The Little Brown Dog, Chewed Film, Man Ray.

So I have a little brown dog (Elliot).

Eliot is a great dog, my constant companion, a great photo-buddy who jumps to attention whenever I pick up a camera or tripod. However, sometimes he reverts to his puppy personality and chews up clothing, shoes, blankets. Several years ago, he grabbed a roll of 120mm film from my camera bag and chewed it up one end of the film.


Paper Backing, Dog Chewed Roll of Ilford FP-4 black and white film.

Paper Backing, Dog Chewed Roll of Ilford FP-4 black and white film.


At first I thought, oh well, another wasted roll of film. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t throw the film away although I believed it was a total loss. Several years later and rummaging through boxes in my closet, I rediscovered the chewed roll of film.  I decided why not see what happens and went ahead and processed the film.



Roll of Dog Chewed Ilford FP-4 black and white film, Processed in ID-11 Plus Film Developer.

Roll of Dog Chewed Ilford FP-4 black and white film, Processed in ID-11 Plus Film Developer.


What I find particularly fascinating with the ragged and fogged bottom edge of the film. The frayed edges allowed the imprinting film counter numbers and shapes onto the negative creating a Dada-eque juxtaposition with the random and amorphous shapes generated during processing of the uneven strip of film.

The chewed film highlights the experimental results which can be achieved by merging film and with chance, and remembering the Man Ray quotation, “working directly with light and chemistry, so deforms the subject as almost to hide the identity of the original, and creates a new form.” [1] Yes, my little brown dog certainly created an engaging new form.


Dog Chewed Roll of Ilford FP-4 black and white film

Dog Chewed Roll of Ilford FP-4 120mm black and white film, scanned with a Nikon CoolScan 9000.


The physicality of film is a key attribute which opens the medium to experiments with chance as well as the exposure to the elements, time, and the ravages of animals, insects and micro-organisms, and little brown dogs.


Eliot, the Little Brown Dog in the backyard.

Eliot, the Little Brown Dog, in the backyard.


David Arnold


[1] Man Ray, “The Age of Light,” Man Ray, Writing on Art, Jennifer Mundy, ed. p. 117.

Death Valley, Painted Landscapes

Death Valley, Artist’s Drive. Blue Sky (1), 2016.

The mediums of painting and photography have intersected at many times. With the invention of photography painters began to work from photographs. Eugene Delacroix created nude studies based on daguerreotype photographs by Eugene Durieu. Praising the effects of photography, Delacroiz wrote in 1850 “A daguerreotype is the mirror of the object, certain details almost always overlooked in drawing from nature take on in it great characteristic importance, and thus introduce the artist to complete knowledge of construction; light and shadow are found in their true character.” [1] The painter Edgar Degas took photographs and his experiments with photography would come to influence his paintings. Others followed Degas’s example including Picasso, Man Ray, Charles Sheeler, Andy Warhol, and Chuck Close.  Photography would come to exert a large influence on painting and each medium made lasting contributions to the other.

Death Valley, Titus Canyon (1), 2016

Despite the many compositional comparisons between photography and painting, each mediums are different activities with similar aims. [2] Photographs and paintings differ in that they come into being in different ways. [3] As the art historian Helmut Gernsheim explains, “the camera intercepts images; the paint brush reconstructs them.” [4] Others would restate these inherent differences, including Susan Sontag’s dialectic: “the painter constructs, the photographer discloses.”[5] Behind every photograph, even in photographs with no apparent focus or discernible subject matter resides the notion that something at one time was in front of the lens. This may seem obvious, but photography interacts with the physical world unlike other mediums and is reliant upon this physicality, or to allow Sontag to extend her point, “the formal qualities of style—the central issue in painting—are, at most, of secondary importance in photography, while what a photograph is of is always of primary importance.” [6]

Death Valley, Artist’s Drive. Blue Sky (2), 2016.

The differences between painting and photography have generated an intellectual tension which has stimulated experimentation and discourse in both mediums. Modernist critics claimed that the mission of painters and photographers was to discover the distinctive visual syntax of each medium in their work. [7] Photographs, before the advent of digital tools, were primarily preoccupied with physical realities, yet now with digital tools photographers may participate like the painter in the expressive freedoms and private vision of the painter. Still, the differences between painting and photography are becoming less apparent within the broad movements in contemporary art practice, which suggests perhaps that the exclusive separation of mediums was never as important as some critics lead us to believe. [8]

Death Valley, Race Track Island [1], 2016.

 Death Valley, Painted Landscapes challenges the distinctions between landscape painting and landscape photography by merging ink-jet printing pigments with watercolor painting pigments. First begun in 2010, Death Valley / Painted Landscapes pays special attention in revealing the contours of the landscape and filling the empty negative spaces of sky. The process begins with a panoramic photograph created within Death Valley National Park. Using Photoshop’s photomerge action, 3-6 individual exposures are composited into the final panoramic photograph. After the assembly of the panorama, a watercolor paintings is created on watercolor paper which translates the compositional forces of the photograph into color and movement, and broadly outlining the lines and shapes of the photographic landscape panorama. Next, the watercolor painting is feed into the ink-jet printer, with reference photograph over printed onto the watercolor painting.


  • Death Valley, Artist's Drive #10, 2010, inkjet print over watercolor.

Death Valley, Painted Landscapes reveals new meanings and chance connections by highlighting and suppressing photographic details of Death Valley’s unique landscape. The centuries of wind and water have washed Death Valley’s spectacular landscape done to bare rock and dirt.  By providing gestural markings which outline the geologic contours of the landscape over the photographic print, Death Valley, Painted Landscapes places the apparent differences of each medium at the center of expression. The imperfect alignment between painting and photograph highlights the tensions of wind, water and geology which shape the landscape of Death Valley and offers a vision of the landscape undergoing an active and continuous transformation.


David Arnold



[1] Eugene Delacroix: Oeuvres litteraires, Paris: G. Cres, 1923, pp. 16-17, quoted in Two Delacroix Drawings Made from Photographs, Van Deren Coke, Art Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Spring, 1962), pp. 172-174.
[2] Susan Sontag, On Photography, p. 94.
[3] See Joel Synder, Photography, Vision and Representation. Critical Inquiry, Autumn 1975.
[4] Helmut Gernsheim, Creative Photography, p. 16.
[5] Susan Sontag, On Photography, p. 92.
[6] Susan Sontag, On Photography, p. 92.
[7] See Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting.”
[8] Jonathan Weinber, “Making It Real,” Shared Intelligence, p. 4-5.





Shooting Out-of-Date Film

Shooting and processing out-of-date film engages the core of experimental photography. Part chance, part experience, part research, processing old film engages new approaches to photography through trial and error.

Tree Trunks, Lilly Pond, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Dale Laboratories “9100” film (circa 1998). 


After the adoption of the 35mm film width in 1909 as the international standard gauge for movie picture systems, 35mm still cameras were introduced to exploited the availability and advantages of 35mm cine film stock.  With new 35mm cameras, photographers could take a large number of photographs without the inconveniences of reloading new film. Small, fast, and highly portable, these new camera systems which were marketed to the burgeoning amateur market. Several new designs accommodated up to 50 feet of Kodak cine film, enough film for 400 exposures. [2] After World War I, 35mm film became the most popular film format for still cameras, and spawning hundreds of film types and film brands.

In the era when feature films were created exclusively with film, [1] movie studios purchased large supplies of color cine film to lessen graphic continuity issues resulting from mixing different film emulsions. In the 1970’s, numerous independent film labs and film suppliers marketed repackaged cine film under individual labels, typically remarking Kodak’s most popular cine film, Kodak 5248 [3]. As a promotion two of the most successful companies, Dale Laboratories and Seattle FilmWorks, sent film free to photographer across the country to encourage photographers to use their company’s processing services and offered film free with processing orders. Initially, much of this film was rebranded Kodak 5248 cine film, however traditional color negative film was also shipped to photographers.

Dale Laboratories “9100” color negative film (circa, 1998). DX Number 010624.

I recently discovered several rolls of long out-of-date Dale Laboratories “9100” 35mm color film at the bottom my film storage box. Given the indeterminate age of the “9100” film, I felt these rolls offered an excellent opportunity for experimentation. The recommended processing for Dale Laboratories “9100” 35mm color film is “Process CNK-4 / ECP-2”. [4] Given processing recommendation, I first believed the “9100” film was repackaged Kodak Vision (2383) Color Print movie film, an Estar base cine film stock, which was also sent free to photographers as a promotion. [5] [6] The recommended processing for Kodak Vision 2383 Color Print Film is process ECP-2. [7] However, after deeper research tracking the DX number on the film canister, I discovered my roll of “9100” film is rebranded Ferrania Imaging Color FG100 color negative film with an approximate manufacturing date of 1998. [8] [9] [10]

  • Walkway, Ginkgo Biloba Tree, Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden, De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco (1)

In the set of images attached to this post, I photographed in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in shady conditions and in the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden at the De Young Museum in partial sun. I was especially taken with the unusual mixing of yellows and magentas, a result of color shifts from the outdated film emulsion. Exposed at ISO 100 using the built in light meter on an Olympus OM-2 equipped with a Tamron 28-200 zoom lens, the film maintained good detail and exhibited a pleasant film grain.  The film was hand processed in standard C-41 color chemicals, using a freshly mixed Unicolor C-41 chemistry to “cross process” the film and scanned on a Nikon CoolScan 9000 film scanner.

I do plan to continue experiments with the remaining stocks of “9100” film. I have approximately 8 rolls left of this particular film stock. Checking Ebay, as well, there appears to be plentiful stocks of 9100 film still available. Outdated supplies of Seattle FilmWords film is also remains available. [11][12]


David Arnold


[1] See Stephen Follows, Film Vs Digital—What is Hollywood Shooting On?, 1.11.2016.
[2] Todd Gustavson, Camera, P. 210.
[3] Kodak, Chronology of Motion Picture Films
[4] CNK-4 is Konica’s C-41 process; and ECP-2 is Kodak’s cine film development process.
[5] Kodak Motion Picture Film.
[6] Kodak Technical Data, Kodak Vision Color Print 2383.
[7] Kodak Process ECP-2D.
[8] International Imaging Industry Association, Inc., DX Codes for 135-Size Film, P. 21; 
[9]DX barcode numbers on 135 film, I Shoot Film Flickr Group.
[10] Ferrania Imaging Technologies, Film Photography.
[11] Seattle FilmWorks was renamed PhotoWorks in 1999, and discontinued all film processing in 2010. 
[12]Dale Laboratories remains a highly regarded film processing lab located in Hollywood, Florida.

Portraits, Jesuit-Guaraní Sculptures

Columns, South Wall, Mission San Ignacio Miní, Argentina

Baroque Column Details, South Wall of the Main Church Ruins, Mission San Ignacio Miní, (1632) Argentina.[1a]

After first establishing a mission at San Ignacio Guazú, Paraguay, in 1609, the Society of the Jesuits would go on to build 30 mission settlements called reductions among the Guaraní people in the fertile river valleys of the Parana and Uruguay Rivers, a region today spanning the countries of Southern Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. [1] This isolated region at the edges of the Spanish Colonial Empire,  the Jesuit Province of Paraguay, would become the most successful and controversial collaboration between European colonists and an indigenous people. At extremes, critics view the Jesuit reductions in Paraguay as benevolent, enlightened interaction, a Lost Paradise, or as rigid master-slave exploitations of native populations. Pope John Francis, a Jesuit and Argentinean Pope, recently labeled the Jesuit-Guarani Missions as “the most significant experiences of evangelization and social organization in history.” [2] The French writer Voltaire, who was trained by the Jesuits and traveled in Paraguay said the “Jesuits have indeed made use of religion to deprive the inhabitants of Paraguay of their liberties” and “…those of Paraguay have no slaves to till their lands, or hew their timber, as the Spartans had; but are themselves slaves to the Jesuits.” [3] By all accounts the reductions provided the Guaraní protection from Portuguese slave traders and exploitation from the excesses of Spanish encomieda system. [4] With the exception of a few intact buildings still in use, the reductions in the Jesuit Province remain only as spectacular ruins which only hint at the once vibrant and complex communities.


Sleeping Statue, La Santisima Trinidad de Paraná, Paraguay

Sleeping Statue, Church Nave, La Santisima Trinidad de Paraná, (1706) Paraguay


Operating as an autonomous indigenous state, individual reductions were tightly controlled by the Jesuits as separate communal societies, yet wholly integrated with the Guaraní. The reductions were politically and economically isolated from the neighboring Spanish and Portuguese colonies and here, the Jesuits ruled from a position of moral and intellectual superiority, and approached mission work with the conviction of their moral rightness in protecting Guaraní from the abuses of Spanish and Portuguese colonial practices [5]. The Jesuits supervised the daily life of the mission, ensuring the Guaraní attended mass and worked in the farms and fields. Containing no more than 7000 Guaraní, each reduction was led by only a single Jesuit priest and his companion, and with few exceptions for the exchange trade goods, Europeans where not allowed access within the reductions. Prior to joining the Jesuit reductions, the Guaraní lived in small semi-nomadic communal groups. The Jesuits built upon the Guaraní’s prior communal cultural practice, and worked through Guaraní elites who performed administrative and religious tasks. [6] The Guaraní were required to provide communal labor, approximately 6 hours per day, and they received regularly distributed shares from their contributions of labors. [7] In 1732, the reductions reached their population zenith of 140,000 Guaraní with no more than 100 Jesuits supervising the reduction social experiment. [8] These numbers suggest that the Jesuits gained the respect of the Guarani and relied heavily upon their willing cooperation in all aspects of their daily and religious lives. [9] The reductions were vibrant and successful towns, and here, the Guaraní were taught Jesuit Christian doctrine, as well as reading and writing and trades. The reductions possessed well supplied libraries which housed leading treatises on the arts and architecture. With an intensive focus on education, the reductions became the first fully literate communities in the Americas, publishing the first books in an indigenous language based on grammars and vocabularies compiled by the Jesuits. As a lasting legacy from the Jesuits, the Guaraní language is the majority language of Paraguay, officially given equal importance with Spanish, and taught in every school.



Tourists taking selfies at the Ruins of São Miguel das Missões (St. Michael of the Missions), (1632) San Miquel, Brazil, a UNESCO Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis World Heritage Site. (composite panorama).

When the reduction population peaked in 1732, the Jesuit Province contained over half of the total population of the Rio de La Plata region. With an average population of 4, 700 inhabitants, the reductions were the most populous missions in the Americas. Organized by a uniform grid plan, each reduction was constructed around a central plaza, which held all of the community’s inhabitants and a large cathedral sized church. Surrounding the church and plaza were living quarters, hospitals and workshops. The Guaraní owned their own dwellings and a small plot of land for personal gardens and livestock, and actively participated in shaping the mission communities.  The Jesuits successfully integrated Guaraní economic, political and ritual traditions in the hopes of creating linkages with Catholic teachings. [10]  Each reduction had workshops for the construction of furniture, printing, metal works, traditional crafts, painting and sculpture, however some reductions excelled in specific and highly sought after media and artists and apprentices were actively exchanged between reductions. [11]



Under instruction of the Jesuits, the Guaraní  produced sculpture on a large-scale. The Jesuits used workshops as factories for art for the adornment of the reduction churches and for embedding religious ideas, using images and three dimensional art in support of prayer. Basing teachings on the St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the arts were central the Jesuits practice of Christianity.  Hundreds of sculptures adorned Jesuit and non-Jesuit churches throughout the Rio de La Plata region. Lacking a tradition in figural art, the Guaraní largely copied European examples, still the Jesuits synthesized Guaraní religion with Christianity and allowed local artists to express Christian ideas according to local customs. With most remaining Jesuit-Guaraní sculpture datable to the 1740’s and 1750’s, these striking examples produced by Guaraní artists encourage maker and viewer to use their imagination in prayer and in life; [12] Jesuit-Guaraní statues are still used liturgically today in religious festivals. Like the mission experiment, Guaraní-Jesuit sculpture is an extraordinary example of the amalgamation of two distinctly different cultures, the Guaraní and the Jesuit Catholicism. Referred to as “Hispano-Guarani Baroque,” [13] the Baroque of the 1600’s is deeply expressed in Guaraní religious art and sculpture. Viewing the sculptures a close range, the physiognomy of Jesuit-Guaraní portraits reflects mixtures of indigenous features and combine Guaraní and Jesuit faces.


Portraits from the Museo Diocesano de Artes Jesuiticas Collection, San Maria Del Feye, Paraguay.


The Jesuits employed art as a vehicle for the transmission of the religious teachings and devotion. [14] The prestige and autonomy of the individual artist was secondary and only the smallest portion of Jesuit-Guaraní sculpture is signed, as not even the Jesuits signed their artworks. [15] Guaraní artists worked in small groups of fewer than 10 under the supervision of a Jesuit, and these Guaraní artists are responsible for the production of the vast majority of the reduction sculpture. Similar to European practice, artists worked on paintings and sculptures based on their individual skill level. With no tradition of wood or stone craving prior to the arrival of the Jesuits, Guaraní artists under the tutelage of the Jesuits demonstrated extra ordinary aptitude for figurative sculpture. Jesuit-Guaraní sculptures as Gauvin Alexander Bailey states were “consistently creative and original” and “possess a formal beauty and spiritual presence that rank them among the great works of world art.” Often carved from a large single block of  wood or stone,  these characteristics are best seen in the examples from the Museu das Missões Collection at the Mission São Miguel das Missões, Brazil (below), sculptures which manifest direct connection to the unique features of the original materials. [16] Equally, Jesuit-Guaraní sculpture as a testament to indigenous creativity and enlightened cooperation and adaptation, rank as one of the most compelling examples of arts education in the history of art.


Portraits from the The Museu das Missões Collection, Mission São Miguel das Missões, Brazil.



Ravaged by war, political jealousies, court intrigues and ongoing epidemics of small poxes and measles, the reductions experienced a severe decline in the 1750’s. Following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768 from Paraguay and the New World, the Jesuit-Guaraní social experiment was placed under secular authority. The missions would survive on the initiatives of the Guaraní for another fifty years, however, by 1810 all of the Jesuit-Guaraní reductions were in ruin. Beginning in the 1980’s, government and private organizations undertook efforts to rescue the remaining ruins. Today, the most important ruins exist as UNESCO World Heritage sites, preserved as significant tourist and cultural destinations.


Portraits from the Museo Diocesano de San Ignacio Guazú Collection, San Ignacio Guazú, Paraguay.



David Arnold


Note on the photographs: Two large collections of Jesuit-Guaraní sculptures recovered from the reductions are housed in restored mission buildings at the Museo Diocesano de Artes Jesuiticas, San Maria Del Feye and the Museo Diocesano de San Ignacio Guazú, Paraguay. The Museu das Missões, Mission São Miguel das Missões, Brazil is equally impressive and contains sculptures and artifacts rescued from the ruins. All of the photographs for this article were captured with a Sony A-900 full frame digital camera. All of the portraits of the Jesuit-Guaraní sculptures were taken using a vintage 1960’s era vintage Asahi Takumar F/3.5-55mm connected to the Sony A-900 body with a lens adapter. Given the low light conditions present in the mission museums, all photographs were captured with a high ISO setting of 6400, which produced the very pleasing soft grain texture present in the images. The photographs of the mission ruins were taken with a Tamron F2.8 28-300mm lens with an ISO setting of 250. [17]


Notes / Citations:

[1a] Traveling in the Jesuit Province in late December and early January 2016, my wife Margaret and I were guided by our friends Eduardo and  Pelusa Argüello de Brajkovic of Abratours of Posada, Argentina. Their lifelong knowledge of this region was an invaluable asset of our travels and greatly enhanced our enjoyment and understandings of this fascinating region.

[1] The first reduction was established in 1609. In the linguistic context of the early 1600’s, Reduccione (derived from the Latin reducer) means to bring people together. Hildegard K. Vieregg, Jesuit Reducciones in the Context of UNESCO World Heritage, MUSEOLOGIA E PATRIMÔNIO – vol.I no 82 1 – jul/dez de 2008, p. 1.

[2] Ines San Martin, “Pope praises Jesuit missions in the New World for ending hunger, oppression,” Crux, July, 11, 2015.

[3] Voltarie, quoted in Julia Sarreal, The Guarani and Their Missions, a Socioeconomic History, p. 273.

[4] First enacted in 1512, an encomienda was a grant by the Spanish crown to a colonist for a specific number of Indians living in an area whom they received tribute. In exchange, the colonist was required to educate and protect the Indians under his control. The encomienda system was designed to regulate and protect Indians from enslavement, but in practice, the ecomienda legalize the enslavement of Indians and the appropriation of their lands.

[5] Barbara Anne Ganson, The Guarani Under Spanish Rule in the Rio De la Plata, p. 34.

[6] Guillermo Wilde, “Imagining Guaranis and JesuitsYesterday’s History, Today’s Perspective,” Revista, Harvard Review of Latin America.

[7] Julia Sarreal, The Guarani and Their Missions, a Socioeconomic History, p.4.

[8] Julia Sarreal, The Guarani and Their Missions, a Socioeconomic History, p. 1.; See also Massimo Livi-Bacci and Ernesto J. Maeder, “The Missions of Paraguay: The Demography of an Experiment,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, xxxv:2 (Autumn, 2004), 185–224.

[9] Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, p. 152.

[10] Julia Sarreal, The Guarani and Their Missions, a Socioeconomic History, p. 39, 36.

[11] Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, p. 162.

[12] Kelly Donahue-Wallace, Art and Architecture of Viceregal Latin America, 1521-1821; Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, p. 162.

[13] Josefina Pla, quoted in Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, p. 153.

[14] Ramon Gutierrez and Graciela Maria Vinuales, “The Artistic and Architectural Legacy of the Jesuits in Spanish America,” John W. O’Mailley, S.J. and Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Ed., The Jesuits and the Arts, 1540-1773, p. 297.

[15] Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, p. 161.

[16] Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America, p. 163-166.

[17] See Experiments With Digital Noise for an extended discussion of the Sony A-900 Asahi Takumar F/3.5-55mm lens combination.

Statuary Portraits, Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Designed by a French engineer Próspero Catelin, the Recoleta Cemetery is Buenos Aires most compelling tourist attraction. Mirroring the sprawling metropolis outside the large stonewalls of the Recoleta, over 6,400 statues, stone coffins and burial vaults are crammed into the labyrinthine 14-acre cemetery. Opened in 1822, tall concrete, marble and black granite mausoleums in every conceivable architectural style line narrow walkways. Fueled by a dynamic agricultural export market, Argentina became an economic world power during the 19th century. In the 1880’s the Recoleta was redesigned and extended to its current configuration. At this time, Argentina’s political, military and business leaders built large French and Italian inspired homes in the neighborhoods near the cemetery. As a lasting sign of their wealth and influence, Argentina’s elite imported materials and architects from Europe to adorn their massive mausoleums lining the walkways of the Recoleta with stunning funereal sculptures. [1]

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 9.51.51 PM

Google Earth satellite view showing the large, tightly packed mausoleums and the maze of walkways in the Recoleta Cemetery set into the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aries, Argentina. 

Visiting the Recoleta Cemetery in December 2015, I was especially taken with the diversity of artistic styles displayed in Italian and French inspired sculptures. Wandering the narrow walkways through the cemetery on a cool morning, I photographed the life-sized statues guarding at the front, sides and rear and in some cases on the tops of the mausoleums. With over century of exposure to weather and urban pollutants, these haunting sculptures maintain their striking and expressive details.

Photographic techniques control how information is read in photographs. By using a tilt-shift lens, I was able to adjust the focus in the image, and established a hierarchy of focus and attention over the image. I was able to draw attention to the facial detailing of each statue and pull the sculptural portraits from the maze of details in one of the world’s most extravagant burial grounds. The soft focus draws the viewer attention to selective details of these extraordinary statues.



The Sony A900 with the LensBaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 Optic: The lens is mounted on a ball socket which easily rotates side to side and up and down adjust focus across the image.


David Arnold

[1] Barbara Cansino, Cemetery For the Elite Of Argentina, New York Times, 1.10.1999.
See also: The Recoleta, The Offical English Website of Buenos Aires.
See also: AfterLife, a blog dedicated to the Recoleta Cemetery




Luminances, the Ceramic Portraits of the Recoleta Cemetery, Asunción, Paraguay

Angel, Recoleta Cemetery, Asunción, Paraguay

Photographs possess the remarkable ability to close distances of time and space and bring forward the person, place or thing which stood before the lens. Referred to as “photography’s transparency,” this quality remains photography’s most distinctive feature.[1] In 1843, shortly after the appearance of the first photographs, Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning upon seeing early daguerreotype portraits expressed a longing to possesses

“…a memorial of every being dear to me in the world. It is not merely the likeness, which is precious in such cases – but the association and the sense of nearness involved in the thing…”[2] [3]

Just over hundred years later, the French theatre critics André Bazin would extend Browning:

“The photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it. No matter how fuzzy, distorted, or discolored, no matter how lacking, in documentary value the image may be, it shares, by virtue of the very process of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the reproduction; it is the model.” Bazin found photography’s capacity to capture “the model” charmingly present in family albums, those “grey or sepia shadows, phantomlike and almost undecipherable” photographs which “embalms time.”[4]

In Camera Lucida, the French theorist Roland Barthes suggests

the “photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From the real body, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me…I am delighted (or depressed) to know that the thing of the past, by its immediate radiations (its luminances), has really touched the surface which in its turn my gaze will touch…[In this way] the photographed body touches me with its own rays.” [5]

Certainly, a photograph is not as Bazin states “the object itself,” yet, we feel a unique closeness to the subjects of a photograph and even subjects who are strangers  separated by cultures and long distances of time and space.


 Green-Cross. Walkway. Recoleta

Green Cross, Recoleta Cemetery, Asunción, Paraguay

While walking through the sprawling Recoleta Cemetery in Paraguay’s capital city of Asunción, I felt a strong affinity to photography’s distinctive phenomenology—this notion that photographs possess a trace of the subject and these traces or “luminances” which touch the surfaces of those photographed in turn touch us. The Recoleta Cemetery resembles a small city with mausoleums and tombs built in various sizes and architectural styles. With burial records dating back to 1842, the cemetery entombs much of Paraguay’s history. As the final resting place for former presidents, military officers, writers, musicians and leading businessmen, the cemetery mirrors the chaotic development of the city at large, and contains luxurious mausoleums next to neglected and plundered graves.


 Blaces Crosses.Walkway.Recoleta

Black Cross, Recoleta Cemetery, Asunción, Paraguay

In the Recoleta the tombs of the deceased are aligned along narrow walkways and are identified by family name. Many tombs prominently display bronze plaques to identify the deceased and still more are adorned with bronze plagues embedded with ceramic images of the deceased reproduced from family albums. The practice of firing photographs on enamel and glazed surfaces first appeared in the 1850’s. The highly durable and permanent process lent itself the expanding industry of gravestone design.[6] [7] Firing photographs onto ceramic surfaces is an experimental process which creates an exceptionally luminous image with depth and clarity, effectively transferring “luminances” through time and space. Echoing Browning, Bazin and Barthes, the small photographs on the tombs of the Recoleta Cemetery bring the deceased powerfully forward into present moment and touching those who wander the narrow pathways of the Recoleta Cemetery.



David Arnold


[1] Kendall L. Walton, “Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 11, No. 2, (Dec., 1984), pp. 246-277, The University of Chicago Press
[2] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from a letter written in 1843, quoted in Patrick Mayard, The Engine of Visualization: Thinking Through Photography, p. 232.
[3] Novelist and critic Susan Sontag quotes the Browning passage her seminal On Photography. Sontag makes the distinction between photographic and painted depictions. She refers to painting as an interpretation of the real and a photograph as a trace of the real. She claims that a barely legible photograph of Shakespeare would be more precious than a Holbein drawing of him. Susan Sontag, On Photography, p.183.
[4] André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” Hugh Gray Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 4. (Summer, 1960), pp. 4-9.
[5]Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, pp. 80-81.
[6] Joy Neighbors, “Faces From the Past, Ceramic Memorial Plagues, A Grave Interest, May 18, 2012.
[7] Woodrow Carpenter, Enamel Photography, from Glass on Metal, Vol. 4, 1985. Feb. 2016.

Frank Hurley, Antarctica, the Kodak Vest Pocket

The Australian photographer, Frank Hurley is a unique case, and inexplicably his achievements remain largely unreported in many current histories of photography.  Although primarily known as a still photographer, Hurley would pioneer techniques first seen with his Antarctic expedition photography to create a wholly new entertainment form known as the “travelogue” or the “travel-adventure documentary” film.[1] Although his best work was completed one hundred years ago, his innovative approach to visual storytelling finds resonance in contemporary travel and adventure tourism. After participating in two Antarctic expeditions, Hurley was appointed official war photographer for the Australian Forces during World War I on the Western Front. Hurley created sophisticated theatrical manipulations of his World War I photographs, often staging scenes and creating composite photographs in efforts to generate greater realism and drama. His controversial photographic techniques for the recording of the carnage of the Western Front foreshadowed the birth of the film industry and war as visual entertainment.  Hurley techniques were extended into the rising tide of photographically driven imagery after World War I. The success of Hurley’s revolutionary approach took hold in the emerging film and glossy magazine industries; his unique mixture of photography, cinema, and sound, all technologically driven, points to the expanding visual spectacle of the contemporary mass media.


Frank Hurley began his photography career in Sydney Australia in 1905 as a postcard photographer. Hurley (1885-1962) was an exceptional photographer, a gifted storyteller, fully attuned to the experimental potentials of photography. Beginning with Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14, Hurley participated in four Antarctic expeditions. Hurley’s photographs occupy a special place in the history of expedition photography. With few exceptions, expedition photographers were considered camera operators. Hurley’s approach directly challenged these notions as he considered himself a camera artist who often prepared and exhibited his photographs as signed works of art. [2] Over the course of his 60-year career, Hurley published over 20 books and his photographs and cinematography was featured in over 60 films. Today large archives of Hurley’s photographs are now housed in the Australian National Library, the Royal Geographical Society, the Scott Polar Research Institute, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the State Library of New South Wales.

Hurley’s Experimental Color Photographs

  • "A mid-winter glow, Weddell Sea (showing The 'Endurance'), 1915." Paget Screen Colour Process. (State Library of New South Wales Collection). The Paget Screen Colour Process was invented by Geoffrey S. Whitfield, and was one of nearly a dozen color screen process released between 1907 and 1914. Not as successful or as well known as the Autochrome process, the Paget Process was an additive color process that relied on a regular geometric screen pattern of red, green and blue squares overlaid upon a panchromatic black and white negative. Introduced in 1913, Hurley first used the Paget Process on the Endurance expedition. [3]


Outside of Australia, Hurley is best known for his documentary photographs of Ernest Skacklelton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917, and known today as the “Endurance expedition.” Hurley’s stunning still photographs created during Mawson’s 1911-1914 expedition and his cine film of Antarctic blizzards came to the attention of Ernest Shacketon who hired him as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition’s photographer. Skackelton’s expedition intended a transit the Antarctic continent via the South Pole, however the expedition ship, the Endurance, became marooned in heavy pack ice of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. Through two acutely cold Antarctic winter Hurley photographed the Endurance and the daily life of the ship’s crew. Hurley’s photographs chronicle the eventual destruction of the Endurance, trapped for 15 months in the pack ice of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea and then crushed in the shifting ice floes. Prior to the sinking of the Endurance, Hurley created approximately 500 large format glass plate negatives in addition to hundreds of feet of cine film. Prior to abandoning the crew’s camp on the Weddell Sea ice floes and taking to their lifeboats, Skackelton and Hurley culled Hurley’s negatives down to about 120 essential images, shattering the remaining glass plate negatives. Hurley then carefully packed the remaining glass plate negatives in tin containers and soldered them shut. That his Endurance expedition photographs survive to this day is a testament to Hurley’s photographic skill and to his perseverance in their preservation, as well as to the value which Skackelton and the Endurance crew placed on the expedition’s visual record. [4]


Under extreme conditions, Hurley created stunning photographs of the Endurance crew’s ordeal stranded on the shifting pack ice floes hundreds of miles from solid ground until their eventual rescue from Elephant Island, an uninhabited island 150 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula. With his men camped at Elephant Island, Shackleton set off with five crew members in a small lifeboat, the James Crain for the nearest permanent settlement, a small whaling station on South Georgia Island, 800 miles away across the world’s roughest sea. After a harrowing voyage, and four attempts to reach the stranded crew, the Endurance crew was rescued without a single life lost. As Magot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell point out in Shackleton’s Way, the expedition fell well far short of its goal, failing to even land the expedition on the Antarctic continent. Ironically, Skackelton became a legendary success through the exercise of his extraordinary leadership skills in bring his crew safely home from the most remote corner of the world, a narrative accentuated by Hurley’s photographs of the failed expedition. [5]

The Endurance Expedition Cameras

  • Frank Hurley photographing under the bows of the 'Endurance', 1915 with the Prestwich No. 5 CineCamera, 1901. Hurley carried a total of three cine cameras on the Endurance Expedition. Paget Plate Color Transparency. (State Library of New South Wales)


Hurley’s aesthetic coalesced during the high water mark for pictorial photography. Reaching full maturity in the 1890’s, Pictorial photography continued as the dominant mode of expression in art photography for several decades. At its core, Pictorial photography strove to integrate the formal aspects of art photography with the dominant theories of painting in the 19th century. Wildly experimental with equipment and processes, Pictorial photographers were the first to challenge the restrictive boundaries of 19th century photography, and were the first to create photographs drawn from the imagination. [6] In an article appearing in the Australasian Photo-Review in June 1911, Hurley embraced the principle tenets of pictorial photography when he stated that camera art is “not an exact representation of nature, and a picture is not a record of things in view.” Further, Hurley encouraged photographers to embrace experimentation and to “regard your camera as an artist does his brush. Think that you hold a piece of apparatus worthy of the same possibilities of the artist…Your camera is but a piece of mechanical apparatus. You are its intellect.” [7] Even under the challenging conditions marooned on the ice floes of the Weddell Sea, Hurley put into practice the tenets of pictorial and experimental photography in his studies of the expedition ship stranded in the ice, including his work with the new Paget Color Plate Process and in his night photography where he literally painted the Endurance with light using magnesium flash bulbs.


Influences taken from pictorial experimentation are also found in the broad range of photographic equipment and processes Hurley used on the Endurance expedition. The “Heroic Age Antarctic exploration”, a 25-year period from 1897 through 1922 [8] was also an age of artistic and technical innovation and creativity in photography. At this time, photographic suppliers in Europe and America introduced a wide range of cameras and photographic products including panchromatic plate and roll films, nearly a dozen color screen processes, professional large format single lens reflex cameras, and highly portable roll film cameras. When assembling photographic equipment for the Endurance expedition, Hurley was able to select from this long list of newly released cameras, lenses and film processes available and assembled the most advanced and reliable equipment then available. Hurley’s photographic kit included three Folmer & Schwing Graflex single lenses reflex cameras, a Goerz-Anschutz folding plate camera, several Kodak Folding Pocket (FPK) No. 3A cameras, a Prestwich Model 5 cine camera, a Kodak Panoram Box Camera, and the revolutionary Vest Pocket Kodak camera. After painstakingly documenting the destruction and sinking of the Endurance, Hurley abandoned his extensive photographic equipment and carried with him for the remainder of the journey his small Vest Pocket Kodak camera. [9] Hurley was left with only three rolls of film and for the remainder of the expedition, exposed a total 38 total images using the Kodak Vest Pocket camera including his photographs of crew’s camp on Elephant Island and their eventual rescue in 1916.


  • Frank Hurley, "Relieving of marooned men by Chilean tug, Yelcho, 1916," Lantern Slide from Vest Pocket Kodak negative, Paget Color Plate Process (Collections of the State Library of New South Wales.)

In Appreciation of Hurley’s Antarctic Photographs

In late December 2015, I traveled with my wife Margaret onboard the National Geographic polar expedition ship, the Explorer to Antarctica. Knowing I would be traveling into the same waters chronicled in the Endurance expedition and in appreciation for the 100 anniversary of the achievements of Frank Hurley in Antarctica, [10] I carried with me a Vest Pocket Kodak camera and experimented with retrofitting the camera’s vintage lens onto a contemporary digital single lens reflex camera. Like Skachelton’s Endurance, the Explorer is a repurposed Norwegian vessel designed for polar expeditions. After departing from Ushuaia Argentina at the tip of South America for the Antarctic Peninsula, the Explorer sailed briefly in the Weddell Sea in search of  a colony of Emperor penguins. Unlike the crew of the Endurance, we traveled on the Explorer in the safety and comfort of a state of the art “ice reinforced” ship, however like the Endurance, the heavy pack ice of the Weddel Sea forced us to change our course.

The Kodak Vest Pocket

  • While marooned with the Endurance expedition on Elephant Island, Hurley photographed exclusively with a Vest Pocket Kodak. First introduced in 1912, and not too much larger than a contemporary smartphone, the Vest Pocket Kodak was one of the first truly compact cameras. The revolutionary design of the Vest Pocket Kodak exemplified the new photographic innovations introduced in the first decades of the 20th century. (Vest Pocket Autographic Kodak camera, c. 1914 © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA)


Upon first viewing the massive icebergs on the seas approaching Antarctica, I felt single frames would not adequately encompass the visual intensity of the Antarctic landscapes. Like Hurley’s first view of the Antarctic landscape, I was especially captivated by the strange sculptural beauty of the variegated forms of ice. I immediately began experimenting with extending the aspect ratio of the traditional photographic frame in an effort to better interpret the unique landscapes of the Antarctica coastline. In order to better capture the odd arrangements of ice forms, for each final composition, three and sometimes 4 overlapping exposures were captured. Each set of overlapped exposures were assembled using Adobe Photoshop CC into an extended format better suited to the visual rhythm of tabular ice forms encapsulated the land and floating on the sea. At times, the intense light of Antarctic presented challenges for shielding the handheld lens mount over the camera lens opening during exposure, and well over half of my exposures were over exposed or out of focus or damaged in some way. Maintaining adequate focus across multiple overlapped exposures, and many taken from a moving ship was also difficult. The nearly century old lens Kodak Vest Pocket lens renders a much softer image than produced with contemporary color corrected lens, even so, I found echoes of Hurley’s early color experiments in the muted rendering of light and color using the Vest Pocket Kodak. Still, the lens performed surprisingly well given the challenging Antarctic conditions and I am especially satisfied with the conceptual blending of new and old photographic equipment, an approach certainly in keeping with Frank Hurley’s experimental approaches to photography.

“Freelensing” with the Kodak Vest Pocket in Antarctica


David Arnold, January 2016.





[1] Helen Ennis, Man With a Camera: Frank Hurley Overseas, p. 3; Robert Dixon, Photography, Early Cinema and Colonial Modernity: Frank Hurley’s  Frank Hurley’s Synchronized Lecture Entertainments, p 16.

[2] Robert Dixon, Photography, Early Cinema and Colonial Modernity: Frank Hurley’s  Frank Hurley’s Synchronized Lecture Entertainments, p 16.
[3] Paget Duplicating Method, 1913. Early Photography.
[4] Joanna Wright, South With Endurance: Skacketon’s Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917, p 6-8.
[5] Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell, Shackleton’s Way, p. 8.; See Skackleton’s Voyage of Endurance Timeline, Nova Online.
[6] Hostetler, Lisa. “International Pictorialism.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)
[7] Michael Gray and Gael Newton, “Pioneer of Polar Photograph,” South With Endurance: Skacketon’s Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917, p 238.
[8] Susan Solomon, “To the Ends of the Earth: the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration,”
[9] Michael Gray, “Frank Hurley’s Cameras, Equipment and Materials,” South With Endurance: Skacketon’s Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917, p 240-241.
[10] In tribute to the one-hundredth anniversary of Skachelton’s Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition, the Royal Geographic Society recently digitized original negatives from their archives and have mounted an exhibition of Hurley’s photographs along with personal artifacts. Click here to view the online exhibition;
See also British Explorer dies crossing Antarctica.







Slide Opening-2

First begun in 1984, Occasions juxtaposes gift wrapping papers, party streamers, balloons, beach balls and other brightly colored objects with the ruins of Native American pueblos, mission ruins, ghost towns, military forts, gas stations and other abandoned structures located throughout the western landscape. The title for Occasions derives from the advertised suggestions for wrapping papers and party supplies as appropriate for special yet non-specified “occasions.” Continue reading



Sunflower Field, Andalucia, Spain

Sunflower Field, Andalucia, Spain (Polaroid Image Transfer)


In the arts and printing, transfer means to convey an image from one surface to another. By merging analog photographic process with digital tools, the Transfers Series experiments with instant film image transfer processes as a departure point to comment upon the concept of change through time.  The multiple processes of the Transfers Series poses questions about place, event, memory and the certainty of photograph processes used in the creation of the image.The Transfer Series juxtaposes objects found and placed within unique landscapes. Offering the viewer multiple readings, Transfers is also suggestive of how we scan a landscape, moving across a scene to areas of special interest.



Each image in the Transfers Series begins as a color transparency. The color transparency is exposed onto a single sheet of instant film, but before the emulsion can fully develop, the negative emulsion is transferred onto moistened watercolor paper. The watercolor paper accepts the moistened emulsion irregularly and unevenly, breaking and tearing, to create a unique positive image.  Each unique positive image is digitally scanned and enlarged, and then merged using image editing software with the original slide used to create the final Transfers image. Selections from of the Transfer Series were first exhibited in 2004. The concepts and processes employed in the Transfer Series remains an area of active interest and experimentation.


David Arnold, June 2015



Stones and Trees



At elevations from 200 to 1200 feet, the Spenceville Wildlife Area in Yuba and Nevada County, California features rolling hills of blue oak and gray pine characteristic of the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Once part of Camp Beale, a massive World War II era training base, the area features numerous creeks, water falls, and from the western extension, stunning views the Central Valley, the Coast Range and the Sutter Buttes. Geologically, the Spenceville Wildlife Area is part of the Smartsville Complex formed on the western edge of the North American continent about 160 million years old.[1] The formation of the Smartsville Complex, named after the historic gold mining town of Smartsville, remains an area of active geological research.[2] Most intriguing, geologists suggest an eastern moving island archipelago originating some 600 miles out into the Pacific Ocean rafted into the North American plate, and forced into the North American Plate, the island archipelago left a long belt of ocean crust on the North American continental slope which would become the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. [3]



Scattered throughout rolling hills of the Sierra Foothills and found in abundance in the rolling oak woodlands of the Spenceville Wildlife Area are eroded remnants of metamorphosed volcanic rocks. Reminiscent of the megaliths found in Britain and northern France, as “the product of undersea volcanoes of 140 million years ago, now upended and changed by mountain-building forces”[4] the largest schists rise out of the thin soil 20 feet into the air. Given their thin and upright shapes, miners referred to these outcroppings of metamorphosed volcanic rock as tombstones.[5] William Phipps Blake, a geologist who surveyed Gold Rush era mining operations in the Mother Lode offers one of the first written accounts the unique rock formations and of the characteristic landscape of the Sierra Foothills:

“On crossing the river [Stanislaus], and rising on the opposite bank, abundance of round, weather-worn masses of basaltic rock were found; they are probably from a dyke or overflow. The old metamorphic or Azoic slates crop out a sort distance beyond. They are talcose and chloritic, and are nearly vertical; standing out in high slabs, arranged in lines like gravestones. They are called grave-stone slates by the miners; and in fact, are the tombstones of the past ages. The road extends nearly at right angles to the trend of these slates, and I traversed a vast thickness. The country is open and undulating, and there are but few trees.”[6]



Beginning in the spring of 2013, I began to photograph grave-stone schists within the Spenceville Wildlife Area, creating large multi-image panoramas with a Panasonic Lumix G-3 micro-thirds camera converted to capture the infra-red spectrum. The Panasonic Lumix G-3 was equipped with a Lens-Baby Tilt-shift adapter mounted to a 20mm Nikon full frame lens. I focused my explorations along the ridge lines atop the first sets of rolling hills overlooking the Central Valley. Here along the ridge lines and west facing slopes, I found unobstructed afternoon sun and the largest clusters of grave-stone schists.  I focused on photographing during the spring months from March through early May, before the onset of the hot summer. In early spring the grasses are vibrant green and the faces of gravestone schists are covered in soft mosses and slouches of lichen, which shift in infra-red capture to the gold tones characteristic of late summer. In this undisturbed pasture land, I found stones and trees in an abundance of sizes and shapes, and occupying this unique landscape in solitude.



The Lensbaby Tilt-shift adapter encouraged experiments with differential focus and as a means to suggest how our eyes scan a landscape. Equally, my experiments with infra-red capture are suggestive of the search into the regions unique geological past, and highlighting the continuing fascination with the “tombstones of the past ages” first noted by William Phipps Blake in his geological reconnaissance into the Sierra Foothills in 1853.

David Arnold, May 2015



[1] Martin Menzies, Douglas Blanchard and Costas Xenophontos, Genesis of the Smartsville Arc-Ophiolite, Sierra Nevada Foothills, California, American Journal of Science, Vol. 280-A, P. 329-344.
[2] Unger presents a good summary of the geological theories concerning the formation of the Smartsville Complex and the Sierra Batholigh: Tanya S. Unger, Mesozoic Plutonism in the central Sierra Nevada Batholith: A review of works on mineralogy and isotopes in relation to models for batholith formation, University of Colorado.
[3]John McPhee, Assembling California, p. 85-98. McPhee presents an engaging retelling of tectonic plate research by Edridge M. Moores.
[4] Mary Hill, The Geology of the Sierra Nevada, p. 170.
[5] The gold, copper and other mineral deposits in Mother Lode region formed as a result the “Cretaceous emplacement of the Sierra Nevada batholith”[2] with erosion producing placer gold deposits in the rivers and streams. Bruce Pauly, Geologic History of the South Yuba River State Park, South Yuba State Park Natural History Guide, University of Californian, Davis.
[6]  William Phipps Blake, Report of a geological reconnaissance in California: made in connection with the expedition to survey routes in California, to connect with the surveys of routes for a railroad from the Mississippi river to the Pacific Ocean, under the command of Lieut. R.S. Williamson, Corps Top. Eng’rs, in 1853United States. Army. Corps of Topographical Engineers, 1858 (p. 254).

The Proposals Series


The term visual poetry refers to experiments undertaken with the semantic character of words, and as an experimental genre, visual poetry blends multiple mediums. Visual poetry seeks to be seen as a painting or photograph, and read for the lyric associations of poetry. Often reducing language to typographical forms, visual poetry experiments with situating language into new and varied spaces. With a long history stretching back to Greek and Roman examples, at its core, visual poetry celebrates the visual forms of language.


  • Three Black Bars, Highway 41, Kettleman City, Callifornia
    Black Bars, Highway 41, Kettleman City, California, silver gelatin print with dry transfer lettering, 1979.


In the late 1970’s, I sought ways to merge my fascinations with visual poetry and my growing interest in photography. Billboard advertising dominates the experience of driving, and in my frequent travels, I became intrigued with blank billboards. With their previous advertising tenant scraped away or whited-out, these huge panels called out to their next advertising customer and to me. After seeing miles of advertising clutter, these blank billboards provided a tremendous visual relief. Shortly after beginning to photograph these bland billboards, I began to see these spaces as frameworks for visual poems. As joyful responses to the visual clutter of the highway, Prosposals were created with the hope that someday my visual poems might be displayed on massive billboards.


Starting first as a silver gelatin print, the blank spaces of the Proposals prints were treated with dry transfer lettering to create the final image. Selections from Proposals first appeared in Kaldron, A Journal of Visual Poetry and Language, Number 12, 1980. Selections from Proposals will appear in Renegade, A Collection of International Visual Poetry & Language Arts, ed. Andrew Topel, San Diego University Press, forthcoming 2015.


David Arnold, May 2015


Visual Poetry Resources:

Alan Prohm, Visual Poetry, Some Palette Analysis for the Renegade Anthology.

Alan Prohm, Visual Poetics: Meaning Space from Mallarmé to Metalheart, Stanford, Comparative Literature, 2004.

Visual Poetry in the Avant Writing Collection, edited with an introduction by John M. Bennett.

Kaldron Online, edited by Karl Kempton, Karl Young, and Harry Polkinhorn

The Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry.

Willard Bohn, Modern Visual Poetry, University of Delaware Press

Andrew Topel, Renegade, an online journal of international visual poetry


Experiments with Digital Noise

Using title1-a

Photographing scenes where the light is very low can produce digital noise levels that can result in pixels which include more noise data than real photo light data. In digital photographs, these pixels usually appear as random dots, speckles or stains. In addition, the image quality may be compromised by the resulting image artifacts, loss of sharpness or color degradation. We refer to these random dots, white speckles, visible streaks, color stains and degradations as digital noise.

From a technical point of view, digital noise is the visual manifestation of a lower signal-to-noise ratio. Similar in appearance to film grain, digital noise can result in visible artifacts in an image and is comparable to the background hiss experienced in audio systems. [1] Noise increases with higher ISO setting in the camera, with the length of the exposure, the color temperature, and different camera sensors and lenses. [2] At increased ISO settings, the sensor becomes more sensitive not only to the light levels, but to random signals from other sources. [3] Digital noise is less pronounced in the brighter areas of an image as the signal is stronger in these areas of the image. Long exposures can accentuate unwanted noise as well as shooting in heavy shadow and low light conditions. The sensor size and the pixel density greatly influence the noise levels of an image. In some situations, you will find that it is impossible to completely prevent digital noise.

 Digital Noise at 400percent 

Detail enlarged to 400% showing distinctive luminance noise: Altar Crucifix, Mission La Purisima Concepcion.

Digital noise has two elements:  chrominance and luminance. Chrominance or color noise appears as splotches of random green, magenta and blue dots whereas luminance noise is colorless and references the variations of lightness in an image. Similar to film grain, luminance noise may add textural details to an image. [4] Although digital noise often detracts from the aesthetics of a photograph, acceptable and unacceptable levels of noise is a subjective decision. In some cases, digital noise may be considered a desirable effect, and in those cases, digital noise may contribute positively to the overall aesthetics of an image.

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The vintage Asahi Takumar F/3.5-55mm Lens attached to a full frame Sony A-900 DSLR using a lens adapter.[5]

Recently when photographing in the low light of the chapel at Mission La Purísima Concepción near Lompoc, California, I noticed the pleasing effects of digital noise produced at high ISO settings while using an Asahi Takumar F/3.5-55mm lens originally manufactured for the Pentax 6×7 medium format film camera. Intrigued by my initial results, I continued to experiment with the Asahi Takumar F/3.5-55mm lens in photographs of mission statuary at Mission San Miguel Arcángel in San Miquel, California. With each example, the Asahi Takumar F/3.5-55mm lens was attached to a Sony A-900 DSLR using a lens adapter. In the available subdued light of the missions interiors, the lens was opened to the largest aperture of F/3.5 with an ISO setting of 6400, a combination of exposure factors which appeared to minimized the less pleasing chromatic noise and accentuate the luminance noise. The photographs created with the massive lens produced exceptionally smooth gradations in the bokeh or the out of focus areas of the photograph.  In these examples, I approached digital noise as an opportunity for experimentation and used digital noise in a counter intuitive manner to purposefully integrate digital noise into the aesthetics of the images. By testing the limits of our digital tools, experiments with digital noise challenges “the illusion of control” and  suggest that our “digital tools to be only as perfect, precise, and efficient as the humans who build them.” [6]

With each photograph of mission statuary, the lenses, high ISO setting, sensor, and subdued lighting produced an aesthetic which I felt appropriate to the objects. Beauty is a concept of perception, [7] and the accentuated patterns and textural detail in the digital noise present in my photographs references the dusty, unknowable presences of the haunting and beautiful 17th century statuary. These experiments with digital noise point to the limits of photographic representation and acknowledges as well, the limits of our ability to know the past shared by the objects of worship placed before my lens. Beauty is often associated with light and radiance and supports the notion of beauty as illumination.[8] Within the imperfect recording of illumination resides the aesthetic strength of digital noise, and is the source of its beauty.

Altar Crucifix, Mission La Purisima Concepcion, Lompoc California

Altar Crucifix, Mission La Purisima Concepcion, Lompoc, California

Statue of St. Aquinas, Mission San Miguel Archangel, San Miquel, California

Statue of St. Aquinas, Mission San Miguel Archangel, San Miguel, California

San Miguel Archangel Conquering the Devil, Mission San Miquel, California

 San Miguel Archangel Conquering the Devil, Mission San Miguel, California


David Arnold, February, 2015.


[1] Digital Camera Noise Part 1, Cambridge in Color
[2]Emil Martiec, Noise, Dynamic Range and Bit Depth in Digital SLRs. 
[3] The term ISO refers to the film or digital sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO setting the greater the film or sensor’s sensitivity to light.
[4] Digital Camera Noise Part II, Cambridge in Color.
[5] The Asahi Takumar F/3.5-55mm Lens was manufactured in the 1960’s as a wide-angle lens for Ashai Pentax 6X7 medium format camera. The lens is highly regarded for his sharpness and is unique for its massive size. The lens has a filter size of 100mm. Used on the Pentax 6×7, the lens is the equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera, and when used with an adapter for a full frame DSLR, the lens is a 55mm lens.
[6] Kim Cascone, The Aesthetics of Failure: “Post-Digital” Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music”, Computer Music Journal 24:4 Winter 2002 (MIT Press).
[7] Crispin Sartwell, Six Names of Beauty, p. 10.
[8] Umberto Eco, History of Beauty, p. 37.


The Lego Camera: The Theory of Constraints For Creativity



The Lego Digital Camera


Creativity is defined as the creation of something new, useful or generative.[1] The theory of constraints for creativity asserts the contradictory notion that limits engender creative problem solving.  Creativity involves constraints, which can hinder as well as stimulate problem solving. For example, in an overly structured problem, little room is left for creativity, and problems with wholly open fields, people tend to be uncreative and  fall back upon what has worked in the past. Instead, when using constraints which preclude prior examples and encourage novel approaches often results in increased creativity.[2]   Constraints provide starting points and outlines to solve problems and find solutions. The right kinds of creative constraints, over time, present barriers to known responses, which in turn promote creative breakthroughs. Constraints for creativity—what are also called “intelligent constraints”— foster global thinking and allow individuals to engage in activities to “conceptually integrate seemingly unrelated pieces of information.” [3]


At its core, experimental photography structures problems which are designed to produce generative results and new approaches to image making.  Experimental photography with a fascination for cameras and equipment that limit the open set of  options available to contemporary photography supports the theory constraints for creativity.  Camera choices such as toy cameras, Holga, Brownie and other vintage cameras with limited creative controls, first generation and low resolution digital cameras provide intelligent constraints which promote new generative approaches to photography. Not every constraint will produce truly influential approaches, but over time, chance, accident and deliberate application of new constraints can lead to new pathways for the medium. The goal for experimental photographers is finding the right kinds of constraints which will make possible the production of innovative works.


The term Lego is the joining two Danish words, “leg godt”, which in English means “play well”, a goal equally suited to experimental photography. The Lego camera is formed from the signature interlocking plastic blocks, which remain the cornerstone of the company’s product line. The Lego plastic block sets were first imported into America in 1973 [4], and exemplify the principles of constraints for creativity. Lego boxes of interlocking and multi-color plastic blocks allow users to work with models in an open fashion and are encouraged to seek imaginative new solutions. The traditional Lego block sets represent what creativity psychologist Patricia Stocks terms an “ill-structured problem” or an “incompletely specified problem”. [5] Recently, when searching for toy cameras, I discovered the Lego digital camera in 2009, in partnership with Digital Blue. I ordered the Lego camera and quickly began testing the camera’s potentials for experimental photography.

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The Lego camera fully embraces the playful brick and knob block design that made Lego the 4th largest toy company in the world. As a camera, the Lego, possesses a limited set of creative controls:


    • 3MP Resolution
    • Holds  only 29 photos at 3MP setting
    • 1.5″  square LCD screen which obscures the actual image area
    • Built-in flash and fixed focus*
    • No memory card, images are downloadable from internal memory to computer via USB cable
    • The brick and knob blocks on the top encourages extensions and additions.


Working within the limited constraints of the Lego requires considerable adjustments and time. In an age of unlimited picture-taking, the limit of 29 photographs requires subject matter planning. Pictures can be deleted using the LCD screen, but the square screen is small and presents only half of the full capture.  The screen is dim and easily obscured in bright sunlight.  The camera sensor has a limited dynamic range which performs well in shade but not in high contrast scenes. The sensor does produce unpredictable and sometimes pleasing film-like noise. The colorful and lightweight camera body engenders a playful risk taking, and by precluding the full range of creative controls present on contemporary DSLR’s, the Lego camera demands a simplification of subject matter and lighting conditions.


The Lego camera encourages exploration and chance within the boundaries of the constraints built into the limited creative controls. The camera supports an environment of play, a toy camera that engenders learning about the medium of photography. Like the Lego block system, Lego can help experimental photographers imagine new possibilities and create new work based on play. The Lego’s limited controls and poor sensor dynamics encourages a graphic approach to subject matter. The simplicity of the camera makes approaching complex subject matter more difficult, a paradox which points to the principles of constraints for creativity — new approaches to the medium also involve creating new constraints.

Street Photography with The Lego Digital Camera.


©David Arnold, October 2013.



[1] Patricia Stokes, Creativity from Constraints: the Psychology of Breakthrough, p. 1.

[2] Stokes, p. 7.

[3] Marguc, Janina; Förster, Jens; Van Kleef, Gerben A. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 101(5), Nov 2011, 883-901.

[4] About Us About the LEGO Group – The LEGO Group , October, 25, 2013.

[5] Patricia Stokes, Creativity from Constraints: the Psychology of Breakthrough, p. 4.

Morning Glories: Lumen Print Making

Morning Glories, a series of lumen prints

Lumen print making is one of the most fascinating camera-less photographic processes. Lumen prints begin with silver gelatin photographic papers, the traditional photographic paper used in the making of  black and white prints since the late 1870’s. Silver gelatin photographic papers are conventionally used in a darkroom under safe light conditions. Lumen prints are made by taking sheets of unexposed black-and-white or color photographic paper and placing objects or negatives on top of the paper in the same manner as making a camera-less photogram. Instead of using an enlarger, the lumen print making process takes silver gelatin paper out of the darkroom and into the bright sunlight to produce camera-less photographic images. Being able to move from the darkroom and into the bright sunlight is the most exciting aspect of lumen print making.

To make a lumen print you will need the following materials:

• Any black and white or color photographic paper
• Objects and materials to place on top of the silver gelatin papers (translucent and organic materials add depth and visual interest to a lumen print)
• Contact print frame, contact proofer, picture frame or sheets of plexiglass
• Bright sunlight or strong UV source light
• Film changing bag or large thick black plastic bags to protect exposed prints from further exposure to sunlight
• Scissors, tape, and clear plastic wrap to hold objects onto the paper

Lumen Print Set-ups: silver gelatin paper exposed to full sunlight.


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Lumen Print Making Steps:

1. Prior to taking silver gelatin paper into the sunlight, assemble lumen print materials.
2. In a room with subdued lighting, place photogram materials on top of photographic paper and into a contact frame.
3. Place contact frame in the bright sunlight (time varies from 30 minutes to hours depending on light conditions and paper).
4. When exposure is complete, place paper to light tight bag until ready to scan or fix.
5. Scan your lumen print prior to fixing your lumen print as the colors will shift in the fixing process.
6. Fix your lumen print in photographic paper fixer for 2-4 minutes.
7. Rinse and wash paper for archival requirements.
8. Optional: tone or colorize your lumen print using any silver gelatin print toner or print coloring agents.

Out-of-Date Silver Gelatin Papers.


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Photographic papers are divided into two types: developing out papers and printing out papers. With printing out papers (POP) a photographer places a negative over a sheet of photographic paper and exposed the negative and print to sunlight. The photographer monitors the slow conversion of the silver halide to metallic silver. Once the image reaches the desired density and tone, the paper is fixed to halt further development. No developer is needed with printing out papers. Printing out papers were used extensively in the 19th century and prior to the widespread use of silver gelatin papers.[1]

With developing out papers, such as silver gelatin papers, upon exposure, photosensitive materials capture a latent, invisible image which must be developed-out in a chemical bath to be viewed. These papers require a very short exposure time and require the addition of a developing agent such as Kodak’s Dektol print developer to bring forth the latent image in the developing solution. Lumen prints, a rarely used printing process, relies upon the principle that any photographic paper, if exposed to enough sunlight, will produce an image without a developer. Once fixed, the image is permanent. The lumen printmaking process uses developing out papers as printing out papers to achieve wholly unpredictable results.

Lumen prints work well with old or fogged silver gelatin papers. All of the prints in the Morning Glories Series were created with very old silver gelatin papers: a package of Kodak F-2 Kodabromide with an expiration date of Dec 1, 1947, a package of Oriental Seagull G2 bromide paper, and a package of Ilford Ilfobrom Velvet Lustre, both from the 1980’s. Exposure times in most cases was fell into the one-two hour range in full sunlight.  Each silver gelatin paper used with the Morning Glories Series responded very differently to the same materials and conditions, producing reds, blues and yellows color shades, and again with black and white printing papers. If left unfixed, the ephemeral colors of lumen prints will continue to darken; once fixed, the colors of the lumen print will change significantly, often ripening to rich browns and golden yellows. The results with lumen prints vary with environmental conditions, material selection, exposure times and paper choices. The simplicity of the lumen print making process opens us to the core of photographic process. Each lumen print is a unique photographic event.

©David Arnold



[1]Mark Osterman, “Printing out vs. Developing Out Papers,” Notes on photographs, George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography, Rochester, NY.


Borrowed Sources

Thoughts on Walter Benjamin, Appropriation, Technology and Landscape

Walter Benjamin

Published in 1936, Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is the first commentary on the ways in which technology changes the conditions of art. Benjamin’s tightly written essay continues to generate debate and has spawn thousands of critical interpretations. In he Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin outlines his concept of the aura of a work of art. The aura for Benjamin is a perceptual relationship with a work of art which allows the viewer to experience the unique history of a given work of art, and by extension, the viewer’s place in tradition. Benjamin’s associates the aura with looking, “as the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch, which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch.”[1] For Benjamin, the aura is situated in a specific object, time or place, as well as present within the viewer in the contemplation of the work.

Benjamin believed that with the separation of art from ritual, first experienced in the Renaissance, the function of art changed—art becomes a product designed for exhibition. For Benjamin, the Renaissance period substituted a cult of beauty for a lost ritual tradition of art where a “secular cult of beauty…clearly showed that ritualistic basis in its decline and the first deep crisis which befell it.”[2] The cult of beauty mentioned by Benjamin is prominently on display in contemporary art museums and can be seen in the elaborate viewing experience presented at large exhibitions, aided by dramatic lighting we experience a simulation of the ritual associated with the previous religious tradition. Benjamin also discusses how the reproduction of works of art in posters, magazines and books changes how we experience art and how technology supports our desire “to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction.” [3]

  • Borrowed Source: Sailboat Detail, Joseph Mallord William Turner, English, 1775-1851), Van Tromp, Going About to Please His Masters, 1839, Getty Museum.
    Sailboat Detail, Joseph Mallord William Turner, English, 1775-1851), Van Tromp, Going About to Please His Masters, 1839, Getty Museum.

Appropriation and Technology

Benjamin argues that the accelerated mode of mechanical reproduction changes the way that art is experienced. Benjamin believes that mechanical reproduction “emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.”[4] An authentic work of art for Benjamin is dependent on its function in ritual, housed in a specific location which forms a relationship characterized by distance and provides the context for generating meaning. The withering of aura through reproduction diminishes the quasi-religious or cult status of art, which opens the door to the new forms and uses of art. Benjamin discusses in Work of Art, a group of early twentieth century artists, the Berlin Dadaists, who intentionally performed “a relentless destruction of the aura of their creations.”[5] Here Benjamin refers to the art practice known as appropriation which means to take over another work of art. The Berlin Dadaists took reproductions from newspapers and magazines and used them as source material for their own works. The Berlin Dadaists along with Marcel Duchamp were the first to reintroduce the longstanding practice of appropriation into modern art.

After initially restricting photography in galleries, museums are now encouraging photography and smart phones use to aid the viewer’s experience with art. No clear guidelines exist across museums as restrictions on the use of cameras and mobile devices within galleries remains unevenly applied, still the trend is for the transformational aspects of technology to continue to reshape the museum experience. The use of technology to bring the experience of viewing art closer is in full evidence, including gallery tours guided by smart phones. In galleries where photography is permitted, visitors appear to photograph as much as they look at painting, and viewer’s appropriations support Benjamin’s prophesy, “the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction.” [6] Whether intentional, museums encourage the appropriation of works of art via smart phone photography and sharing across social media. What was once a revolutionary art practice in the hands of the Berlin Dadaists and post modern artists is now common place.



Several recent studies have investigated the viewing patterns of visitors at museums and have concluded that visitors spend between 2 and 32 seconds viewing paintings and reading wall text. A Metropolitan Museum of Art study found that the median time viewers spend with a work of art is 17 seconds.[7] Studies conducted at the Louvre found that visitors spent only 15 seconds viewing Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, the most popular painting in the history of the planet.[8] As Benjamin’s example of the aura suggests, time spent viewing any subject does not fully quantify our experience of viewing, as even brief periods of time spent looking may led to lasting impressions. Nevertheless, the small amount of time spent viewing exhibitions of works of art has led museums to support further research into the viewing patterns of visitors, including using eye tracking equipment and software to provide empirical evidence to better understand their how visitor experience art on display.[9]  Possible questions for future studies could include does smart phone technology draw people closer to the works of art? And does the use of smartphones and social media sharing encourage a closer viewing of works of art? Unanswered are the questions of why so little time is spent with works of art and if we are witnessing aspects of withering of the aura which Benjamin detailed nearly 75 years ago.

The series, Borrowed Sources employs the art practice of appropriation to comment on the process of looking and viewing art within a museum context. While walking through galleries, painting details catch our eyes and merge with other works on display—small details jump to attention, while others fall away. Using a lens designed to shift the focal point to one small area of the image and rendering the majority of the surface space out of focus, Borrowed Sources references how the eye scans works of art while strolling through museum galleries.[11]  Borrowed Sources considers the process of interpreting works of art through the processes of looking and photographing them. Sixteenth through nineteenth century landscape paintings created prior to the introduction of mass photography were selected for their association with the appropriation of visual space propelled by the invention of linear perspective, a function taken up by photography in the nineteenth century.




Landscape is a term bound to the notion of space. The English term landscape originated in the German landschaft, where it first appeared. The German term referred to an area of “shaped land, a cluster of temporary dwellings and more permanent houses, the antithesis of the wilderness surrounding it”[10]. The term, at this time, was without any particular aesthetic or artistic or visual connotation.[12] The Dutch in the 16th century used the term landshap to refer to a tract of land. With the invention of linear perspective, landscape became a subject suitable for paintings.  By the end of sixteenth century after Dutch painters began to produce paintings featuring land, landship was used to refer to a painting of a place, as a “perceived as a scope or expanse.”[13] The word was introduced into English to refer to a painting and over time, the English term would be used by geographers, in a neutral and scientific sense, and by artists to refer to a particular kind of painting. Landscape provided new ways of evaluating the tracts of land as well as a ways of perceiving the world. Within these connotations, landscape took on aesthetic and emotional content.[14] Today the term is largely connected with the terms place and view, and often refers to scenery. Landscape now contains its early associations with tracts of land, yet refers as well to representation of particular tracts of land favored by artists in their paintings and later photographers in their photographs. The term landscape in the visual arts is connected broadly to the term nature, and today, landscape is associated with beautiful scenery or with picturesque largely rural scenes.



Landscape painting grew from the enlargement of scientific knowledge and is linked directly to the Renaissance invention of perspective drawing. Surveying, mapping and the exploration and colonization of new lands, each expanding at this same time, are directly linked to the concept of landscape. Denis Cosgrove defines landscape as “the external world mediated through human subjective experience.”[15] Landscape in the broadest sense became a new way of seeing and structuring the world. At the center of this new visual space was the individual. Linear perspective became the visual representation of a rationalist conception of the world. Surveying, mapping, and new mathematical formulations of space were used to measure individual estates, and later the entire world. Linear perspective became the guarantor of visual realism in the landscape painting, and the tool by which the artist represents and appropriates the external world.



Perspective painting was crucial to the development of landscape painting and a key factor in the powering the desire for photography.[16] Linear perspective, and in the same way that photography has come to dominate our visual world, assumed authority and control of space. Linear perspective provided the certainty of the reproduction of nature into art, underlining the power and authority of the work of art and the creativity and authority of the individual artist.[17] This too, is a role photography was happy to assume. As Susan Sontag states, “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge — and, therefore, like power.” [18]Landscape painters would come to provide breathtaking illusions of depth and controlled entry points into the picture plane. Immediately after the invention of photography, these examples would inform the new medium of photography. Early photographers, many who first trained as painters, employed the same conventions of composition to their photographic appropriations of the landscape, and in landscapes of great beauty, in the forests of Europe and in Yosemite Valley, photographers worked side by side with the landscape painters to depict the external world. With linear perspective, as Cosgrove suggests, “Realist representation of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface through linear perspective directs the external world towards the individual located outside that space. It gives the eye absolute mastery over space.”[19] By the 17th century, landscape paintings were often commissioned by wealth landowners, and depicted a visual space doubly owned through possession of realist painting of his land. The realistic landscape painting became a prized and expensive object,  and like the landscape itself, a property,  which affirmed the control and appropriation of the external world.

By extension, linear perspective allows the viewer to appropriate the visual space of the painting, a role that in the nineteenth century, the new medium of photography assumed. Borrowed Sources investigates how the eye, aided by linear perspective, travels through painted landscapes and by extension the external world. Borrowed Sources concerns the appropriation of visual space predefined by landscape painters working prior to the twentieth century. By treating landscape paintings as landscapes from the external world, Borrowed Sources traces the source of our concept of landscape in common details found paintings, as well as searches for ideas expressed by Walter Benjamin in The Works of Art. In particular, Borrowed Sources tests Benjamin’s association of the aura of work of art with looking and examines the desire to use technology to close the distance and get closer to the work of art through its reproduction.  Borrows Sources looks to those painted details, those mountain ranges, those horizons, those trees and twigs and branches, which carries the eye through painted landscapes and engages the viewer in a dialogue with the past.


David Arnold, July 2014.


[1] Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, II.
[2] Ibid, IV.
[3] Ibid, III.
[4 Ibid, XIV.
[5] Ibid, IV.
[6] Ibid, III.
[7] Jeffrey K. Smith and Lisa F. Smith, Spending Time on Art, Empirical Studies of the Arts, Volume 19, No. 2, 2001.
[8] Amelia Gentleman, “Smile Please,” The Guardian, 10.18.2004.
[9] Museum and the Web 2013, Capturing Visitors’ Gazes: Three Eye Tracking Studies in Museums, 4.2013.
[10] Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local, p. 8.
[11] Technical details: All images were captured using a Sony A-900 full frame digital camera equipped with a LensBaby Composer and a Sweet 35 Optic set at F2.8. The ISO setting varied  between 1500 and 6400 ISO. All images were edited with Adobe Lightroom 5.0 and Adobe Photoshop 2014.
[12] Denis Cosgrove, “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1985), p. 56.
[13] Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local, p. 8.
[14] Christopher Ely, This Meager Nature, p. 8-9.
[15] Quoted in Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local, p 7-8
[16] Denis Cosgrove, “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1985), p. 48
[17] Peter Galassi, Before Photography, p. 11-31.
[18] Susan Sontag, On Photography, p. 4.
[19] Denis Cosgrove, “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1985), p. 52.

Churches of Stone

Churches of Stone highlights the architectural features of six stone churches in Baja California Sur, Mexico. The fortress-like profiles, the small windows, the clustered columns, and curved doorways carved into stone highlight the remarkable fact of the stone churches long existence. Designed to dazzle the newly converted, the stone churches of Baja California Sur transmit a spiritual zeal which transforms largely isolated and severe locations. The photographs focus on the vertical surfaces, which provide spaces for the play of light and shadows, and on the arched doorways, the windows, and the soaring bell towers which use a blend of architectural styles to delight the eye.  Also included are photographs of more humble outlying religious sites, located in proximity to original mission sites.

Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó

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In 1697, Jesuit missionaries, guarded by a small detachment of Spanish soldiers, established the first permanent mission on the Baja Peninsula at Loreto. The Jesuits and followed later by two other Catholic religious orders, the Franciscan and the Dominicans, built a contiguous chain of missions, 50 in all, which stretched the length of the New Spain’s Baja Peninsula to the rolling hills just beyond San Francisco Bay in Northern California. While the missions in present day California are preserved and restored and heavily visited, the missions of Baja Norte and Baja Sur California, except in the Lower Peninsula, have not fared as well. Many of the Franciscan and Dominican missions were built of adobe, and these structures, after abandonment, have largely fallen back into the earth from which they were formed. Begun by the Jesuits in the 18th century, and completed by the Dominicans, eight intact stone churches remain in Baja California Sur. Built of native stone, these austere architectural treasures have survived over 300 years in an extreme environment. The stone churches blend multiple architectural styles present across New Spain, and include Gothic, Neo-Gothic, Moorish and Baroque features. Deeply influenced by the high Baroque styles popular in the 17th and 18th century, the stone churches of Baja Sur express the intense spiritual energy of the Jesuit priests and the triumphant power of the Spanish conquest. [1]

Misión San Luis Gonzaga Chiriyaqui

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The Jesuit colonization of Baja was organized on a theological foundation. With degrees in philosophy and the sciences, the Jesuits commanded the soldiers who accompanied them as well as the tightly controlled civilian populations. Attuned to the architectural styles and sensibilities of their time, these learned men created an unprecedented colonial experiment which resulted, for a short time, in the colonization of the central and southern parts of the Baja peninsula. All told, the Jesuits founded 21 missions in Baja’s inestimably beautiful yet inhospitable landscape. After centuries of royal favoritism and political overstepping, the Jesuits were expelled by royal decree from Baja and the New World in 1767. Replaced first by the Franciscans and later by the Dominicans, these priests carried on the operation of the ex-Jesuit missions and went on to found 9 new missions on the Baja Peninsula and 21 more in present day California.[2]

Misión San José de Comondú, Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, 

Misión San Ignacio Kadakaamán, Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé

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Missions were entire communities which encompassed large complexes of buildings and shops, corrals, nearby fields, pastures and outlying settlements and chapels. The mission churches were the center of these communities. Designed to concentrate scattered and nomadic populations of indigenous peoples, the Spanish mission system was one part of an aggressive colonization program designed to bring new converts into the church and to counter the losses of the Reformation. Prior to the arrival of the Jesuits, the indigenous peoples of Baja were divided into 5 language groups: the Guaycura near Loreto, the Huchiti near La Paz, the Pericu of the Cape region, the Cochimi in the central peninsula, and the Yuma in the north. Occupying Baja California for over 7,000 years prior to the arrival of the Jesuits, Baja’s native peoples lived in small bands of 50-75 by hunting, fishing and collecting edible plants. Rough estimates set their total population at approximately 50,000 people across the entire peninsula at the beginning of the colonial period. [3]Early visitors to Baja spoke of the indigenous peoples leading a primitive, nomadic existence, following scarce freshwater sources and native plant harvests. [4] The Jesuits adopted a policy of accommodating their new subjects by learning native languages and translating sermons and prayers into native languages.[5]

The Jesuit polices were initially successful in bringing new converts into the mission system and the population of the missions expanded rapidly. However, the Jesuit’s policies and success in concentrating the scattered bands into central locations would doom their colonial experiment. With no resistance to European diseases, including small pox, measles and syphilis, the native people were decimated to near extinction levels, dropping to less than 6,000 in 1800. At the beginning of the 20th century, fewer than 50 individuals with distinctive indigenous traits survived in a single band in the mountains of the northern peninsula. [6] [7] The Baja and California missions were closed after Mexican independence from Spain in the early 19th century. The mission lands and buildings were secularized. The stone churches built by native peoples for native peoples were abandoned.

Outlier Churches and Sites

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Created during trips to central Baja in 2007 and 2014, all photographs in the series Churches of Stone were created using Minolta 35mm film cameras: a Minolta X-700 equipped with a 21mm MC Rokkor lens and a Minolta Maxxum 7 equipped with a 24-70mm Minolta lens. Using Ilford HP-5 black and white film, the photographs were developed using David Wood’s DR-5 process, [8] a unique reversal process which converts black and white film negatives into film positives. The film was slightly toned in processing to accentuate the surface details and earth tones. After developing, the film was scanned using a Nikon 9000 film scanner. Final image processing was completed using Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC.

David Arnold, July 2014.

 Works Cited

[1] David Burckhalter, Baja California Missions, In the Footsteps of the Padres (University of Arizona Press, 2013.

[2] Brian A. Aviles and Robert L. Hoover, Two California, Three Religious Orders and Fifty Missions: A Comparison of the Missionary Systems of Baja and Alta California, Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3, Summer, 1997.

[3] Peter Gerhard, The North Frontier of New Spain (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982), 295.

[4] Michael Mathes, Problems of Ethnohistorical Research in Baja California, Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp 44-48 (1981); Brian A. Aviles and Robert L. Hoover, Two California, Three Religious Orders and Fifty Missions: A Comparison of the Missionary Systems of Baja and Alta California, Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3, Summer, 1997.

[5] Mauricio J. Mixco, Cochimi and Proto-Yuman: Lexical and Syntactic Evidence for a New Language Family in Lower California, Anthropological Papers No 010, 1987 (James M. Crawford review).

[6] Peter Gerhard, The North Frontier of New Spain (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982), 295.

[7] Peveril Meigs, The Kiliwa Indians of Lower California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939);Michael Mathes, Problems of Ethnohistorical Research in Baja California, Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp 44-48 (1981); Brian A. Aviles and Robert L. Hoover, Two California, Three Religious Orders and Fifty Missions: A Comparison of the Missionary Systems of Baja and Alta California, Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3, Summer, 1997.

[8] David Wood, DR5 Process.





Old School

We know about the past through history, memory, and relics; each of these daily refreshes our knowledge of the past. Relics are both of the past and present, and this signals their unique position. As remnants of the tangible past, relics exist as natural and physical features. In written and visual forms, history is the stored record of the past. Memory is personal and nearly always private and crucial to our identity.[1]

  • Merry-Go-Round, King School, Cloverdale, Wisconsin
    Merry-Go-Round, King School, Cloverdale, Wisconsin

As seminal institutions in our communities, schools occupy a special place within the ways that we know the past. Many of our first and foremost memories begin in schools, and even in the presence of schools in which we never attended as students, memories of our experiences in classrooms and the school yards flood our thoughts. History exists in the records of attendance and course taken, and in the annual yearbooks and photographs of friends and classrooms. Preserved or decommissioned, school buildings exist as the tangible past in our communities. As the most permanent connection to the past, relics provide physical evidence of the past, the colors of the chalkboard, the shape of the desks, the view out windows onto now empty playgrounds. The physical remains of schools exist within communities as points of continuity and through visual comparisons, these relics provide evidence of how different the past was from the present moment and point us into the future.

Memory and history derive meaning from physical remains, from the relics of the past. The ongoing series of photographs from Old School presents the physical remains of largely rural decommissioned school buildings. Currently the series features school buildings located in the states of California, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Baja California Sur, Mexico. Some are preserved as community icons, while others fall further into ruin. Preserved or left to fall into ruin, the remains of schools are bridges between the past and the present moment; they are metaphors for the profound changes underway within the key institutions of our communities. Like each component of the past, relics require interpretation. Old School offers a limited visual interpretation, capturing the uncertainties of their existence within the changing landscape of the present moment.

Forest City’s one room schoolhouse was built in 1874. The short film Old School, Forest City merges video and still images of Forest City’s Old Schoolhouse which currently exists, padlocked and on the edge of ruin. The combination of still and video images shows the old schoolhouse, a static structure juxtaposed against the natural environment. Video segments focus on details of the old school building and highlight the relationship of old schoolhouse with natural elements, wind, sunlight, insects. The short video Old School, Forest City  was created using a Lumix G3 Micro Four Thirds camera and the Sony A900. All images for Old School, Forest City edited using Adobe Photoshop CC 2014, including the video segments.

Forest City, California is located in Sierra County at the elevation of 4500 feet of the Sierra Nevada Range. Established in 1852 after gold was discovered on the north folk Oregon Creek, the town expanded to a peak population of over a thousand permanent inhabitants by the 1860’s. A deep rock gold mine was established on nearby Bald Mountain in the 1870’s. At its peak, the town supported 32 businesses including two churches, multiple saloons and hotels, a brewery, a dance hall, a dairy, a jail, two cemeteries, a firehouse, and a swimming pool. Today, only a few structures are occupied and primarily as summer homes. All properties in Forest City are owned by the U. S. Forest Service, and maintained as a historic district. The old school building and the dance hall, which serves as the town’s museum, are owned and operated by the Forest City Historical Association, a non-profit corporation.[2]

Bell and Roof, Forest City School, Forest City, California with layers

Bell and Roof, Forest City School, Forest City, California with layers

David Arnold, Front Door and Key Hole, Old School, Forest  City, June 2014 showing overlapped segments and the final image assembled using Photoshop’s photomerge action (click thumbnails to enlarge).

The Old School series was photographed using Sony’s A900 full frame DSLR. As shown in the example above, to capture the unique features of the buildings and playgrounds for the Old School series, with many examples, segments of the whole scene were captured and then merged together using Adobe Photoshop‘s “photomerge” action. In the Front Windows and Door example, two  individual photographs were taken in overlapped segments with the Sony A900 to created the final image. Similar to viewing the original scene, the panoramic format encourages the viewer to scan details of the photograph.

David Arnold, June 26, 2014

Works Cited

[1] David Lowenthal, The Past Is A Foreign Country, p. 22.

[2] Forest City, Sierra Nevada Geotourism Map Guide, National Geographic Society, 2014; Forest City, Ghost Town Explorers

Pinhole Photographs: Baja Missions and Roadside Shrines














Pinholes Projected Through a Mulberry Tree During an Annular Solar Eclipse, Smartsville, California,
May 20, 201


Pinhole Photography.

The first written records of the optical properties of pinholes comes from Mo Ti in China during the 5th century BC, and in Aristotle’s Problems XV written in 330 BC. Dappled sunlight viewed under trees on clear days is evidence of the optical properties of pinholes. The crescent projections of the sun seen during a solar eclipse (shown above) provides the most dramatic confirmation of the imaging properties of a simple pinhole. Leonardo da Vinci provides us with the most succinct early discussion of the imaging properties of pinhole in his notebooks: [1]

“I say that if the front of a building—or any open piazza or field—which is illuminated by the sun has a dwelling opposite to it, and if, in the front which does not face the sun, you make a small round hole, all the illuminated objects will project their images through that hole and be visible inside the dwelling on the opposite wall which may be made white; and there, in fact, they will be upside down, and if you make similar openings in several places in the same wall you will have the same result from each. Hence the images of the illuminated objects are all everywhere on this wall and all in each minutest part of it. The reason, as we clearly know, is that this hole must admit some light to the said dwelling, and the light admitted by it is derived from one or many luminous bodies. If these bodies are of various colours and shapes the rays forming the images are of various colours and shapes, and so will the representations be on the wall.”[2]

The physicist David Brewster, the inventor of the stereoscope and the kaleidoscope, created the first pinhole photograph. In 1856, he published The Stereoscope,[3]  and coined the term pin-hole.[4] With the impressionist movement in photography, also known as Pictorialism, pinhole photography gained a small foothold in the art world. George Davison’s landscapes with a pinhole including his well known Onion Field,[5] created in 1890, are the best examples of pinhole photography during the Pictorialist era. Davison would use a piece of sheet metal punched through with a small hole for his lens, and he held that no landscape photograph should be sharply rendered and hoped to produce landscape photographs which conveyed “ the general impression created at first glance.  [6] Davison’s pinhole photograph represented a complete break with the technological direction of photography. Beginning in the early 1890’s pinhole cameras and lenses were marketed to the growing numbers of Pictorialist photographers. The sharpness of a pinhole photograph is influenced by the size and sharpness of the pinhole edge. Although pinhole images can be as sharp as human vision,[1] Pictorialists were drawn to the soft focus of quality of pinhole photographs. Although falling out of favor during the modernist period, pinhole photography has become increasing popular photographic teaching tool and art form, connecting practitioners to the mysteries of light.


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Pinhole Photography Using the Wanderlust Pinwide with the Lumix Four Thirds Mirrorless Camera.

The introduction of single lens reflex digital cameras has made simple practice of pinhole photography even simpler. All that is necessary to create a digital pinhole photograph is to remove the lens and then cover the lens opening with light-proof material. Foil or black duck tape work just fine.  Next, using a small thumb tack, put a small pinhole in the center of the lens opening and you have modified your DSLR into a digital pinhole camera. Offered by several manufacturers, commercially produced pinhole lenses drill pinhole openings to industrial tolerances. Commercially produced pinhole lenses typically produce sharper pinhole photographs, yet still retain the distinctive wide angle and a infinite depth of field. Recently, the Wanderlust introduced the Pinwide pinhole lenses for Four Thirds mirrorless cameras.

The Four Thirds camera format offers distinct advantages for pinhole photography, and the Wanderlust Pinwide takes full advantage of unique characteristics of this new camera format for experimental photography. Once the camera is set to “shoot without a lenses” setting (which is found in the customs menus settings), exposures are accurately previewed through live view. Exposures are best achieved by dialing in a manual shutter speed setting.  Without a mirror to move out-of-the-way with each exposure, a very wide-angle of view is achieved through the deep recessed design of the Pinwide. The Pinwide pinhole sits only about a centimeter above the sensor, offering an effective field of view of 11mm (or 22mm factored in full frame equivalents). The Pinwide pinhole is produced through “precision etching technology”[7] produces distinctive natural vignette, and color shifts to deep blue and magenta are sometimes present within the shadow areas. The subtraction of the mirror from the Four Thirds camera format lessens camera shake with handheld shooting at slower shutter speeds. Even at higher ISO settings of 3200 and 6400, the soft imaging properties of the pinhole produces a pleasing noise structure across the entire image.

The Pinwide at Baja Sur Missions and Churches.

Recently, I carried the Wanderlust Pinwide attached to a Lumix G3 camera body to photograph four of the eight intact 18th century Jesuit Missions in the Mexican state of Baja Sur: Misión San Luis Gonzaga Chiriyaqui, northwest of La Paz, Misión San Jose de Comondú, in the mountains west of Loreto, Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó, in the picturesque town of  San Javier, and Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, in Loreto. The Pinwide was also used in humble contemporary churches built on former mission sites: at La Purisma, west of Loreto near the Pacific coast, at San Miquel de Comondú, a mountain canyon near Misión San Jose de Comondú  and in cathedral in old town La Paz, the Misión de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de La Paz Airapí.

In Baja, a mission or (misión) was a central religious and administrative center which governed an area of several thousand square miles inhabited by scattered groups of native peoples.[8] Coming upon the great stone churches of Baja Sur, particularly Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó set within a deep mountain canyon and Misión San Luis Gonzaga Chiriyaqui located at the bottom of a low basin in the empty central desert, presents a stunning visual juxtaposition.  Baja Sur’s intact stone missions, remnants of the Jesuit’s 18th century colonization of the Baja Penisula, provides a compelling and challenging subject matter for experiments with the Wanderlust Pinwide lens and the Lumix mirror less camera. Over ninety per cent of the original native populations fell victim to epidemics brought to the Baja Peninsular with the Jesuits. The soft focus and vignetting of the pinhole photographs suggests a communion with the difficult and uncertain past of Baja’s Missions.  The visual texture of the pinhole photographs invokes the atmosphere of ghostly spirituality still present in the austere stone churches of Baja Sur. The colors of the humble contemporary churches built over the sites of former missions emanate a warm glow which speaks to the continued faith begun during the troubled mission period.

The Pinwide at Baja Sur Roadside Shrines.

In addition, the Pinwide and Lumix G3 was used to photograph roadside shrines found along Highway 1, Baja Transpeninsular Highway, and on roads leading to Baja Sur’s Jesuit Missions.  In addition, large roadside shrines to saints are found regularly along Highway 1 remind travelers to offer prayers and remembrances for the deceased. Typically, family and friends erect shrines to the life and death of ordinary persons, called descansos, translated as “resting place” these smaller shrines are seen at regular intervals along Highway 1 and secondary roads. These folk memorials commemorate not the final resting place, but the place where sudden death interrupted a traveler’s journey or where a traveler was last alive or where a loved one was found after a tragic death. Descansos and shrines to saints have been present in North America since the time of the Spanish conquest.[9] [10] As sites of memory and family pilgrimage, these sites serve as warnings to the living of dangerous road conditions as well as cultural protests to the dangerous conditions of the current road system. Moreover, roadside memorials inject the memory of the deceased into the empty space of the landscape of the highway.[10]

In observance, in passing by, in stopping to read and to photograph, the traveler engages in the ritual space constructed by survivors in remembrance of the deceased. The visual structure of this small series of pinhole photographs embraces the interconnected layers the past, and speaks to the creative force of memory within the transient landscape of the highway.

©David Arnold, 2014

Citations / Notes

[1] Eric Renner, Pinhole Photography, Rediscovering a Historic Technique, (Focal Press, Boston, 1995) p. 3-4.

[4] Eric Renner, Pinhole Photography, Rediscovering a Historic Technique, (Focal Press, Boston, 1995) p. 38.

[5] George Davison, The Onion Field, 1890.

[6] Helmut Gernsheim, Creative Photography, Aesthetic Trends 1839-1960,  (Dover, New York, 1962) p. 122.

[7] Wanderlust Pinwide. Products.

[8] Peter Gerhard, “The “Lost Mission” of Baja California,”  Western Folklore, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Apr., 1958), pp. 97-106.

[9] David Charles Sloane, Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Vernacular Architecture, Vol. 12, (2005), pp. 64-81.

[10] Deborah Lynn Wagner, “Death, Memory, and Space, A Rural Community Response to  Roadside Memorials,” ProQuest, p. 4.

Experimenting with the Square Format: Using the Spartus Full-Vue With Tungsten Film

masked spartus

 The Spartus Full-Vue Twin Lens Camera, 1948-1960.

The Twin Lens Reflex Camera:

Many notable photographers used twin lens cameras: Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Lisette Model, and Diane Arbus. The first twin lens reflex camera appeared in 1880 as a specially built camera for the Kew Observatory in England. The first production twin lens camera appeared in the 1882, introduced as the Academy by the British firm, Marion and Company.  The camera, a non-reflex design featured an upper viewing lens held at eye level, and produced the distinctive square image that would come to be associated with twin lens cameras.  Over the next two decades, nearly every major camera manufacturer offered twin lens reflex cameras standardized on the square format. [1]


Twin lens reflex cameras feature a mirror mounted behind the viewing lens at a 45-degree angle, reflecting light onto the viewing screen. The upper lens is dedicated to viewing and is mechanically synchronized for focus with the lower lens, which is devoted to film exposure. Usually held at waist level to compose and focus, the twin lens reflex camera offers the advantage of a viewing area identical to the exposure area. Twin lens cameras also offer the advantages of being able to view the exposure as it is being made. In addition, the mirror does not have to move to made the exposure. Traditionally the square format negative was cropped to 8×10 inches, the standard paper size. The large negative of the typical twin lens camera, over 4 times the size of the 35mm camera format, presents advantages for enlargement of selected portions of the image without significant loss of detail. The disadvantages of the twin lens design are the slight disparity between the coverage area of the upper and lower lens, referred as parallax error, and a right to left reversal produced by the mirrored image.


The Square Format:

In painting and photography, the shape of the picture refers to picture’s format.  Because rectangles are so prevalent in our daily lives, we seldom notice the shape of the window, table or the pages of a book. Most paintings and photographs are rectangles. The horizontal or vertical format of the rectangle may evoke the breadth of a landscape or the heights of towering mountains. The compositional flexibility of the rectangle helps to make the format ubiquitous. Invisible to the shape of picture, we notice content of the picture rather and shape of the picture.[2]


Since very few subjects are naturally square, photographers using the square format cameras often crop their images into rectangles. However, photographers who make the syntactical decision to use  the square format do so in support of subject and content decisions, and alerts us that each photograph is a means of representing the world.  Using a square format camera without cropping the image can enliven subject matter by making the photographer and viewer conscious of the shape of the picture and act of taking a photograph. The square format counters the invisibility of the rectangle, and demands that we consider the shape of the picture as well as what is depicted within the shape. The square format presents a fresh challenge to the traditional golden rectangle variants found in most camera viewfinders.


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The Spartus Full-Vue Twin Lens Reflex- the Spartus Camera Corporation in Chicago, Illinois, produced the Full-Vue Reflex from 1948-1960. The camera is a simple to use twin-lens reflex box camera featuring an image in the ground glass viewfinder equal to the negative size. With a large viewing lens the Full-Vue boasts an especially bright viewfinder image.In 1949, the Full-Vue  also featured a synchronized flash attachment. The Spartus Full-Vue’s bakelite body [3] is fitted with a fixed focus 92mm Scienar plastic lens and takes twelve 6-centimeter exposures on 120mm film. The Spartus Full-Vue employs a rotary shutter and as the Full-Vue manual instructs “the exposure is then made by gently pressing the exposure lever down as far as it will go.”[4] The shutter has only two settings: “inst.” (about 1/60th of a second) and “time” (a bulb setting for long exposures). 


Using the Spartus Full-Vue With Tungsten Film in Daylight:

I loaded Fujichrome T64 Professional 120mm Tungsten film into the Spartus Full View, and used the camera to photograph fall color at three California locations in late October, 2013: in the Alder Grove at Yosemite National Park, along the Tenaya Canyon Creek just outside of Lee Vinning on in the Eastern Sierra and at North Bloomfield in the Nevada County. Tungsten films are calibrated for exposure under indoor studio lighting conditions with a Kevin temperature of 3200k producing a much lower color temperature than daylight, which has a Kelvin temperate of 5500k. When shooting tungsten film in daylight conditions, a 85 filter compensates for color temperature disparity and when shooting daylight films in tungsten light conditions, an 80a filter is recommend.[5] Using tungsten film in daylight conditions without color correction filters yields unpredictable results and even with identical exposures on the same roll of film.


At each location, I photographed in basic daylight conditions, and exposed the Fujichrome T64 Tungsten film without color correction and without any using a color correction filter. The Full-Vue’s plastic lens produced spectacularly unpredictable results. The appearance of the monochrome reds was surprising, and the deep blues and magentas produced startling mixes of color. The square format of the Spartus Full-Vue supports the muting of image details in the abstraction of unexpected color.

©David Arnold, 2014.



[1] S. F. Spira, The History of Photography As Seen Through the Spira Collection. New York: Aperture, 2001, p. 120.

Experimenting with Box Cameras: Brownies at Mono Lake



The Art Deco Brownie, the Brownie Target Six-20, circa 1946.

In 1888, the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company headed by George Eastman, introduced the Kodak camera, a wooden box “neatly covered in black leather”[1] which became the most significant event in the history of the medium since the invention of photography. The camera was loaded with a 100-exposure roll of silver gelatin film attached to two spools, and sold for $25. Once all of the film was exposed, the photographer had only to return the camera to the Eastman factory in Rochester, New York, where for $10 the film was removed and processed and a fresh roll loaded into the camera and returned to the customer. When Eastman began work on the Kodak camera in 1886, he paid close attention to the ease of use and the efficiencies of manufacture.  Eastman first announced the Kodak at an annual photographers’ conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The convention awarded the Kodak a gold medal as the invention of the year. [2] Considering the cumbersome cameras and photographic processes prior to the release of the Kodak, the simplicity of Eastman new camera was stunning.


With the release of the Kodak, mass photography and mass marketing were born. Eastman personally controlled of all the marketing and promotional details, oversaw the preparation of instructional manuals, advanced literature to suppliers, and arranged advertising. The advertising campaign for the Kodak featured women and children operating the Kodak to emphasize the ease of use for anyone without regard to professional training, technical expertise or aesthetic intention. Most famously, Eastman conceived of the often-quoted slogan, “You press the button—we do the rest.” By the end of the 19th century, the name Kodak became iconic—the brand name for photography.  The Kodak Girl became the symbol of the modern photographer. The Kodak box camera became so popular and successful that the Eastman Company changed the company name to Eastman Kodak in 1892.  Eastman felt the name was “firm and unyielding”, a strong name, and easily pronounced in multiple languages. The name Kodak became both a noun and verb—to Kodak now meant to photograph.[3]


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The new Kodak camera was the lead article in the Scientific American, September 15, 1888. 

The Kodak was the world’s first successful roll film camera. The Kodak shipped in a wooden box that contained the camera, a carrying case, the Kodak Manual, and the Memorandum of Kodak Exposures, and a notebook that enabled users to record their exposures. The camera featured an innovative lens mounted in a cylinder that rotated to act as a shutter.  The lens was a fixed focus f/9 periscopic lens with a 2.25-inch focal length. The Kodak had rotary shutter that could be opened by pulling a string; the shutter had a single fixed speed, but also featured timed exposures. The 100 exposures of the Kodak were often used for travel and vacation photography where a large number of exposures would be required. Photography soon became associated with leisure, holidays, and major family events. Still, in 1888 dollars, a $25  Kodak was an expensive item. The Kodak served primarily as a vacation camera for the upper classes, and as the Scientific American article noted, “Yachting trips may be illustrated; the pleasure of journeys through foreign countries will be increased by knowing that any novel sight the traveler may see can be caught and preserved to show to his friends.”[4] Prior to the 1880’s, each photographer operated as his own handicraft producer of photosensitive materials. In 1889, Eastman introduced a modified version of the original Kodak, now named the Kodak No. 1. Eastman’s new cameras were loaded with transparent film, the standard for Kodak cameras. In 1891, Eastman introduced the Model A Daylight Kodak, a box camera design, which permitted daylight loading of roll film. The new Kodak cameras changed the landscape of photography from a decentralized, handicraft mode of production to a centralized, mechanized mode of production geared predominately to an amateur photography market. Eastman was responsible for the “conception of an amateur camera and a system of photography.”[5]


Eastman’s most successful line of box cameras was introduced in 1900, when the company introduced the famous Brownie box cameras. “Brownies” were cartoon characters created by Canadian illustrator Palmer Cox and were featured in magazines and later in his very popular children’s books. Eastman appropriated the Brownie name and Cox’s characters in his advertising campaigns without attribution or paying a licensing fee. [6] Eastman’s advertising equated owning a Brownie camera with the fun-loving, adventurous Cox characters who were always on the cutting edge of new trends and technology. By marketing the Brownie to children, Eastman signaled that the camera was easy to use. He bet that as children grew older they would purchase newer and more expensive Eastman Kodak products. Eastman courted adult buyers by advertising to children, and as one headline proclaimed, the Brownie was a camera “that you and your dad can enjoy together.” [7] Widely advertised in popular magazines of the day, the Brownie sold for a fraction of the price of the Kodak No 1, a marketing and promotional strategy that ushered in a steady stream of film, print processing, and accessory sales. Unlike the original Kodaks, anyone could afford a Brownie and more than 150,000 Brownie box cameras were sold in the first year of production—a marketing success that launched nearly 200 separate camera models with the Brownie name and established the Eastman Kodak Company as the dominant force in photography for 100 years. [8]


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Early Brownie Camera Advertisements.

Brownie box cameras had a simple meniscus lens or doublet lenses with a fixed focus of approximately 8 feet to infinity and a rotary shutter with speeds of approximately 1/25th to 1/50th of second plus a bulb or long exposure setting. Box camera bodies contained waist level finders and were made of cardboard or metal covered in leather. Early Brownies accepted numerous film sizes, with later models standardizing on 116 and 120 roll films.[9] Many notable photographers were introduced to photography by the Brownie camera, including Ansel Adams, Henri Carter Bresson and Edward Weston.


Brownie cameras in good condition can be purchased today for as little as $10 on Ebay. Brownie box cameras make excellent experimental cameras, offering potentials with multiple film formats and light-sensitive mediums. Brownies feature large imaging areas. The long exposure setting with Brownie shutters permits experimentation with slow speed emulsions such as black and white printing papers, color and black and white sheet films, wet collodion materials and daylong exposures with cyanotype papers. Brownie box cameras are easily modified to accept multiple film formats including 120mm roll film, 127mm roll film as well as 35mm film. When using unconventional film sizes all that is necessary for the camera to accept different film sizes is an original film spool to engage into the film take-up crank.


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Experimental Brownies loaded with 35mm film.

In October 2013, I took three Brownie cameras, a Brownie Model B No. 3, Brownie No2 A, and a Brownie Target, loaded with 35mm Kodak Portra 400 color negative film negative film to Mono Lake to photograph the tufa towers along the southern shore. Mono Lake, in Mono County, California, near the California and Nevada border, is one of the oldest lakes in North America, naturally alkaline and salty. The lake’s most prominent feature, large tufa towers along the shoreline, form as fresh water springs bubble calcium carbonate into the alkaline waters of the lake.  Calcium and carbonate form limestone to produce the tufa towers, some as tall as 30 feet high. With the lowering of the lake levels through the diversion of water to the Los Angeles basin, the large tufa towers are easily assessable and have become a popular destination for tourists and for photographers. [Click on thumbnails to enlarge images]


The No. 3 Brownie Model B (1911-1920) features an image area of 3.25 inches by 4.25 inches. Originally accepting 124mm roll film, the camera features a meniscus achromatic lens and a rotary shutter.  Ebay value: $10-50.

With the Brownie No2A and the Brownie Target, I loaded a single roll of color negative film, and with the Brownie Model B, which has a large format negative area (3 inches by 4.25 inches), I loaded rolls of 35mm film side by side. Prior to loading the camera with 35mm film, a test roll determined the crank rate for advancing the film and all potential light leaks were taped. Without a light film changing bag, and because of the way the film needs to be loaded and unloaded into the box cameras, I could only shoot one roll per camera. Once shot, the 35m film needs to be re-spooled back into the 35mm cassettes using a 35mm camera with a manual re-winder, and of course these procedures must be done in total darkness! The Kodak Portra when processed using Walgreen Drugstore’s one-hour film processing. The film processing produced a decided shift to the blue. After scanning, the film was color corrected with Photoshop.

The Brownie 2A (1901-1935) was the first camera to accept 120mm film. Over 2.5 million Brownie 2A’s were manufactured. The camera features a meniscus lens, a rotary shutter and an image area of 2.25 inches by 3.25 inches. Ebay value: $10-25. 

The Brownie Target Six-20 (1946-1952) is a metal box camera that originally accepted 620 film with 2.25 by 3.25 inch image area. The Target Brownie Six-20 has a meniscus lens, a rotary shutter and three aperture settings: f/11, f/16 and “B”. Ebay value: $15-20.

While photographing with the Brownies at Mono Lake, I noticed photographers in the bright October sun with cameras of all shapes and sizes. Using 3 Brownie Cameras which spanned the box camera era and ushered in the snapshot was therefore an appropriate match for the popular contemporary photographic destination of Mono Lake.  In selecting the narrow format of the 35mm film, I hoped to accentuate the vertical white forms of the tufa towers. I was uncertain how the Brownie’s meniscus lens would respond to contemporary color film. I was happy with the uneven results and I felt that the bleeding of color seen along the film edges and through the 35mm sprocket holes spoke to the corrosive  landscape and natural processes of Mono Lake. Equally, the uneven color that resulted from light leaks and one-hour film processing is suggestive of the chemical staining and the residues associated with 20th century film technology introduced in earnest with Brownie cameras. Although the original film used in the Brownie cameras did not contain sprocket holes to guide the film through the film transport, the random holes of the 35mm film sprockets speaks to the continuing limits of photographic representation. All told, it was a great afternoon!



Holding the Brownie No. 3 Model B with Tufa Towers, Mono Lake, CA. Oct. 2013 (photograph by Margaret Arnold).

David Arnold ©2013.

[2] Instantaneous Photography, Scientific American, September 15, 1888, page 164.

[3] S. F. Spira, The History of Photography As Seen Through the Spira Collection, p. 101.

[4] Instantaneous Photography, Scientific American, September, 1888, page 164.

[5] Reese V. Jenkins, “Technology and the Market: George Eastman and the Origins of Mass Amateur Photography”, Technology and Culture, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Jan., 1975), pp. 1-14; History of Kodak.

[7] Todd Gustavson, Camera, p. 140.

[8] Todd Gustavson, Camera, p. 140-143.

Downieville Cemetery: Portraits of Gravestones

The Downieville Cemetery

Situated at the bottom of a deep narrow canyon at the confluence of the Downie and Yuba Rivers, Downieville, California prospered from the gold taken from the fast moving alpine rivers and streams. At the peak of the Gold Rush, about 5,000 miners worked extensive hydraulic diggings and deep rock mines in the area. Then, Downieville was one of the largest city in California.  Today, about 300 permanent residents enjoy the isolation and beauty of the canyon.[1]

On a steep slope on the north side of the Downie River canyon and about a mile up river from the confluence with the Downie and Yuba Rivers sits the Downieville Cemetery. Founded in the 1876, the Downieville Cemetery followed trends established by the rural cemetery movement begun in the early nineteenth century. Sometimes referred to as the Masonic Graveyard or Pioneer Cemetery,[2] Downieville’s cemetery consolidated graves from two small cemeteries begun near the town center. Like nineteenth-century rural cemeteries, the Downieville cemetery merges styles drawn from a multiplicity of landscape garden motifs: obelisks, miniature columned gates, urns, Gothic inspired wrought iron grave enclosures, angels atop tall monuments, cherubs, and holding hands craved into gravestone reflect the shifting nineteenth-century views on death and the remembrances of the dead.

The rural cemetery served the expanding nineteenth century urban culture as a place of moral improvement and social reform and suggested that death was a presence, a long sleep, and that the graves set in a natural setting would be eternal homes. As nature sanctuary, the nineteenth century rural cemetery is place of memory and beauty, with an emphasis not on death, but on art, hope and transcendence.[3] The American rural cemeteries were founded on the needs for healthy burial grounds placed away from the expanding population centers and on the Romantic movements connections to nature. Based on English landscape garden plans, rural cemeteries were designed as the first public parks and expressed a nostalgia for death culled from classical authors such as Virgil [4] :

“Then we are sent to spacious Elysium, a few of us to possess the blissful fields. All these that you see, when they have rolled time’s wheel through a thousand years, the god summons in vast throng to Lethe’s river, so that, their memories effaced, they may once more revisit the vault above and conceive the desire of return to the body.” [5].

Downieville’s historic cemetery exemplifies the picturesque tradition of the nineteenth-century rural cemetery: a ramshackle gate opens onto a place of quiet contemplation and meandering steps and paths lead in no particular direction,  and unkempt bushes, vines and tall grasses spread over grave enclosures. Dead branches and trees co-exist alongside new growth, to suggest that death is a natural cycle, and even when the river is low, and like Virgil’s Elysium, the sounds of rushing water filter over the picturesque landscape of death.[6]

Portraits of Gravestones

I arrived at the Downieville Cemetery just as the sun dropped into the top branches of the pine trees at the ridge line. At first disappointed that I had missed the light, I began to wander up the steep hillside over the terraced cemetery grounds. About halfway up the hill, I began to notice a diffused light bathing the gravestones in a soft and even glow. As I began to photograph the gravestones and enclosures in earnest I became fascinated by the uneven placement of the gravestones on the terrance slope. Some of the grave monuments stood tall, while others leaned forward and back creating diagonal and overlapping lines and shapes in the viewfinder.  The steep slope of the hill accentuated size distortions generated by the reduced angle of view offered by portrait lens which I selected for this series.

The overlapping of weeds, grasses, gravestones and monuments continue the picturesque intentions of the rural cemetery movement. The soft bokeh generated by the portrait lens speaks the nineteenth century sentimentality of mourning. Nineteenth century gravestones stood as markers for the departed and photographs I created are intended as portraits of those gravestones and monuments left in remembrance of the departed.


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Mounting the Fujian China TV GDS 35mm F1.7 lens to the Micro Four Thirds Lumix G with an adapter.


The Fujian China TV GDS 35mm F1.7 lens

For the Downieville Cemetery series, I used Fujian China TV GDS 35mm F1.7 lens purchased new from Amazon for $22, and a simple screw mounted lenses adapter was an additional $9. The Fujian China TV GDS 35mm F1.7 lens is surprising sharp at the focal point, with a soft bokeh falling off from the center of the image. The 35mm F1/7 mounted to the Lumix G Micro Four Thirds camera is the equivalent of a short telephoto or portrait lens on a 35mm format film or full frame sensor camera. The introduction of the Micro Four Thirds camera systems has opened new fields of experimentation with inexpensive manual focus lenses. With a thinner camera body achieved by the elimination of an internal camera mirror, the Micro Four Thirds lens mount has a flange focal distance of 20mm, a very shallow distance which permits the use of a wide range of lenses from manual focus 35mm to C-mount lens. The C-mount standard, first introduced by Kodak in 1923, were engineered for 16mm film and 8mm film cameras. In the 1950’s, television and early video cameras employed the C-mount standard.[7] C-mount lens are surprising inexpensive. I was very happy with how the Fujian 35mm F1.7 lens imaging characteristics supports the formal, conceptual and aesthetic choices expressed with the Downieville Cemetery series.
©David Arnold, 2013.
Works Cited
[1] Douglas E. Kyle, Historic Spots in California, p. 475-6.
[4] Margaretta J. Darnall, “The American Cemetery as Picturesque Landscape: Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis,” Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter, 1983), pp. 249-269

Cross Processing and the Lomo LC-A


lomo-up-closeThe Lomo LC-A showing the viewfinder, Minitar 1 lens, zone focus and exposure controls.

The Lomo LC-A is a wonderful little camera. With a sleek black design, an ease of use and the unique Minitar 1 wide-angle 32mm f/2.8 lens, the Lomo LC-A inspires play and experimentation. First introduced into mass production in 1984 during the last decade of the Soviet Union, the Lomo LC-A was designed as a copy of the Japanese compact Cosina CX-1, and was intended to be a people’s snapshot camera. The camera was exported to Eastern Europe and discovered in Prague in 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Empire by a group of Austrian students and photographers. In 1992, the Lomo LC-A birthed  the Lomographic Society International, a conceptual, experimental, entrepreneurial, and an early Internet association of photographers. The Lomo LC-A became the Lomographic Society’s flagship product. In 1997, the Lomographic Society convinced the post-Soviet regime to begin production of the Lomo LC-A, a version of the camera, which has remained in production until 2005. A replacement Chinese production LC-A+ with a Russian lens was introduced in 2006 and after 2007 the Lomo LC-A+ has been manufactured in China with a Chinese manufactured Minitar 1 wide-angle 32mm f/2.8 lens.[1] The Lomo LC-A+ cameras is a now available with Russian made lens or with the Chinese manufactured version, and features expanded features such as a multiple exposure option and expanded ISO settings up to 1600. [2]

Key Lomo LC-A technical features.

•35mm film format. •fixed, Minitar 1 wide-angle 32mm f/2.8 lens. •auto exposure systen reliable even at night. •electronic controlled shutter speed (2m—1/500 of a second). •manual zone focus lens—a little lever adjusts the focus distance from 0.8m to infinity •the camera is one of the smallest 35mm cameras you’ll find—easy to place in a camera bag or pocket and take it everywhere. •manual film advance and rewind. •hot shoe attachement •ISO setting from 25-400. •inexpensive—$150 (average cost for good condition Russian made Lomo LC-A on Ebay).

Loading Film into the Lomo LC-A. 

For several years, I have been using the Lomo LC-A for the distinctive edge vignetting produced by the Minitar 1 wide-angle 32mm f/2.8 lens, and for the Loma LC-A’s ease of use and lightweight design—the small palm sized camera is easily carried in a pocket or added to a camera bag.  I’ve found that the Lomo LC-A coupled with cross processed transparency film produces a wholly unique color scheme. Cross processing involves intentionally developing film in chemistry not recommended by the film manufacturer.  The results can be spectacular. With cross processing contrast, color saturation and grain are  increased.  In general, cross processing enhances the abstraction of forms and shifts to brilliant green and blues are most common.

Mysterious Color Shifts With Cross Processing.

Color film contains blue, red and green dye layers plus silver-halide crystal layers. Color results vary according the silver halide grains that correspond to the amount of light recorded on each layer. Color film processing employs specially engineered chemicals which react to produce color couplers on the image forming layers.  The silver halide crystals are removed in the development and bleach steps. The  final color image contains only dyes: the blue sensitive layer forming yellow-colored dye, the red sensitive layer forming cyan-colored dyes and green sensitive layers forming magenta-colored dye. In conventional color processing, the color image  is closely representative of the scene in front of the camera lens. Cross processing uses the complexities of color film image formation to produce unexpected and unique results which varies according to the dye composition of each film stock. [3]

The four examples above illustrate the unpredictable nature of color cross processing. With Big Dead Oak and Pismo Beach Rock images, I selected Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EB2 film, a warm toned color transparency film. Note the radical color shifts in the two sets, exposed on adjoining frames, taken moments apart, and processed at the same time in the same batch of C-41 color processing. (Click to enlarge).

Color transparency or slide film is normally processed in E-6 chemistry. Rather than processing the film in the manufacturer’s recommended E-6 process, I intentionally developed my Lomo LC-A  film in C-41 chemistry, a process used by one hour photo labs which is intended for processing color negative films.   Cross processing unlocks unexpected and dramatic results by substituting different chemicals from those recommended by the film manufacturer, producing a color schemes not achieved by any other means, including digital post processing. To accentuate cross processing effects, my Lomo LC-A film is scanned to CD’s immediately after processing, producing an impressionistic noise structure. Cross processing, and especially when coupled with the Lomo LC-A, produces intense, electric, vibrant colors, converting an ordinary scene into an expressive event.

Lomo LC-A and Cross Processing Gallery

©David Arnold, 2013


[1] Lomo LC-A History. Lomographic Society.

[2] Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lomography and the Lomo LC-A, p. 354-5.

[3] Robert Hirsch, Exploring Color Photography, p. 17.

At Chimney Beach: Using a Freezer Bag as a Waterproof Housing


  At Chimney Beach (with the Takashi EZ F521 Digital Camera in a freezer bag).

Chimney Beach, a narrow band of sand on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, is accessed by a trail from Nevada Highway 28. The beach is managed by the Nevada State Parks Department and is named for the lone chimney nestled at the top of a small cove, the only structure of any kind found in the area. Dense outcrops of smooth granite boulders line the shore and spread like tiny islands along the narrow underwater shelf on lakeshore. The views from the beach looking to the southwest are spectacular and when the winds come up in the afternoons, small waves break against the granite boulders and on the sand strip, generating an ocean-like experience.

Margaret Arnold, At Chimney Beach, Looking West

The intense natural beauty of Chimney Beach has inspired many photographic field trips. On a recent trip, I experimented with Takashi Digital FX 521. Since being released in 2009, the small retro-styled digital rangefinder is marketed under several names: the Yashica Digital FX 521, the Takashi Digital FX 521, Lomo JOCO VX5 Digital Camera. Referred to as “Digital Holgas”, “Digital Dianas”, or “Digital Lomos”, the little camera shares little in design these earlier film cameras, however, the camera’s lack of creative controls and small plastic lens are suggestive of popular film-based toy cameras.

Mar­garet Arnold, the palm-sized Takashi EZ F521 and with freezer bag waterproof housing.

The Takashi EZ F521 sells for about $99 from Amazon and ebay. The palm-sized camera makes it an easy second or third travel camera. Most promising about the Takashi EZ F521 is the pleasing and smooth film like quality of the noise. Other features include two fixed focus settings, landscape and “macro”; an optical viewfinder; a 5mp 1/2.5″ CMOS sensor with interpolation up to 12mp, with interpolated images generate the most pleasing noise; a 3 inch LCD screen; and 640—480 pixel video capture.

 Margaret Arnold, At Chimney Beach: the Takashi EZ F521 inserted into a freezer bad

As an experimental camera the Takashi EZ F521 performs remarkably well. Light weight and inexpensive, the camera engenders risk taking. Illustrating an experimental approach with camera vantage point, I took the Takashi EZ F521 with me on a recent trip to Chimney Beach. I placed the camera in a freezer bag and used the camera at the water line and submerged the camera just below the surface. I experimented with capturing small breaking waves and smooth granite boulders lining the shore of Chimney Beach from water level. The view through the plastic freezer bag coupled with the plastic lens of the Takashi EZ F521 generated a unique otherworldly blur, suggestive of watery and floating world.

David Arnold, At Chimney Beach with the Takashi EZ F521 inserted into a freezer bad

©David Arnold, 2013

On Bokeh—the Red Tree


Experimenting with Bokeh, The Red Tree Series
Using the Minolta F/1.2 MC Rokkor-X 58 mm Lens


Early references to the Chinese Pistache tree[1] appear in Ernest Henry Wilson’s A Naturalist in Western China. Wilson notes that the hard wood of Chinese Pistache forms “a natural “fork” at one end and is in general use for the balance rudder on all the larger boats.” [2]The tree is drought and insect resistant and can be grown in hot dry climates in poor soils. Easily maintained, the Chinese Pistache has become a popular choice for plantings along roadways, parking lots and as a shade tree. Young trees are scraggly and asymmetrical; mature Chinese Pistache trees reach 40-50 feet, and grow into a uniform and dense oval shape. With dark green foliage the long narrow oval shaped deciduous leaves of the Chinese Pistache become a riot of red, orange, coral, crimson, purple, pink, yellow in the fall.[3]


The Red Tree Series, 2010-present.


Several years ago, I noticed a lone Chinese Pistache tree set amid the Blue Oak savanna of the Spenceville Wildlife Area. From a nearby road, the lone Chinese Pistache in full fall display was the most prominent visible evidence of an abandoned ranch site set in a meadow below the low ridgeline. In 1942, the United States War Department purchased ranches in Yuba and Nevada Counties in the Northern California Foothills and joined the properties into Camp Beale, a training ground for the 13th Armored Division.[4] Following the war, the property near the Chinese Pistache was added to the Spenceville Wildlife Refuge. The tree is spectacular from middle October into December, and commands the meadow at the edge of the abandoned ranch site. The variegated color of the lone Chinese Pistache tree with the long drooping lower branches provides a continuing subject for experimental photography.


In the Red Tree series, I selected a vintage Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58mm lens to create a series of photographs of Chinese Pistache tree, following the changing foliage through the fall season. I selected the Minolta Rokkor 58mm lens for the opportunity provided by the lens to highlight the lanceolate shaped leaves of the Chinese Pistache tree, and render the changing colors of the canopy and branches in a soft glow. Featuring F/1.2 aperture, the manual focus lens is one of the fastest lenses produced for still photography. The highly regarded lens was manufactured in the 1960’s, and is now prized for the smooth bokeh produced even at the largest apertures.

Three views of the vintage Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58 mm f/1.2 lens with Chinese Pistache leaves in the background. Figure #3 shows the Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58 mm f/1.2 lens with an optical adapter for mounting on Sony A mount DSLRs. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)


The term bokeh first appeared in photography discussions in the late 1990’s.[5] Taken from the Japanese, bokeh originally referred to the blur present in ink-wash painting;[6] In photography the term is now applied to the blur present in the out of focus areas in a photograph. Determining the sharpness of a particular film, lens, and now our sensors dominates the technical and aesthetics discussions in photography. Discussions on bokeh have opened a dialogue on the aesthetics of blur, blurring and out of focus elements in photographs as well encouraging research and development of lens, software and techniques to achieve bokeh. Ironically, the term bokeh has sharpened discussions of the aesthetic qualities of blur and out of focus areas of a photograph as well as the particular characteristic of lenses and lens designs in creating expressive blur in a photograph.


Details: Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58 mm f/1.2 Lens with an optical adapter for Sony DSLR. Aperture setting between F/1.2—F/2.8. Note the smooth gaussian blur that is present in the out of focus area of the details. Details shown at 100% views. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)


Understanding the limitations of current lens designs is at the core of what we call photographic seeing. With current lens designs, during image formation, only one point of the image is in absolute focus, a point referred to as the focal point. During image formation, and restricted by the aperture, light rays form cones of light. If the point of light is not at the point of sharp focus each point of light images as a disc of light, known as a circle of confusion. The overlapping discs of light cause the image to look less sharp, forming bokeh, or the out of focus area of the photograph. The farther from the point of sharp focus, the larger the circles of confusion become and the more out of focus the image appears. If the size of the aperture is reduced the cones become narrower and the circles of confusion become smaller resulting in a sharper image and reducing the amount of bokeh.


Details: Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58 mm f/1.2 Lens with an optical adapter for Sony DSLR.  With aperture settings between F/1.2—F/2.8, note how the lens produced discordant hard-edged circles of confusion in the highlight areas. These areas exhibits what is often termed “bad bokeh”.  Note as well, that “good  bokeh” and “bad bokeh” are created with the same lens at the same aperture setting. Details shown at 100% views. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)


Discussions on bokeh emphasizes the complexities of image formation and the aesthetics of blur. That no term was readily used until the 1990’s highlights the dominance that image sharpness has held over technical and aesthetic discussions of image formation. Like discussions of color aesthetics, all evaluations of bokeh are subjective and relative to each lens and each lighting situation. Weighing the subtleties of good bokeh, “smooth and pleasing,” vs. bad bokeh, “jagged and discordant,”[vi] and even neutral bokeh, somewhere in between, may trivialize the aesthetics of image formation and the properties of blur in a photograph. More welcome is the dialogue on image formation that the introduction of the term bokeh has stimulated and encouraged discussions on the aesthetics of selective focus. Conclusions: the quality of light is a key factor in creating pleasing bokeh; as with discussions of sharpness, considerations of bokeh remains individual and subjective aesthetic decision.


©David Arnold, 2013.

Citations / Notes

[1] Pistacia chinensis.

[3] Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson, Pistacia chinensis, Chinese Pistache, United States Forest Service, Fact Sheet ST-482, Oct. 1994.

[4] Historic California Posts, Beale Air Force Base, The California State Military Museum.

[6] Harold Davis, Practical Artistry: Light and Exposure for Digital Photographers, p 62.

[7] Harold Davis, Practical Artistry: Light and Exposure for Digital Photographers, p 62.


Google views looking north with the Lone Chinese Pistache circled,
Spenceville Wildlife Area Yuba County, California, April 2012. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)

A Point of Historical Interest—Toys Left for Julius.

Toy Portraits With the LensBaby Composer Pro


About 7 miles east of Nevada City, California, and just off Highway 20 is a Point of Historical Interest, the burial site of Julius Albert Apperson, a two-year old boy who died on May 6, 1858. In 1971, the Native Sons of the Golden West erected a monument at the site for “A pioneer who crossed the Plains to California who died and was buried here.” The Native Sons monument implies that Julius Apperson was an emigrant who died making the difficult crossing of the Sierra Nevada Range, and dedicated the monument to perpetuate “the memory of all Lone Graves throughout the State of California.”[1]



 A Point of Historical Interest: The Lone Grave of Julius Albert Apperson, Highway 20, Tahoe National Forest, Nevada County, California showing the Lone Grave Enclosure, twin cedar trees, and Native Sons of the Golden West Monument, August 6, 2013.

Julius Apperson was a native son of California who was born in 1856 in nearby Nevada City. Milton M. Apperson, Julius’s father was a tanner, and built a home in the heavily wooded area near the gravesite. The Apperson home, named White Cloud,[2] at the 3500 feet elevation on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Range, was near the Old Overland Emigrant Trail, one of the many variant of the California Trail, which followed the Truckee River to Donner Lake and then over Donner Pass. The original trail followed the Washington Ridge above the South Yuba River canyon and carried emigrants into Nevada City, Sacramento and the California gold fields.[3]



Native Sons of the Golden West Historical Marker, August 6, 2013.

Milton Apperson was an emigrant from Kentucky, and settled in the area in 1851 or 1852. He had recently completed construction of a new family home and he instructed his children to burn wood shavings in the yard. Julius Apperson, the youngest of four children, died on May 6, 1858 after being severely burned when he caught his pant leg in the fire while playing with his brothers and sisters. The boy died a month after the accident and was buried at the edge of family property. [4]  Shortly after the boy died, the Appersons family left the area, leaving the boy’s grave unmarked, except for two cedar seedlings. Volunteers took an interest in the Apperson grave, and in 1863 constructed a fence around the gravesite and placed a marker. [5]  The fence has been rebuilt several times, and permanent gravestone replaced the wood marker inside of the grave enclosure in 1948. In 1957, the fence was rebuilt again and painted white a small granite headstone was placed inside the grave enclosure.[6]



The Lone Grave Site With Grave Offerings, August 6, 2013.

Just after passing the historic marker, a one-lane turnout provides motorists easy access at the Lone Grave. Two white wood plaques attached to the two cedars frame the gravesite, and about 10 feet away stands the Native Sons of the Golden West Monument.  River rocks outline the bottom of the white fence and trail off at the cedars. The blue lettering on one plaque has completely disappeared and on the second plague reads “In Memory of Julius Albert Apperson, Died on May 6, 1858, Age 2 Years, 2 Mo. And 25 Days.” Passersby leave a changing array of grave offerings at the Lone Grave: stuffed bears and dogs and cats are stuffed between the white lathes of the picket fence. Winnie the Pooh pinwheels and Santa Claus hats festoon the posts of the grave enclosure. Bright Mardi Gras beaded necklaces, fake daisies, fake flower leis, and crib toys dangle from the picket slats. Plastic 4×4 jeeps, fingerboard skateboards, children’s books, plastic horses, hot wheels, rubber ducks, toy sheriff badges, golf balls, crayons, notepads, original children’s drawings, and stuffed Bambies and fish litter the ground. One day the grave enclosure will be littered with grave offerings and at the next passing, grave tenders will have removed all of the grave offerings.



Toy Portrait Set-up with Close Up Filter: The Lensbaby Composer Pro outfitted with the Sweet 35mm Lens Optic and attached to a Sony 900A full frame camera body. The Sweet 35mm is equipped with a 12 blade manually operated F.2.5—22 aperture. Selective focus is achieved by rotating the swivel ball and manually focusing on the lens. Above, a close-up filter is attached to the LensBaby lens to permit close focusing.  The tilt-shift control is especially helpful with close-focusing and macro photography.


At the 3500 feet elevation of the Sierra Nevada Range, the offerings suffer wet and snowy winters and hot summers, and the bright colors on the stuff animals quickly fade, and cobwebs stick to the pinwheels and sunglasses secured to the fence. For many years, I watching the changing display of grave offerings at the Lone Grave, and began this summer a photographic documentation of the toys left at the Lone Grave. Given the thick forest surroundings the gravesite, the picket fence enclosure is usually in heavy shade, although areas of intense sunlight penetrate the canopy of pine and cedar branches to highlight individual grave offerings. The focus of the project has become the stuffed toys crammed into the slats of the white picket fence enclosure at as guardians to Julius’s grave. Fully exposed to the weather, the expressions of stuffed captures best the changing light and color and speaks to uncertainties of existence as a two year old in the Pioneer West and as guardians of a roadside gravesite.



Toy Portrait Set-up with Close Up Filter: The Lensbaby Composer Pro outfitted with the Sweet 35mm Lens Optic equipped with a LensBaby Macro Converter.

With the exception of establishing shots to provide a context for the toy portraits, I’ve chosen to photograph the Lone Grave offerings using a LensBaby Composer Pro Lens with a Sweet Optic 35mm attached to a Sony 900A full frame camera body. The Composer Pro is a tilt shift lens, which permits the movement of the point of focus. Employing large apertures with the toy portraits, I’m also using close-up lens attachments from Plus 1 to Plus 4 magnifications, and with a few examples,  the LensBaby Macro Converter attachment. My lens choice serves to separate each stuffed toy, which line the grave enclosure. The Lensbaby Sweet Optic 35  renders each stuffed toy into a soft glow, and the close up lens brings the toys forward within the composition. The soft focus suggests of how a child might hold toys in their hands and close to their face. The soft focus also honors the sentiments and personal histories of the individuals who have left offerings at the Lone Grave and the volunteers who continue to tend the Lone Grave.


White Bear With Red Ears: LensBaby Pro Composer with 16mm Macro Converter.


 White Bear With Red Ears: LensBaby Pro Composer with Plus 1 Close-up Filter attachment.

©David Arnold, 2013


Citations / Notes:

[1] Native Sons of the Golden West, David S Mason III, Grand President. October 10, 1971.

[2] A nearby National Forest Campground continues the White Cloud name.

[3] The Old Emigrant Trail goes by several names including the Truckee Route and follows the present day Interstate 80 and California State Route 20.  Charles H. Dodd, California Trail, p. 35.

[4] John Milton Apperson, “Brother Tells Version of Early Day Tragedy” (Letter), Nevada County Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 15, Number 1, January 1961.