Monday, September 25, 2017

Part two… or Every dog has its day

The death of Sammy, our dog of 12 years, was a significant moment in the lives of my wife and I. Significant for me, as it was the hardest, saddest, and loneliest thing I have ever experienced in one massive dose.

We cried a lot, Ann felt a great deal of anger over it, and we both missed him terribly. A month later, when it was a bit easier to put together a thought, Ann told me she was doing a timeline. She looked up the gestation period for dogs, the weaning age for puppies, added them together and started the clock on the day of Sammy's death. She marked the calendar as the right day to find Sammy reincarnated! I did not know how I felt about this- I still don't. 

About a month before the date she had marked, I had a wonderful dream. It was crisp and clear- beautiful in every way. In it, Sammy was bounding and playing around me and I was hugging him repeatedly every time he approached. There was no sadness. In fact, my heart was bursting with joy! It was a truly wonderful dream, and probably just what I needed. The end of the dream took a strange turn, though. I was hugging him again, and right in front of me his fur changed color. I stared at his orange brindle coat as it changed into a black short haired curly or wavy look. For the first time in the dream I was troubled, but then a disembodied voice said “ It's OK, it is still Sammy.”

I woke with a start- not knowing what to make of the very first “prophetic” feeling dream of my life! I told Ann and she got excited. Her day for finding the reincarnated Sammy was just a month away. We would look for a black puppy. I figured it wouldn't hurt to entertain this line of thought, though I had and still have my doubts.

A week before school started, with the stress of my teaching assignments in the future and the emptiness of the house after the summer visit was over with the grandchildren, I decided to give myself a break and go thrift shopping in Columbus. Ann was eager to join. Our shopping would take us up the southern part of town into the western part of town. While driving in South Columbus, Ann suggested I should look for the no-kill shelter that helped us when we found an abandoned puppy years ago. She showed me her calendar, with the date circled. Today was the day to find Sammy reincarnated! The roads we travel would take us by a hundred streets that look like the street that shelter was on(as I recall, the shelter was a nondescript house in the middle of other houses with little signage). We never did find the shelter. Ten minutes into south Columbus, we made what was to be our first and only stop of the day at a Goodwill in a desolate looking neighborhood. The occasional grocery bag took the place of the tumbleweed.

As I got out of the car, I noticed a female dog. Heavy with milk and emaciated, she poked around the asphalt for garbage. I pointed her out to Ann, who immediately went about following her. Without thinking, I whistled at the dog. We got her full attention. She and a neighboring dog started barking at us as she changed direction and headed into a dirt yard with the other dog.

This environment was less than welcoming. Aside from the barking dogs, we only shared this moment with empty space and oppressive heat. The single patch of shade was reserved for the barking dog on a chain. The row of apartments the female dog gravitated towards were boarded up and in such a state of disrepair that even I, a transplant Appalachian of low standards, found them wanting. 

Ann was undeterred. Nothing scares her. She followed the dog to the sidewalk and inquired of a neighbor the owner of the female. Armed with this information, she proceeded to step up to a door of an apartment with a four foot high wall of garbage bags and windows that were cardboarded over. I stood at a distance, only driven to approach by fear for Ann's safety. 

The door opened a crack and the female dog, followed closely by a little black puppy, raced in. My heart jumped at that. A 20 something young man with a shaved head, arms full of tatoos, and eyes squinting against the sun met her at the door. Ann broached the topic of a puppy. At first he denied having a puppy, acting deeply suspicious. He wanted to know who told her that he had puppies! She again indicated her enthusiasm for a puppy. Finally he relented and told us that he passed them to a friend to be sold at the flea market. Then he told us of one runt that he was holding on to because it looked like the mother. 

I knew then that we would be leaving with that puppy. Ann set into negotiation mode, and wore him down! He brought out this incredibly tiny and skinny puppy- head all in black and body black with wavy brown stripes. 

Up until this moment everything felt weird, like a pre-written story we were just walking through. When I saw the puppy with his brindle (wavy black like the dream) I got chills. At what point do you accept a magical thing if you are a rational person? At that point, evidenced by the powerful prophetic dream and Ann's exact date to find Sammy reincarnated, I felt helpless to be carried forward in the story. There was a sensation like my mind giving in-not accepting but not denying. 

Do I believe in reincarnation? I don't know- I am an agnostic in perpetual search of the answers. Is this Sammy reincarnated, or is this the heavens hearing our great sadness at our loss of a friend echoing into the universe just bumping things along and making things right? All I know is that he shares many of the quirks of our lost loved one, and gains new ones every day. We are grateful. 

Life is a miracle- we don't have to look far to see that. This experience does not provide answers, but presents new questions to me. If anything was learned, it is that I need to open myself to the flow of things, the flow of life. I will love this animal, and accept his love in return. Oh, and I will try to listen to my wife more!

His fur is very black, so this is overexposed a bit to show his features! His blue eyes have since turned to orange/brown.
Here he is standing on Ann's calendar.

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Look, Mom! I put on these glasses and everything around me is in 3-D! " or: An informal review on misusing the Polaroid Miniportrait camera.

I have always had a fascination with 3-D photography. I was so thrilled with Viewmasters- even cartoon images in 3-D! I have never had sympathy or understanding for the naysayers! When ever people complained about eye strain or headaches, I would reply- “But it is like you are really there!” While viewing the movie Avatar with my wife, she said it made her feel sick. My reply was “Yeah, but it is magical!” My attitude is, if you get to walk with the dinosaurs or go to a faraway place without leaving your chair, you can put up with the discomfort(full disclosure, sometimes I experience some eye strain,too).

I was fortunate to take Saturday art classes at the Columbus College of Art and Design when I was a child. One of my favorite projects was 3-D drawing. It was simple, yet fascinating. Draw the image in blue, trace the image, then draw a copy of the image next to the first in red. The wider the images are apart, the closer they appear! My first drawing was called “Barnstorming in a 747” and I was being quite literal. There were flying boards , a decimated barn, and a 747 roaring towards you. I think there was even a cow in the air! Though my memory of it is probably quite superior to the real thing, I was smitten with 3-D.

By now, any readers know I collect Polaroid cameras. My fascination with Polaroid eventually led me to learning more about the company, and by virtue of that, 3-D. I don’t think it is common knowledge that Dr. Land, the founder of Polaroid created the first sheet polarizer which led to a slew of inventions 15 years prior to instant photography fame. One of the big ones was the way we see most 3-D movies today. The greyed out lenses are polarized plastic, one lens tuned to see one image and the other to see the second image. In 1939 the world was given the first taste of this technology at the World’s Fair in New York.

Though not thematically central to my paintings, several of my recent works can be viewed with ChromaDepth glasses in order to unlock the spatial potential of 3-D. These night time landscapes of abandoned homes use the strength of projecting/receding colors to create spaces you can enter visually. Featured on my web site, Old School is probably the best example.
So when I saw Polaroid cameras designed for ID photography- from drivers’ licenses to passports and everything in between- I had to try a stereographic image.

The Polaroid Miniportrait was a goal of mine. I saw online how it worked and i suspected alternate purposes for it. I have some passport cameras in my collection and they are fun at parties, as you can get multiple shots on one piece of film! This one intrigued me because I was thinking right away about 3-d possibilities. I have a stereograph viewer from the 1800s that i got from an antique store, so I took some shots- and it worked!

There are limitations to the method. First off, the lenses are closer together than the average human eyes. This means the illusion only works well with close up subject matter. Second, the camera is auto focus, but only up to about 6 feet(that pairs well with the first issue). The camera was designed for portraiture, so that is why it is dialed in on a fairly shallow depth of focus.

So what it boils down to is that it is perfect for portraits of people and puppies(and cats). I did a bunch of shots and the ones that are close up really work. All you have to do is take the shot at 6 feet or so, and mount the picture to a piece of cardstock(or you can use Polaroid print mounts that you can still find on ebay-that's what I do). Next just clip the image into your stereograph viewer!
Did I mention that this camera gives you full manual control? You can choose between two speeds and several apertures! The flash is also directional! If you are one of the people who get headaches from looking at 3-d, don't worry. You can always just use it to take portraits-or you can embrace the pain!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fuji Instax Square- new badging on an old idea , or lying as a marketing tool.

Now more than ever, it seems that people are too comfortable lying and misrepresenting. From the president on down, lying is seen as a convenient tool to re-write history. Marketers have always done it, but it seems that the claims are becoming more outlandish. Enter Fuji and their new product.
Many- I dare say- most articles reviewing the Fuji Instax Square camera bill it as the first hybrid digital and analog camera in one. Those of us who have instant film in our blood know this to be at best misleading, and at worst an intentional deception. The earliest version of this hybrid technology I am aware of was made by Olympus in collaboration with Polaroid in the year 2000. It does almost exactly the same thing as this new Fuji Square , and in many ways was a superior product! Fuji is good at appealing to popular market and perfecting existing products-, but they are not an innovator in instant photography.
The Olympus c-211 had a resolution of 2.1mp- surprisingly high resolution for a consumer grade camera in 2000, while 17 years later the Instax Square has a resolution of 3.7mp- worse than many smart phones. The Olympus shot through some good glass with 3x actual zoom, while the Fuji is limited to digital zoom. Also, and I thought this was a great innovation that would be just as relevant today, the olympus let in sunlight behind the screen to make it easier to see the screen outside!
While arguably not the same thing, there have been countless digital to analog printers that use analog film, several made by Polaroid (like the Colorshot and the P-500) and a few by Fuji. The idea has also been explored with cameras that use Zink technology, and they have better cameras attached. The z340 was released 6 years ago and featured a 14 mp camera.
I know that Fuji is not the only company to misrepresent their product, but I don't think my silence does any service to those who don't know the facts. Lying has just become too pervasive. There is nothing new about trying to wed analog and digital- every analog film company has given it a try!

Having your cake and eating it, too: Fuji Instax Square, Mini, and Wide all in one camera!!

Fuji has just introduced a new camera and film format. It is Fujifilm Instax Square. I wrote a blog in October of 2016 (Fuji Instax Wide and Mini, dual film camera- how to hack the Instax Wide)about modifying an Instax Wide 210 to shoot both Instax Wide and Instax Mini, and I gave a nod to the Instax Square which was to be released in the spring. It ended up released in May, and I ordered a pack, even though they made it sound like it was specifically designed for the Instax Square camera.
Now, with the announcement that Lomography has a kickstarter out for their new analog square format camera(check it out- it is nice!), I am motivated to the challenge of a THREE format Instax camera (why, o why didn't I do this months ago??)! No surprise, it worked fine down to the last image in the pack! I can now shoot with Instax Square also!!!
Check my old blog for the specifics of how to do the original mod but suffice it to say the only change for adding the square film is to shrink the left (as viewed from the back) tensioners by ½ inch. Once that is done, you are ready to shoot!
Two future mods worth exploring are 1. making the tensioner new from a 3-d printer instead of cutting your own, and 2. making a slightly higher tension spring. Though I have had zero issues with jamming of the tensioner, I could definitely see it happening at some point.
One caveat- getting your subject centered is even harder now!You could put tape on the right side of your viewfinder as seen from the back, adjusting for the square or mini. Personally, I have always found Instax viewfinders to be awful, so struggling with centering already feels natural with this camera!
So there you have it- A Fuji Instax camera that shoots all three formats of film!