travel

Return to the Huntington -- November 2018

Return to the Huntington

The Huntington is by far one of my favorite places in Los Angeles — I actually have an earlier less organized set on this blog from my first trip around the Huntington — Clickthrough here. I mean, I know The Huntington Gardens and Library, etc, are in San Marino, which is really just Pasadena, which is really just Los Angeles. Go Figure. I’m not really a huge history buff, so I’m far far too unqualified to talk much about the history, but the whole thing is pretty fascinating. I’m not usually a fan of collectors or flexers, but The Huntingtons really knew how to do it right -- Money can’t buy taste -- but it helped. 

Before I met up with my father for lunch, I took a brief walk  around Downtown LA, near my apartment, and met him at his hotel -- which is by far one of the oddest most surreal places I’ve been to in LA (I stayed there while my building was fumigated two ish years ago -- the Hotel isn’t even one of the most mysterious or haunted ones in Downtown, but again another story/photo series for another day…) I did some street-ish photography, and met up with my father to get coffee before we had lunch.

After lunch, my father and I picked up Kristina and headed over to the Huntington. This round I walked around the grounds of The Huntington Library and Gardens was much different experience — I was going with other people. It was a very different experience roaming the grounds on a weekend, and with other people but not unenjoyable at all. It definitely was good to be able to compare thoughts on the gardens, and the art with other people. The grounds were magnificent as ever, and this round I even saw some interiors (not pictured here).

I believe (rough guess) The route we took was as follows: We Entered normally, cut through some of the grounds, skipped going into the greenhouse and back to the Mausoleum (which, let’s be honest is a pretty awesome way to stunt while grieving). Then travelled through the Chinese Garden (something my father is immensely fascinated with -- gardening, and to a lesser extent, the design and planning that goes into the elaborate Chinese style gardens and grounds.) Then through the Japanese Garden -- took a water break -- it was really unseasonably hot that November/October.

Shooting the Chinese and Japanese gardens were a bit of a challenge this round -- I quickly found that because of the abundance of tourists, I had to be very careful while shooting to get the shots I wanted -- and that within limited reach, I really couldn’t use a wide angle like I had done the last time. So, as has become the standard I slapped my Rokkor 50mm MC PG 1.4  onto the Minolta XD-11 pretty quickly, and it stayed there all day. The only other equipment note I can bother to give here is that everything you’re seeing was shot on Agfapan APX 100 during my test-period for that film. I think some of these photos have my favorite look I’ve ever seen/shot -- I know that for sure while the lighting helped the photos, I was using Rodinal 1:50, semi-stand, pushed to 160, and I think that really “made” the photos. I think while the gardens are colorful, after the major floral bloom it looks much more compelling in black and white too. Everything was scanned through the Epson V600 -- you can read my opinions on that here. That’s gonna be the end of me talking tech/equipment shit here -- there’s really not much else to say.

If you weren’t aware, the Huntington Gardens are large and sprawling complex. After we wrapped up our water break, we headed for the Desert Garden which was of particular interest to my father -- who, I believe if he ever retires, will likely move to a desert of some kind -- provided it has mountains. By this time, we were starting to get the really beautiful diffuse late-day light, you sometimes get in southern California, that’s somewhat like golden hour, but isn’t quite. Word salad I know, but bear with me here. By far the Desert garden is the most interesting garden, or at least it looks the most totally alien.

We walked the Desert Garden end to end, and headed on to the Lilly pond -- Which was likely the only place in the Gardens that day that I felt like the Agfapan APX 100 wasn’t quite fast enough -- don’t get me wrong; I really like the photos I got from it (that I’m presenting here) but some of them felt kinda jank while shooting. Like they worked, and I got more or less what I wanted, but it’s not *quite* optimal. After scaling up the hill, we worked our way back across the grounds once more and then ended up back at the main Mansion, and I suppose one of the three main art galleries. The collection they had was, is? Really impressive, specifically their portraiture gallery. Definitely food for thought for a portrait project. I should’ve taken photos inside, but lacked the film I needed to do it right.

It was late in the day once we’d finished up in the Mansion we were about ready for dinner. We exited out onto the lawn and walked the grounds, down to the Fountain. It’s long been on my must return to/to shoot areas, but that day was not in the cards for me shooting -- there were actors doing some community theatre tier play or something on the lawn, which made it near impossible to get the shots I wanted. So I grabbed a couple last shots of the statues and we all filed out back to the car, and headed for dinner at MHZH over in Silverlake.

There’s not much real technical photographic takeaway here -- maybe label your film so you know you need to push a roll or two differently than the rest. The real takeaways I got were as follows: a 50mm is more than enough lens for you for most applications. Just get clever. And carrying around a giant-ass or even medium-ass sized camera bag sucks, especially when you’re out with non-photographers and you’re really just trying to enjoy your day out, but also get some good shooting done, because you’re a compulsive shooter. Honestly, I had a very nice day shooting and walking, but I think it would’ve been dramatically improved for everyone had I not been toting that stupid bag.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed this content -- please pick up a zine or shirt in the shop. Every purchase helps keep the lights on here.

Thanks!

Andrew.

What I learned shooting #005: Pentax 6x7 (MLU)

What I learned Shooting #005: Pentax 6x7 (MLU)

I deeply resent that I have to write this article. I deeply resent the fact that I paid 200 dollars for a broken Pentax 6x7, and then had to throw another 100 bucks to get it to work. I resent the fact that the Pentax 6x7 is the it-girl camera (or at least, it sure seems like it) in medium format right now, alongside the Mamiya 7ii, the evergreen favorite.

I know your first instinct as a reader will be to ask “why bother writing it if you hate doing it, or that you have to do it” -- and to that my response is simple: reviews, specifically camera reviews for in-demand cameras get website traffic. Likewise with film reviews for permanent favorite emulsions, ie your HP5+, your Portra 400, your Ektar, your Fuji Pro400h Reviews. I’m not above a little commercialism, I’d even argue it’s healthy.

That aside, The Pentax 6x7 (MLU) or non MLU is a great camera, and I do really like it, a lot. Some of the images I’ve gotten from it, like the glassy more-than-real, but still organic images it produces when I’m shooting at the heights of my abilities (not trying to be egocentric, it just seems like the highs that come out of this camera are really, really really high). I’m probably never going to sell it, if for no other reason, than I could probably never afford to buy the dumb thing back.

To save you the trouble of reading *another* fawning. Pentax 6x7 review:

The Pentax 6x7 is a big clunky steel machine with no frills. The lenses are my favorite general look of all the medium format systems that I’ve seen, or had access to so far. It’s capable of taking some really amazing photos that would be very very hard to replicate in 35mm. I think the best examples currently posted up on my website are the photos in Feature #4: Apocalypse Gulch. I think my (current) flagship Editorial Homecoming (Mourning) is great, and it shows off the optics, but not quite as clearly as the Salton Sea photos.

For a slightly different perspective, I think this review by Daniel J. Schneider is probably more helpful to an actual potential buyer than my post/review/essay this is going to be.

My Best/Worst about the camera, with brief explanations:

Here’s my top five favorite things about the camera:

  1. The Lenses, and their rendering. I know in terms of pure sharpness the Zeiss lenses on the Hasselblad probably blow the Pentax 6x7’s to shit, as well as the painfully sharp Mamiya RB/RZ or Mamiya 7 series glass; but I think the Pentax lenses have tend to have a certain (still super sharp/high resolving power, if that’s your bag) human look that suits my own particular need/style of photography really well.

  2. The Viewfinder is kinda magic. Not like it makes you better, but just having a giant bright image makes it really nice to compose and shoot on. I guess I have some (minor) complaints about the focusing because the depth of field tends to be super thin, but overall, the viewfinder (ground glass) just shines. I haven’t had a chance to use a dedicated waist level finder or chimney on the Pentax 6x7, but when I’ve just stared down through the ground glass it’s pretty amazing.

  3. The Aspect Ratio. The Pentax 6x7 has a nearly perfect 4:3 ratio, which, for what it’s worth makes it pretty perfect for darkroom printing on the common sizes, ie 8x10, 11x14, 20*24. Beyond that I think the the boxy, relatively even aspect ratio also lends itself to a more thoughtful, slow composition style, as opposed to the more dynamic ratio of 3:2 (ie 35mm). I know cropping is always an option, but usually the way the box or viewfinder

  4. It’s Imposing. I know I typically tout the Minolta XD-11’s nice compact feel in hand, and the form factor is small, so this may come as a surprise. But I like that the Pentax 6x7 is a big, gnarly, imposing camera, that makes a loud-ish, clack, when the shutter fires. It makes you, and to some extent, the subject (if you’re doing portraiture) take the camera seriously. It feels like an event, when you shoot and work with the camera, but maybe not as involved or static as one would when shooting and setting up a large format.

  5. (hypocritically) Flex Value. I’ve pissed and moaned a lot about price here (or if you keep reading I will), but there’s something kinda nice about owning an expensive piece of gear, and one that seems to be retaining it’s value, or even increasing it. I typically scoff at the Leica community, more for the idolatry of the red dot and the flex around it, but it’s kinda nice to brag that you got a deal on your (now expensive) camera, and show it off some. But not too much, nobody likes a rich prick.

Here’s some stuff I don’t love about the camera:

  1. It’s heavy. Not so heavy that it’ll break your back, or do permanent damage right off the bat, but the thing is definitely very heavy, and after a long day of hiking with the thing, you’re not going to feel great. I don’t actually care that the camera’s big or (relatively) loud -- I’m not really a street photographer, or at least what I do in street photography is so irrelevant to disturbing people that the noise and physical size/threatening look of the Pentax 6x7 don’t really matter that much.

  2. It’s expensive, and the price of replacement is just going to keep going up. A big reason why I’ve never even bothered to experiment with another system is that I don’t think I’d get enough money back selling whatever else I tried to buy back my original equipment if I didn’t like it -- and the camera’s good enough for what I use it for that I guess it doesn’t matter, but I still don’t like the thought of paying another 500 dollars to shoot the camera.

  3. The Eye level finder only covers 90% of the frame. It’s a perfectly nice finder/prism, but missing 10% of your image can be kinda tough, or like easy to forget about. Usually the image is pretty much exactly what I shoot, but that extra 10% has definitely snuck up on me before, requiring me to go back and crop back in, which overall is fine, but definitely a little demoralizing or frustrating.

  4. The flash sync speed kinda sucks. There’s no real good way to shoot flash with the camera, handheld, even with the specialized leaf shutter lenses, it’s still a pain and a lot of button clicks to get everything right, and not really anything you’d want to do handheld. I’m not a huge flash shooter or anything but this is admittedly, a significant border to entry for me.

  5. I’m now part of the medium format community, or like, if I want to share something (like this or one of my features/editorials) on facebook to a group to kinda get more eyes on it, I have to wade through the sea of shit that is the group of dumb, stubborn, fucks with no discernable taste who see fit to constantly criticize anything they neither understand nor like for not meeting their narrow, boring, and tasteless criteria of good photography, that seems to reek of being a professional hobbyist who approaches photography as an engineering question than an art. On top of that, the belief that they could be wrong is so foreign to them, that they refuse to try to see anything in a light that doesn’t favor them. There are plenty of perfectly nice people in the groups, but I get burnt out pretty quickly from the constant trolling, or dickish “criticism” which contains no palpable or helpful criticism that tends to hang over the board. (If this is you, you can kindly fuck right off my website, thanks.)

That brings me to, the eponymous section of the review/column:

So, what did I/have I learned shooting the Pentax 6x7:

  1. It’s probably way overpriced for what it should be, or like, I remember looking into buying one three to five years ago (I wasn’t ready for one) and it was like 200 bucks, maybe 300-400 with a lens. Tops. I know the whole film market has grown, and I should be happy, but as someone who’s been a (relatively) long-term film shooter, it kinda chaps my ass that all these johnny come lately kids are (un-intentionally) jacking the price of gear way the fuck up. I guess I should just be glad I don’t give a fuck about premium point and shoots.For a point of comparison, and SEO ranking, even the price of my beloved Minolta XD series cameras, have shot through the roof. Five years ago, when I got my first one, it was basically in mint condition, and I paid maybe 50 bucks for it. To get one of a decent quality, now, it’s something like $150 -- and even then the internal guts of the thing are a crapshoot. Additionally, it’s not like there’s a lot on the US used market either -- so you’re stuck gambling on Japanese eBay, which isn’t totally unreasonably priced, considering convenience of being able to just order the camera, but it’s always 30-40% over whatever budget I have for a camera or lens. Paralleled to the Pentax 6*7, even when I was buying mine, I remember the market being about 400 for a body only, with an unmetered prism, if you’re lucky. All this should probably be couched in “Andrew is an aggressively cheap bastard when  any purchase over $100 dollars is involved -- and his sense of value is way way stunted.”

  2. I like the camera and love the images it produces but I have yet to really bond with the camera in a meaningful way, or build a real relationship aside from “this camera is a tool, a really good tool.” My only real hypotheses are that 1. I haven’t gotten Stockholm syndrome’d by the camera yet -- it’s only been a year and some change, which leads into 2. The weight and expense of the camera, ie the price of 120 film (development and scanning, too), having repairs and CLA’s done (the big name Pentax guy charges $300 bucks for just a CLA -- I’m sure it’s basically a rebuild, but still, it doesn’t sit well with me -- see “I am a cheap bastard” above.), and just the dead weight of lugging the Pentax 6x7 (with lenses) around is prohibitive to me shooting enough with it to really gel with it beyond “camera make photo.”

  3. Right now, I really only take the camera out when I do “serious project work” -- and even then, because I seem to have a nasty habit of accumulating (and shooting) 100 foot rolls of 35mm film, I still seem to end up using the Minolta XD-11 for a good chunk of my projects. That being said I do lug the Pentax 6x7 with me to do landscape photography when I travel -- and it’s definitely been good or great for that -- I have some stuff coming up to show that off, I’m almost done re-scanning all my photos from one specific trip to show that off.

  4. Bracketing is for chumps. Admittedly I haven’t fully incorporated this lesson into daily practice all the time, but typically, the amount I bracket shots has radically decreased way down. Typically (with limited exception) I tend to fall into the category or thought pattern of “first shot, best shot” and it’s borderline madness for me to re-shoot something better the second time when I’m overthinking it, but traditionally I still do or have a lot. Having only ten frames on a roll definitely cuts way down on the amount that I’m tempted to re-do something, if for no other reason than budget.

  5. Having a bigger/better camera doesn’t make your work better. I know this is something I say a lot, but I definitely have gotten some better shots out of the Minolta XD-11 than the Pentax 6x7, on the same day, just because I wasn’t working hard enough at getting the Pentax 6X7 framing right, or I just flat out didn’t have the right/wide enough lens for it. You can’t always make your new fancy toy work out for everything, as much as you want it to.

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Hermosa Beach -- Kodak Photo Walk -- 4/18

Hermosa Beach -- Kodak Photo Walk -- 4/18

Kodak Photowalk around Hermosa Beach led by instagram famous, and generally great photographer, Pete Halvorsen. Shot all on Kodak Ultramax 400 and Kodak Ektar 100. Pleasant surroundings and amazing sunset for the photowalk. I shot it all on my Minolta XD11.

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What I learned shooting #01: Fuji Pro160s (35mm)

What I learned shooting (#01):

Most film reviews are unhelpful at best, they tend to gloss over how the tester shot what they shot and what their own biases and predilections are. I often learn more about photography and a specific emulsion from shooting large batches of the same film over and over and reviewing it, rather than rapidly changing between different emulsions.

For these reviews, I’ll shoot no less than 25 rolls of a given emulsion.

Today’s Review:  Fujifilm Pro 160s (35mm)

Technical considerations:

The film was indeed expired when purchased, but well stored. I mostly processed in large batches of 6+ rolls at a time by either D+J digital imaging or (primarily) Fulltone Photo.

Everything was shot on a Minolta XD11 and the Rokkor 50mm 1.4 MC PG, 24mm MD 2.8, and 85mm MD 2.0. I shot everything handheld, and at higher shutter speeds to compensate for hand-shake.

I shot 2 100ft rolls bulk-loaded of the emulsion (+/- 35 rolls), and exposed all of it at EI 100 to compensate for the expiration date, and to slightly overexpose.

Initial Bias:

I like slow film, cool tonality, and relatively even or muted colors. Fuji Pro 160s should, by most guesses be a slam dunk for me. I shoot mostly landscape, travel, and street/diary type stuff on 35mm. I’ve also shot the same or similar emulsion in 120 and really really liked it. I absolutely love fuji pro400h and fujifilm provia as well.

What I learned:

For day to day shooting, it was fine, but I found that in many situations, storage dependent, the cool-tone reproduction was actually more of a curse than a blessing. If film is stored correctly from the beginning of its life, it tends to hold up much better post-expiration, and in bad conditions when shot.

Unless you’re sending a bulk roll to a dip and dunk facility, your lab may have to cut your roll (this happened multiple times) if it’s too long. You may also end up damaging a machine or causing an accident if your roll is improperly bulk loaded. Also the metal snap-top canisters, while theoretically more durable have a tendency to fall open.

Cool tone films are hit or miss at rendering bright sunlit days, and you need subjects or scenery with enough tonal warmth in them inherently to show any kind of brightness, as light alone won’t show through.  The nature/landscape of the west coast generally doesn’t render super well on this film, because of that cool tone reproduction.

Would I seek out more of it?

Not actively. It’s a nice film, but not so nice that I’d pay a premium or spend extra time seeking it out. If it happened to fall into my lap at the right price again, I’d snatch it right up.