Thirty three years ago I made this view of a northward Central Vermont freight crossing Route 32 in South Monson.
(Historically CV had a ‘station’ in South Monson, and another at State Line and these were distinct locations in the railroad’s timetable.)
I exposed this black & white photo with my father’s Rollei Model T set up with a 645-size ‘super slide’ insert and loaded with Kodak Tri-X.
One of the challenges of working with the Rollei twin-lens reflex is that the view finder displays a mirror image. This made gauging when to release the shutter of the train especially difficult when it was rolling away, such as in this situation.
The result? I pressed the shutter release a split second sooner than I would have preferred. Of course I didn’t see the problem until after I processed the film
I scanned this negatives, along with others from the day last week using an Epson V750 flatbed scanner. I scaled the file for internet presentation and adjusted contrast in post-processing using Lightroom.
Northward Central Vermont freight South Monson, Massachusetts on May 16, 1986.
These are some roster views of equipment I’ve used over the years.
I say ‘roster’ to clarify, that these are not ‘builders’ photos of the equipment. Like decades old General Motors diesels, my cameras are battle-worn machines that show the effects from years of hard service.
While I’ve lit these images to show detail, I’ve not made any effort to disguise, clean or dress up these old cameras. You see them as they are.
In my youth I made most of my photos with various Leica 3s that were the better part of fifty years old at the time.
In the 1990s, my pal TSH exclaimed sarcastically that I’d missed my calling as a Nikon endurance tester.
I’ve typically chosen to work with durable equipment that featured excellent optics and rarely worried about acquiring the latest models or gadgetry. These are tools to an end and not jewelry.
Among the cameras missing from this selection of photos are several of my work-horse machines; my dad’s original Rolleiflex, my old Leica M2 rangefinder (that my brother occasionally still uses), various Nikon model F2/F3/F3T and N90s bodies (plus lenses) that I dragged all around the world between 1990-2006, a Nikkormat FT3 (with red leather), and my Canon EOS-3s, which I continued to carry around to exposed film. Also, my two newest machines, a Lumix LX7 (that exposed these images) and a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera).
I was working with three cameras. Previously I’ve published color views exposed with my Contax G2 rangefinder and Nikon N90S single-lens reflex, however until today most of my black & white photos remained unpublished and unseen.
I made my black & white photos using a Rollei Model T twin-lens reflex (120 size film camera). So, rolling along at about 30 mph east of Tallinn, I made this view of a Riga-built Tallinn-area electric suburban train.
Significantly,I made this image by using the Rollei’s field-finder— which is nothing more than a pair of open squares that allow you to frame up a photo while holding the camera at eye-level.
Normally, I’d focus using the camera’s built in magnifying glass on the waist level viewer (which supplies a view through the top lens arrangement that projects onto a Fresnel screen. The down side of this viewing mechanism is that you must look down into the camera and the image is in reverse.
So exposing photos from a moving locomotive cab using the waist-finder is not only impractical, but can lend to sea-sickness.
Another advantage of the field-finder is that you are actually looking at your subject without any distortion caused by a lens. In today’s photography it rare that you actually see your subject at the time the shutter is released. You’d be amazed how this direct viewing can improve composition.
Also, the Rollei’s mechanical shutter release is virtually instantaneous.
Richard has been photographing railways for decades and brought me on many of my earliest railway excursions, including a trip on the Flushing Line in Queens way back in the day.
Richard has worked with Leicas, a Rolleiflex, and a Linhof 4×5 view camera. Today has also a few digital cameras to play with including a Lumix LX7.
Many years ago he gave me my first camera, and after I wrecked that one, he gave me another, and finally a Leica model 3A. I continue to wear them out.
Regular viewers of Tracking the Light will recognize the subjects and locations. Together, Richard and I have years of continuous photographic record of railways in the United States and around the world. His photographs have appeared in many of my books.
I returned to the same street in Charleroi last month and made similar views of trams. I actually went to almost the same spot as the above photo, but exposed a couple of colour slides, which remain latent. Perhaps at some point I’ll do a ‘now and then’ comparison. (Film and film).
Here are a few views I made with my Rolleiflex Model T of Mass-Central’s former Boston & Albany branch on July 10, 2014.
Why black & white? Why film? Why in 2014?
There’s no question, digital photography is easier. If I desire a square black & white image, all I have to do is set my Lumix LX7 to a 1:1 aspect ratio using a switch on the camera, and set the ‘photo style’ to ‘monochrome’ using the function button.
This set up procedure takes just a few seconds, and I can switch back to color quickly and easily whenever I choose.
Working with the Rolleiflex is more cumbersome; the camera is klutzy to load, it only makes 12 frames per roll of film, and the film takes about an hour to process in the darkroom (dry to dry). Then I need to cut and sleeve the negatives and then scan them for presentation here.
Yet, I still do this. Not for every photograph, not on every outing, but I still go through the motions of using black & white film.
Why? I have five reasons:
1) I like it.
2) It gives me a subtle ‘retro’ quality that I can’t really get from digital.
3) It allows me visual continuity: I’ve been making black & white railroad photos since the 1970s. Why stop now?
4) I can still do it: I have the cameras, the film, the darkroom and the skills to get great results.
5) The B&W film medium is known to be archival. I process my film using a two bath fixer, permawash and rinse for 15 minutes in clean running water. They are stored in archival sleeves. Barring the unforeseen, the negatives I processed should still be in good condition for viewing in 50 to 100 years, maybe longer. They will need no extra attention regarding ‘back up’, except to store them in a safe dry place.
This last point is not true with digital photos. I make three backup copies of every digital image and store them in separate locations, but digital remains an ephemeral media. Hard drives, DVDs and all other existing means of commercially-available digital storage will, in time, go bad. Hard drives can fail, suddenly, completely and without warning. The information will be lost. The photos will vanish. Like the tide coming in on a child’s sandcastle, the images in their digital form will be washed away, forever.
I made this photo when I was a senior in high school. Paul Goewey and I’d planned to meet some friends at Springfield Station, and then drive north to photograph Boston & Maine at Deerfield.
While we waited for the others to arrive, I exposed a series of images of Conrail on the former Boston & Albany mainline. At the time, Conrail regularly stored locomotives between runs on track 2A in the station (at right). On the left is a set of light engines led by Conrail 6608, one of ten C30-7s.
More interesting is the locomotive trailing 6608, a relative-rare former Erie-Lackawanna SDP45.
The trip to the B&M was very successful and I exposed two rolls of 35mm Kodak Panatomic-X ASA 32 (Kodak Safety Film 5060) with my Leica 3A, and a couple of rolls of 120 B&W with my dad’s Rolleiflex. I processed all the film in the kitchen sink, using a crude formula of Microdol-X. I sleeved the negs and made 3×5 size proof prints.
The 120 negatives have been in my files for three decades, but the 35mm negatives had vanished. I have a photo album from 1985, with many of these images, but for years was vexed by the loss of the 35mm negatives. As a rule, I don’t throw photographs away.
The other day, I found a carton with school papers and photographs. There, at the bottom was an unlabeled crumpled manila envelope. What’s this? Ah ha!
It was chock full of negatives from 1984-1985. All missing for decades, many of them unprinted.
I scanned these negative strip on my Epson V600 scanner. Using Photoshop I cleaned up a few minor defect and made necessary contrast adjustments, then exported a reduced file size for display here. A photo lost for nearly three decades can now be enjoyed in through a medium I couldn’t have foreseen when I exposed it.
In yesterday’s post, I told about working with a Hasselblad and 120 Kodachrome. Although, 35mm slide film was my stable format for more than 25 years, I’ve periodically dabbled in larger formats.
I made this image of CSX’s former Boston & Albany mainline at West Warren, Massachusetts in October 2000 using a Rolleiflex Model T with f3.5 Zeiss Tessar lens to expose 120 size Fujichrome Velvia 50.
While I have many images of trains at West Warren, this remains among my favorite. The trees and brush had been cleared from the north side of the tracks, opening up a angle on the tracks not often possible here. I’ll like the stumps too. My grandfather would have approved.
The lack of train allows for good juxtaposition between the railway, waterfall, and old mill buildings on the far side of the Quaboag River. If I’d let a train into the scene, it would either cause a distraction or block the waterfall. One solution to this puzzle is to work from the other side of the tracks, but that loses the timeless quality offered by this angle.
Nearly peak autumn color is a nice touch, while soft overcast light adds to the autumnal atmosphere.
Caption: The former Boston & Albany mainline along the Quaboag River in October 2000, exposed with a Rolleiflex Model T on 120 Fujichrome Velvia 50.
I made my first trip to Poland in May 2000; while part of my quest was to experience steam in revenue service, among the most compelling images I made were of derelict engines such as this one in Silesia. I worked with both 35mm slide film and 120 black & white, the latter exposed with my Rolleiflex Model T.