December 22, 2010



I knew that Virginia has distinct seasons, but I didn't dare to hope for real snowfall.
But voila! Last week we were blessed with a flaky, flurry gift from the sky that accumulated on the ground as a pleasingly crunchy layer of snow.

New Cape Henry Light

When the flakes began to fall, I happened to be out running errands. I rearranged my plans and made my way to the lighthouse at Fort Story as quickly as I could, practically tripping over my own feet as I scrambled out of the car, camera in hand.

After photographing the lighthouse, I started to walk back to the car — then changed my mind. I wasn't dressed to be outdoors for long, but I couldn't resist a quick detour. I had never seen the beach in the snow before, and this was my chance!

Sandbags and sand dunes peek out from the accumulating snow.

I made my way over the sand dune...

...and found the beach looking like this: covered in a white blanket that blurred the distinctions between sand, surf, and sky.

Surf and snow resembled each other in the predominantly white landscape. I was mesmerized by the matching curvy contours of the border between sea and land.

It was beautiful!

And just in case you're curious, the photos for this entry were taken with a Nikon D5000, using various in-camera monochrome settings, then processed with ShakeItPhoto for iPhone.
Fun, fun, fun.

December 18, 2010

Old Point Comfort Light

Old Point Comfort Light

Old Point Comfort Light is located at the entrance to Hampton Roads, and at 207 years old, it is the oldest light in service in Chesapeake Bay. It is located on the grounds of Ft. Monroe, although its construction predates the fort by several decades. It is only 58 feet tall, yet its red light still serves to guide ships into the bay to this day.

December 03, 2010

Holga Love

You might remember me mentioning that friends and family seemed to have conspired to spoil me with the perfect birthday gifts that all work together perfectly: a plastic Holga camera, a set of filters for it, and a negative scanner to digitize the resulting images. You may also remember that I immediately loaded it with 35mm film and tried it out in Rhode Island. But the camera is made primarily for medium format film, and -drumroll- I finally had the first two rolls of 120 film developed. Here are some of the images from the first roll. I used black and white film and a red filter... hence the dark, über-contrasty look.

The Holga accompanied me on a trip to the Rosewell Ruins in Gloucester, VA.

I was charmed by the ruins themselves... well as the surrounding woods. I was so happy to see that my Holga's plastic lens really does add a bit of characteristic blur around the edges. Just like it's supposed to.
Grain elevators in Parkston.

A photo of more railroad tracks in town, sporting the vignetting that is typical of Holga images.

And a tree. Vignetting and blur... yess!

This was the trial run for the Holga loaded with the proper 120 film. OPTEST Sat!

November 03, 2010

Rosewell Ruins

Of all the things I've been looking forward to exploring in Virginia, the Rosewell Ruins have occupied the top spot on my list. So when the local photography club organized a trip to visit the ruins, I was thrilled to go along and share the experience with other photography buffs.

After stopping at the Visitor Center to orient ourselves, watch an informational film about Rosewell, pick up maps, and chat with the knowledgeable museum curator, we headed through a few fields toward the ruins themselves.

The ruined mansion is surrounded by fields and woods near the York River... a peaceful and secluded setting that makes it easy to transport one's mind back to centuries past.

It didn't take us long to walk over to the mansion itself. Its construction dates back to 1725, making it one of the Colonial Era's architectural gems. It first belonged to the Page family, one of the First Families of Virginia: an illustrious and exclusive circle of high-society colonists who settled in Virginia in the 17th century. The Page family included a governor of Virginia (John Page, 13th Governor of Virginia) and associated closely with the Jeffersons. Legend even has it that Thomas Jefferson, on one of his visits to the mansion, worked on a draft of the Declaration of Independence in this very house.

Rosewell Mansion was built primarily of brick, and the grandeur of its three stories can still be intuited from the lofty heights of the ruins today. A catastrophic fire in 1916 left little more than a shell of the structure's former glory, and time and the elements have contributed to further decay.

Today, efforts are being made to prevent the ruins from collapsing further. Horizontal support beams and new mortar in certain spots are two of the readily visible elements designed to preserve the historic structure for generations to come. And the efforts are worth it. Even in its run-down state, Rosewell is a beautiful and spectacular place to visit.

It's exciting—and also a little eerie—to scramble into the ruin, explore the cellars, look up at the towers, see where the floor levels once were, and imagine what life may once have been like in that very spot.

Inside the mansion.

One of the cameras I had with me was a Polaroid Sun 600 camera I found at a thrift store. It was loaded with the Impossible Project's PX 600 Silver Shade film. This particular film is surprisingly sensitive to temperature and light, so there's always an element of uncertainty and surprise. But in this case, the mild weather and shady woods turned out to be agreeable conditions for this feisty and unpredictable film... and the photo turned out!

Rosewell Ruins

Picture in picture: the fresh instant photo on a bed of dry leaves.

Rosewell Ruins is worth a visit... both for the beautiful natural surroundings...

...and the picturesque remnants of a colonial mansion. I had a great time on this first visit, and I can't wait to go back.

October 24, 2010

The Impossible Project

In 2008, to the disappointment of Polaroid fans everywhere, Polaroid stopped production of its popular instant films. But now there is new hope, and it bears the optimistic title of the Impossible Project. What was thought to be impossible is now being done: Drumroll... Polaroid films are back!

While they can't officially carry the Polaroid name, they're already being produced in color and monochrome for a couple of Polaroid camera formats, and they're attracting a growing following. The one I used here is for a 600 camera: the PX 600 Silver Shade film.

Although the Impossible Project purchased an entire Polaroid factory, the chemical mix is all new. The resulting film packs are still being developed and improved. They're extraordinarily sensitive to temperature and light, and they're also somewhat unpredictable, which adds an extra thrill to the experience of taking a photo with this most extraordinary instant film.

Trinity Church, Newport, RI

I took the first two images in Newport, Rhode Island, and Trinity Church in the historic heart of the colonial town was my intended subject. For some reason, the first photo didn't turn out. But when the camera spit out this second image, I made sure to cover it up immediately and give it as much darkness as possible while it was developing... and it turned out! I don't think 3 minutes ever take longer than when waiting for a Polaroid to develop... which is another part of the ritual and the excitement of using a piece of photographic history.

October 16, 2010

Holga in Rhode Island

It seems like my friends and my family conspired to give me the perfect birthday gifts this year. And the best part is that the all work together: a Holga plastic camera, a set of color filters, a 35mm conversion kit, and a negative scanner. I'm thankful for each gift... every one of which was used to create the images below. My first attempt to take photos with the Holga failed because I didn’t load the film properly… I was happily snapping away, not realizing that the film wasn’t advancing in between shots. But this second attempt was successful. I took the Holga with me on an afternoon walk along the shore of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay and pointed its plastic lens at anything and everything I found interesting.
First up: flowers. I'm currently on a plants-and-trees from below kick, where I like to take photos looking up. I'm enjoying changing the perspective of the camera, seeing how the world looks through a lens when the camera is placed low to the ground.
The Holga comes with two masks that determine the size of the images on the film, either 6x6 square or 6x4 rectangular. But I chose to use neither, resulting in extra wide images and a bit of vignetting along the sides.
Rhode Island seashore. Taken with the Holga, black and white Ilford film, and a red filter for extra contrast.
One of my favorite spots in Newport: historic Trinity Church downtown.

September 20, 2010

Brownie Hawkeye

Meet the Brownie Hawkeye Flash.

This beautiful little box camera was manufactured in the 1950's. From 1949 to 1961, to be exact. And I had the good fortune of finding one at a thrift store a few months ago.

Since I don't have the requisite 127 format film, which is nearly impossible to find nowadays, I figured out a way to load it with 35mm film. Loading the film wasn't too difficult, but the challenge lies in figuring out how far to advance the film in between frames. It's a bit of a guessing game, especially since the exact amount of rotation needed changes as more and more exposed film is wound ever thicker around the spool connected with the film advance knob.

Since 35mm film is narrower than the 127 film the camera was designed for, the entire width of the film is exposed with each click of the shutter. I took the camera on a drive around Virginia Beach with me, to Fort Story's Old and New Cape Henry Lighthouses and to Lynnhaven Marina.

The photos were taken a few months ago, but I was able to scan them in only now... using my birthday present: a shiny new photo and negative scanner! I need to work on some of the finer details of scanning negatives properly, but I couldn't wait to share a few of my first scanned images.

Although I used color film, I switched to monochrome in post processing. The reason for it is the little red exposure counter window directly behind the film and across from the lens, which I had covered up from the outside but not from the inside. The paper backing on 127 film prevents the window from affecting photos, but 35mm film has no such protective layer. Thus, the shiny plastic surface inside the camera was enough to cast a distracting red reflection onto the images. I learned though — that little window is now covered from the inside, too!

New Cape Henry Lighthouse

The images are wonderfully imperfect, and looking at them reminds me of how I carried the quirky, boxy camera around with me, looking for suitable subjects for it to capture. The camera is held at waist level, and the image is framed by looking down into the viewfinder mounted on the top of the camera body.

Looking down at the Brownie Hawkeye. The body is taped shut to make sure it's light-tight. The 35mm film canister is just a tad too bulky, making it impossible to close the compartment completely. The gray button on the left lifts up to allow long exposures, and the gray button on the right is the shutter. The dial on the right is the film advance knob.

Lynnhaven Marina

These images also show scotch tape and dust specs. Just this once, I'm willing to consider them "charming imperfections." But in truth they are the hasty errors of an overzealous beginner. The scanner is unbelievably sharp and precise, more so than I expected, and as I learned today, it does see clear scotch tape and tiny particles of dust.

Beach access near Fort Story.

Old Cape Henry Lighthouse

September 03, 2010

Caserta Gardens

The destination of one of my last day trips from Naples was the Caserta Palace, the Reggia di Caserta. But this time I wasn't there to see the palace itself: I was only interested in the gardens. I had been daydreaming of returning to the magnificent, orderly, geometrically designed Italian-style garden with its opulent statues, as well as the meandering English garden planned by Maria Carolina of Austria, wife of Ferdinand IV.

And I was in the mood for black and white photography, which may be counter-intuitive for photographing a garden. But I went with it.

I intended to spend some time photographing the statues in the Italian Garden. This is my all-time favorite.

But to my surprise, a number of the statues were undergoing restoration. They were wrapped in a protective layer of plastic, held in place by red and white tape.

It wasn't at all what I expected, but I was thrilled. Photographed in black and white, the statues seemed to be part of a dreamy fantasy.

After having photographed the veiled statues to my heart's content, I entered the English Garden.

Overgrown and always a little mysterious, the English Garden beckons the visitor to explore its hidden corners. This gate leads to an area where a defunct water cistern was converted to a place for beehives.

Although the gate was locked, I snapped this photo through its bars. It looks like the bees lived in style!

Other parts of the English garden include a waterfall, a stream, a lily pond, and a grotto... where Venus happens to be bathing.

And how about caved-in coffered ceilings... crumbling ancient Roman hallways...

sprinkled with statues and lined with peeling paint?
The English Garden has it all.

Except that these ancient Roman ruins are closer to 200 than 2,000 years old. They are a whimsical aspect of the gardens, as false as the rest of its seemingly au naturel look. Every square inch of the garden is planned out, and every plant and decorative element has a purpose. And that includes these faux Roman ruins from the 18th century, which were highly fashionable among the wealthy at a time when the ruins of Pompeii were just coming to light.

I had been taking photos of the water lilies when the sun came out from behind a cloud and was, by chance, in just right right spot. When the camera was positioned at a certain angle, with the sunlight reflected on the surface of the murky water without the sun itself being in the picture, the water appeared smooth, silky, almost metallic.

In The Metamorphoses, Ovid describes the waters of the fountain in which Narcissus sees his own reflection as "nitidis argenteus undis," gleaming silver waves. But I wouldn't have believed that water could look like this!

The Italian and English Gardens both surprised me with their hidden, unexpected beauty.

If you're in the area, a visit to the Caserta Palace and Gardens is a must. È bellissimo!