Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Emasculated, Emancipated But Certainly Not Emaciated

The Lad finally passed his driving test last week and I had to deliver on my promise to give him my car. So, on Tuesday, I drove over to Sheffield to hand it over and suddenly, for the first time in in thirty or so years, I am without a car. Emasculated. I dare say at some point I will buy a new one and until then if I behave myself, the GLW will let me drive hers, but for the moment I am quite enjoying being car-free and fancy-free. Emancipated. Perhaps all the walking the awaits me might do me good because I could do with losing a pound or twenty. Certainly not emaciated.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sepia Saturday 165 : Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Hopalong

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week is entitled "Group Portrait Of An Unknown Family" and we are therefore celebrating the "unknowns" in my photographic collection. Anyone who collects old family photographs will have a significant category tagged as "unknown" : photographs that could possibly be of Auntie Florrie as a young girl, or that woman from the Winding Shed that Uncle Wilf once had a passion for, or Elspeth's cousin from Crewe, or Herbert Sidebottom during his "difficult" period. There is always something intriguing about these "unknowns", a fascination based not on who they are but on who they might be.

And if our imagination needs any encouragement in its search for an answer to that "who could that have been?" question, we can always turn to facial recognition. There are several free, on-line systems that can be used and one of the easiest is Google Image Search. Once you get to the Google Image Search page, simply press the little camera icon and then upload the relative you would like to recognise. I did this with my unknown lady of the 1920s and, low and behold, it turns out to be none other than the silent film star Dorothy Sebastian. Auntie Dorothy, as I now like to call her, will be remembered as a star of several silent films including "Our Dancing Daughters'" and "Our Blushing Brides". She never really made it into the talkies era and I suspect that might have been because of her thick Bradford accent (I know Wikipedia says she was born in Alabama and lived in New York, but you know how unreliable Wiki can be).

Auntie Dotty eventually married William Boyd who you will remember as he was the actor who played Hopalong Cassidy in the films in the 1930s. Auntie Dotty and Uncle Willie sadly divorced after a few years, but it happens in the best of families doesn't it?

The big surprise in all this is that there have been no family stories passed down about these famous relatives of mine. Just that old crumpled photograph hidden away in a shoe box. Untitled and Unknown. How lucky I am that facial recognition is now so effective that I could track long-lost Auntie Dorothy down (having rejected the other possible Google matches which I have to confess included a mug-shot of a criminal in the Texas prison system, a copy-typist from Bogota, and an alabaster statue on a fountain in Brussels).

Get to know other unknowns by going to the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links you will find there.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The NfN Guide To Scanning Negatives

Earlier this week I promised a "Quick Guide To Negative Scanning" and here it is. If you are not interested in negative scanning please feel free to skip this post altogether, it won't score high on entertainment value. If you are into negative scanning already, I apologise for the various shortcomings in this description : it is merely my way of doing things and better approaches may well be available. 

I tend to scan negatives because for most of my pre-digital life I developed my own black and white films and therefore had a full catalogue of negatives but just a patchy collection of prints. Even when I used outside processors to develop colour print films I would keep the negatives, and I also built up a substantial collection of colour slides. I haven't owned a slide projector for decades and therefore the only way to access the colour slides is by scanning them and turning them into digital images. You can also potentially get far better quality digital images by scanning the original negatives rather than scanning subsequent prints : but beware, you not only enlarge the quality, you also enlarge the dots and scratches. You may therefore need to spend some time digitally restoring some of your old images.

You could simply place the negative on a normal flat-bed scanner but the results will be very poor indeed because for negative (or positive slide) scanning to work properly you need the light to shine through the negative rather than just reflect off the surface. therefore you need a scanner that has a dedicated negative scanning function.

There are several of these on the market and they are not prohibitively expensive. I use an Epson Perfection V500 Photo Scanner which handles both 35mm negatives and slides and 6x6 negatives because I have a considerable collection of the latter. There are cheaper models in the Epson range than will just handle 35mm formats and these are perfectly adequate for most situations.

The negatives are positioned on the scanning surface using a plastic mount system. There is a light source built into the lid of the scanner that is positioned above the negatives when the lid is closed. Once the scanning process is started the light will track along the length of the negative strip giving you a high quality scan.

Negatives can be scanned in strips or individually. The software that comes with the Epson range allows you to expose and scan multiple negatives at a time - my scanner for example will scan 12 35mm negatives, or 4 35mm slides, or 2 6x6 negatives at one time. The scanning time will depend on the scale of the digital image you are intending to create.

If you are working with 35mm negatives or slides, the original size is, of course, rather small and therefore you need to build in an element of enlargement into the scanning process, otherwise your final digital image would be too small to manipulate. With 35mm negatives and slides I normally crank the resolution up to 2,400 dpi in order to have an image I can crop and manipulate once it is in a digital form.

You can do some basic editing and correcting on the scanning software itself, although you may prefer to do a fairly straight-forward scan and then do any corrections and adjustments using your favourite editing software. Be prepared for those dust particles and blemishes however, you will have scanned and enlarged them in the process and you will need to get rid of them by careful editing.

I hope this will be useful. If you have any follow-on questions, let me know and I will try my best to answer them. Let me finish with one of the images from the strip of 35mm negatives I used to illustrate this guide (it is the top negative in the first illustration).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pickling the World In Aspic

My lifelong love of photography has always been motivated not by any abstract search for the perfect composition, but by a fascination with the photographers' ability to stop time. Maybe this is why I have never taken to film or video, where one creates a continuous record from which you can only read the passage of a given story rather than explore the possibilities of a story yet untold. For me it is the "decisive moment" of Cartier Bresson that is paramount, that "simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression" (Henri Cartier-Bresson. The Decisive Moment (1952)).

And that is why I so enjoy scanning my old negatives and rediscovering those "decisive moments" of years gone by. That moment in time when I pressed a camera shutter and pickled the world in aspic. Here is a photograph which I took at the Halifax Gala back in the mid 1960s. Nice composition, nice enough subject matter. But zoom in and look at those faces, read their lives, predict their futures. Take any one of the fifteen or twenty faces in the enlargement; each one is a life, each one is a catalogue of experiences and emotions. And fate or fortune brought them all together to listen to a brass band playing. And there they listened as they let their expressions tell a story. And now we read that story almost fifty years later. That is the delight of photography.

Several people have asked me about the mechanics of scanning old negatives. I promise to address the technical issues in a blog-post later this week.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sepia Saturday 164 : The Strong, Steady, Sepia Smile

I never really knew any of my four grandparents. My fathers' parents, Enoch and Harriet Ellen, both died when I was too young to retain any memory of them and of my mothers' parents - pictured above - it is only my grandmother Kate that I can vaguely remember as an old lady living with my Auntie Amy. My grandfather, Albert Beanland, died just months after I was born in 1948 and therefore I know him only through the strong, steady, sepia smile that echoes down the generations via a pile of old photographs. In this photograph he is pictured near the end of his life, smoking his pipe, wearing his favourite watch and chain and radiating a kind of Yorkshire bonhomie. It is interesting to note that this has obviously spread to Kate, his wife, because she too is smiling and from what little I can remember of her she wasn't a natural smiler. It's just a nice photograph, what we here in Yorkshire would call a grand photograph.

This is my Sepia Saturday photograph for this week because it is Saturday, the photograph has faded to sepia, and Albert is wearing a watch and smoking a pipe. I was going to Photoshop a tortoise hiding in the overgrown lawn, but I decided against it. For more Sepia Saturday posts from around the globe, make your way over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Scan And Boot

I took these two photographs in the British Lake District about thirty years ago. I am not sure which lake it is, but I remember our day out well. The second photograph took advantage of an old bench that had been left dangerously close to the edge of the lake. Luckily, Isobel and our friend Chrissy were wearing Wellington Boots and therefore I was able to set up this shot. By chance, it came up for re-scanning yesterday (I am slowly working my way through my old negative files) and today, thirty years on, Isobel and Chrissy have gone off shopping together. Perhaps they will buy some new Wellington Boots.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

There is a fascinating debate raging at the moment on the Sepia Saturday Facebook Group about the use of CAPTCHA systems on blogs. CAPTCHA dialogues are those little boxes you often have to complete before leaving a comment on a blog in order to prove that you are a human being and not a robot. CAPTCHA, it would appear, stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, the Turing being Alan Turing the pioneer of computing and the originator of the so-called Turing Test to detect artificial intelligence. I have no intention of getting involved in the debate as to whether CAPTCHA systems are a necessary price for avoiding spam comments on blogs, although I have to say that some of the must fascinating comments on my blog posts have come from robotic spam engines. Some time ago I started a small collection of these messages with the view of collecting them together and publishing them as the lost novel of James Joyce. Here is just one example from my collection:
Nice post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I am inspired!. Very helpful info specifically the last phase :) I take care of such information much. I used to be seeking this certain info for a long time. Thanks and good luck. Also see my website :
But I can fully appreciate that not everyone is as fond of spam as I am and therefore I do not want to criticise anyone for using one of the CAPTCHA systems on their blogs. However, I do think that there is a crying gap in the current market place for an arbitration service for use at times when there is a dispute between a user and a CAPTCHA dialogue. Let me give you an example of what I mean. The other day I was commenting on a blog post and was faced with the CAPTCHA dialogue illustrated here. I typed in "1783 editrnme" and the wretched thing said I was wrong and offered me another silly picture to interpret. I shouted back that I wasn't wrong and that the CAPTCHA machine couldn't read its own writing. This went on for some time until we reached a stage of deadlock and I went off to comment on another blog. What was really needed in these circumstances was an independent arbitrator who could settle such disputes - for a small fee, of course. 

I would therefore like to use this opportunity to announce the launch of my new service : CAPTCHAMEIFYOUCAN.COM. If you find yourself in an argument with a CAPTCHA dialogue just take a screenshot of the dialogue and send it to me along with your interpretation and a Paypal transfer of £5. I will eMail you a decision by return and my decision will, of course, be binding on both parties.

Monday, February 11, 2013

New Month, New Plan.

Now, I know what you are going to say. You are going to say "Hang on a minute, surely it can't be March yet, whatever happened to February?" But time flies when you are enjoying yourself and you have been enjoying my February experiment with News From Nowhere Weekly so much you hadn't realised that February had flown by at the speed of a Boeing Dreamliner, and here we are in March with a new Blogging experiment. If February was the month of regular weekly order, March will be defined by irregular chaos.

(What this means is simply that after one week I have decided to terminate the weekly publication experiment on the grounds of health and safety : the resulting mega-publication was in danger of straining the loyalty of my followers.)

But before we dip our toes into the shallow end of the swimming pool of chaos, we have unfinished business - the answers to last weeks' pub quiz questions. here they are :
  1. What is the maximum number of Friday the 13th there can be in any one year?  The maximum number is 3, although it is more normally 2. there were 3 in 2012, the next time this happens will be in 2026.
  2. What is the modern name of the city that once was called Byzantium?  The modern name is Istanbul and before that it was known as Constantinople.
  3. Which author wrote Strangers On A Train, and who directed the film of the same name?  The author was the divine Patricia Highsmith, the film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
  4. Which comic creation of the Belgian cartoonist, HergĂ©, first appeared in print in 1929? The splendid reporter and adventurer Tintin (and his dog, Snowy)
  5. Which British statesman died aboard HMS Hampshire in 1916? It was Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State For War. He died when the ship was sunk by a German mine.
  6. On which island was the singer Freddie Mercury born? The island of Zanzibar which is part of the African country of Tanzania.
  7. Who said, "The first time I see a jogger smiling, I'll consider it"?  It was Joan Rivers, but I wish it had been me!
  8. In the Dickens' novel, what are the names of David Copperfield's two wives? His first wife was the somewhat ethereal Dora Spenlow and after she had died he married his childhood sweetheart, Agnes Wickfield.
  9. What are the two main ingredients of the drink Kia Royale?  Creme de Cassis and champagne (or fizzy white white if you are a cheapskate)
  10. In which decade were the terms "blog" and "blogging" first used?  All the way back in the 1990s!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Sepia Saturday 163 : Mucky Back Streets And Thick Cold Snow

Searching for old family photographs to fit in with the theme for Sepia Saturday 163 and finding precious few snowy scenes, I found myself wondering whether it was really true that back in the golden age of my youth, the sun always shone and snow was confined to the magic of Christmas Day. And then I heard the voice of my mother, echoing down the decades, shouting "Don't you be taking that expensive camera outside in this weather and getting it all wet!". Photographs were for the summer holidays and smiling family groups slung on deckchairs. Photographs were for weddings when the generations of old would posed in their moth-balled finery. Photographs were for young lovers, arm in arm, looking into each others' eyes and seeing their future. Winter was an inconvenience, a challenge and a trial to be endured but seldom photographed. I have had to move forward to the 1960s before snow-bound photographs emerge from my collection : an age when I could over-rule my mothers' objections and rashly spend my pocket-money buying film to waste on "mucky back-streets and thick cold snow."

As usual, you can see how everyone else has approached the theme image for Sepia Saturday 163 by going to the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the various links.

This Sepia Saturday post forms part of my experimental News From Nowhere Weekly. Other stories in this issue include :
* STRICTLY SUSTAINABLE : Introducing News From Nowhere Weekly.
* FLIGHTS OF FANCY : The Story Of Albert Spanswick   
* BOOK CHAOS : Keeping Track Of The Lines 
* LET IT SNOW : Screensaver Of The week   
* BY THE PASS OF THE SCANNERS' BEAM : Old Negatives, Freshly Scanned.
* WEEKLY PUB QUIZ : Ten questions to test your inconsequential knowledge.

The full copy for all these stories can be found by clicking on the Read More >>  link.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Sepia Saturday 162 : Wheels And Bars

As I was walking Amy along the main road this morning a man cycled past riding a unicycle. I was still feeling a little delicate after the meeting of the West Yorkshire Chapter of the International Brotherhood (Sisterhood) of Bloggers (more about that next week) and therefore my reactions were a little slow, and by the time I had set up my iPhone camera, the man had peddled off into oblivion. Therefore my memories of cycles have to come from the past, which is just as well as this is a Sepia Saturday post.

My main picture features my brother Roger on his tricycle. It was taken outside our house on Southmere Drive, Bradford which means it must have been taken in about 1950. When I first saw the photograph I felt quite jealous of my brother as I was never allowed a bike of any shape or description in case I fell off and hurt myself. But then I came across a second photograph taken at almost the same spot.

There is my brother on what is obviously the same bike and there I am. The cropping of the photograph means that it is impossible to see exactly what I am doing, but it does seem that I am riding a bike! As I was trusted to ride a bike at the tender age of two, I am left to wonder what happened : why was the lifetime ban on bike-riding imposed? Did I fall off, did I crash into the garden gate and chip the paintwork, did I get discovered with performance enhancing drugs? Whatever the reason, I didn't manage to take to two wheels again until I had left home.

I can't leave the subject of bicycles without including an obligatory picture of Auntie Miriam. Here she is - proudly posing on a bike with not only multiple wheels but also multiple handle-bars. What would happen with such a machine if Miriam had decided to turn left whilst Frank had chosen to turn right, I can't imagine. It is a dilemma that my unicycling friend of this morning will never have to face.

Take a ride over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links to see where other Sepians are off to with this weeks theme prompt.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...