Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Minnesota update No.2 - Lumen print, Museum of Russian Art, Darkroom Equipment.

  Minnesota was definitely fun enough to grant a second update, so I'm writing it from a rest area located on I-35 about 90 miles north of Des Moines before attacking that city (Photographically-speaking.... don't want home-land security folks alerted by this).  I will do my very best to keep this one short as I do want to get on the road and I can feel Gilli heating up by the minute - it's going to be in the 90s here today.

  While staying at my dear friend Alecia's place I tried out a new (for me) technique called Lumen printing.  It's a great way to make good use of some old fogged paper and it was actually suggested to me by Mark Osterman of George Eastman House.  All one needs for this process is some gelatin silver paper, plant life, contact printing frame (or simply a heavy piece of glass with a flat support) and regular fixer.  Toner is optional and I will experiment with that later.  Essentially this is a contact printing technique that makes use of the fact that enough UV light will turn the silver salts withing photo paper dark without need to develop the image out.  You would place a leaf in contact with paper under glass and expose it for a good amount of time to our old friend The Sun.  You can watch the paper turning darker shades starting right away, but it took me giving it about a 15 minute exposure in order to get good definition within the leaf itself.  After exposure just bring the frame inside a dimly-lit room and immerse the photo paper into a fixing bath.  That's all!  You can use the plethora of available toners to create the desired shade, but I kinda like the way that the straight print looks.  Experimentation is the key here as the image may look fine when you first look at it, but does bleach out a bit in the fixing bath.
  Here is a frame while being exposed and the resulting image (the swirls on the lower third of the image are my reflection upon the surface of the glossy Kodak RC paper - in reality it's a pretty smooth pleasantly consistent background)

  After leaving Alecia's I had a feeling that there may be something else in Minneapolis that I needed to do, so I found a wi-fi spot and searched around the art scene to see what was happening that day.  I found a lot of 'Daily' listings for multiple pages-worth of museums, but none of them really called to me until I came upon a blurb about The Museum of Russian Art, which just happened to be hosting a Soviet photography exhibit.  Wow!  What a coincidence - I just could not pass that up.  
  I decided to combine the pleasureful with productive and called up the curator (who is actually Russian herself), told her a little about the research I'm doing about the YMCA slides from Russia 1917-18 and was very happy to hear that she was willing to meet with me later that afternoon. 

  On my way to Minneapolis I drove down Hwy 77 where I found this wonderfully picturesque old house - crushed by a maple tree and abandoned many years ago.  I went to town with multiple cameras on this little find and here is an image taken with Fuji FP100c - 4 exposures.

   I pulled up to the museum about 3:30 and parked right in front of the museum, which is housed in a very neat-looking building.

  You can find a lot more information about this wonderful organization HERE.  It was not long before Dr. Maria Zavialova (museum curator) came to the lobby to meet me and led me into the conference room in the back.  We spent a good deal of time pouring over the 300+ scanned magic lantern slides on my computer and she seemed very interested in their content and the photographic abilities of Mr. Rahill himself.  She said that this collection could be well worth showing and we are going to proceed to communicate further about that.   I am very excited with this opportunity as this is actually the only museum in US dedicated solely to Russian motifs and I think this would be a great kick-off for this body of work that has not seen the light of day in 85+ years.  

  After the slides were all looked through and discussed it was already past the closing time at the museum, but Maria was kind enough to turn the lights back on in the photo exhibit and I suddenly found myself having minor childhood flash-backs. 

  The show consists of vintage black and white prints found by a particular collector during his multiple trips to Russia.  Here is the introductory write-up about Mr. Thomas Werner himself.

  I like the arrangement of the space withing with gallery and the tonal range chosen for the paint and displays.  There were also some old-school Russian cameras on display, which made me relate to the show even more.

  The images ranged from professional to amateur creating a good range of print quality of subject matter.  I enjoyed seeing images paired up - a glamorized propaganda image next to a gritty real-life snap shot.  There were quite a few of them and they really gave a good insight into the life of ordinary Russian folks.

  One of the images had some pretty neat darkroom work put into it - it was a professional photo taken for an old Soviet publication dealing with mining.  Interesting dodging and burning makes that image stand out from the straight-forward printing style in the rest of the exhibition.

  I recommend anyone who is interested in Russian imagery and finds themselves in Minneapolis area to stop by the museum - the show will be up through September 23rd.

  After exiting the museum Maria showed the true value of Russian hospitality and invited me for tea at her house.  How could I say no to that?  She lived only one house away from the museum and I didn't even have to move Gilli. 
  We had a lovely conversation over some deliciously strong tea, made with mint from her own garden, and buckwheat honey plus some quick sandwiches that totally made me road-ready.
  Maria wrote an interesting dissertation on symbolism in art and interpretation as carried between cultures.  I found myself on the same page with her - to each of us symbols and imagery carry a significantly varied meaning dictated by our personal past along with the culturally accepted norms, so in general truly figurative abstract communication is close to impossible when different cultures and time periods are involved.  In fact, even when communication happens one-on-one and in real time we chose to speak while making assumptions based on our past experiences and knowledge while the listener is left to interpret the words through his/her own memory filters, so, the lesson is, be very careful in your wording if you want to be clearly understood and followed.  I also agree with Maria that some basic generalities can indeed speak through time and across cultures due to the inherently similar experiences that we all go through due to having to deal with the basic nature of being Human - that gives me some hope that we can all relate in the long run.
  After leaving Maria's place at around 7pm I saw that I missed a call from an earlier e-mail I sent out in response to a Craigslist ad that I answered to.  I can not help, but to look up ads for any darkroom equipment in various cities I visit and sometimes the timing actually works out for me to go and look at it in person.  This was one of those times and within a half an hour (after giving a quick photo-history lesson to some random, but interested and eager, visitors who saw the bus and were intrigued) I found myself meeting Barbara and her family at the old printing shop on 48th street.

  Ah, the days when every print shop, every company, every school and a slew of other image-thirsty companies HAD to have a darkroom in the back room or basement...  Those were the good-old days and I only wish I could have been alive and active in photography during those times.  What we have left now are the shambles of that film culture being cleared out of those spaces to make room for computer desks and office chairs.  Luckily there are still plenty of nooks and crannies that hold small photographic treasures out there and this was one of those occasions.
  If anyone reading this in Minneapolis area would like to start a darkroom of their own please let me know and I can probably connect you to Barbara.  You can also go to Zumbro Restaurant - have a good meal and ask her husband about the equipment there in person.  I got the warmest reception there and it is only my loss that I decided to drive out before the morning as I was graciously offered a meal there on the house due to my current financial woes and general analog enthusiasm. 

  Equipment for sale and still there includes a 35mm Durst enlarger in great shape, two Thomas-duplex safe-lights and a few smaller ones as well, print trays galore, a nice big darkroom sink (in need of cleaning, but it would be pretty groovy-looking after some scrubbing), light-table for transparencies (I don't understand this contraption - it has a spray of water coming over whatever you put on it, so it's not to squeegee anything off, but possibly to examine film while it's still wet..?) and a beautiful stat camera (!), which by the looks of it is capable of making graphic negatives of up to 20 or 24 inches.  I would have totally grabbed that beast, but right now it would have taken up the entire hallway of the bus and I'd have to climb around it on the table to get to the darkroom....  However, I was lucky enough to have Barbara hand me over plenty of odds and ends including some Agfa and Ilford paper, fixer, developers (including my favorites Rodinal and HC-110) and toners, some of which I have never heard of, but with which I am looking very much forward to experimenting.  Here's a quick shot of the treasures rescued this time around.

  I took off from the city feeling fairly accomplished an with a definite intent to be back there for a more prolonged period of time during my next trip to this part of the country.

  After I got some diesel at a local Flying-J truck stop I found that the entrance back onto I-35 was under construction and I had to take a detour down a long country highway.  The signs were pretty confusing and I took a wrong turn at one point - it didn't take me long to realize I'm going the wrong way though.  I mean, c'mon, any time you see a sign like this you KNOW you're going the wrong way...



  1. Hey man if I had know you were in town you could of stopped over at our darkroom in Lowertown St.Paul. We have 500 sq ft of fun. Durst's Saunders and Omega 3 sinks and lots more.


    1. Mr. Faust - next time for sure! Perhaps you could be involved in the interview project?