One of an ongoing series documenting mailbox Americana, see the rest here
Way back in the way back machine, I worked as proof reader, researcher and indexer for a couple of volumes of Tennesse Williams’ letter. It was alternately tedious and fascinating work with long hours divided between reading backwards – an old proof reader’s trick for catching mistakes when your eyes are going numb – and scanning microfilm archives like someone from a 70’s newspaper drama. It paid well, I set my own hours and I got to read as much mid century American drama and fiction as any young English major could hope for. As a result, I’ve read almost everything Williams’ ever wrote including unpublished letters, journals, half-finished plays and more versions of the Orpheus Descending story line than anyone should ever have to sit through. Out of all that reading there’s a couple of images that stick incredibly vividly in my mind. One is the image of the stairs to the roof in the play of the same title.
Stairs to the Roof for those fortunate enough not to have read it, is a fairly early stage in the evolution of The Glass Menagerie. As a play its turgid, overly fantastic and disasterously sincere. But the image of the stairs to the roof – where succor from the industrial world awaits the protagonist – stuck with me. Along the way it got blended with the image of the metal fire escape stairs that feature in The Glass Menagerie, stairs that had their own associations with escape from social and familial responsibilities. In my mind the stairs were always metal and rusting, slightly bent and held to the buidling with crumbling bolts. Rickety in the extreme and the kind of place an unlucky person would manage to catch tetanus in an instant, they held promise none the less. The promise of a life beyond the Celotex interior or, to update the reference, a life beyond the cubical walls.
That image stuck with me as I took my own journey through cube land and eventualy beyond. The stairs remained always rickety and rusty, until I saw this picture of Rex’s over on Stills. I immediately saw the stairs to the roof. The materials are entirely different from what I’ve always imagined, but those are the stairs. The decay and decrepitude of them are utterly perfect. I can almost smell the mold, a far richer smell than the one exuded by the formerly rusty metal stairs.
I offer this as a data point in the ongoing debate regarding the purpose of art and the broad question of what art is and is not. A fairly common line of thought holds art as a communicative act. If art is communication, then how do concepts like intenitonality and message figure in a case such as this where a work inspires thoughts that the artist could have had no knowledge of? If we judge a work on its ability to communicate a message, then what kind of metric are we left with when the association is one of chance? Admittedly, this particular photo is quite good, even if you don’t have your own vivid mental associations to go with it. But with those associations its elevated to the sublime.
I don’t seem to know how to resize the right way. I often end up with jaggies and other artefacts around details. Take a look at this pic for what I’m talking about. Note the artefacts around the text.
So what’s the secret here? A magic $20 plugin? Selective blurring and sharpening at various stages. Not that long ago I started downsizing in steps using a PS action. It doesn’t seem to make that much difference. Kate’s old glasses seemed to present a particular challenge in this arena nearly always rendering with some jaggies at one particularly part of the curve. See below.
I know the root of the problem has something to do with having sufficient pixels to render curves or lines of particular angles. But am I approaching that threshold that often? And if I am, what am I doing differently from all the other photographers that don’t seem to have this problem as often? This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s kind of annoying. I often find myself backing off the sharpening to reduce the apparent jaggies. I’m asking too much?
I lost the eyepiece to one of my Hexar’s yesterday. Unlike a lot of cameras in which the standard diopter is just a clear piece of glass, the eyepiece of the Hexar forms an integral part of the RF. Without it, you can’t see through the viewfinder. Of course, only Hexar eyepieces fit. And of course, since the Hexar RF is a long out production camera originally made by a company that’s changed hands a few times now, locating a replacement part is a pain in the butt.
This is one of the downsides to using abandonware. When it gives up the ghost, you are pretty much on your own. I’ve emailed Greg Weber, the only recognized Konica repair resource in the states and asked on photo.net where, oddly enough, somone else had just lost the same piece off their Hexar. I’ve also bought up KEH’s supply of corrective diopters for the Hexar thinking that if those don’t work for me perhaps I can trade them.
If the Hexar RF didn’t have such completely brilliant ergonomics, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble, but it’s the best designed camera I’ve ever used, much better than an M in many ways. The other day I was looking over Sean Reid’s review of the new M8 and thinking how much they could have improved its ergonomics by adopting the shutter speed dial off the Hexar. Using the Hexar’s exposure compensation dial would have been a good idea as well. Heck, why didn’t they just stuff a sensor into all those Hexar bodies that Sony has got sitting in a warehouse in Germany? But that’s a topic for another day.
Update: Folks looking to replace the eyepiece on their own Hexar RF, should look at this post, in which I detail building your own replacement eyepiece. With some tinkering this could also be a good way to get diopter correction or an increased mag VF. For those wanting to buying a diopter, check out KEH and http://www.photostop.net/Hexar.html.