Black Tupalo

With going on 60 years doing photography steadily, one would expect to encounter accidents of many kinds. Accidents bordering on catastrophic to accidents game changing.

I’ve been at both ends of that spectrum. Here are some stories.

It’s 1972. I’ve just bitten the bullet and spent a wad (for 1972) of money on a first class medium format camera system, the Hasselblad 500C. The unique quality of the Hasselblad is that it accommodates changing not only the lens, but the film in mid roll, the viewfinder, knobs as well as the usual accessories for cameras. It is the quintessential system for professionals, and since I decided this is my new path, I sprung for it.

The film is changed by removing the back of the camera and substituting another one with different film. It also allows for a huge range of lenses. All of it expensive.

You may remember the first moonwalk. The cameras taken to the moon were Hasselblads. The camera was left there and the film back brought back to earth with it’s precious cargo of exposed film. It was modified from what earthbound individuals would buy, but if for some reason I might acquire the parts left behind, I could attach a back to it and be on my way.

Anyway, here I am about two weeks later, after plunking down $2500 (remember, it’s 1972), I have the camera, 4 lenses three backs and sundry accessories. I am standing on the banks of the Deschutes River in Central Oregon. I’m attracted to a cluster of rocks at the edge with an interesting eddy current flowing around them. I am on a tripod, and all is well(!). I decide that I want a different lens, so I turn to the camera bag to locate the desired lens. Unknown to me at that moment, the tripod isn’t stable. One of the legs is slowly sinking into the sand. While rummaging in the bag, the system collapses (I will refrain from mentioning all the expletives that raced through my mind and appeared on my lips in a few nanoseconds).

There was the camera, the front of lens sticking out of the sand. Whut? How? I see the tripod , one leg buried in the sand, the other two sticking up obscenely, the Deschutes gurgling away around it as if nothing happened. Totally surreal moment.

The lens on the camera, being a telephoto, extended from the body a few inches. It had a metal lens hood attached. I gently pulled it up out of the water.

The lens hood was trashed. I could see the marks on the rock on to which the system collapsed. It hit the rock, slid into the water. Barely an inch deep. Extracting the camera straight up, I saw that the lens hood took the damage. Water was dripping from the front element of the lens and broken hood. There was sand on the glass. It took a bit of twisting, but I managed to remove the hood, and carefully dipped the front of the lens in and out of the water to remove the sand. The rest of the camera was bone dry. All the controls worked. I could focus the lens. I removed the back. The shutter tripped. I put the back on and set the camera up to reshoot what I just did before the accident, then went home.

The next day, I had my negatives. I could see no difference whatsoever between the before and after frames. Vigorous checks of the mechanism showed to hangups. It functioned normally.

I had dodged a bullet.

Fast forward to 2007. My first DSLR, the Nikon D80. It’s on a tripod in my home. It fell off the tripod! Horrified, I watched it head to the ceramic tile floor. But wait! It didn’t hit the floor! I was checking out the electronics and had a usb cable attached to it, which got tangled around the tripod head. It arrested the fall with the lens again pointed down, dangling less than an inch from the floor, bouncing around. Holy mother of god! Deja Vu all over again!

The connector now no longer functioned, but again, the entire camera, except for now the usb connector, was fine. I’m still using it. Occasionally.

Not all my accidents in photography are disasters. Some are gifts. This photo of a plant known as a Black Tupalo is classic.

We are back to the Hasseblad. On a tripod. We were up in Washington Park in Portland. It’s fall, the colors magnificent. I want to try out the new Fuji Velvia transparency film,. Pulling off the road, I parked the car next to this plant, took the camera out of the case, attached it to the tripod and set it on the ground. The legs haven’t been extended so the camera was only a couple of feet, if that, from ground level. I closed the trunk, about to grab the camera when I noticed that the camera was pointing right at the bush. So I took a look.

And there it was. I needed to do nothing except focus, set the exposure and trip the shutter. For good measure, I changed films as this would be a perfect subject to evaluate the difference between films. We went on and worked in the park for the next several hours, but frankly, I could have simply reopened the trunk of the car, put everything back and gone home, the image, both aesthetically and technically, in the can.

I’ve had darkroom accidents as well, one of them I dubbed my “Highlight Developer” which occurred because I had a batch of bad paper. Usable but needing a bit of cleaning up. The paper had what is called dichroic fog. It is removable with a photographic bleach. I ran a test using a discarded print possessing overexposed highlights and as I watched the fog disappear, I also watched the gray snow turn white. Voila! Overexpose the snow, bleach it back. The best part of this is that you can do it with the lights on,giving complete control in full light.

To be fair, it isn’t a new concept. The bleach used is commonly used for such purposes, but it was new to me and provided me a control I otherwise might not have considered in terms of a highlight developer. Overexpose, overdevelop, bleach back. Worked like a charm.

Now it’s all digital, and all moot, I suppose.

Those were the days.

Photo ©2014 Lawrence Hudetz All Rights reserved.

Lawrence Hudetz

Lawrence Hudetz