Saturday, June 24, 2017

Country Stores 16: Windham's Gro, Caile, Mississippi

In April, I was driving south on Mississippi highway 49W, and about half way between Indianola and Belzoni was this little country store. The store looked unused, but a car to the left indicated that the house behind was occupied.
The faded sign said, "Sid Winham's Gro, Caile, Miss". Possibly a reader can tell us about Sid Windham or when the store was last open.

Photographs taken with a Rolleiflex 3.5E with Schneider Xenotar lens using Kodak Panatomic-X film. I scanner the negatives with a Minolta Scan Multi scanner using Silverfast Ai software.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Country Stores 15: Poboy Don's, Tallulah, Louisiana

Just east of Tallulah, Louisiana, LA route 602 takes a wide swing through the farm country south of Interstate 20. An old country store sits at the corner of Montrose Road and 602. It was a active little shop and snack bar in 1989, and I took some photographs on 4×5" Fujichrome 50 film. I do not know when the store closed, but my Tallulah friend said he remembered eating there about 20 years ago.
In recent years, my friends and I have been biking on 602 because it passes by ponds with plenty of birds and alligators. But the old store has been closed at least since 2015.
Vermilion flycatcher, an occasional and rare winter visitor, LA route 602 near Mound
Smooth bike riding on LA 602 and very little traffic.
The 1989 frames were taken with a Tachihara 4×5" camera and 180mm Caltar IIN lens on Fujichrome 50. A generous friend gave me an Epson 3600 Photo scanner, which has a light cover large enough for 4×5, so I am slowly scanning old transparencies and black and white negatives. The 2017 black and white frames are from a medium format Hasselblad with Tri-X professional 320 film.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Country Stores 14: Wagner Grocery, Church Hill, Mississippi in the heat

This is a continuation of my irregular series on country stores. It was almost 95° F. one typical day last summer; I had received my Rolleiflex back from repair and wanted to test it. Where to go? Well, Church Hill, on Rte. 533 south of Alcorn State University, had an old country store, so off I went. It was also a good opportunity check some long-expired Kodak Ektar 25 film. This was one of the finest-resolution color print films ever made, and I had 5 rolls still in the freezer.
By the time I reached Church Hill, the temperature was converging on 100° (37° C.) and the light was harsh and glarey. OK, typical Mississippi August day. Just be careful to not drip sweat into your viewfinder. There is an old wood grocery store on 533 a bit north of Church Hill. There was no name on the building. It was secure, so not a derelict.
Just to the south, the elegant stone Gothic Revival Church is on a knoll at the road junction. Dating to 1857-1858, it is said to be the oldest Episcopal Church in Mississippi.
Right across the street from the Episcopal Church is the historic Wagner grocery. The building is reasonably sound and may be under renovation.
This is a crop from the full-size TIFF file showing the Coca-Cola sign on the building facade. Notice the amazing detail recorded on the Ektar 25 film.
Like many rural stores in the old days, this one served as the local post office for the town of Church Hill.
The detail and texture from this 1950s 5-element Schneider Xenotar lens and the Ektar 25 film is quite amazing. I have no complaints. A modern medium format digital camera likely would show more detail, but this looks different than digital. Note that scanned at 48-bit full color and at 2820 dpi, the 54×54 mm negative from the Rolleiflex results in a 218 mbyte uncompressed TIFF file. This film probably contains even more detail, but I do not have a higher-resolution scanner. The Rolleiflex camera was tripod-mounted for all frames.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Mississippi Delta 19: Into the Woods in Redwood

Redwood is a small community north of Vicksburg on Hwy. 61 (the "Blues Highway"). Most people rush by heading to Eagle Lake or Yazoo City, but there are some interesting photographic topics (well, if you like old things, as I do). Redwood is at the southern margin of the Mississippi Delta; north and west of here stretch the flat farmlands and hardwood bottomland of the Mississippi River's alluvial plain.
Abandoned cement silo off Rte. 3. 35mm film, Pentax Spotmatic camera, 35mm Super-Takumar lens.
Hwy. 61 swings west after it crosses the Yazoo River, while Hwy. 3 proceeds north to Yazoo City. The hulking abandoned cement silos are just off  Hwy. 3 about a mile south of the Vicksburg International Paper Mill. I have photographed these silos before. The tracks serve the paper mill and a rail yard further north.
Quite by chance, I drove up a dirt road across the highway from the silos and found this abandoned concrete structure and some sort of crushing mill. I am not sure what it crushed once. It resembles a giant version of the incense burners you see in monasteries in the Himalaya in Nepal.
Hmmm, a snake lives in the pond. Was water from the pond once used in the crushing process? By mid-spring, poison ivy takes over.
There are a couple of abandoned houses along Rte. 3, but nothing too interesting.
Just north of the International Paper plant, the rails fan out into a rail yard, with a lot of parked rolling stock. The tracks end, and I do not know if they once continued north to Yazoo City. The photograph above is the view looking south, with the paper plant at the horizon.

Most of the square photographs were taken with a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera with Xenotar lens. The film was Kodak Panatomic-X, with expiration date 1989 but it still performs perfectly. I wrote about Panatomic-X earlier this year. The close-up of the crushing mill was from a Mamiya C220 camera with 55mm lens. I previously wrote about the silos in 2010 and in 2017.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Mississippi Delta 18: Grace Church, Glen Allen

Grace Church is a modest wood frame building at 6260 Grace Road, just east of Mississippi Hwy. 1 in Issaquena County. Grace is not really a town but rather a farming community a few miles northwest of Rolling Fork. Do any of you readers know the age of the church?
There are silos, sheds with farm equipment, and a few homes along Grace Road. I am sure I have missed some places to photograph, so I'll return in autumn. Also, nearby Rolling Fork is worth some more exploring.

For previous articles on the Delta, type "Mississippi Delta" in the search box on the right.

Photographs taken with a Fuji GW690II 6×9 medium format camera with a 90mm f/3.5 lens. The film was my favorite Kodak Panatomic-X, long discontinued but still in good condition.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Vicksburg with Color Film 2017 (test of a Hasselblad)

Clay Street, Vicksburg (also known as the ugliest street in America), 150mm lens.
My friend generously loaned me his Hasselblad camera and gave me some Fuji NHG400 color film to try. The Hasselblad is a 6×6 film camera (like my older Rolleiflex) but instead has a modular design. The reflex mirror is in a rectangular box. A lens mounts on one side, a film-holder on the opposite, and a viewfinder on top. You can switch and swap components as needed, and all these parts click together with remarkable tolerances (similar to how 50-year-old Leica lenses work perfectly on a new body).
Hasselblad 501CM, A12 film back, and Zeiss 80mm f/2.8 CB lens (all 1999 production).
Kansas City Southern railroad line from the Confederate Avenue bridge, Vicksburg Military Park, 150mm lens.
The Hasselblad has a big advantage over the Rolleiflex: you can change lenses. My friend's 150mm Sonnar lens, although about 40 years old, has beautiful color fidelity. It gave a field of view approximately equivalent to a 100 mm lens in 35mm terms.
501 Fairground Street, 150mm lens.
503 Fairground Street.

The five matching houses on Fairground street are typical 1920s cottages. They are wider than shotgun houses but similarly intended as inexpensive housing for urban working families. I have photographed them before many times.
Fairground Street bridge, 150mm lens (flare is from a  light leak in the film back).
The Fairground street bridge is now closed to car or foot traffic and is deteriorating. One span was built by the Keystone Bridge Company and was erected here in 1895. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
KCS railroad cut from Washington Street, 150mm lens.
Gent with his bicycle, 150mm lens.
I often like to photograph the Kansas City Southern railroad line where it passes under Washington Street and runs through a deep valley between Belmont and Pine Streets. The gent on the bicycle was coming down the sidewalk and we chatted. He graciously let me take his portrait.
Tri-State Tire, 2209 Washington Street, Vicksburg.
This building with its Spanish motif was once an ice cream shop but has been a tire store since the 1970s.
Stairs on the east side of the unused Mercy Hospital, Grove Street, 80mm lens.
The former Mercy Hospital is closed and locked, but must have a lot of photographic potential. Some background on the hospital is in this Preservation Mississippi post.
2314 Grove Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 80mm lens.
This is a typical early 20th century cottage. This was once been a duplex, but one door has been removed.

Thank you, Bob, for letting me use your camera and lenses. But now that I have sampled a Hasselblad, I want to buy one (Hmmm, an element of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) at play here.....).

Friday, June 2, 2017

From the Archives: Washington-Hoover Airport, Arlington, Virginia 1941 or 1942

Eastern Airlines DC-2.
The Washington-Hoover Airport served Washington, DC, from the mid-1930s until 1941, when it was closed and replaced by the modern National Airport (now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). Hoover was located about where the south parking lot of the Pentagon is situated. Construction of the Pentagon began on on November 8, 1941, dating these photographs a few months earlier.
When I first looked at these negatives, I thought they showed National Airport. But a friend (a gent in his 80s) from Alexandria, Virginia was highly certain that this was not National. The Wikipedia web page describes the closure of the older airport: That would date my dad's pictures to late-1941, which is possible because I read in one of his 1941 diary entries that he was thinking of buying a 35mm format camera. He bought an American-made Perfex camera, made by the Candid Camera Corporation of Chicago. I assume this roll of film was one of his early tests. The Cameraquest web page describes the Perfex cameras if you are interested.
The film was in terrible condition. Whoever developed it used the brush method, which was described in older photography magazines. No wonder it fell out of favor. My Silverfast Ai scanning software has anti-scratch software, but it could only do so much with these. Still, I am surprised how much detail is visible. The film edge said Kodak Safety Film Plus-X ("Safety" meaning not nitrate-based film, which was unstable and highly flammable).
Unfortunately, there were only 5 frames on this roll with air field photographs. The other frames were rather mundane tourist scenes in Washington (statue of heroic soldier on horse, etc.). This serves as a lesson that as the years pass, scenes or topics that seem ordinary often take on historical importance, or at least interest. But standard tourist sites are rather unchanging unless you include cultural artifacts, such as parked cars or signs.
Gravely Point, Virginia, with dredging underway to prepare artificial land for National Airport. From the Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress; United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division  digital ID hhh.va1677/photos.368605p. 
The old Washington-Hoover airport was soundly criticized by pilots and almost everyone as being dangerous and hopelessly inadequate as the airport for the nation's capital. The runways were short, a nearby dump that was on fire made plumes of thick smoke, nearby radio antennas were a hazard, and Military Road had to be blocked by guards when planes landed or took off. At one time, there was a swimming pool, which children reached by crossing the runway. 

Construction of the new National Airport was mired in the standard political and budgetary malarky (nothing has changed in 75 years). There was even controversy about where the boundary between Virginia and the District of Columbia was located. Read the sordid history in the link above. The new National Airport opened just before our entry into World War II. This was fortuitous timing because the world war resulted in a tremendous increase in air traffic into Washington and Virginia. 

When it opened, National Airport was considered the “last word” in airports – a concentration of the ultramodern developments in design of buildings, handling of planes, air traffic and field traffic control, field lighting, facilities for public comfort and convenience, and surface vehicle traffic control. 
Well, not quite. Across the ocean, in Berlin, the spectacular Templehof Airport was under construction and almost complete in 1941. Please see my 2016 article on Templehof.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Cities Services Gas Station in Meridian

Former Cities Services station, 3700 5th Street, Meridian, Mississippi
On May 19, Thomas Rosell wrote an interesting article in Preservation Mississippi about early 20th century filling stations built by the Cities Services Company (more recently known as Citgo). As Thomas wrote, "These Cities Service gas stations were designed to have a residential-like quality that draws from the Period Revival or Tudor Revival style with steeply pitched, cross-gabled roofs." A week later, I was exploring Meridian on my way home from North Carolina (my first time downtown as opposed to just rushing by on I-20), and I had just read his follow-up post on Gulf filling stations. So quite to my surprise, I rounded a corned on 5th Street, and there was one of the peaked-roof former Cities Services buildings. Some ladies were frying catfish out back, but it was only 10:00 am, so a bit early for lunch. But they graciously said I was welcome to photograph the brilliant blue paint. The frame above is from my Nexus 4 phone, but I also took a photograph on Panatomic-X film with my Hasselblad, which you will see later after the film is developed.
In North Carolina, I had driven part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, some of it in heavy rain and dense fog. But I did not patronize any Citgo stations this trip. Usually, I fill with ethanol-free gasoline, which tends to be found in local chains or independent stations in towns.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Law House in film, Foote, Lake Washington, Mississippi

Overgrown drive welcomes paranormal investigators but no residents.
The Susie B. Law House, on Eastside Lake Washington Road, in Foote, Mississippi, has been empty for a decade or more and is deteriorating badly. I keep hearing that someone is renovating it but in April of 2017, it looked pretty bad. I wrote about the Law House in an 2014. Here are a few Panatomic-X film photographs of the house, taken on a gloomy day in 2014.
This was a handsome house originally, with symmetry and an imposing entry colonnade.
The original millwork came in kit form from Sears, Roebuck & Company.

Photographs taken with a tripod-mounted Fuji GW690II rangefinder camera; light measured with a Luna-Pro SBC hand-held light meter.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Kodak's Panatomic-X: the Best Black and White Film*

Bad news, there is only one brick of 120-size Panatomic-X film left in my freezer. So it goes - all good things must eventually end. I bought several bricks in the late-1990s from a fellow on eBay who owned a refrigeration business (I assumed he was not fibbing when he wrote they had been frozen).
*Note: My title needs to be qualified. Panatomic-X might have been the best fine-grain black and white film, but the old standby, Tri-X, is superb when you need faster speed and do not need as fine grain. Plenty of film users have other favorites.

Eastman Kodak Company introduced Panatomic-X in 1933 and discontinued it in 1987. The film had been reformulated during its five-decade existence, so my late production was likely different than the original. It was designed to be an extremely fine grain film, which meant it could be enlarged for large prints and still retain details. This was of value to architectural, fine-art, and aerial photographers. The version I have was rated at ISO 32, but I shot it at 20 or 25 and developed it in Rodinal at 1:50 dilution. Agfa's Rodinal is a developer that retains the grain structure and therefore looks "sharp" (i.e., it does not have solvent action to partly dissolve the edges of the grain clumps). Used with good lenses and careful technique (that means a tripod), the detail in a Panatomic-X negative is astonishing, even in this age of 36-megapixel digital cameras.
These are 1982 examples from a farm in Clifton, Virginia. I had just bought a Rolleiflex 3.5E twin-lens reflex camera and was experimenting with different films. I wanted fine grain for architecture, and Panatomic-X was still in production. After experimenting, I settled on shooting it at ISO 25 and developing it in Rodinal. I also experimented with Agfapan 25 but could never get the contrast right (but that was my error, of course - Agfapan was a fine film).
My most recent 1959-vintage Rolleiflex 3.5E with the 5-element 75mm f/3.5 Schneider Xenotar lens.
This is my present Rolleiflex 3.5E camera. It is similar to the one I used in the 1980s, which I should have never sold. The earlier one had a selenium light meter in the slot below the word "Rolleiflex." But my new one has better resolution; everything in its production chain worked out just right. In the 1950s and early 1960s, every Rolleiflex camera was individually tested with film before being released for sale.
Former residence room in the Junius Ward YMCA on Clay Street in Vicksburg, early 1990.
Panatomic-X film was excellent for detailed photography in old buildings, but you needed a tripod to support the camera for long exposures. In this case, I found an old chair in the hall and placed the camera on it. The Rolleiflex was suited for this work because it did not have a moving mirror and was therefore vibration-free.
Shotgun houses in Grayson Court, Jackson, 2004.
Grayson Court in Jackson was an old-fashioned alley with numerous shotgun houses facing the common road. It has been torn down although the property owner did some renovating in the early 2000s. I took this photograph with my Fuji GW690II camera with a Fuji 90mm f/3.5 lens. The 6×9 negative (real size 54×82mm) scans to a 100 mbyle TIFF file. More Fuji examples are below.
The Junius Ward YMCA on Clay Street, Vicksburg, 2004. The Old Courthouse Museum is in the distance.
Two shotgun houses on Bowmar Avenue, Vicksburg, 2005. Both have been town down.
The New21 Club on Hwy 61, Valley Park, 2016.
Blue Front Cafe, Bentonia, 2010.
Kodak likely discontinued Panatomic-X for several reasons:
  • Even by the 1980s, most photographers wanted faster film so that they would not need to use a tripod. 
  • Newer T-grain or tabular films like Kodak T-Max or Ilford Delta 100 offered almost as fine grain but with faster speed.
  • A friend from Rochester who has worked with Kodak said there was a toxic chemical used in the Panatomic-X production. I have read the same pertaining to Agfapan 25, so maybe slow fine grain films required some chemical technology that manufacturers cannot use today.
Unused Teen Center, 407 West Green Street, Tallulah, Louisiana, December 2016. Fuji photograph.
Unused church in Hermanville, Mississippi, January 2017. Rolleiflex photograph.
Little Bayou Pierre, Port Gibson, February 2017. Port Gibson is the town that General Ulysses Grant did not burn during the U.S. Civil War because he admired the architecture so much.
Crushing mill, Rte 3, Redwood, Mississippi, 2017. Rolleiflex photograph.
As a final example, this is some sort of early 20th century crushing mill, long abandoned in the woods just off Hwy 3 in Redwood. This is a 1 sec exposure at f/11, I resized this to 2400 pixels, so click the picture to see more detail.

Readers know I like film. One reason is I used film for 50 years and am comfortable with it. Another reason is it has a familiar look that we saw in prints, magazines, exhibits, and movies for decades, and it works well for recording urban decay. Techno-dweebs on forums like Dpreview despise film because they think they are so superior with their new super digital capture devices. To each his own. Still, if you have aspirations to be a real photographer, you owe it to yourself to use the traditional medium, learn how to calculate exposure manually, and contemplate each picture carefully. You need to think with film; no spray and pray that you might achieve a meaningful picture. Used film cameras are cheap - just go do it.