Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cuba in 1932

My grandfather Charlie was a keen photographer. Rummaging around his belongings the other weekend I found some old photos from an early trip of his to Cuba in the 30s. They were old, scratched and faded but had a certain charm, so I thought I'd scan them and see if they were salvageable. Age has done some damage, but you can still see some of what grandpa was trying to capture ...

Ok, so that's not strictly true !

What really happened is not quite so interesting, but nevertheless merits some explanation. Firstly, my grandfather was a keen photographer - as an explorer in the New Guinea highlands in the 1930s (including accompanying the Leahy brothers on their famous 'First Contact' trip) he documented everything he saw; and donated his photographs to the Australian musuem, as well as his journals and collected artefacts. One day I'll go through his collection and scan some of the best ones to share with the world.

I inherited his Pentax K1000 in the 80s and I've always used it as my 'Black and White camera' - being fully manual it's better suited to more arty shots, though of course it's a great camera whatever the film. Once I shot a roll in Paris mistakenly thinking i had black and white film in the camera. The resultant prints were better than any I've taken with my automatic Canon.

I took the Pentax to Cuba, but, as the heaviest of my three cameras (the Pentax, the Powershot Digital and the Canon SLR), it often got left back where I was staying, and I only managed to shoot two rolls. Unfortunately, for one of those I had the film speed incorrectly set on the camera - 400 ISO instead of 100 (all cameras these days read film speed automatically) so all my shots were over-exposed. In 2003 I tried to find a camera shop that could develop the prints compensating my mistake, without luck. Even the good folk at the newsgroup (remember them) couldn't recommend a solution - short of using a darkroom.

Fast forward to this year and I found the roll unloved in my draw. Hoping that developing technology had improved, I tried my luck at the local shop in King St (who do at least do develop black and white film on site). The lady there claimed that they could compensate the 2 stops needed; nevertheless the photos came back looking like they were 70 years old. Whether that's a result of the age of the film (5 years), or her not understanding my request (or both) I'm not sure - nevertheless the photos still have a certain charm so I thought I'd share some of them.

I also had some issues with the scanning (while I'm being vaguely technical). I use the Vuescan product for scanning (rather than proprietary software that comes with the scanners and is usually shit), and although the menu system is clunky and counter-intuitive, the resultant photos have always done the trick. However I now have a new printer (all-in-one with fax and scanner) and I was struggling to force the programme to generate decent sized files. Even on the archive setting - which normally produces multiple MB files, I was getting 200k scans. I guess this is probably because black and white scans store a whole lot less colour information - but these files weren't zooming in to the level I expected.

To get around this, I tried scanning one photo as a colour photo rather than black and white. I got the resultant larger file I was after, but it seems to have injected a pinkish tinge that really wasn't in the original at all !

I guess I probably need to get an upgraded and dedicated scanner if I'm going to continue with scanning black and whites.

There are a few more photos here.

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