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!