Frustrations in the Digital Age!

The Drama Begins…it’s 22 June 2007…

Reader’s Advisory: This is going to be one of those rare ‘bitch & moan’ sessions, an infrequent rant that you shan’t see too often here at “Behind the Lens.” That being the case, buckle up kiddies; it’s going to be a long, bumpy ride!

If life was the TV Series “Get Smart“, I’m sure I’d be living in the “Chaos Organization” (and I’m pretty sure that phrase is an oxymoron, LOLOL ).

The Underlying Problem:

I’ll tell’ya: I’m not sure how it is where you are living, but I’m considerably ‘ticked’ with the unavailability of older photography technology & tools. Where I live, if it isn’t “Popular “, or if the suppliers don’t think they can sell stock in a week, then, God Forbid, they just ‘ain’t’ gun’na carry it any more, no way, no how!

The Big Decision:

I decided to ‘sacrifice ‘ (although I think it was a good sacrifice), one of my three box cameras and I modified it for usage: I spent two days revamping it to make it usable. Of the three cameras, I chose to work on my No.2A Brownie Box Camera, Model B.

No 2A Brownie-Full Shot

No. 2A Brownie, Model B, Circa. 1907 – “Modified”
Additions: Skylight Filter with threads for more Filtration and Scratch-proof cloth on the inside film track.
Lighting for the photos in this entry: Two 3G+Plus 30 Watts, Twist Bulbs. Camera on White Poster Board.
In-Camera Flash used – Flash Bias 0.33 EV

This was a killer decision: Do I keep the camera the way it is, and never experience using it? Or, screw up the antique value, but have some new, and totally unique photographic experience? Well, I chose the ‘new experience‘ option.

This camera dates somewhere between 1907 and 1924; and as far as I found, 1924 was when the No.2A was discontinued. The original cost of this camera was around $3.00 – maybe a good chunk of change for the times.

No 2A Brownie-Patents

No. 2A Brownie Camera with U.S. Patents information. The 1894 patents (for example) refer to other models of Eastman Kodak cameras. There were several glass plate (No. 6 glass plate folding), and KODET cameras first manufactured in 1894 (No. 4 Folding KODET cameras). I’m assuming these patents refer to other camera models and their unique technology or design.

The Cleaning & Restoration Process:

I cleaned off the dirt, dust and grit/mold from the outer surfaces of the lens, inner box and viewing screens. The camera lens was in really good shape, but I still needed to remove some dirt from the glass surface. For that, I used cotton swabs first, and then, I pushed a scratch proof lens cloth into the lens cavity (on the outside front portion of the box) and swirled it around a few times to polish the glass, just a little.

No 2A Brownie-Lens from Inside

View from inside the camera, looking through the lens.

One of the film rollers had gone AWOL; thus, I had to do something about how the film would roll from one spool to the other spool without getting scratched. Without the tiny metal rollers, film would rub on bare metal as it is advanced around the corners. To solve this problem, I glued some pieces of scratch-proof cloth on the inner edge where the film would make the turn into the area where it is exposed to light (see below ).

No 2A Brownie-Top Film Holder

View from the top, film spool cavity. The end roller disappeared; thus, to avoid film scratches as the film turns the corner, I glued scratch-proof lens cloth along the film track.

Cosmetically, the camera was in very good condition, but there were some needed repairs. I used wood epoxy to fill some cracks in the corners of the wood box covering, and the epoxy also came in handy to fill some ‘pot-holes’ and ‘dings’ that were natural signs of wear and tear. After the glue was dry, I used black marker paint to put the color back over the epoxy.

The final ‘fix ‘ was my own modification: I Super Glued a 52mm Skylight filter over the outside of the lens. Essentially, the camera lens in the Brownie, as far as I understand, is a meniscus lens. A meniscus lens is one that has both convex and concave properties, but the curvatures are equal. I don’t think the Brownie lens has much, or any UV protection. So, the addition of the Skylight filter was my little modification on the outside, to get better results on the inside. Of course, the filter has threads, so now I can stack other filters if I want to, to get different results.

No 2A Brownie-Light thru Lens

Front of Camera View: I Super Glued the filter to the case, which works great! However, if I do it over again, I would use Wood Epoxy instead. Why? Because Super Glue tends to leave a hazy film on glass as it dries (the whitish discoloring around the edge of the glass). I got lucky in that the hazy film did not extend into the view of the lens opening. Cosmetically, I can cover that area further with black Marker Paint (I like the MonAmi brand), which also acts as a do-it-yourself, painted on, lens hood.

The Original Film:

The No. 2A camera originally took 116 Kodak film, which is slightly wider than 120 film. 116 film is 6.5cm x 11cm (2 1/2in x4 1/4in). 120 film in this camera turns out a 6cm x 11cm negative! That awesome!

120 film is not a perfect fit, but 120 film can, well sort of, be used in this box camera: It’s a pretty good fit, but it basically sits in the film crevice loosely if you do not modify the film spool with extenders. I just let it flap in the breeze, so to speak. Maybe someday I will work on spool extenders for this camera.

Getting Film:

After all the camera modifications and repairs were completed, I headed off to my ‘trusty ‘ (I use the word loosely ) camera shop. Like most other shops here (if not all others ), they have all but abandoned film. In fact, the manager of the shop had to take a trip to one of their other stores to get me a roll of 120 film. Basic 35mm film is still available in limited varieties, but anything special is difficult to obtain.

That brought back memories: I was having trouble getting my hands on B&W paper and chemicals about 8 years ago, and now, no one wants to be bothered with a good stock of 120 film. (See further below to read about my imported Kodak paper, horror story! )

For the purely digital shooter, the lack of film products is no biggy. However, for Fine Art Photographers, and photographers wanting to do something different than all the digital stuff that’s flooding the world, stock of anything film, is almost as difficult to find as the proverbial needle in a haystack. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy digital photography and have embraced it with open arms; however, when the mood strikes me, I also want to be able to do film work.

Anyway, I finally got my hands on a “rare” roll of 120 Kodak Professional 160 ASA Film. It didn’t really fit into the camera all that well – another modification would need to be made to adjust the spool (extenders or something), so I just let the film ‘float ‘ in the top spool crevice where 116 film would naturally go.

I loaded the film, shut and secured the outer covering of the camera, and then wound the film a few cranks until I believed the unexposed portion of film was in place for the first frame. This is what is called ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ : I had no clue as to how many cranks to wind the film so that the next unexposed portion of film would be in the right position. Nevertheless, one website forum mentioned 2 and 1/2 to 3 full-cranks, and that is what I used as my guideline.

The manual for this camera (a PDF on-line copy), mentions typical time exposures for the smallest lens opening (and there are three apertures that are available, and are changed by moving the largest vertical lever up and down ) is 1 to 3 seconds, that is, when shooting 2 and 1/2 hours after sunrise of before sunset.

The Test Run:

It was time for a test run: Around 6pm on 24 June 2007, I took the camera out for a try. The sky was nice and blue and lots of white puffy clouds. Sunset is around 7:20 PM this time of year, and does not vary much because of being located very close to the Equator .

Taking photographs with this camera was NOT easy. After this trial run, I have a new found respect for all photographers before me who attempted to be working photographers and using these cameras: It’s not cake!

A Few Inconveniences:

The first inconvenience of using this camera is that there is NO tripod thread. My Kodak No. 3 Bulls Eye has a nice bronze tripod thread, but this one does not.

I had to outline the tripod head mount with Faber-Castell Tack-It, (love that stuff ), and then I had to push the camera down firmly into the Tack-It so the camera wouldn’t fall off the tripod. Worked Great!

The second problem was the viewfinders: The viewfinders on this camera are slightly fungus-covered, and they are like looking through foggy glasses…not very useful. I got a ‘general’ line-of-sight view of the scene through the viewfinders by just pointing the camera at the subject, and then looking at the fuzzy scene in the glass. I used a spirit bubble level to get the camera squared with the world, and then hoped for the best.

After all the securing, pointing and leveling was completed, a photograph was ready to be taken.

Taking a Photograph:

For time exposures with the greatest depth-of-field, the large vertical lever must be extended upward all the way. This setting brings the smallest aperture into place – that is, into alignment with the lens.

The smaller vertical lever is the shutter lock lever. You have to pull out (up) the shutter lock lever, hold your breath (for luck), flip the shutter release lever, count One-thousand-one, One-thousand-two, One-thousand-three, etc. When you have reached the extent of your exposure counting, flip the shutter release lever in the opposite direction to close the shutter. You need to do all of these steps and manipulations without bumping the camera too much, which may make the jiggling noticeable on the film, or, knocking the camera off the tripod.

One more thing I needed to consider was to add another second or two to the total exposure time: Because of all the lever manipulations that need to be done during the time-exposure, more than likely, the film is exposed longer than the actual count time.

Definitely, the Box Camera photo taking process is not even close to the convenience of digital technology, but it is a good experience, and a real test of hand-eye-brain coordination.

The End of the Film Roll:

By the time the film crank would not advance any more, I had only taken six Exposures! Yeap, only six. I didn’t even know for sure if the film was advancing until I hit the end of the roll, and that was a considerable relief knowing that the film was moving along inside .

I wrote down the exposure times so that I could gauge how many seconds is the best for a good negative. The exposure range for this first roll of film was from 2 to 6 seconds, and I took two shots of differing exposures of three subjects.

I wasn’t sure if the camera shop would properly open up the camera and remove the film, so I did that myself.

Film Rewind & Removal:

Late at night, with only a subdued light on, I placed the camera inside a non-transparent, black garbage bag, and then over the top of that I positioned a sheet of black velvet material (just for good measure). I inserted my hands under the velvet, and then into the black garbage bag and opened the camera, and then rewound the film onto the 120 film spool, trying NOT to fingerprint the film surface too much. A small strip of masking tape held the film in place on the spool, and then I inserted the film into a small black bag (all this was done in the darkness of the garbage bag ).

The next day, I took the film back to the shop. Developing the film was not an issue: 40-minutes later, the negatives were developed and the technicians were shocked! The negatives were huge: Not 6×7 as they originally suggested, but a monstrous 6×11 panoramic negative. Only four of the six shots were recorded properly on the film, meaning that the first two shots I took were already exposed to light when loading the camera (most likely ).

No 2A Brownie-Lens horizontal

This is why the No. 2A gives a very dramatic 6×11, Panoramic-type of image. The film stretches a long way across the back of the camera. It’s also why I only got six shots out of the roll of 120 film.

Of the four negatives that seemed to look OK, only two were judged to be usable because they showed pretty good contrast and exposure. I have determined that for Kodak 160ASA Professional Film, even 6-seconds is not quite sufficient time at the smallest aperture size. At 6:00 or 7:00 PM, and using 160 ASA film, I would stretch it to 10-seconds if shooting on a nice cloudy day with deep blue skies. Maybe 15-seconds if shooting in the shade .

The ‘Stickiness of Photography Technology:

Photography technology is fantastic today considering all the digital breakthroughs and developments; nevertheless, I quickly discovered that photography technology, as least in the developing world, is not ‘Sticky ‘.

Here’s what I mean by ‘Stickiness‘: Great photographic technologies from the past are soon shoved under the table and no longer feasible, wanted, nor do they appear to have a return on the investment. Ah ha! That is, except Leica Cameras! :^)

These older photography technologies and “tools” are considered out-of-date, unpopular modes of recording scenes as soon as the next decade comes along with “better photography stuff“. With digital photography, many shooters need to upgrade equipment every two years (or so), just to keep up with the game (and digital quality standards ).

My trusted photo shop didn’t even have the proper scanner to scan the 6×11 negatives, let alone a chemical darkroom where the negatives could be printed the “old-fashioned” way. I’m wondering if any of the professional shooters here even have a chemical darkroom in this day and age? If any do, that may solve my problem!

The Big Lie!

When I asked how long it would take to get scans of my negatives, here’s what I was told: “We’ll send them out for scanning and they should be done by 6:00 PM today .” Today, meaning 25 June 2007.

I went back to the shop at 6:00 PM, and I was told, “Sorry, the scanner is broken, hardly ever used, and will take about 4-days to repair and get the digital files done for you .”

I know I could have shot 1,000 digital images in three or four days, but I wanted to prove to myself (and NOW, the camera shop ), that creative photography is still very worthwhile and interesting, especially when taken by unconventional means, like with a Box Camera.

So what could I do? I had to wait; and, I’m still waiting. Now, it’s way past the 4-days they originally told me.

“It’s Not Popular Anymore” Bullshit!

I was thinking about this, “Oh, it’s not popular anymore,” excuse that camera shop technicians give to me. It would appear, if I’m thinking properly, that photographers are getting the short end of the stick. That is, if a photographer wants to use anything other than digital cameras these days, they are going to have to bark up many trees before they find what they need.

You may ask: “Why don’t you just order analog products from outside the country?” Yeah, I’ve experienced that before! Tell me, what is it that the Customs Department did not understand about the words: “CAUTION – FRAGILE CONTENTS – LIGHT SENSITIVE PHOTOGRAPHIC PAPER INSIDE – DO NOT EXPOSE TO LIGHT !”

Guess what these dumb-asses did…they opened my very expensive boxes of Kodak Fine Art B&W Paper and exposed all my paper to the light. This was a very expensive lesson that I will not soon forget, nor will I try it again. They even charged me an excessive duty on the paper because they believed it could be purchased in the country. What a sick joke !

“The Instant Artist” and how this ‘mentality’ may be partially to blame for me not being able to get my negatives scanned”:

Many, if not most, of the camera supply shops here, cater to the “instant artist .” Or at least, photogs who will no longer need, nor want film for any of their work. I.E., most all photographic specialists, except Fine Art Photographers.

May I be so bold as to suggest, that it would appear that most all other types of artists have been affected much less negatively by technology than Fine Art Photographers. That seems, at least, to be the case in some parts of the world. I can, and I admit, I only speak from my experiences with this frustration, within my little geographic location. Perhaps I’m living in a vacuum, a space totally devoid of older photographic “tools”, gadgets and supplies.

Possibly, it is because the camera goods suppliers tend to adhere to the “Instant Artist Mentality“, and they propagate this mentality by supplying items that will drive the biggest sales rushes, and by pushing the most popular, and the most modern photography products. Forget about creative choice and individuality in making photographs: Remember, if it’s not popular, then it’s History!

Maybe this simply isn’t the way Fine Art Photographers think! I can only speak for myself in this journal.

Yes, business is business, and the bottom line, is the bottom line. Even Fine Art Photographers must be concerned with making a living and a profit. I can sympathize with the pain, blood, sweat and tears, and the moments of triumph and victory of running your own business. I’m just not quite convinced that creative Fine Art Photographers need to abandon film technologies totally to run a successful and creative business. A better question may be this: Why should Fine Art Photographers be forced to abandon film options when creating their work…why?…just because the local suppliers don’t want to carry the items any longer?

I think that Brookes Jensen is absolutely correct when he said the following in his Pod Cast, “The Instant Artist“, and I guess I would consider that it is perfectly appropriate to quote Brookes here because I think the “Instant Artist Mentality” is one of the main reasons why I am facing such a hell-of-a problem getting my negatives scanned. Here’s what Brookes said regarding “The Instant Artist “:

“In this day and age of the instantaneous success, where people are expected, almost, to succeed overnight…where digital cameras make us instantly successful photographers because the technology supposedly makes photography so easy. In this day and age where we are training our youngsters to become instantly successful, I wonder if the age of the 25-year preparation is behind us. Where will photography be 25-years from now? Will it be celebrating the people who are just picking up the camera today? Or will we be still looking 25-years from now; for the instant success; the rocket to stardom; from someone who picked up a camera 24 and a half years from now.”

A Quick Comparison – Artists vs. Technology:

Here’s a very quick comparison of some art-types versus technology. I’m sure I’m missing some types of artists, nevertheless, let’s do some comparing, and this is only a quick look at the effects of technology on SOME types of art makers and performers.

Dancers use their feet – they don’t even need shoes and they can still dance beautifully all over the place. They’ve been doing this for thousands of years. Nike or Adidas won’t make dancers better…

Painters from all ages in time still use pigments/paints/blood or whatever, and they apply it to surfaces with a brush, knife, sponge, spray or their fingers. No short supply of tools due to technology.

Sculptors of old and of new still use chisel and hammer, knife, or more drastic tools like jackhammers, dynamite, acids, arc-welding tools or whatever. No matter where the sculptor technology goes in the future, it will always be easy to get your hands on a sharp tool and something to pound on it with to make an artwork. Stone, wood, metal and marble can be obtained pretty conveniently and we probably won’t see much change in the supply of these raw materials in the foreseeable future (not sure about wood and marble ). Much of these raw materials can be obtained FREE!

Actors/ Singers/ Orators have needed a voice, a stage, props, some sort of lighting (daylight/moonlight), and an audience. Not much change there. I suppose only actors with horrible voices were much affected when movies went from silent films to “talkies”. The classic, “Romeo and Juliet “, can be performed when a stage is illuminated with electric flood lights, or under the moonlight. The story stays the same.

However, if a Photographer wants a simple roll of Ilford B&W film (of any size ), it is like asking the camera shop owner if he wants Malaria, and you get about the same look.

An important tool for some photographers, like Black & White film, for which I could get 5 or 8 years ago, is now all but extinct, or in short supply, especially medium or large format film.

Some photographers would disagree with me on some of my statements: Some may think that there are even more choices with the addition of digital technology. Digital cameras of all shapes and sizes are flying out of the factories faster than we can keep up with them all.

Well, I agree: If you live in a geographic location where film and film services are widely accessible, then yes, you have film and digital choices galore! You probably have more choices available to you than ever before in Photography’s History. You should feel blessed as a Fine Art Photographer, that you still have a wide tablet of creative choices in your basket of tools, to allow you to create fine art work of all types, in analog and digital, that is readily and easily available to you.


Maybe the camera shop merchants think I’m nuts that I want to do something totally different and run a few rolls of film through an antique box camera.

If the images don’t turn out great, then hey, no big deal. It may be a little disappointing, but I would have discovered something about what can be (or, can’t be) done with my Brownie camera.

After all, art is somewhat about the act of discovery. However, when the technology of photography from the past gets erased as new ones are developed, then the choices for modern day photographers to experience and discover the history of photography ( hands-on) becomes limited, difficult and sometimes, impossible. I think that’s a damned shame!

I have a feeling that the situation in the States, the UK and some select EU countries is considerably better, and this experience I’m having is a trend more in the developing world; nevertheless, I could be wrong.

The Drama as of Today…18 July 2007…

As of today, I still have not been contacted by the Photo Lab. I have, nonetheless, stopped into the shop once a week since the drama has started. They have not done the scans of my negatives, and as far as I know, they may just be blowing smoke in my general direction as if I will forget they have my negatives. I’m not quite sure why the proprietor believes this is good business?

I’ve thought of trying other shops in my area. The drawback here is that typically, for this type of specialty job, most of the general photo shops send their negatives to the same guy; the guy with the broken scanner.

So what is a photographer to do? Do we give up on all of the “ancient ” photography skills, technology and processes, just because the product suppliers do not think it is “popular” any more? Do we have a choice, especially here in the developing world where there may be little demand for these older, creative photography processes and technologies?

Some people may suggest that we must embrace the changes and accept them without frustration and thought. I have embraced the change: I mostly shoot digital! HOWEVER, I don’t always want to shoot digital. Maybe I want to use my Nikon F for many more years. Maybe now that I’ve discovered how interesting and challenging the Box Camera is, that I want to explore it even more deeply and creatively.

So, who gets to decide where the photographic artist takes their art: The Artist, or the Photo Supplier/Photo Manufacturers.

Because this is my experience and my frustration, I can honestly say that I’m a little “Pissed-off” about this experience. I am totally frustrated that a simple negative scan, of a large negative, is so damned difficult to get my hands on!

Wake-up Brothers and Sisters of Fine Art Photography! Creative-Exploration of Photography may soon, or someday, be out of the control of our hands and our minds!

I think it is way beyond time to draw that line in the sand: I have decided today is their final chance to deliver the digital scans.

Maybe a general/local book publisher would have a scanner suitable for this job. Although, more than likely they have also all gone with a digital work-flow by now: They may have scrapped their drum scanners by now because the digital image files are coming directly from the camera or computer.

Please, someone from Kuala Lumpur shed some light of hope on this issue in my on-going quest to get my 6×11 negatives scanned. I have not totally given up hope on someone, somewhere in Penang, still having decent scanning capabilities, with equipment that actually works now, not when spare parts arrive from another galaxy.

Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks
[Henry Carey – 1693-1743]

The curtain closes. This drama is more than likely, to be continued…

Or, is it more similar to a Greek Tragedy…

PS: The Followup…

4:51 PM, Wednesday, 18 July 2007: I just returned from the camera shop and guess what they said: “We’re still waiting for the spare parts to show up.” I said, thanks but no thanks, I’ll take my negatives back now and try something else.

PSS: 19 July 2007…Samples of the Brownie Images!

I am not sure what got into me; however, about 2:00 AM last night, I got the idea that I’m NOT going to let these people at the Photo Shop STOP me from being a creative photographer. I don’t intentionally do this, but I do it naturally. If someone tells me that they can not do something for me, like this fiasco with my negatives not being scanned, then I usually rebel! In these cases, that usually means that I find a way to do it myself.

Here’s what I did: I placed the two negatives on my light table. I took macro images of these negatives. Then, in Paint Shop Pro, I made negatives of the negatives: Two Negatives make a Positive – Right? Wrong.

It makes a blueish image of a photo negative. So, I scratched the PSP and moved on to Photo Impact 10, which is a really great program. I went back to the original photos of the negatives and then in the Photo Adjustment Wizard tool, I started adding and subtracting colors at various levels. Adjusting contrast and saturation. And, cleaned up some of the natural dust spots from the negatives. Eventually, I came out with some very interesting images from the negatives. And almost by accident, the effects of what I did, rendered two of the most unique images I’ve ever made – analog or digital.

They are not the cleanest images in the world, but they are unique. The rim effect from a box camera is almost like a fingerprint that makes it distinguishable from any other image, from any other camera. On one image (“Two Boats Stuck in the Mud“), I cropped the rim, but you can clearly see the “fingerprint ” rim effect in the pagoda image.

The long wait is simply over because I took matters into my own hands. As soon as I can locate someone who can scan my negatives, I’ll have it done. But for now, I’m happy with the results of my experimentation. It is the act of discovery, the real reason Fine Art Photographers do what they do .

Damn the photo equipment suppliers, because they simply don’t get it! They really don’t get why Fine Art Photographers do what they do, nor do they understand what is needed and what is sacrificed in the striving for excellence and creativity.  Fine Art Photographers move to the beat of a slightly different drummer, and I guess this is just not understood by everyone.

Negative of the Negative - Two Boats Stuck in Mud, Edit D-1wp

Title: “Two Boats Stuck in the Mud”
Taken on 24 June 2007 in Penang, off Gurney Drive.
Camera: No. 2A KODAK Brownie, Model B, circa. 1907.
Filters: Skylight
Exposure: About 4 Seconds at 6:30 PM, Smallest of the three aperture settings.
Tripod: SLIK ABLE 300DX

Negative of the Negative - Reclining Buddha Temple Pagoda, Edit B-1wp

Title: “Pagoda at the Siamese, Reclining Buddha Temple”
Taken on 24 June 2007 in Penang, Jalan Kelawai.
Camera: No. 2A KODAK Brownie, Model B, circa. 1907.
Filters: Skylight
Exposure: About 6 Seconds at 6:50 PM, Smallest of the three aperture settings.
Tripod: SLIK ABLE 300DX