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by Chris Fastie • • 0 Comments
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Click photos to enlarge
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Digging around for 40 year old negatives last week turned up a couple of even older things. I found a little T-shirt, and a couple of copies of the Sunday rotogravure section from The Baltimore Sun for August 21, 1960, 53 years ago today. The brown section had been archived because it included photos of my entire family in a two page spread about Soldiers Delight. We were honored to be pictured in this article because the photographer was A. Aubrey Bodine who had worked for the Baltimore Sun since 1920. We were chosen to be the models for this photo shoot because my parents were advocates for the preservation of the undeveloped tract of serpentine barrens near our home in Owings Mills, Maryland. Also because we were really cute.
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In the 1970s I exposed about 400 rolls of black and white film. Most of these were 36 exposure rolls of 35 mm Kodak Plus-X which I bulk loaded and developed at home. I made an 8 x 10 inch contact print of each roll, and put an accession number on the contact sheet and the glassine envelope with the negative strips. I still have all 14,000 of these negatives and contact prints. If you think that preserving this collection suggests that I am farsighted, consider that I never put a single date on any of this material.
This Google Earth embed did not work well with all browsers so I was testing it here. You can learn more about this project here.
The Lytro camera is probably the most interesting advance in photographic technology this year. An array of microlenses allows the sensor to capture information about the exact direction from which light is coming, and that allows software to focus every part of the scene regardless of it’s distance from the camera. To highlight this advance, the company’s first camera produced interactive online images which could be refocused by clicking anywhere in the scene (see some here). We have all looked at photos with out-of-focus parts, and it is a novel experience to be able to click on or touch the fuzzy places and have the crisp focus shift as if a focusing ring was being turned. But it has also been maddening to know that the captured data would allow the entire photo to be in focus all at the same time, yet this was not an option for any Lytro photo. It was a clever marketing approach, because modern digital cameras with tiny sensors have very good depth of field, and many of the photos we take now already have everything in focus. Allowing the viewer to “focus the photo after it was taken” highlighted how new this technology was.
In the late nineteenth century, hand drawn “bird’s-eye maps” were a revelation to earthly New Englanders. When exotic hot air balloons were the only way to gain such a perspective, enterprising artists just imagined what a bird might see. The customers for these maps lived and worked in the buildings depicted, so these are probably placed with some accuracy, relying on existing maps for data. It is the details of the rest of the landscape that were recorded nowhere else. In the 1889 drawing below, cleared fields, orchards, and shrubby growth nearly to the top of Hogback Mountain confirm the wisdom that in 1850 the entire slope, like others all over Vermont, was probably cleared of trees. Today, the young ages of the trees tell the same story, but an old bird’s-eye view is still a revelation.
Last month I went to the Middlebury Farmers’ Market at Marble Works for the first time ever. My garden had been suffering some scurrilous blight and I was about to feed 10 people for the LEAFFEST weekend. I looked along the row of vendors to the steeple of the Congregational Church beyond some trees and realized there might be enough space to launch a kite there. A west wind would take the kite the length of the lawn and then over toward the church on the “Green,” the village commons. This could offer a unique view of the village center. But the wind almost never blows from the west here due to the north-south trend of the Champlain Valley. Other wind directions would make the flight less rewarding and the launch and landing more risky, and I had never flown a kite from such a small area surrounded by so many power lines, buildings, trees, river banks, and busy roads, so I assumed I would never fly there.
Twice this year I walked around for more than an hour flying a kite-lofted camera that I thought was taking photos, when in fact it was just fooling me into getting exercise. On the first occasion the shutter controller battery died, and the other time the camera just got confused and stopped shooting. I think I sent radio commands to shoot too frequently and it decided to take a nap. This happened another time as well but I happened to reel everything down after only 20 minutes of not taking photos while I was jogging here and there. I have modified the controller so the battery lasts much longer, and I have learned to be patient when sending radio commands, but I am certain that the rather fragile KAP rig electronics will surprise me again with their unexpected inactivity. So I have been looking for a way to monitor the camera operation from the ground. I have been brainstorming with some friends about how to do this, and Don Blair, a physics graduate student at UMass has been prototyping an alert system based on a $20 pair of walkie-talkies. I couldn’t stand hearing about all the fun he was having in Amherst using MOSFETs to remotely push the walkie-talkie PTT button, so I decided to build my own solution.
A month ago, on May 10, I noticed a wad of dry grass in the birch tree outside my home office window. It was obvious what it was, and a noisy pair of Baltimore orioles soon confirmed that a nest was being constructed. Four days later the nest building seemed to be mostly completed, and I stopped taking photos (click them to enlarge).