Category Archives: Street photography

The Lonesome Organ Grinder

“The guilty undertaker sighs
The lonesome organ grinder cries”

“I Want You”, by Bob Dylan

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Orgel Bernd I presume?

As I noted here a month or two past, I spent an inordinate amount of time in deciding what sort of sketching media to take with me to Europe and the TMB hike. Once on the trail I soon discovered that there was no time for sketching.  You hit the trail just after 8 o’clock, hike for an hour or three and then eat lunch in pleasant exhaustion while recovering for the afternoon. Maybe you eat a 2nd lunch at 2 p.m. No matter, it’s highly unlikely you are lunching and have energy or inspiration to pull out the sketchbook and paint box. At the end of the day when you get to the next refuge, you dump your stuff and if lucky, you get to sleep for an hour before dinner. Then you talk to folks, and write in the journal.

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one tick on the coaster for every glass you drink

However, I did do some sketching before and after the hike, when I had plenty of time to sit and observe. My first stop was Dusseldorf, a beautiful city on the Rhine River. Among the attractions is the alt-stadt, where the streets are full of people, not cars. How ridiculous! Also there are some lovely beer gardens that dispense alt-beer, a dark and flavourful brew which, unlike most German beer, is top fermented. Unfortunately most German brew-masters who emigrated to North America brought with them lager beer, which in my opinion isn’t half as tasty. But you can still get alt-beer in Dusseldorf,  a drink I enjoyed while sitting at a bar in the alt-stadt with sketchbook at hand.

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the old Fuschschen Brauerei, Dusseldorf

While lolling on my stool I discerned a faint sound coming from down the street. Soon I realized I was hearing a hand cranked miniature pipe organ, from which pipes came a sweet folksy tune. Shortly, before my eyes appeared a real live organ grinder. He parked his organ beside me and took a seat at a table; then proceeded to smoke a full pipe, after which he shut his eyes and had a snooze. Refreshed, he got up after a half hour and returned the way he came, grinding out a new tune.

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looking down the street, Alt-stadt, Dusseldorf

Stealthily, I managed to capture him on camera and in my sketchbook. Maybe this is so commonplace in Europe that organ grinders are taken for granted, but to me it was a magic moment. As for the question of whether or not he was lonesome; if you spent all day pushing an organ around, who could you talk to?

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organ grinding is a lonesome job

 

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Filed under Beer, Philosophy, Photography, Sketching, Street photography, Travel

Typewriter Day 2018

Typewriter day came and went here without fanfare, or so much as a peep. However, I did sell 2 typewriters to a budding typerata. She arrived minutes after she got my response to her email about a machine I had listed on Craigslist. She loves typewriters and has a few, all with names and their own ink colours. We spent a good hour talking typewriters, and I showed her a few interesting ones. Then she spotted one of my Olivetti L22’s that was on the floor. I picked it up last week, broken, and had spent a few hours getting it to work. So she bought that one too, complete with speil about Nizzoli, MOMA, etc. Despite the general lack of community here, we had a mini celebration for typewriter day, which was good.

L22, made in Canada, gone to a new home

Meanwhile I have been shooting film again and developing it in Caffenol. I dried the washing soda in the oven this time, and also added some table salt to the mix. This works great, and even after 3 weeks it worked well enough to develop 3 rolls. The only problem is that I’ve been using very stale film. The BW film was Ilford Delta 100, and that was almost like new judging from the results. However, the 14 year old Kodak Max 400 came out very grainy and low res, despite the camera. One roll of Kodak Max was shot with my Nikon F and the much vaunted Nikkor 85/1.8 and yet the results are pretty much indistinguishable from a Brownie. The best results were from the Ilford, a film that was 11 years old, shot with a Spotmatic and a SMC 50/1.4, which gave brilliant results. Check out this old Cressida!

vintage Toyota Cressida

Colour film curls up horribly, and attracts dust like a magnet attracts iron filings, but the B&W film dried almost flat, and was relatively dust free. After this I just tossed away all the old colour film, because it’s too disappointing to get a good shot that is all dusty and grainy and looks barely focused. I’m not keen on 35mm film for this very reason, preferring 120, but since I have a lot of old cameras I like to exercise them once in a while. My Nikon F Photomic is a classic, but quite heavy and clumsy. I’d like to try shooting with it through the top, something I haven’t done. You don’t need a waist level finder to do this, although that would be nice.

Lettera 35

The 2nd Olivetti of the week was this L35, really just an L32 with a new cladding. The carriage lock was jammed, but I took it off and straightened out the metal tab that goes up and down, filed and polished the edges where this meets the lower rail of the carriage, and now it works fine. The whole thing comes apart as easily as can be, which is brilliant. I think it would take one minute if you know what you’re doing. The beauty of this is the shell can be painted any colour you like, as there are no other painted bits to fiddle with. This machine has every feature you need in a typewriter; full auto set tabs with a nifty brake that works, rabbit ears, and a paper table, plus a platen clutch. It has an interesting design – Italian Modern – and would fit right in with snazzy futuristic furniture. However, I prefer the feeling of the L22 over the 32, although it is a more complex machine and difficult to adjust.

vintage pen stand anyone?

Here is another thing you don’t find in the store anymore – marble pen stands. This one is a Parker, and it came with one Parker pen – a ballpoint. I polished up the plastic barrel and it shines like new. They made these with high grade plastic. I also have a matching fountain pen, a Parker 51, but the ink tends to run out under gravity, so I leave the pen in there dry.

the ink bottle collection

These go with the pen collection. Some are new, others are old bottles found (rarely) in thrift shops. Probably have a lifetime supply.

our garden

seen in someone’s yard

Here are a few more scans:

reclaiming the land where the old bridge stood

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Filed under Cameras, Pens, Photography, Street photography, Thrift shop finds, Typewriters

Instaxography

the Instax 200 – instaxographers weapon of choice

Instaxography (copyright) is my latest hobby of the week, for this week, until the film pack is gone that is. I picked this baby up at a thrift shop complete with the batteries, several shots left on the pack, and a new pack of 10 pictures, for cheap – about what the film pack costs. I knew I had to have it after I took a test picture of the clerk in the store who showed it to me. They keep these under glass, like gold jewelry, and you must request a showing. They don’t wear white gloves however, which spoils the entire effect. However, it brings me back to the days of Polaroidography (copyright that too) and my old SX70. I thought the film was expensive 35 years ago! Holy crap! Today…. don’t ask! But Fuji is cheaper, and just about as bad as Polaroid was, so why not?

the bay bridge (not THE Bay Bridge – our Bay Street Bridge)

While out for a bike ride we stopped beneath the bridge and I also did a watercolour sketch.

Looking the other way we have a lovely barge and a lot of water and sky, but Instaxography gives it a very artistic feel, don’t you think? Ugly can be beautiful.

Anyhow, I’m not finished this experiment yet, and I have to say it is still a sort of thrill to watch and wait for the image to appear as if by magic. My Dad had a Polaroid, I had a Polaroid, and recently I sent my son in Germany – a Polaroid! I hope the film is cheaper there. If not he can get himself a Instax, or just forget the whole thing. But one day, I know his genes will express themselves and he will take up instant photography, if only now and then. It’s in our blood! Also, I took Polaroids of the babies… you gotta love that.

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Filed under Cameras, Photography, Sketching, Street photography, Technology, Thrift shop finds, Uncategorized

Uncle Cedric

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I saw an old lady today, shuffling along on a cane and an umbrella, accompanied by a dog that was keeping a few yards ahead, poking his nose at things with his tongue hanging out. After they passed I stopped and turned to watch them, and was reminded of a day long ago and my Uncle Cedric.

You’re OK kid, Cedric used to say, winking secretly.

He said it whenever I did stuff for him, like washing his car, or going to the corner store for cigarettes. Sometimes he gave me his spare change, and when I was old enough to do bigger errands, one day he sent me to pick up a box in the back alley behind the ABC Liquor Store.  That was soon after he gave me a brand new 10 speed bike for no apparent reason. Then I discovered there was one.

I met him at the far end of the lane where he was waiting in a Ford Mustang he called McQueen. Then, to impress me he peeled away burning rubber with a crazy grin on his face. Dust and dirt flew up and hit me in the face, but I didn’t mind because I had a new bike and ten dollars for my trouble. A week later I used the money and bought myself a dog. My parents weren’t happy about it, but they let me keep him anyways. I called him Champ.

Not a month after I got Champ, Uncle Cedric, going much too fast in his Mustang, ran him over right in front of our driveway. Champ lay there on the road, panting and Uncle Cedric jumped out of the car, picked him up and sped off to the vet with Champ and me in the back. I noticed an empty bottle of rum on the floor. Cedric ran into the vet’s office with Champ, and came out a half hour later. He looked shaken, gave me ten dollars, and made me promise not to tell my Mom, his sister. When I got home, Mom asked where Champ was.

He ran away, I said. I really wanted to tell her, but I had some foolish loyalty to Cedric. I went to my room and lay down on my bed, burying my face in the pillow so I could cry in private. I felt trapped by the bike and the money.

The next day Cedric saw me on the street coming home from school and stopped to tell me, with a sad look on his face, that poor Champ had to be sent to another hospital, and might not be back for a while. I had a bad feeling he was lying.

How long of a while, I asked, but Cedric said he didn’t know. Then he gave me ten bucks and made me promise not to say a word, and also would I go get another box from the alley for him that night?

I didn’t want to, but I promised to do it, hoping this might get Champ back. I thought maybe Cedric was using Champ to get me to do his bidding, but I was afraid to say anything. He burned out of there again and a little stone shot up from one of the back wheels and chipped my front tooth. All of a sudden Cedric didn’t seem so cool.

When I got home my Mom saw my chipped tooth and freaked out. I said I got in a fight at school, and the guy I fought lost his front tooth, so after that she calmed down. Late after dark, I snuck out the back door and rode my bike into town.

There was the box as usual, behind the big steel bin next to the back door. As I leaned my bike on the fence a car came down the lane with no lights on, so I walked away trying to be casual. Then the headlights came on and so did the flashing red light.

Hold on kid, a voice yelled at me.

I jumped a fence and ran home as fast as I could. The next day after school there was a police car at our house. They found my bike behind the liquor store and wanted to ask me some questions. I told them I liked hanging around in the alley pretending to be a detective and they seemed to believe that, so they left.

Afterwards, my Mom asked me what was really going on, but I didn’t tell her out of misplaced youthful loyalty to Cedric, and a nagging fear that I was already mixed up in something wrong. To make matters worse, I was afraid that if I told the truth I might not ever see Champ again.

You’re not to go out at that hour any more, she said, is that clear?

I nodded and tried to look like I meant it. What did she know about how it felt to be twelve and get paid ten bucks for picking up a box in an alley? When I told Uncle Cedric about the cops in the lane he rubbed my head and gave me five bucks.

You’re OK, kid, he said.

Then he said he wanted me to go back soon. When the day came I could hardly think between worrying that the police might show up and hoping that if all went well I might see my dog. To compound my anxiety I was still feeling guilty for deceiving my Mom, and afraid that whatever it was I was doing, it wasn’t strictly honest. Half an hour before the pickup, I got on my bike and cruised to town.

Riding down the street in front of the ABC Liquor Store, I noticed an old lady on an electric scooter drive up to the café next door. She creaked off the seat like the rusty tin man in the Wizard of Oz and shuffled into the café, leaving the dog outside.

I rode around the block several times, checking the big clock that hung in the window of the drug store. Just before the agreed time I headed down the block and around the corner like a rider in the Tour de France. I hit the alley and cranked it hard until mid-block, whereupon I jammed on the back brake and came skidding towards the box in a foolish attempt to kick up dust like Cedric’s car. I got dust alright, lost control and hit the dirt, skinning my elbow and the side of my leg.

I got up bruised and sore and looked to see if anyone had seen, but there was nobody around. Embarrassed and aching, I picked up my bike and leaned it on the fence, then hobbled over to the box. I limped back to the bike with the box, put it on my carrier, slung my leg over the top bar and put my foot to the pedal. I rode down the lane slowly as the pain began to set in. Across the street Cedric’s car was waiting in the opposite lane.

He flashed his lights and pointed left, then drove to the first corner, crossed the street and turned down into the next lane. Just then the old lady came down the sidewalk on her electric cart, with her dog ambling along beside. I waited until she passed and began pedaling.

I quickly caught up and passed the old lady, but she stayed close behind me on the sidewalk. I turned down the alley and saw Uncle Cedric’s car halfway down the block. Cedric got out and looked up and down the lane.

I was halfway there when from behind me a dog flashed by and within a few strides jumped onto Uncle Cedric, who immediately hit the dirt. I just about skidded off my bike again as I hit the brakes and came to a stop. Looking back I saw the old lady coming down the lane in a cloud of dust like a geriatric maniac. Then her cart stopped and miraculously she sprung up from her seat, throwing off the shabby old coat and hat. Under the coat she wore a police jacket and a big black gun that she kept her hand on as she broke into a run.

Don’t you go anywhere son, she said as she passed.

A minute later, two police cars arrived and took Uncle Cedric away. After she took my name, my statement, the box and my bike, the police woman sent me home in a police car, where I had to explain to my mother what had happened.

After the police left, my Mom asked me how much money I’d made doing Cedric’s pickups. I told her I had fifty bucks. She took the money, and told me she was keeping it so the dentist could fix my broken tooth.

What about Champ, I blurted out?

Suddenly she stopped looking angry. Champ’s gone, she said, he’s not coming back.

©Donald J. Nathan

January 24  2018

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Filed under Books and Short Stories, Street photography

A 1950’s December

This weekend we made a day trip up island to buy some great German style rye bread from our favourite bakery, visit the street market, hunt through thrift shops and eat at the brew pub. We did all that, and I was hoping to find a rare 1914-1920 Royal 10, which of course I did not. There seem to be many old Underwoods however, but Royals?  Nope.1-IMGP0360

Along the way I took some pictures and bought some fascinating vintage stuff at various thrift shops. One was this incredibly colourful old Italian made nativity scene. One piece had an old Woolworth’s price tag on the bottom; 35 cents. I set it up at home and took some photos with various lenses to try to get all the figurines in focus, which was impossible. I resisted the urge to insert a little gnome/elf with a rake, which would fit perfectly but might be considered offensive, so I’ll merely mention the concept. The elf, in my mind, would have represented Santa Claus, who arguably, was out on his first mission. If you believe in Santa, that is.

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I also had to grab this 1957-59 Kodak Brownie Model I, made in London. On the street I saw a Christmas tree and placed it there to take the picture above. That was item 2 from the 1950’s, assuming the Nativity was such. It might be!

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Then there was the red caboose. Definitely 50’s, at least it was when I was there. And definitely no longer available in any store, or ebay, unlike the first 2 items.

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This scene picture has a timeless feel to it, so I thought it fit well with the theme.

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And finally, what is more December than frost on dead leaves?

 

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Filed under Cameras, Photography, Railroadiana, Street photography, Thrift shop finds

Shiny Black Things

Shiny black thing 1

Volkwagen

Seen last summer

Streamliner

Streamliner

Seen today

Can’t afford either one! OK, maybe the Remington, but $130? I have a Deluxe Model 5 already…I think it was $25.

Oh to be on the road in my VW with my Streamliner beside me on the seat, typing as I drive along. Ridiculous, you say? Yes, but how many people died because some idiot was typing while driving? My guess, very very few. How may have died because some idiot was talking, texting, or browsing their smartphone? My guess, thousands. Once again, the typewriter proves its worth.

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Filed under Street photography, Thrift shop finds, Typewriters, Uncategorized, Vintage cars

What’s Left Out

One theme about art which I’ve heard all my life is that what’s left out is as important as what’s put in. In architecture school, my most influential teacher said the best buildings looked simple, a sign of great skill in their design. Many great photographs were cropped from the original shots to achieve their best impact. I was looking at a picture I shot on the street recently, of a girl dressed up in various shades of pink. She had obviously gone to great lengths to achieve her look and it certainly drew my attention. But looking at the picture I began to notice things I hadn’t seen when I took it. Two men were coming, both dressed in black, with not the slightest nod to fashion. I couldn’t figure out if the picture worked this way or that, however, despite trying various crops – until I tried a function called ‘Cinemascope’. This removed even more than I had done in all my experiments, but I found it nevertheless had more impact. I give you both shots here, the original and the ‘Cinemascope’ version, for you to judge what works best.

the original photo

the original photo

CinemaScope wide screen version

Cinemascope wide screen version

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Filed under Photography, Street photography