got pretty excited about it and wanted a closer look. I let him take a picture of us but we had the distance settings wrong. He said he was a photographer. All of the other (7) pictures on that roll came out way too dark or even blurrier, so he was more of a photographer than me, I guess.

VintageWe also visited the “Hawa Mahal” during that trip.  This “Palace of the Winds” is one of the pink sandstone buildings for which Jaipur is known, and nicknamed the “pink city.”  The front which faces the street is known for its 953 small windows integrated into a complex latticework along its five-storey front.  The lattices were so the royal ladies could observe what was going on in the streets below without violating purdah.  This has been photographed from far better angles, but supposedly the front of the building is designed to be in the shape of Krishna’s crown, and the latticework has the effect of cooling the building naturally (hence “palace of the winds/palace of the breeze”).  I don’t know – like I said, it was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Hawa Mahal

Once inside, you could climb from storey to storey, and the inside/top is open so you can have a look around the nearby buildings and get a nice view of the rest of the city palace, the streets below, and other structures including the famous Jantar Mantar – the Jaipur Observatory dating from the 18th century.  Not in the picture below, though.

Hawa MahalWe ended one of our days in Jaipur by stopping at the Jal Mahal – or “water palace.”  This palace, in the middle of a lake, can be viewed from a road and “boardwalk” area along the western edge of the lake – so we knew the sun would be sinking behind us and would hopefully create interesting light conditions.  As in the photo these boys asked us to take of them. Golden light

The palace itself, seen below, cannot be visited.  It’s in the process of being converted into an ultra-exclusive restaurant.  From photos it looks like perhaps the palace was there and the lake rose up around it (or the palace sank) but apparently this is how it is supposed to look, and there are four usable storeys below the water surface, kept dry for the last 250 years.

Jal MahalAccording to one tourist website, the lake used to be filthy – a “foul smelling sewage outlet” – but has bounced back and supports a great deal of wildlife – we saw a number of water birds.  Some rats too.  Also counts as wildlife, technically.   Lakefront

Until three years ago you could take “romantic gondola rides” as well.  Now they say there are only camel rides and you can snap a few photos and check out the small food and souvenir stalls, not much more than about 30 minutes’ worth. But we were there for a couple of hours, mainly people-watching and interacting with locals, who took a great deal of interest in us as the only non-Indians walking around the area.  As often happens in India, one family there on an outing took a particular interest in us and all wanted to be photographed with us.  We explained about our family and they wanted to see pictures of the girls on our mobile phone (below)

Sharing Photos

Street FoodIt was fun watching the vendors who had traditional fancy clothes on hand that you could, for a fee, put on and have yourself or your kids photographed in. There were also lots of food vendors with local snacks displayed quite attractively for potential customers. I tried to keep an open mind and try the local food, but my 3 weeks of working in the fast-food business kicked in and I couldn’t handle watching them scoop up servings using their hands as serving utensils, and then alternately taking money from customers and giving change with the same hand, without missing a beat.  I’m sure it was quite good but I’ll never know now! Jal MahalAs the sun began to sink behind the buildings, it was time to start planning for our “Uber” cab (for us cheaper with their fixed rates, than the auto-rickshaw drivers who hike up their rates when they see foreigners. Plus there’s air conditioning and seat belts). It was time to head back to the hotel and start flipping through all of the great photos we had stored on our SD cards.  For all the photos we took in Jaipur, you can go to this Flickr album. Tourist Assistance Force

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Found Film: Photos that tell your fortune!

I’m often surprised by what I discover on a roll of “found film” – but this roll was especially unusual: these photos included a fortune on each one!

Found Film:  Fortune CameraAll mundane photos, shots taken of almost random places on the streets of Portland, Maine. I was able to track down the location based on the unusual storefront belonging to the business pictured below, “Apartment Mart.” Yes, I was indeed heading in the right direction. Found Film:  Fortune Camera

Sometimes the juxtaposition of photo and fortune can be funny, almost as if the photographer snapped the photo to match the fortune – but it’s completely random.  It took me awhile to figure out what was going on in these pictures, but eventually I managed to find a few clues using my good friends at Google.

Found Film:  Fortune CameraIt seems that these come from a so-called “Fortune Camera” that was sold by Urban Outfitters as recently as 2011. For $12, you’d get a single-use camera with a 24-exposure roll of film inside. They looked like this (I couldn’t get any rights-free photos so you’ll have to click on the link).  By the time the undeveloped roll made its way to me, it had been separated from the camera, so I had no idea about its origins until I saw the fortunes printed on all of the photos as you see them here.

Found Film:  Fortune Camera

Found Film:  Fortune CameraI find it strange that, as late as 2011, a company decided to come out with a one-time-use film camera, of all things.  No idea how many of these cameras sold – if you check out online photos sites like Flickr or Tumblr, you can see a bunch of these, and you notice quickly that the number of fortunes they came up with is rather limited, so it would have gotten repetitive.  On the roll I found, only 22 of the 24 pictures seem to have been taken.  If you’re interested, you can see the rest of the roll at this link.

Found Film:  Fortune Camera

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MORE Monkeying Around in Jaipur

Amer Fort PanoramicOur recent trip to Jaipur, in Rajasthan, India’s largest state, was short but we brought back a lot of photos.  I posted awhile back about our encounter with monkeys our first day there; it turns out this would not be our only encounter! Our second day there, we decided to make our way to what TripAdvisor calls one of Jaipur’s must-see destinations – Amer Fort, often referred to as “Amber” Fort.  Many of the hills in and around Jaipur are topped with spectacular forts, and the connecting ridges lined with huge walls, but Wikipedia calls this fort, located about 7 km to the east of the main city, Jaipur’s “principal tourist attractions” [sic] – so we thought we’d better give it a look. Amer Fort gardens

The cab driver dropped us off at the base of the hill leading to the palace and fort, with its lake and fancy gardens.  Temperatures were already approaching 40 Celsius, and there was no sign of the elephants or the jeeps mentioned in the guidebooks for taking tourists up the hill.  We had already discussed the elephants and had resolved not to ride them in this heat, but without the jeeps, we were left only with the option to walk up the hill.

VisitorsI bought two one-liter bottles of water from a vendor on the street and we started working our way upward.  Within a short time we were soaked with sweat.  Others around us looked like they were pretty hot too, but nobody was suffering like we were.  It pays to grow up here, I guess!  We eventually made it to the main palace area and enjoyed a great view – also spotting where the jeeps were dropping people off. View from the Fort

People were waiting in line to pay an admission fee – probably for the palace? – but we opted instead to continue further up. Eventually, however, we realized it was simply too hot, and after snapping a few more photos, we spotted an old, forgotten gate which allowed us to leave the walled area halfway up the hill, through a side entrance of sorts.

GateThe pathway beyond this gate had also been “paved” with flat stones, but it was in disuse and many of the stones had washed or been pushed away. Woody Path

Woody PathAs we continued on down the hillside the pathway became less and less obvious, and more and more overgrown, so that we began to worry a bit.  Eventually we ended up running into a road where we saw this guy herding his goats along, while a monkey watched from a tree overhead. Primates

We followed where he was headed and found a little temple at the end of a road, and not much else.

Temple

Somebody would show up occasionally and go into the temple, but other than that, there were very few people. What we did find, however, was a colony of grey langurs – extremely friendly – with a single rhesus macaque who seemed to think he was a langur. Grey Langurs

Feeding the LangursAnd unlike the langurs we had seen elsewhere (which were very shy) or the macaques we had seen elsewhere (which would become aggressive), these were extremely gentle and patient monkeys. When they discovered we had goldfish crackers to offer, they all rushed over, but would sit very politely and wait to be handed a cracker. Pair of Grey Langurs

Feeding the LangursWe couldn’t get over how polite they were! For someone who really likes interacting with monkeys, this was an awesome find, way out in the middle of nowhere.

Eventually, however, it was time to head back, and we followed the sounds of traffic to find the main road again, and hitch a ride to the “Jal Mahal,” or “Lake Palace”, where we’d be able to snap some photos during that last magic hour of sunlight.

Feeding the Langurs

Grey Langur Portrait

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I Wonder What Mrs. Mangelly Would Say Now

Way back in 1977 – I was about 10 at the time – I wanted to learn the piano. But we had to be concerned with something called a “weight allowance” – the maximum weight the US government will agree to transport from assignment to assignment at their expense, every time they ask you to move. (side note: after nearly 50 years, as I prepare for my 22nd move with the USG, I am still bound by this “weight allowance!”)

So I didn’t get to take piano lessons. Instead, my parents suggested the accordion (what???). Not the saxophone, guitar, flute…the accordion. So I started taking regular lessons in Augusta, Georgia, with a lady named Mrs. Mangelly, who seemed pretty old to a ten-year-old at the time. But each week, I dutifully performed the songs I had been assigned from my Palmer-Hughes songbooks and practiced all week, and when I could perform them to the standard expected of a ten-year-old, Mrs. Mangelly would write the date on the page and assign some new songs.

Once I had been doing this for awhile, my parents talked to me about making a commitment to the instrument, because I think Mrs. Mangelly was pressuring them to stop using a loaner, and buy an instrument from them. So I agreed, and I got my own accordion, an Italian model with the “TOMMY” glued on the front with silver metallic letters. Mrs. Mangelly probably threw those in for free.

Occasionally she would assign a song that was not in the books – I’d get a separate leaflet for that, usually from the Pietro Deiro company. One such song was “Amapola”, which I apparently mastered on July 23, 1978, according to the date penciled on the corner of the sheet music, which I still own. It would become my mom’s favorite, and at family gatherings I would always be urged to drag out the instrument, and eventually “play Amapola” would come up, so I would.

These lessons would continue over the next 8 years, including a stint with “Handharmonika Vereinigung” (literally hand-harmonica club) Rheingold Mannheim and a private tutor in Holland.  In Germany I switched “Amapola” from a regular 4-beat pattern to a tango, and then my teacher in Holland showed me how to work in a few extra chords to make it all more interesting.  By then I had acquired another accordion with a lot more buttons and sounds, which I would eventually give up for repair parts in the early 2000’s because of dampness-related deterioration of all the valves inside.  So my parents gave me the old one I had used at Mrs. Mangelly’s again.

But I didn’t really play it much.  Truthfully, it was a pretty basic instrument, and as shocking as this will sound (haha) the sound could become grating after awhile.  But about ten years ago I saw a video demo of something called a “V-Accordion” (v for virtual).  This instrument digitally simulated the sound of just about any style of accordion – along with a variety of other instruments, such as saxophones, violins, guitar…even bagpipes!  But I could never bring myself to spend the cash needed to own one of these instruments.

Until recently – a used one on eBay.  It had to be shipped to India by freight, for an extra $250.  But since I have gotten it, hardly a day or two goes by that I don’t pick it up for at least a few minutes.  I have gotten out all of the old sheet music from all the different places I took lessons, some of the music I wrote myself, even ordered some additional sheet music online.  It took 37 years, but the lessons I started in 1977 are being put to good use!  Fortunately for the rest of my family and the upstairs neighbors, it can be played with headphones.  Win-win!

Where am I going with all of this?

Well, the other day I decided to play “Amapola” again, in order to share it with my mom.  But I decided to record it to a flash drive via the built-in USB plug and recording function.  And then I came up with two separate accompaniments, and recorded the whole thing on video.  There is a little bit of distortion because the accompaniment is going directly into the video camera and the recording volume was probably slightly high.

After I was done with this, I wondered about the origins of the song.  It seems that “Amapola” was written in 1924 for a 1925 film, and was recorded multiple times by multiple musicians, but in March 1941, Jimmy Dorsey’s version reached #1 in the U.S.  Until now, I had never heard it played by anyone other than myself! Here is the 1941 version:

I also wondered what had become of “old Mrs. Mangelly” and her music and dance school in Augusta. Both of my other music teachers have long passed away. But I found this 2007 article about Mrs. Mangelly still going strong at age 86.  And from other club newsletters I have learned that even today, at 94 or 95, she continues to perform regularly with a small group of accordionists!  I wonder what she would think of this blog post?

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Monkeying Around in Jaipur

Jaipur Panorama

With only a month or so before we leave India, we finally made it to Rajasthan, the country’s largest state, located on the northwestern border with Pakistan, and home to the inhospitable Thar Desert.  Literally translated as the “land of kings”, Rajasthan could easily be the destination for a half dozen or more individual trips – but as we are rapidly running out of time, we opted for the city of Jaipur.

Jaipur has a rich history and architecture, a number of forts…but those of you who know my dear wife, it’s “Jaipur blah blah blah blah MONKEYS blah blah.” OK I am kidding there – our first day we actually set out to see some of the monuments and forts, and the monkeys were just pure good luck.

Royal Gaitor

We told the cab driver to take us to Nahargarh Fort, which provides an impressive view of the city and is also worth seeing for its own sake.  So he drives us across town and we end up at a walled-in area, with stairs leading up the mountain to the right, where there is a temple with a giant swastika painted on the side, and broken stairs leading up to the left, toward some sort of fort-like turrets.  Meanwhile, the temperature is in the high 80s (“feels like” 101 Fahrenheit), so we opted to go toward the walled area rather than heading up the stairs.

Royal Gaitor

A guy at the entrance asks us for 50 rupees each (a little less than a dollar) and we oblige. No one else is around, and despite asking three times, the name the guy keeps assigning to the place we’re at doesn’t ring any bells. It turns out later that we were at the Royal Gaitor, supposedly the cremation-place and/or cenotaphs for the past kings of Jaipur and/or the surrounding region. (Don’t know what a cenotaph is? Neither did I. It’s a tomb for someone who’s actually interred somewhere else.)

Royal Gaitor

We walk around the place – only a gardener is there watering the plants, and another guy shows up whose job it is to scrape away and sweep up pigeon poop. Lots of intricately carved marble structures (cenotaphs!) and a tree that apparently has some religious significance, based on the Hindu idols that have been left at its base. All very nice and impressive, something fun to photograph with my black-and-white film camera.

Royal Gaitor

DSCF3372

Royal Gaitor

But that’s when we realize a troop of grey langurs is moving into the area. They greet us at the sign leading to the rear area of the attraction.

Bookends

They appear to be moving in from the hills, and in ones and twos, make their way along the wall surrounding the area, to the giant tree in front of the central temple.  We look up and a little one is peering down at us through the branches.

Peering

As we walk through the interior gate, we realize they are all jumping across the ten-foot span between the pillars, and it seems like a great place to do some high-speed photography to catch them in mid-air.

Jumping Monkeys

So we wait. Eventually I got a series of mid-air shots, and I decided to combine them. For each photo, all the monkeys are the same monkey, recorded at a slightly later point in time. Extra points if you can spot the kingfisher, double if you can identify the type!

Jumping Monkeys

Jumping Monkeys

We never did end up seeing Nahargarh Fort. Unless you count seeing it from the center of town. It was about 2 km away. We walked up the first 100 or so steps toward the temple to take the photo you saw at the start of this post, and then walked into town soaked with sweat as the mercury continued to climb. We did end up seeing some other forts, on different days. But that will be a different blog post.

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Found Film: Portland, Maine

I occasionally acquire rolls of film on eBay or inside old cameras that haven’t been developed, and were never seen by the photographers.  You never know – sometimes they’re old, sometimes they’re not.  This roll is not.

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

At first, I thought this was shot in Boston. But boats move around, and this could be any East Coast port city. As it turns out, this “found film” collection is from Portland, Maine.  Basically, it’s a roll of pictures someone shot walking around town taking photos of buildings.  So yeah, I know this hasn’t exactly piqued your curiosity…but it’s found film, and one never knows what to expect!

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Most of them are pretty generic and unidentifiable to someone who has never been to Portland. But there are a few I was able to nail down. Below, for example, is the First Parish Church.

Found Film:  Portland Maine UrbanAlso, a seemingly nondescript ice cream parlor, which is the Mt. Desert Island shop, on 51 Exchange Street.  There are three shops, only one of them in Portland.  This appears to be the shop in Portland, which opened in June 2010.  So the film is less than five years old.

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Then there are a few more nondescript street corners and scenes, that make me wonder what the photographer was after… I only include a few, to give a sense.

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

I was able to identify the Our Lady of Victories Monument, from 1891…rarely shot from the back….and a picture of people taking a picture, near the downtown shopping area at 24 City Center.

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

The complete roll of oddly blue-tinged photos I got off this roll can be found here.

I just have a few more rolls of found film to process and scan before the packers come and pack all of our things and we depart India. As I finish the last few, I’ll probably wrap up this project, because it’s getting pretty expensive on eBay these days, and I get way too many rolls that are just empty. I am also excited to develop a roll of my OWN found film, which I discovered inside an old 1990s era point-and-shoot camera. I just need to find the time!

Found Film:  Portland Maine Urban

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Life Goes on in Kathmandu (part 2)

Last week, I shared some of my photos and experiences from my two-week trip to Kathmandu, which was mostly just hard work post-earthquake, but I did get one day off toward the end of my time there and spent it walking around the city all day with my most recently-acquired camera.   This is the second half of that report.

Broom Maker

As noted last week, most of the “Gorkha earthquake’s” impact on individual peoples’ lives and property was felt outside the capital – in rural mountain areas.  The official death toll of the April 25 quake and the May 12 aftershock was 8,677, with as many as 20,000 hospitalizations.  But in addition to the human toll, Nepal suffered a massive cultural toll – and I stumbled across a significant part of it during my second photowalk that day.

The gentleman above sits quietly, making brooms on the fringes of what remains of Kathmandu Durbar Square, one of seven groupings of ancient buildings in Nepal that was severely damaged in the quake.  Unesco’s director-general, Irina Bokova, stated that no other natural disaster in modern times has caused so much harm to a nation’s cultural heritage.

Durbar Square

When I came upon the scene above, I couldn’t really picture what I was supposed to be looking at.  There were piles of rubble and timber everywhere, and people were walking through the area, many of them taking pictures and climbing on top of the rubble.  I saw several pyramid-like brick structures and the severely cracked remains of an old palace:

Durbar Square

It wasn’t until later that I was able to make sense of what I was seeing, as I looked at older photos and realized that the “pyramids” had actually been the bases for the actual structures, which were now completely gone.  You can look at this picture and this picture for comparison.  I stopped for a coffee at this Himalayan Java – sort of like Nepal’s Starbucks – and completely untouched on the edge of the square, and wondered, probably like the lady below, how much of the site can be reconstructed, and to what end?  This article talks a bit about efforts to save what remains.

Durbar Statue

By this time, two weeks after the quake, life elsewhere was starting to return to normal, and people in the city were starting to return to their normal routines. Without the usual number of tourists, of course.

Rickshaws

Roasted Corn

The woman above was in a group of street vendors – and was most literally a street vendor, as she had used sticks and scraps of wood and paper to keep a small fire going in the gutter at a major intersection, where she roasted ears of corn (maize) which were being regularly purchased by passersby.

As I was walking around taking these pictures, the 7.3 magnitude aftershock had not yet taken place. And I worried, because everywhere I walked I would see buildings that appeared to be precariously propped up with beams or poles:

Props

And yet after the 7.3 aftershock, there was little additional damage in the city – or so I am told. I walked through the Thamel tourist district the day after that tremor, and the shops were shuttered but I am told things returned to normal pretty quickly within days (I left Nepal the day I snapped the photo below).

Thamel

On my final day in Nepal I had a meeting in town and walked around for an additional hour. I bought an “I (heart) Nepal” t-shirt from the guy below, who was concentrating on the embroidery of an NGO’s name on this vest.

Sewing

As I was watching him work, I noticed he had embroidered the word “CHLID” on the vest (rather than “child”) and tried to tactfully point this out to him, to spare him any problems later. Only then I noticed he had a pile of 25 or so sitting next to him already done – all incorrectly. So I got kind of a mixed response.  “Better that he hear it from me,” I thought.

I also stopped to chat with this lady, who was sitting at the Bhoudanath stupa, which someone encouraged me to go and see, but I didn’t really find all that impressive, honestly. Culturally important, I’m sure. The stupa follows.  Believers walk around it and spin the prayer wheels that you can just make out in the wall.

Woman

Boudhanath Stupa

After that I walked for a mile or two until I finally had to grab a cab and head in to prepare for my trip home. A few interesting scenes from that walk:

Feminine Zone

Watchful

Parasol

Flag and Bag

I couldn’t tell if it was intentional, but this unidentified statue had a shopping bag dangling from the hand holding the Nepal flag.

Kodak Moment

I’ll close with this view from Swayambhunath. You’ve seen most of the photos I posted, but if you’d like to see the rest, you can check out the complete album on Flickr.

View from Swayambhunath

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Life Goes On in Kathmandu (part 1)

Stones

I wish my visit to Nepal had been under different circumstances.

I arrived late on April 27 – after hours on the tarmac in New Delhi, waiting for a parking berth to be on the forecast so the plane could take off. Thankfully the airline arranged for an extra meal to be delivered while we waited, and the extremely helpful airline staff were rushing up and down the aisle passing out extra meals from big cardboard boxes that had just been brought in, as the announcement clearing us for takeoff finally came. The airline billed the flight as a “rescue flight” – but the Kathmandu-bound flight was packed with Nepalis who had been waiting for anxiously since the quake to return home and check on their friends, loved ones, and property. There was a huge sigh of relief as the plane finally left the ground – and an even bigger one when it finally landed, after hours of circling over Kathmandu.

Kathmandu Aerial

Though it is said to be difficult under normal circumstances, the airport was extremely chaotic.  The electricity was sporadic, and of course many of the workers were likely to be at home dealing with their own homes and families.  There were piles of luggage everywhere, people five deep surrounding the three luggage belts, no way to know where your luggage would show up.

unnamed

Eventually I spotted mine and I was on my way into the city in a rickety old cab.  The driver apologized for having his brother in the front passenger seat; apparently the cab was temporarily home for both of them.  Driving through the city at night, the effects of the earthquake were not immediately obvious from looking at the buildings (the hardest-hit areas were the rural mountain areas), but every open space, park, or square – even the space surrounding statues placed in roundabouts – was filled with blue tarps and plastic sheeting as people sheltered outside.

Tent City

We stayed in a hotel where the lone receptionist looked as if he had been on shift for the last 18 hours.  Rooms were strictly double occupancy – every bed was filled – and breakfast would be served on the lawn under a giant canopy, until the dining room could be inspected for safety.  But finally I was able to settle down for the night.

The next ten days would end up being a blur.  I generally don’t write about my work on this blog, and that’s not what this post was intended to be about.  Instead, I want to share my impressions of the city as it appeared when I was finally told to take a day off, and I had the opportunity to walk around Kathmandu with a camera and meet some of its residents.  Following the blue line in the map below, I basically walked around until my camera battery went dead, came back to recharge (and change soaked shoes) and then headed back out again until the battery died again. This post covers the first part of my walk.

Kathmandu

I would start my walk in Thamel, the tourist district filled with budget-friendly hotels, souvenir shops, and shops catering to backpackers and hikers.  Most of the shops were shuttered, but there were signs that things were beginning to return to normal (this was May 9, a full two weeks after the quake).  I bought a map from a shopkeeper who told me he had three houses in the country, and all had been flattened.  This was the first day he had been able to return to his shop.  Although many of the shops were beginning to open, there were only a handful of tourists, and people seemed surprised to see me (a foreigner) walking around taking pictures.

Kathmandu Streets

Kathmandu Streets

Kathmandu Streets

I continued to the west, where I would cross the Bishnumati River where it passes through Kathmandu.  This is a holy river that has unfortunately fallen victim to years of pollution and dumping.  The river slowly moves through the city as a sludge of plastic waste, slaughterhouse runoff, and algae – and the lower-income homes built alongside the river appeared to have suffered massive damage, likely because they are cheaply constructed, non-reinforced, 3-4 storey brick and mortar buildings.  People were picking through the rubble, salvaging recyclable metal and bricks, even as another family sat in plain view on the 3rd floor having a meal, with the entire outer wall of their dining room missing.  As gawkers stopped to take pictures on their mobile phones, I continued westward up the steps toward the Swayambunath hill looming in the distance.  On the way I passed these monks sitting in this makeshift shelter:

Monks

The Swayambhunath hill temple complex hosts a giant Buddhist stupa that dominates the Kathmandu valley, with several impressive Buddhist and Hindu structures, as well as what appears to be a monastery.  I saw plenty of evidence of the temple’s nickname, “the monkey temple” as I began ascending the 365 steps that lead to the stupa.  My hotel television had been looping a clip that talks about the stupa and complex on its “welcome” channel, and I was eager to see it in person.

Monkey Temple Monkeys

Unfortunately, about 60 or so steps from the top, soaking with sweat, I could see that sheets of wood and other debris had been placed across the steps, blocking entry to the largest temple. A young guy had been climbing the steps just behind me, and when he too saw the way was blocked, he pulled off to the side, and took some biscuits from his pocket to feed the dogs (and one monkey) hanging around the benches placed for people to rest along the climb.

Feeding the Dogs

From there I spotted an opening in the wall lining the step area, and I followed this to a well-worn path through the forest covering the hill. There were monkeys hanging in the trees and playing along the path. I continued on the level trail which took me around to the back of the comples, where I saw there were other structures and lots of people hanging around, many in monk’s garb.

Swayambhunath

While all structures will still standing, it was hard to find anything that had not suffered at least some damage.

Monks

I guess I caught the attention of this elderly lady – I am not sure what distinguished me from the other tourists hanging around – and I gave a small donation in exchange for a photo.

Swayambhunath

This apparently encouraged her, so she insisted I sit down while she mixed a variety of wax-like substances and added to my forehead the mark – often called the tilak and signifying the “third eye” – which is so common in Hindu and Buddhist cultures. As I sat down I quickly passed off my camera to a young guy who was there with his wife or girlfriend, and he did me the favor of snapping a few photos of the experience.

Swayambhunath

After this, of course she wanted more money, but I was running low on cash.  She was happy to receive instead the MRE I had in my backpack, however!

As I made my way down the hill – snapping a couple of nice panoramic shots of the city on the way – I passed another large temple or monastery with these endless prayer wheels built into the wall.  By this time I was pretty much lost, but luckily I had a GPS watch pointing the direction back to the hotel.

Prayer Wheels

By this time it had started raining quite hard, but I had this handy raincoat in my pack – basically a plastic bag with arm- and head-holes – and I could continue on my way.  The locals thought it was pretty funny I guess.

Men

Chicken Butcher

I passed the butcher above – plucking and cleaning chickens. Like many of the people I had seen that day, he gave me a smile, and tossed a scrap of meat to a dog who was waiting expectantly. These are two of the things that impressed me that day – the friendliness of the people – even those sifting through the rubble of their homes had a smile for a passing stranger – and the well-fed dogs.

As I continued to make my way through the rain, I realized my camera was out of battery power, so this was a good time to head back to the hotel for a recharge – both for the camera and for myself!

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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.

DSCF2170

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.

weligama

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.

whale

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.

Dolphins

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:

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:

Disneyland!

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.

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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.

Entrance
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.

Groupies

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

Rooftop

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?

Mailbox

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Strolling (and Rafting) through Rishikesh

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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

Trinkets

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:

Monkey

Bundles

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.

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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.

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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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