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.

More Splinters

Day 2 of Splendour in the Grass dawned with more talk of early starts, but in the end the beach won out over the charms of Van She and British India, and by the time we got there Vampire Weekend were half way through their set. I'd listened to their self-titled album a couple of times during the week, and the general impression was of up-beat Afro-pop, with a couple of stand-out singles. It's a style of music that translates well to the stage, and the big blue tent was packed with kids happily bopping away, without going really ballistic apart from for the main single.

No such problems for The Wombats though, whose high speed pop-punk had the crowd going nuts from beginning to end. They've had a lot of air-play for the catchy ditty Let's Dance to Joy Division, and judging by their gig and the crowd's reaction to it, there are plenty more hits when that one came from.

I had time for half The Grates gig and I have to say I was disappointed. There's no doubting the energy and enthusiasm of band or their fans, and I really wanted to like them, yet the songs don't really do them justice - at least yet. Anyway, Robert Forster was up next, so there was no need to hang around.

I'd had great expectations for seeing Robert Forster - at the G.W. McLennan tent no less - and they were more than met. Probably the only disappointing factor was the small size of the crowd, however that was mostly a bonus as it meant I could get up the front and still enjoy the gig without being knocked over by drunken dick-heads.

Forster covered his entire catalogue from early Go Betweens to his most recent solo releases. The sound was crystal clear and his voice was strong and clear. Particular highlights for me were Spring Rain, one of my all-time favourite songs, which I hadn't heard live in close to two decades, and Surfing Magazines, for its sheer cheesieness (especially when sung along to by a crowd of mostly 40 plussers). I traipsed back to the main stage with a huge smile on my face.

The night's finale was a strange triple-header in the Supertop: The Vines, Sigur Ros, and Wolfmother. On paper, it resembled the ridiculous to the sublime, and back again. The reality was no different, and ideal scheduling would have had us leaving after the near perfection that was Sigur Ros, rather than with the ears ringing to Wolfmother.

It was hard to imagine how Sigur Ros's ethereal music would translate to the stage, but I was blown away by the clarity and dynamics of the music and the soaring vocals. How singer Jonsi can speak after a gig is beyond me. It wasn't all operatic however, several tracks on the most recent album, including the aptly named Gobbledygook, are pretty poppy and the crowd responded in kind. A magic experience, and the highlight of the festival.

The Vines, back together after singer Craig Nicholls' much publicised difficulties, threw together a patchy set. When they rocked they really rocked, yet some of the more psychedelic numbers were just too self-indulgent, losing the good will of the crowd.

No such subtlety for Led ... I mean Wolfmother, of course. It turns out this was their last ever gig, the band announcing their break up shortly after Splendour. The music, as derivative as it is, makes for a great head-banging and body-shaking experience, and despite the protestations of my ankles, I got right into my first slam-dance in years ! I'm not convinved though, that it's practical for one member of a three piece to play both bass and keyboards, often in the same song, as Chris Ross attempted to. Anyway, lucky to see them before the end.

I decided not to risk my camera on day 2, so no photos this time round, sorry !