Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Travelling with Film, Part II: The Airport

Originally published at richardmckenzie.com.au
[A]irports are sites where identity is confirmed or questioned; they are spaces of public display; they are contested zones where privacy and national security vie for priority; they are complex factories for the production of patriotism and the privilege of mobility. At the same time, airports can be considered as generic spaces, forgettable and often uncomfortable. They are designed to be passed through, and in rapid fashion... 
Christopher Schaberg, The Textual Life of Airports
Travelling with film is not that difficult. However, the airport represents one of the great challenges to a travelling film photographer. If precautions are not taken, standard security screening processes can irreversibly damage unprocessed film. It is in the transition from landside to airside that the performance of modern security theatre can harm our film.

These are the terms of our entry to airports. An acknowledgement that airports offer both incomparable freedom and stringent security. One such security measure is the screening of passenger luggage. While it is intended to keep air travel safe by preventing dangerous items from getting on planes, common screening methods, such as X-ray machines may damage unexposed film. This damage takes the form of "fogging" our film, a bit like opening the back of a camera half way through a roll. Film is sensitive to radiation, of which visible light and X-rays are but two wavelengths.

Fortunately, there is plenty we can do to prevent this from occurring. Here are a few golden rules you can follow to make the film photographer airport experience run as smoothly as possible:
Checked luggage is subject to very intense explosive detecting, space-time warping X-ray screening that will SEVERELY DAMAGE YOUR UNPROCESSED FILM. GUARANTEED. Never, ever leave your unprocessed film in there. 
Processed film is fine to place in check luggage. That said, processed film may be immune to the effects of X-rays, however it is not immune from being sent to Melbourne, FL, instead of Melbourne, Australia. It is highly recommended you keep all processed film on you at all times.
2: ALWAYS place unprocessed film in your hand luggage
Keep your film with you at all times. No, this is not a canned security announcement, it's for the sake your film and irreplaceable images. Hand luggage screening uses a less-intense form of X-rays, meaning your film should be relatively safe. 
Any exposure to X-rays will affect your film, but it won't be visible from only a few passes. According to a 2003 Kodak technical publication, 400 ISO film will start to see some degradation after 6 X-ray scans, but results can vary. Some of my film (up to 800 ISO) went through up to 8 scans over my two months of travel and I've not noticed any degradation.
The higher the speed of your film, the more sensitive it is to all forms of radiation, including X-rays! It's important to note you can request a hand inspection of your film in order to avoid the X-ray machine entirely, but your mileage may vary (see below).
3: ALWAYS place your film in a clear and accessible container/bag
Keep your film accessible at all times. Better yet, don't place it in your carry-on bag, keep it in your hand. A general rule every air traveller should follow is to be prepared for the processes of security before reaching the queue. Don't hold the queue up by fiddling around with a dozen different rolls of film stuck somewhere between your copy of the Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Repetition by Eric Van Lustbader and your boarding passes. Keep your film together and place it separately on the X-ray conveyer.

A few sandwich bags never go astray when travelling
Even after your film gets x-rayed, inquisitive security-types may wish to take a closer look, so keep it accessible. I cheated a bit here and used an opaque Japan Camera Hunter 120 case, but at least it's easy to open for inspection and keeps all the film together. 
I often get asked about my cameras by security staff, although they've usually impressed by the gear. One security guard at Munich Airport took such a liking to my Leica, I was getting a bit concerned. He was a bit confused by an Australian owning a German camera, but he was happy nonetheless. That said, I'm told a Hasselblad and Leica look pretty awesome on X-ray.
4: ASK for a hand inspection of your film, but be prepared to be rebuffed

At most screening points, you can ask for a hand inspection of you film. In theory. In practice, this may not occur. The security staff will usually state that the X-ray machine is "safe" up to 1600 ISO. Alas this doesn't take into account any cumulative X-ray exposure your film may have incurred from prior screenings. 
Be polite, you might get lucky, but will the staff will more likely counter that the machine is "safe" for film. Don't get angry. That won't be good for anyone. Some photographers recommend placing a "dummy" 3200 speed roll in their bag, just so they can justify a hand inspection. Again, not something I've ever done, but has been known to work.
Be aware that asking for a hand inspection of goods may single you out for further forms of "enhanced" screening, such as explosives testing and hand inspection of all your carry-on luggage.
5: UNLOAD your camera before screening
Although this isn't always critical, it is best to travel without loaded cameras. It's never happened to me, but have heard of security staff wishing to inspect the innards of cameras. Best case, you waste part of a roll by having to rewind it to open the camera. Worst case, some clumsy security fool opens your camera for you (rare, but it has reportedly occurred).

6: NEVER use "X-Ray Safe" lead-lined bags for film storage
These foil and lead-lined bags were popular items back in the day, however these days they're, at best, useless. At worst, they will lead to the irreversible damage of your film. These bags theoretically render items contained within opaque to X-ray screeners.
If you were an X-ray operator, would you allow a giant grey blob of mystery through to the gate? Probably not. Best case, the operator asks you to open the bag and inspects the contents, worst case the operator increases the power of the X-ray radiation in order to penetrate the bag. Whoops. Film. Fogged. Pictures. Gone.
7: BE POLITE and do not rage against the (X-ray) machine
Getting angry with security staff will not get you anywhere. Whatever your personal opinions may be on the "security theatre" of the airport, it's a shit job and the security staff are there for the protection of the air-travelling public.
Yes, it's not hard to find evidence of over-zealous officials, but in Australia, the experience seems to be a fairly benign one. Unless you're not white and have Channel 7 camera crews in your face.
It is much better to grin a bear a few minutes of security screening than risk missing your flight.  

I'll have a lot more to write on airports at another time, thanks to the inspiration of The Textual Life of Airports. I'm sure you can't wait.

Continued in Part III - Buying Film and Developing

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Travelling with Film, Part I: The Gear

Every roll of film was recorded, along with the camera used, location, date started and date finished (Panasonic Lumix GX7, Leica DG Summilux 15mm, VSCOCam)

First published at richardmckenzie.com.au

61 days, 21 cities, 9 countries, 76 rolls of film.

These were an amazing two months on the road (well, rails more often than not) with all the sights, sounds and intellectual stimulation that only Europe can provide. But when I tell people I shot 76 rolls of film, they give me a puzzled look before saying, "Don't you work in a place that sells digital cameras?"

Photographing with film this trip was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had. We film photographers often have to justify our continued use of the medium, but the simplicity and pleasure of using my Hasselblad, Leica M4 and Olympus µ[mju:]-II - and the results I achieved - speak for themselves.

First off - and this is a rule most photographers can learn from - the less gear, the better. Photographers often think that more gear=better shots. Maybe, but for most, it's a recipe for empty wallets and vacuous photography. Although three cameras may seem a little bit over the top, they were three very individual cameras, each with a different purpose.


Hasselblad 503CX with Zeiss 80mm C T* f/2.8

Hasselblad at the Birkenkopf, Stuttgart (Panasonic Lumix GX7, Leica DG Summilux 15mm, VSCOCam)

I'd never shot 6x6 in Europe, so this was a must-do for me. Paired with the 80mm lens, it allowed me to capture the straight-on architecutral, street and landscape shots I'd so admired in many other photographers, but not been able to make myself.

I only carried one 120 back with me, swapping largely between Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400.

Leica M4 with Summicron-M 35mm
Leica M4 (and your incidental photographer) at the Birkenkopf, Stuttgart (Panasonic Lumix GX7, Leica DG Summilux 15mm)

My workhorse and my unabashed favourite camera. It's the all-rounder for all situations with the perfect focal-length to match. Many, many words have been written about Leica M rangefinders, but they are discrete, incredibly rugged and very German. This is a good thing.

Like the Hasselblad, I shot primarily Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400 (with Leitz yellow filter).

Olympus µ[mju:]-II
The MJU is easy to use in all situations, even while smoking with eyes shut (Panasonic Lumix GX7, Leica DG Summilux 15mm)

Another 35mm focal length camera? Yes and don't let its compact size fool you, the results from this camera were stunning. The MJU's purpose was to go in my pocket when I was weighed down by my wife's my luggage in transit and unable to reach the other cameras. It performed this purpose admirably, with its 35mm f/2.8 lens suitable for almost any situation. Its small size and unobtrusiveness makes it the ideal camera to use when you don't want to use a camera.

A Different Point of View

Two focal lengths and three cameras. The paradox is that by limiting choice of equipment, I was freer than ever to concentrate on my photographic vision. I saw the world through the framelines of my leica or the ground glass of my Hasselblad without grabbing either out of my bag. I didn't look at a scene and feel the urge to capture it with a 12-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and 105mm macro "just in case". It's a trite turn of phrase, but less really is more.

To be continued in PART II - The Airport...

Monday, 9 February 2015

Coming Soon...

"We're not the Labor Party..."

The next box office smash.


Saturday, 7 February 2015

#24hrnewscycle #libspill #omfg

It's hard to know what's happening in Canberra at the moment. One thing's for sure: what we're seeing in the news is not an accurate representation of what's really happening. What's been interesting to watch is the Liberal Party facing a similar crisis to the ones faced by Labor in 2010 and 2013. But of course there is Tory Exceptionalism at work here:
Labor with leadership instability is terrible for the nation, but when we Liberals do it, we are perfectly entitled to do so. For you see, this is democracy at work, we're not some socialist collective, we have individual minds and consciences etc...

There are many strands of the story to follow, but the recurrent tropes from the Liberals are:

  1. the voters "won't let" reform-minded governments reform
  2. the Liberal Party isn't the Labor Party
  3. the Labor Party is only gains power when the electorate suffers a collective neurological episode
  4. the Liberal Party isn't the Labor Party
  5. everything is Labor's fault
  6. oh, did I mention "we're not the Labor Party"?

Aside from the obvious (that the Liberal Party isn't the Labor Party because the Labor Party can actually get legislation through parliament), the attitudes and opinions aired by Liberal leaders over the past few days belie the very reasons Victorian and especially Queensland voters unceremoniously booted out first-term Liberal governments in the first place.

The notion that Labor governments are only mistakenly elected by the voters demonstrates all too well the contempt the Liberals have for the electorate. It's also a clear demonstration of the "born to rule" mentality possessed by many in the Liberal Party. No contrition, no mistakes. In the Liberal hive mind, they are the natural party of government. The election of the other mob is merely an aberration - an interregnum if you will - between conservative governments.

But the Liberals' contempt for the electorate does not stop there. On election night, Queensland treasurer Tim Nicholls essentially blamed the public for not "understanding" LNP policies. Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss (and many News Corpse scribes) have argued that voters "won't let us reform". Bull. Voters will let any reform-minded government do their thing. But the key to achieving reform (as Malcolm Turnbull himself none-too-subtly pointed out) is fairness. Fairness of objective and fairness of methods. Only once fairness is achieved can the desired policy aims be met.

But such changes will not be achieved under the current Liberal leadership.

And I doubt much will change if, come Tuesday, someone else finds themselves in the Lodge dorm room at the Australian Federal Police training academy.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Freedom of speech for some, defamatory comments for others.

Moderating social media pages can be a real challenge. It is always a struggle keeping a balance between free discourse and keeping the conversation civil. You'd think the Liberal Party of Victoria, being the party of free speech, would encourage such robust discussions. Apparently not...

A friend of mine commented on this creative zinger of an image on Liberal Victoria's Facebook page. Instead of including the words "shit" and/or "andrews", he decided that "broken promises" was "Just like voting for Abbott".

Unfortunately, this fairly benign comment was ruled out of bounds and, rather chillingly, "disappeared".

I thought I would give it a try, so I said something similar. Well, I was just as unlucky as my friend. Like a Latin American dissenter, my comment was disappeared at some point overnight. No witnesses. The sneaky bastards, the writer of the post can't see that he or she has been disappeared, only, one only knows by visiting the Liberal Victoria page as someone else.


So much for free speech! Alas, they've kept the lovely (and possibly defamatory) bottom comment freely available for all to see - along with many other similar ones. Also appearing until very recently was this lovely non sequitur comment: "While u idiots keep kissing Mus lim butt". That one is now, thankfully, gone.

Of course social media debate gets colourful. The vitriol directed at Abbott on Labor and anti-LNP pages can be very strong. But the fact that the Liberal Party's social media minions chose to "disappear" two fairly benign comments and let other derogatory remarks stand says a lot about the party. It is the job of these media minions to ensure civil debate, not silencing of opposing viewpoints. Of course the fact that the notional party of free speech chose to disappear comments in the first place is something worth considering...