The Water is Wide : Winter Harbor 2022

We saw where the sand ended up; we want to see where it came from – the North end.

The dock is wet and slippery. Tonight is the fullest of Full Moons, the night of an eclipse, so tides are especially high. Water lapped the bottoms of the kayaks on top of the pier where I tied them down to pylons.

By early afternoon, we can walk the deck without wading, but the wet parts are slick as greasy ice.

Following oxbow creeks, it’s about two miles to the north inlet. At least it was last year, where inlet was.

It’s an easy paddle on a calm day, riding the outgoing tide. We pass a couple of new duck blinds, the remains of an old one – storm battered, bent down on one knee – another repaired and ready for the coming season.

One by one, the creeks converge on the way to the bay, growing wider and deeper, the current stronger. We round a curve and I have a hard time making sense of what I see. Where before was island and sand and marsh grass, I see an unbroken horizon of blue water.

We paddle beyond the break to what’s left of the sandbar, beach the boats to look around.

Amazing. Last time I paddled to this spot, there was ¾ mile of more creek before reaching the inlet. The island was narrow in places, mostly sand, but very much land. Most of that is gone. This last bend in the creek exits right into the bay.

The former island tip remains apart, a small islet of sand and grass surrounded by water. Clearly won’t be there much longer. The new wider north inlet now extends more than a mile to the mainland. Much of the sand here is washing out in shoals, or sifting into the marsh. Root stubble pokes up through waves of the Bay now, what had been all marsh behind the barrier island, for now still gripping marsh mud.

You can see the dramatic change in recent satellite images. Here is the whole island shot ten years ago, with the north and south inlets still deep and navigable by large boats.

2012

And these are the south and north inlets last year, before the winter storms.

South Inlet – 2021
North Inlet – 2021. We could walk across that section to the northern tip and keep our feet dry.

And here is the island now, showing both inlets. I’ve edited this to show the current conditions on the satellite image from last year. There’s a new break in the last bend of the creek. The bar just beyond is now water. And the south inlet is a wide sand beach.

You can see the change best if the two images are overlaid and animated. If the animation below is not playing automatically, click on the image to open it.

Animated GIF of ten years of changes. (click to open if not playing)

I knew this was coming, and said so to T. But did not expect it my lifetime; certainly not in the span of a year.

Not sure what we’ll see if we come back next year. A lot less, if the trend continues, and no doubt it will.

First Test with a Kodak No. 1 Autograph Folding Pocket Camera

Another old camera in the heirloom collection that I had not tried before. This one has a fascinating history I’ll definitely share in a longer post soon. But for now, here are the first results from this century old piece of camera design hardware. Light leaks, misfires, double exposures, lens flares . . . it has it all.

Light leaks in the bellows

I tried to patch the gaps in the bellows, and shot a roll of test film. It’s clear from the film I did not get them all, but the images are strangely appealing – especially for all the flaws.

I have more work to do on this one. And more research on the provenance.

More to come . . .

First Bronica Photos

Local Venue ~ Crozet, Virginia

Got the first rolls developed from the new/old Bronica S2A. Very impressive.

These are from a roll of Ilford HP5 pushed two stops.

Cherry Blossom Lane ~ Batesville, Virginia
Repeating Patterns

Because it’s a “reflex” camera, it’s a little easier to use than the Graflex. A mirror lets you see through the lens in the viewfinder to focus and frame; then the mirror flips up automatically as you trip the shutter.

With the Graflex, you either have to swap in the ground glass viewfinder for critical focus and framing, then swap in the film cartridge and try not to move while doing that – or use the rangefinder to focus, sort of, and use the guides or the view-peeper-thingy to frame while you shoot. You sort of have to embrace the serendipity of the process.

That said, the Graflex is more portable and compact. It folds up into a tidy package with a handle. The Bronica is a brick, weighing 4 pounds. No handle, only prongs to attach a strap, which would get really old in a short time hanging around your neck.

More to come.

Cracker Box Camera Obscura

First image from the cracker box camera

This must be my technology regression phase.

An old family projector found its way to us, along with several carousels of slides from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. . I scanned the slides, and put them up in galleries for distant relatives to enjoy.

But examining the projector, it was clear the mechanical parts no longer work. No surprise, given its age. But still a shame. These were staple appliances of many families when I was growing up. In the age before digital cameras and cellphones, before online galleries and social media sharing, places like Facebook and Instagram, slide shows were the way people shared their family photos. It was a rare event, often held decades apart, but a truly social one. Something people usually did together, sharing stories of separate but braided memories.

I pulled the lens out, mostly to have a look inside the case to see if there was an easy fix. Setting it aside, an inverted image of the window streamed through the lens and across the table. Picked it up and saw I could project a view of the yard on the palm of my hand.

Hmm.

A short time later, using only a cracker box, piece of white cardboard, and a utility knife, I had a rudimentary Camera Obscura in my hands.

A smallish hole cut in the front above the lens, allows the lens of my phone to peek inside the box. Sliding the projector lens in and out by hand adjusts the focus.

This first prototype is pretty finicky, but with a bit of juggling: Presto! I have an old style view camera, with that super narrow depth of field, vignetting corners, and light-struck images from leaks in the seams.

Just like a vintage camera from the early 1900s.

Might be fun to make a more permanent wooden box, maybe even salvage the focusing knob and gear and some other parts from the old projector.

Zenza Bronica S2A

Bronica S2A kit from

A good friend, a lifelong professional photographer, still had his old film camera kit from back in the early 70s. We share a fondness for old tech, and hang onto things longer than most rational people. When he saw that I was playing with my grandfather’s Grayflex, he offered to give it all to me. Just wanted to see it used again. I had some old computer hardware I no longer use, so we worked out a nice barter.

When I went to pick it up, I found a whole pile of stuff in boxes. He threw in a bunch of other old gear, too: Developing tanks, a darkroom timer like the one I had, light kits, a meter, cases, even the original boxes, film, winders, some Holga plasticams, etc.. Quite a haul.

I won’t have film developed from this for a few more days, but the camera is an amazing piece of brilliant engineering. Like the Grayflex, there are no electronics. Everything is mechanical. And it’s completely modular. The film backs are interchangeable, and can be removed mid-roll so that different types of film can be used for the same shots, moments apart. The view finders are interchangeable, as are the lenses and even the focusing ring. The dang thing weighs 4 pounds.

I’ll be posting photos from this one soon. This will be fun.

Blue Fingers in the Blue Ridge

 

Woke up this morning to 10°F.

While that may be normal for some parts of the country, it’s uncommonly cold for what most people consider “The South”.

Like most of the world, we’ve been suffering through serious cases of cabin fever, on top of normal winter blues. We go weeks without seeing other people, other than to wave in passing. This is not uncommon. So despite the cold, on Saturday afternoon, Doug and I arranged to meet for a couple of hours, if only to get out for a little daylight.

 

 

I still have my grandfather’s old Graflex 2 ¼ x 3 ¼ press camera. It was on the top shelf in the office next to the worst part of the fire, but in a padded camera bag. Everything on the shelf melted, and everything on the floor got soaked in standing sooty water. But somehow the camera and a few accessories survived.

The thing is built like a tank, all mechanical knobs and dials. No batteries, no electronics. No plastic. In the bag with it were a half dozen rolls of 120mm film. Why not try them out?

 

 

 

View through the ground glass, shot with a phone and inverted

 

OK, the film expired 30 years ago, and went through a fire, but what better reason to get outside than to find out of all this stuff still works?

Doug has a couple of plastic Holga cameras he could bring that use the same size film. Part of the charm of those gumball machine cameras is the crappy pictures they take. I mean, he has duct tape over the back to stop the light leaks, and they rattle when you shake them. Putting rolls of crappy film in them is just icing on the cake.

We met at a little farm brewery a few miles west of here in Nelson County. A beautiful spot high on a hill with a fine view of the mountains. The snow from last week had melted a bit and refrozen to a thick crust over the fields, making walking more like skating. But wow, what a clear, blue, cold, winter sky.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s an old road nearby I know well. It’s narrow and curvy and runs along the Rockfish River as it winds through a gorge cut into the next ridge, past old farmsteads and quarries. With just two hours of daylight, we could follow it to the quarry town of Schuyler, then head back by sundown.

The first stop is a bit inauspicious. I rediscover how far technology has advanced in the past 70 years. It takes a good half hour for me to fumble with all the camera components, set up and fiddle with the various settings, just to take one photo. Tripod, light meter, film cartridges, and all the fidgety settings to twiddle on the camera:

  1. Take a light reading
  2. Manual focus
  3. Manual aperture
  4. Manual shutter speed
  5. Wind the film cartridge
  6. Cock the shutter
  7. Compose the shot
  8. Remove the light shade
  9. And finally trip the shutter.

 

Doug waiting for me, snaps a phone pic and adds a filter.

 

 

Focusing, approximately.

 

Dispensing with the tripod speeds things up, but even in daylight, in the shade this camera is bumping the limits of what you can do handheld. Doug is done long before I begin the second shot, and we’re both already cold.

My foot breaks through the crust of ice over the ditch, and into the cold black muck. Great. The one-finger wavers in pickup trucks don’t seem to be into the whole art photography thing, studying my odd rig as they pass.

Doug has an app on his phone that takes the perfect digital photos and converts them to look like old analog film images. He snaps a few shots, flicks a couple of buttons, and texts them to me. Takes a couple of seconds.

 

One of Doug’s many shots. Taking my second photo, just before the ice breaks.

 

Down the road is a covey of old barns I’ve admired over the years. It’s a nice balance of shapes, beyond basic vernacular architecture. Well made. Dovecotes in the eaves. The foundations made of cut field stone and river rock.

A small graveyard in front has a mix of very old headstones and newer ones. It’s clearly tended more frequently than the old barns, which are slowly melding into the hillside. Trees grow up around and through them. The wind has peeled back sheets of tin roof like rusty soup cans. But they’re still standing after maybe 100 years. Not unlike the old camera.

 

 

Doug goes to explore while I load more film, which becomes increasingly difficult. The sun doesn’t reach this part of the gorge along the river. I’m wearing flannel-lined pants, wool socks, two shirts and two jackets, and a scarf, a hat, and I’m still cold. Can’t wear gloves and still turn all the dials and switches, fingers are numb from the cold

I set up and take a few photos and realize, by the feel of the winder, that the film is not advancing. I’ve loaded it wrong.

I pull out my phone and take a couple of photos, then go back to the car and reload.

 

 

Meanwhile, Doug finds lots of cool stuff to see. From the doorway of the big barn, he finds a deer has wandered in and died, now just a bare skeleton on the floor. Old equipment and tools covered in dust catch the late winter sun through the windows and gaps in the walls.

I finish reloading the film cartridges and we head down the road, the heater turned up high.

Schuyler was once a booming mining town. One of the few places in the world where high quality soapstone is accessible, it was a quarry and stone cutting operation for over 100 years, starting in the late 1800s.

A stone church sits on the hill above the town. It looks abandoned, and mostly is during the pandemic, but still has a small Mennonite congregation. We stop and get out to take more photos, glad that this high point still gets some sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The low sun shines in through the west windows, across the nave, and strikes the stained glass windows from the inside, setting them ablaze with golden light. Lovely. I’m starting to get the hang of the old Graflex now. It helps that I’m a little warmer.

 

 

Doug takes a photo of me holding my two top-of-the-line pieces of photography tech, a 70 year spread between them.

 

 

We pack up and head back.

Up on the hill at the brewery the sun is going down fast. I get a few more shots with the Graflex with the last roll of film I have.

 

 

Then put it away and pull out the phone again. Just a stunning panorama of light and color everywhere you look.

 

 

 

 

All these photos were taken with iPhones, which are ready in an instant.

I have no idea whether there’s anything on the film we shot. Probably not. Even if the film still had some life, operator error likely nuked whatever was left. Heck, the camera may not even work right. Won’t know for weeks, months even.

Doesn’t matter really. Just getting out, looking deeply, and with purpose, makes it worthwhile. New fresh film has been ordered, so we’ll try again soon.

 

Japanese Castaways of 1834: The Three Kichis – HistoryLink.org

Japanese drawing of the Morrison, anchored in front of Uraga in 1837. via Wikipedia

 

Interesting bit of sailing and international history from the early 1800s. Three Japanese sailors shipwrecked on the Pacific NW coast. Their ship and a crew of 14, on a short trip along the coast of Japan, were caught in a storm. The ship was dismasted and the rudder damaged. They drifted in the current for a year, living off their trade goods. Only three were still alive when the ship came ashore.

Japan was completely closed off to the outside world for centuries by the Shoguns. If you left, you could not return, so the sailors had no knowledge of any other place, or people, than their home.

The three “Kitchis” were taken as slaves by the local tribes, then traded and shuttled between various groups, shipped to London, then China, but never home again. One eventually became a well off translator for the British.

 

Link to full story:
Japanese Castaways of 1834: The Three Kichis – HistoryLink.org

Monument to the Three Kichis, Fort Vancouver, Washington, 2009 Photo by Glenn Drosendahl