Ironbound

There has to be a fairly good reason to get me to go to New Jersey. The bad roads, the pervasive smell of Aquanet, the incessant playing of the Sopranos theme song…other than cheap gas, there’s not much to recommend it. And Newark is not exactly the crown jewel in New Jersey’s collection of cities; it’s not Camden, but then few places without a NATO no-fly zone over them are. Nonetheless, we headed off to the Ironbound section of Newark in search of Little Portugal.

The camera in tow was my PEN EES-2, loaded with Ektar 100. I’d been dealing with a sticky aperture problem, which I resolved prior to this trip, but little did I know that the shutter would now become similarly uncooperative. As a result most of my photos ended up overexposed. Ah well, such is the lot of the Filmosaur. I scanned them and ran a few shots through GIMP to improve them a bit; they’re better, but some of the colors look a little off, and there’s some grain that wasn’t there originally. I didn’t bother to remove the dust spots either – just pretend they’re UFOs or something.

This would have been a better shot is A) I’d been closer, B) the shutter had fired at 1/200 like it was supposed to, and C) the focus had been better (I think it was a little off, but has since been adjusted). The guy on the ladder, the “Carter’s Little Liver Pills” sign, the bright highlights – lots of potential, most of which I squandered.

There’s something incongruous about huge mounds of tropical fruit piled high in the dead of winter. There are a lot of bright colors in Ironbound. Against the backdrop of an otherwise very grey urban landscape, it stands out.

Lots of colorful characters too, most of whom did not seem to look to kindly upon people pointing cameras at them. This guy just didn’t seem to care about it, or much else. I only wish he’d been smoking a cigar….

Portuguese cuisine seems to revolve around the sort of marine life usually relegated to old episodes of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau or maybe Flipper. A box of fishheads seemed positively mundane next to the collection of aquarium oddities.

Thankfully, the need for a drink was easily met.

And so we left for the greener pastures across the river, along a road that seemed to have been imported from Beruit circa 1982 and with the smell of Aquanet filtering through the vents. Ironbound is a weird little pocket of something in the middle of a lot of nothing. But I’ve gone to New Jersey for a lot less.

Meet the camera: Olympus PEN EES-2

Since the demise of the Merv Griffin Show there has been a gaping hole in the serious interview segment (no disrespect intended toward Arsenio Hall…wow, I couldn’t even type that with a straight face). Your humble Filmosaur seeks to fill a tiny bit of this void with our new “Meet the Camera” feature. It’s a chance to meet the inanimate objects that make this whole photographic exercise possible. So join us now as we don the wide-lapeled burgundy sport coat and welcome our first guest, the Olympus PEN EES-2. [APPLAUSE]

The little PEN is a half-frame point-and-shoot camera with zone focus. It’s nice and small, but heavy in a good way; the way new digital P&S cameras aren’t. No matter how well-built they actually are, most new cameras feel flimsy and cheap. I’m happy to carry a little extra weight if it means that the first thought that comes to mind when I pick up the camera isn’t “Gee, I wonder when this thing is going to fall apart?” The Olympus feels solid. I like solid.

The camera relies heavily on its selenium meter to determine exposure; if it doesn’t work, you’re left with a far less functional camera. If everything is working properly, you get two shutter speeds: 1/200 and 1/40, along with apertures ranging from 2.8 to 22. In Auto mode, the camera selects both shutter speed and aperture; there is no external meter reading. If you turn the aperture ring off of Auto, you are left with only 1/40 shutter speed, which limits what you can do considerably. The ISO ring (25-400) simply moves a shutter that exposes part of the selenium meter to light; higher ISO, more meter exposed. If the meter doesn’t work, you’re probably better off with slower film; ISO 100 would allow you to shoot roughly EV 8 to 15.

The zone focus is pretty easy to use. Rather than a proper distance scale, there are four icons on the focus ring: portrait, group portrait, group and landscape. Pick the one closest to the distance of your subject and shoot. There’s no indication in the viewfinder of where this is set, so be sure to check it before composing your shot. This is annoying. Thankfully, the lens is pretty forgiving in this regard. It’s also a good reason to shoot 400-speed film; smaller apertures, longer depth-of-field, smaller chance of focusing errors. Of course, if your meter doesn’t work, you have to make a choice; ISO 400 is going to be less useful for brightly-lit outdoor subjects when you’re stuck at 1/40, and being a half-frame camera it’s going to be a while before you’re ready to change film.

All in all, it’s a fine camera as long as you accept its limitations. There isn’t as much manual control as some might like (myself included), and the necessity of relying on a 50-year old selenium meter that you know is just waiting to keel over means you need to check this really carefully before buying one. To preserve it as much as possible, make sure you keep the camera stored in a dark place as well, or use a lens cap. Checking the meter is easy; press the shutter button halfway and look at the aperture. Try this with the camera pointed at several different light levels; the aperture should vary depending on the light. The problem with checking the meter this way is that many of these suffer from stuck apertures. Bit of a Catch-22 when checking out a camera that hasn’t seen much use in a while.

It’s small enough to carry easily. You won’t be changing film constantly (this is a mixed blessing when you’ve got pictures you want to see). It’s easy to use. There were tons of them made, so they are cheap and available (at least the EE variants). If you want a go-anywhere film camera, it’s a good choice.

Oh, and I hear we have a shot from its latest work in collaboration with Kodak Ektar 100. Let’s take a look…

Mmmm…beer….

Archives: France, Part Two

When last we saw our intrepid Filmosaur, he was plunging north along the French motorways toward Normandy, happily taking slightly blurry pictures out the window. We now join him as he arrives in Bayeux….

Bayeux cathedral is quite an impressive structure, as you can see. Trite though photos of European cathedrals may be, it’s sort of hard to avoid the 800-pound architectural gorilla in the town when you’re out on a photo walk. It’s unique in that it contains numerous memorial elements dedicated to the liberators of France in 1944 amid the much earlier construction.

The whole place is almost distressingly picturesque. I liked the way the lighting in this shot brought out the traditionally earthy colors of the plastered buildings. Since it is one of the few Norman cities that was left untouched by the war, the old portions of the town are much as they have been for centuries.

Of course, Bayeux notwithstanding, one cannot go to Normandy without constant reminders of the war. I mean, every village seems to have Sherman tank parked near the square, and there are monuments and British and American flags roughly every 12 feet (that’s just under 4 meters for those of you who insist on using local measurements…weirdos). The cemeteries are the most moving of these; the British, Americans, and Germans each have their own character, but all are thought-provoking to say the least.

Our time in Normandy was short. I was due to head for England, and that meant an early blast to Paris to catch the first of four trains that would eventually deposit me in Devonshire. But the morning light in France is something that demands attention. This shot, and several others I got that morning, attest to the value of getting up early once in a while. Especially in France.