USS Ling…

October 9, 2017

USS LingA rather grey, humid, drizzly day today, but I decided to try and get another wide-angle outdoor shot with my homemade pinhole.  I found a great vantage point at the open lot at the intersection of Bridge and Court Streets, visible in the satellite image-map below.  The view encompasses the Hackensack River, the decaying USS Ling, a WWII sub moored to the shore and slowly getting silted in place, an old truss bridge that was one of the “shovel-ready” infrastructure rehab jobs in Obama’s economic stimulus package (much to the scorn of some people who followed the project) , and some old warehouses and factories.  Real not-quite-rustbelt retro scenery.

The results are both encouraging and discouraging.

Pro:  The scene is very cool, and if done right, could yield a good picture.  The fragment of the photo that came off looks very dreamily 19th century.  If the Ling had shown up, it would be a great contrast.  The shrubs and rocks in the foreground look good, and the distortion of the wide angle view seems to have been minimized by curving the target photo paper.

Con:  The image is spoiled by over-exposure, which I suspect to be light leaks in my camera.  I noticed that the corners of the top lid didn’t look secure, and I had loaded the camera the night before.  I also had been carrying it around for a while.  I have to take much more care, and not rush.

The image posted here was created by taking a snapshot of the still wet developed paper, then reversing the tones.  When it is fully dry, and then scanned, the successful portion of the image will be sharper.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I will revisit this site for another try, and it does appear that the light meter and indicated exposure time (50 seconds) was on the mark.

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{Cropped image from the scanned dry photopaper, with some image abrasion that I caused during the clean up.  😦 }

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Stepping Up the Pinhole Game

October 8, 2017

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Feeling I wanted to move up to a larger format, I constructed my own pinhole camera out of foam board.  You can buy cameras like this online, crafted beautifully out of attractive woods, but they cost hundreds of dollars – I’m not ready for that yet!

This camera is built for 5×7 photo paper, and it has a 0.3mm aperture with a focal length of approximately 2-inches, giving an f-number of about 169.  I also rigged up a simple tripod mount on the bottom using some scrap wood and a piece of hardware I found at Home Depot.075C9D0D-F88B-4804-A204-1BB72B4CEC9F

The top flips up to allow the photo paper to be inserted, and then I seal it shut with a strip of black tape.  The usual flap of tape serves for a shutter.  It’s possible to shim the photo paper so that it is somwhat curved in a concave manner:  I want to experiment to see if this will decrease the image distortion near the edges of the wide-angle of view.

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Here is my first effort with my new camera.

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It was a very overcast day, so I exposed the paper for five minutes.  If you look closely, you can see a ghost-image of me standing in the foreground and background, but I only stayed put for a minute or so, and I barely registered in the image.  The angle of view is extremely wide:  the car on the left hand side of the image was actually quite a ways to the left of the tripold.

Not bad for a first try with the new format, but the weather over the next few days calls for rain and clouds!  😦


From Paris to Pinhole

October 8, 2017
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Sic et Non:  Arguing with Myself

Last May, I spent a very pleasant few days in Paris, where I ran across this bookstore, Artazart.  I bought a pleasing book with the allusive title of Thirty-six Views of the Canal Saint Martin, an old industrial canal near which the store is located, and had fun exploring the neighborhood, which is now becoming more or less hipster-ized.  I also got a look at one of the few buildings built, and still standing, by Claude Nicholas Ledoux, i.e. the customs gate house.

I took note of their website, and went back for another look a few weeks ago and bought their pin hole camera kit by Stenoflex.  Low-tech always interest me, and those images from the dawn of photography are fascinating.  I thought it would be interesting to adopt their technique in this obsessively digital age, so I bought the STÉNOFLEX CLASSIQUE NOIR.

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It’s a simple cardboard camera obscura, or pinhole camera, complete with ten 3.5″ square sheets of photo developing paper, a red filter sheet for a light in your darkroom, packets of developer and fixer crystals, with instructions.  Since it’s made of cardboard, actually heavy construction paper, and the shutter is activated by a slide mechanism (the pointing hand pull-tab), it didn’t hold up too well. web_stenoflex_contents

After a few uses, the shutter slide began to crease, and it became hard to move.  Looking at the pinhole under a magnifier showed that it had become very distorted, still, I did manage to get some nice images by fixing it to my tripod with rubber bands.

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The picture above shows the camera after I addressed the deterioration of the paper  structure by purchasing a laser-drilled pinhole (0.2mm) on ebay for about $8.00.  Instead of a cute paper pull-tab, I have a piece of black photographer’s tape for a “shutter,” which works fine since the exposure times are anywhere from fifteen seconds to over an hour.  Here are two shots showing the inside of the Stenoflex, with the new aperture taped in place, and outside view of the aperture and shutter.

I was able to calculate the approximate specifications for the original Stenoflex because I happen to have an old micrometer that I took from my father’s garage when we cleaned up his stuff after he died three years ago.  I took a needle from a sewing kit, examined the pinhole under magnification with a jeweler’s loupe while I inserted the needle into the hole.  I was able to see that it was a close fit, and I subsequently determined the needle diameter with the micrometer.

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The needle was 0.024 inches in diameter (0.61mm).  The original camera configuration has a focal length that I measured to be about 1.8 inches (46mm), giving an f-number of about 75.  By flipping the tabs on the backplate that holds the photo paper in place (the square with the four semi-circles for the corners of the paper), it’s possible to decrease the focal length by half, to about 0.9 inches, giving an f-number of about 38.

My understanding of all these things – I am NOT an experienced photographer – was aided superbly by the little ebook, From Pinhole to Print, that I found at the website of AlternativePhotography.com, and which is well worth the eight dollars or so that I paid for it.  It contains tables that are useful for designing your own pinhole camera, explanations of the basic math behind f-numbers, and recommendations for exposure times.

Pinhole photography has become quite popular among the alternative-tech minded, but I have found that most of these people shoot onto film, which they then develop and print either in a darkroom, or by digitally reversing and enlarging the negative image.  I don’t know what the people shooting with color film do, but I prefer to stay at the most basic level.  I shoot my images onto photographic paper; develop them in my primitive darkroom; then scan them and reverse the imagery on my computer,   From there, I can manipulate them with IrfanView or GIMP, both free software applications.

By dint of some research and fiddling with various tables for exposure times I was to able to estimate the ISO of photo paper at about a value of 5, that is, REALLY SLOW…  I might be off a bit, but all the numbers seemed to jive, and this made it possible for me to use a light meter, purchased for my iPad for $0.99, to get better estimates for exposure times.  The system seems to be working well, but it’s not perfect – we are not doing 21st century photography!

The image below, and the one at the top of this post, were taken with the original Stenoflex setup:  naturally a double-exposure of myself was my first attempt.  It was a sunny day, and it worked fairly well for a first try with a primitive camera.

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This image was taken from the attic window of my house, and I call it Hommage à Nicéphore Niépce

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After I got my hi-tech pinholes, I took some shots with the modified Stenoflex, and with the 0.2mm aperture, I took two shots with focal lengths of 0.9″ and 1.8″.  The day was too far gone to give strong light, but the image is definitely more sharp.

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It occurred to me that I could increase the focal length of the camer even more by not fully collapsing the lid onto the base, sort of a bellows effect, so I got the next shot with a focal length of about 3-inches.  Much tighter image, and some solarizing on the right.  Arguing with myself again…

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This outdoor shot used the 0.2mm aperture, with a focal length of about 2.5-inches.  It was a cloudy day, so I exposed it for fifteen minutes, a bit too long I’d say.No4_02mm_25in_15min


Brother Hitler

November 5, 2016

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It’s 1939, Hitler is in full control, and Thomas Mann is wondering what has become of his culture, and in what way is he partly responsible for it.  Just came to mind as I was contemplating the US election.

This essay was published in English in Esquire Magazine in 1939, when Mann was already in exile in the United States.

Were it not for the frightful sacrifices which continue to be offered up to the fatal psychology of this man; were it not for the ever-widening circle of desolation which he makes, it would be easier to admit that he presents an arresting phenomenon. Yet, hard as it is, we must admit it; nobody can help being preoccupied by the deplorable spectacle. For he has chosen — in default, as we know, of capacity to wield any other — to use politics as his tool; and politics always magnify and coarsen the effect they produce. So much the worse for us all; so much the worse for Europe today, lying helpless under his spell, where he is vouchsafed the role of the man of destiny and all-conquering hero, and where, thanks to a combination of fantastic chances — or mischances — everything is grist that comes to his mill, and he passes unopposed from one triumph to another..

Even to admit all this, even to recognize the bald and sorry facts, comes close to being a moral self-flagellation. One has to force oneself. And after that one begins to fear lest one be pusillanimous enough to fall short in the hatred which is the only right reaction from those to whom our civilization is anywise dear. I tell myself that I do not fall short. Most sincerely do I hope that this public misfortune may meet a disgraceful end — as disgraceful and as speedy as his well-known caution can give us ground to hope for. And yet, I feel that those are not my best hours in which I hate the miserable, if also portentous phenomenon. Happier and worthier are those other hours when my hatred is overcome by my need for freedom, for objective contemplation — in a word, for the irony which I have long since recognized as the native element of all creative art. Love and hatred are great emotions; yet it is strange how prone people are to underestimate, precisely as emotion, that attitude in which they both unite: I mean interest. And in underestimating it, they are underestimating at the same time its morality. For interest connotes a desire for self-discipline; it inclines to be humorous, ascetic; to acknowledge similarity, even identification with oneself; to feel a sense of solidarity. And all this I find morally superior to hatred..

The fellow is a catastrophe. But that is no reason why we should not find him interesting, as a character and an event. Consider the circumstances. Here is a man possessed of a bottomless resentment and a festering desire for revenge; a man ten times a failure, extremely lazy, incapable of steady work; a man who has spent long periods in institutions; a disappointed bohemian artist; a total good-for-nothing. And here is a people obsessed by powerful though far less justifiable feelings of defeat and inferiority, and unable to think of anything save how to retrieve its lost “honor.” And then he — who had learned nothing, and in his dreamy, obstinate arrogance never would learn anything; who had neither technical nor physical discipline, could not sit a horse, or drive a car, or fly a plane, or do aught that men do, even to begetting a child — he develops the one thing needful to establish a connection between him and the people: a gift of oratory. It is oratory unspeakably inferior in kind, but magnetic in its effect on the masses: a weapon of definitely histrionic, even hysterical power, which he thrusts into the nation’s wound and turns round. He rouses the populace with images of his own insulted grandeur, deafens it with promises, makes out of the people’s sufferings a vehicle for his own greatness, his ascent to fantastic heights, to unlimited power, to incredible compensations and overcompensations. He rises to such a pitch of glorification and awe-inspiring sanctity that anyone who in the past had wronged him, when he was unknown, despised, and rejected, becomes straightway a child of the evil one, meriting the most shameful and frightful death. He proceeds from the masses of Germany to the masses of Europe, and learns to apply in a larger setting the same technique of hysterical humbug and soul-paralyzing ideology which raised him to greatness in the smaller one. With masterly adroitness he exploits the weariness of the continent, its agony of fear, its dread of war. He knows how to stir up the peoples over the heads of their rulers and win large sections of opinion to himself. Fortune is his slave, all walls fall before him. The one-time melancholic ne’er-do-well, simply because he has learned — for aught he knows, out of patriotism — to be a political animal now bids fair to subjugate Europe, or, God knows, maybe the whole world. All that is unique. It is on a new scale; one simply cannot help granting the phenomenon the meed of a certain shuddering admiration.

There are traits of the legendary about it all — distorted, of course; but then, how much degeneration and distortion are there not in Europe today? The motif of the poor, woolgathering simpleton, who wins the princess and the kingdom; the ugly duckling who becomes a swan; the Sleeping Beauty surrounded by a rose-hedge instead of Brunnhilde’s circling flames, and smiling as her Siegfried hero awakes her with a kiss. “Deutschland erwache!” It is ghastly, but it all fits in, as well as many another folk tradition, mingled with debased and pathological elements. The whole thing is a distorted phase of Wagnerism, as has been said long ago; we know the not unfounded if rather illegitimate reverence which our political medicine-man feels for the musician-artist whom, after all, Gottfried Keller called a hair-dresser and a charlatan.

Ah, the artist! I spoke of moral self-flagellation. For must I not, however much it hurts, regard the man as an artist-phenomenon? Mortifyingly enough, it is all there: the difficulty, the laziness, the pathetic formlessness in youth, the round peg in the square hole, the “what ever do you want?” The lazy, vegetating existence in the depths of a moral and mental bohemia; the fundamental arrogance which thinks itself too good for any sensible and honorable activity, on the ground of its vague intuition that it is reserved for something else — as yet quite indefinite, but something which, if it could be named, would be greeted with roars of laughter. Then the bad conscience, the sense of guilt, the anger at everything, the revolutionary instinct, the unconscious storing-up of mines of compensatory wishes; the obstinate need of self-justification, self-proof, the urge to dominate and subdue, the dream of seeing the whole world abased in fear and love, admiration and remorse, at the feet of the once despised! The thoroughgoingness of the fulfillment must not lead us to wrong conclusions about the volume and depth of the latent dignity which suffered so much from the dishonors of its chrysalis state, or about the extraordinary violence of the tension, in an unconscious which was maturing creations so impressive and grandiose. The alfresco, the grand historic style, is not a question of personality. It has to do with the medium and sphere of activity of the political or demagogic method which it wields to sway whole populations and the destinies of great masses of people — with much accompanying noise and destructiveness. Its extrinsic scope proves nothing about the extraordinary character of the mental attributes or the actual greatness of this successful hysteric. But there is also present the insatiable craving for compensation, the urge to self-glorification, the restless dissatisfaction, the forgetfulness of past achievements, the swift abandonment of the prize once grasped, the emptiness and tedium, the sense of worthlessness so soon as there is nothing to do to take the world’s breath away; the sleepless compulsion to make one’s mark on something.

A brother — a rather unpleasant and mortifying brother. He makes me nervous, the relationship is painful to a degree. But I will not disclaim it. For I repeat: better, more productive, more honest, more constructive than hatred is recognition, acceptance, the readiness to make oneself one with what is deserving of our hate even though we run the risk, morally speaking, of forgetting how to say no. That does not worry me. Anyhow, the moral sphere, insofar as it derogates from the innocent spontaneity of life, is really not altogether the artist’s concern. It may be annoying, but after all it has its soothing side, to realize that despite all the psychoanalysis, all the progress we have made in learning how the human being’s mind works, there is still absolutely no limit to the extent the unconscious can go in effective projection of itself upon reality.

We see this truth illustrated by the state of Europe today; the reduction to the primitive to which she has consciously and deliberately submitted herself. Indeed, the conscious and willing surrender, the treachery to the spirit and to the upper levels at which it had arrived, are themselves the severest possible indictment of the prevailing primitivism. For this primitivism is shameless. It is a wanton self-glorification, in the face of the developed civilization of our age. It is shameless as a philosophy, however much condoned as a reaction against arid intellectualism. It is, in the Old Testament phrase, a folly and an abomination. Even the artist, despite his position as ironic partisan of life, must turn away in disgust from the spectacle of such an utter collapse and betrayal. Lately, on the films, I saw a ritual dance of the Bali islanders. It ended in a complete trance condition, with frightful twitchings of the bodies of the exhausted youths. Where is the difference between these practices and the procedure in the European mass meeting? There is none — or rather, there is one: the difference between the exotic and the repellent.

When I was still very young, I described in Fiorenza how the sway of beauty and culture was once broken by the religious and social fanaticism of a monk who heralded the “miracle of regained detachment.” In Death in Venice there is much of challenge to the psychologism of the age; much talk of a simplification and resolution of mind — though indeed in the story I made it come to a bad end. I did not lack contact with the tendencies and aspirations of the time, with ideas which twenty years later were to be the property of the man in the street. Who can wonder, then, that I paid no attention, when they degenerated into the political sphere and wreaked their violence on a plane where professors enamored of the primitive and literary lackeys of the anti-intellectual pose were the only ones who did not fear to tread? Such activities make one disgusted with one’s reverence for the sources of life. One feels compelled to hate them. But what is such hatred compared with that which the protagonist of the unconscious must feel for knowledge and mind? I have a private suspicion that the élan of the march on Vienna had a secret spring: it was directed at the venerable Freud, the real and actual enemy, the philosopher and revealer of the neuroses, the great disillusioner, the seer and sayer of the laws of genius. Our notion of genius has always been shrouded in a superstitious haze. But I question whether today the haze is thick enough to prevent our calling this man a genius. And why not do so, if it pleases him? The intellectual man is almost as much interested in painful truths as the fool is in those which flatter him. If genius is madness tempered with discretion (and that is a definition!) then the man is a genius. One feels freer to admit it because genius, while it is a category, is not a class. It has no reference to rank or station, manifesting itself in the most various ways, and even at its lowest revealing the marks of its kind. I will not decide whether history has ever produced a specimen of mental and moral baseness accompanied by the magnetism we call genius, to compare with this one to which we are the amazed witnesses. In any case I am against allowing the particular manifestation to give us a distaste for the whole category. The phenomenon of the great man has after all, been most often an aesthetic, not an ethical phenomenon. I admit that by overstepping our human limitations it has made humanity shudder before it; yet even so, and whatever the suffering involved, the shudder has nearly always been a thrill as well. We must make distinctions — they are very important. It annoys me when I hear people say today: “Napoleon was a boor too; we know that now.” It is really going too far to speak in one breath of the great soldier and the blackmailing pacifist, the fighter and the coward whose role would be played out on the first day of actual armed conflict. That earlier figure is stamped forever on men’s memories, a classic Mediterranean bronze. Hegel called him the “world-spirit on horseback.” And shall we compare that all-embracing brain, that immense capacity for toil, that embodiment of the revolution and tyrant harbinger of liberty, with the pitiable idler and incapable, the fifth-rank visionary, the stupid foe of social revolution, the sly sadist and plotter of revenge, the representative of “temperament”?

I spoke of the distortions prevalent in Europe today. And truly our times have succeeded in distorting much; for instance, nationalism, socialism, myth, philosophy, irrationalism, faith, youth, revolution — and what not besides? To cap it all, we have the distortion of genius. We must reconcile ourselves to our lot; for today it is our fate to encounter genius in this one particular phase of all the phases possible to it. An artist, a brother. But the [bond|solidarity], and the recognition of it, are an expression of art’s contempt for itself — they do not want to be taken quite seriously. I like to think, yes, I am certain, that a future is now on the way in which art uncontrolled by mind, art as black magic, the issue of brainlessly irresponsible instinct, will be as much condemned as, in humanly frail times like ours, it is reverenced. Art, certainly, is not all sweetness and light. But neither is it all a brew of darkness, not all a freak of the tellurian underworld, not simply “life.” More clearly and happily than ever will the artist of the future realize his mission as a white enchanter, as a winged, hermetic, moon-sib mediator between spirit and life. And mediation itself is spirit.


Live Long and Be Crucified

September 22, 2016

From the Vulcan salute, to the Angel Gabriel, or the other way ’round, I should say. Nimoy commented frequently on the Rabbinical origin of his invented greeting. The painted hand is a detail from this Annunciation by Hans Memling.

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Mysteries of Paris

May 12, 2016

imageJust about done with this social melodrama, all 1366 pages of it.  Well, I admit to some skimming of the final epilogue of sixty pages or so, when almost everything turns out happily and loose ends are tied up.  The journey didn’t hold up to the excitement and fearful  grotesquerie of the initial chapters, but it was an interesting window into the mentality of the reforming middle-class, c. 1840, and it’s unflinching descriptions of poverty and social injustice still pack a punch today. Read the rest of this entry »


It’s Always 2001

April 3, 2016