Saturday, February 9, 2019

Cameras, Englargers, and Strobsy: An Analog Journey

If you have come this way because of a post on the Film Photography Project website, welcome. If you are here because you are looking for typewriter stuff, you are also in the right place. The typewriter stuff is a little deeper in this blog, but it is still here.

What can I say? Mike at the FFP has been a great help by providing the fledgling photography program with cameras and kind thoughts. He kindly let me ramble on about what I need to do to get this program going. A couple of folks have reached out to me after reading the post and made some very kind donation offers and I can tell you that I am blown away with the kindness of others.

If you want to follow along with my classes, you can visit the class site at The name is interesting, no? I had originally conceived of a series of tutorials designed to help yearbook students use off-camera flash, but I needed a new site and I had the domain. Maybe the tutorials will come in time.

Try as I might, I cannot live a purely digital life. To be sure, there are some really digital things in my daily experience, but I always come back to analog tools. There's some irony for you; I communicate this on one of the most self-conscious forms of digital navel-gazing ever devised. Blogs are the digital id. Or is that Twitter?

Richard Polt effectively describes my sentiment in the manifesto of the Typewriter Insurgency when he calls for an acknowledgement of the "real over representation/ the physical over the digital/ the durable over the the unsustainable."

I think the time for a Photographic Insurgency is in order. The digital image has devalued the photographic image. I know history. I know that photo editing has a long and unsavory past. I have seen the Stalinist palimpsest. However, there is some value and honor in a photograph of real things. Our species has become embroiled in Manichaean debates on truth and lies; reality versus imagination. Photos may not always tell the whole truth, but they tell 1/30 of a second of truth. Photography is the real over representation.

The most disheartening thing is that you can go online to YouTube and watch countless tutorials on how to use Photoshop to make your pictures look just like the pictures of other people. It's hollow and the pride of craftsmanship is as ephemeral as the digital files they create. However, the creation of a print in a darkroom from a negative you alone created is not just a photo; it's my photo. I created it and I have pride of creation of this thing. Photography is the physical over the digital.

A photographic print is a guaranteed (providing good fixing, rinsing, toning, and storage) century of life. Platinum prints will last longer. I have talked about the digital oubliette before and we are living in an age of garbage that will make up the geological strata of the far future. Planned obsolescence and the newest upgrade are the economic orthodoxy. Film photography breaks down the assumptions of modern convenience by saying longevity, value, significance, and meaning are important values. They should not be ignored.

Typewriters and photography are kindred spirits; both are tools of intimate creativity. The products of which add to the world through their permanence.

I've gone on too long, but welcome to Magic Margin.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

I'm Going to the Type-In!

Changing Hands is having a Type-In on June 24th. It's being organized by a Changing Hand's employee who loves typewriters. I plan on going, so I'll see you there.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pinhole Mania

Earlier today I was stationed over the Trotec laser cutter in our technology lab supervising the cutting of a project for my photography students. In fact, it looks like this:

It's a pinhole camera and I am exceptionally proud of the design. It takes the form of two nested boxes. The inner box holds the film in place and carries the pinhole. If you've ever looked a Kodak Brownie it's of a similar idea. 

 The film size is 4 x 5 and I have used paper negatives and litho film with some success. If you were curious about the specifications here you go:

Focal length: 87mm
Pinhole diameter: 0.39mm
Angle of view: 86 degrees.

The process of developing this product--for that's what it really is--has been challenging. I needed to keep in mind that this would be a kit for high school students to put together. When coming up with the design based on the material I wanted to use (3mm Baltic birch plywood) I was drawn to the nested boxes. Nice to see Ilford via Walker Camera beat me to the punch. 

The process of assembly had to be streamlined considerably. Everything is easy enough to assemble with a rubber mallet and patience. Even the pinholes are printed in very thin sheets of black styrene. This is upgradable to better materials in the future.

Ultimately, the goal was to have a rugged pinhole camera that students can keep for a lifetime. The outcome definitely meets that goal.

P.S. I am trying to gauge interest in this kind of thing as a Kickstarter or something. I think I could get the price down to $15-20 plus shipping. Would that be of interest to anyone?

P.P.S. Here is a shot using the camera kit. This is the black polystyrene pinhole.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sewing On-the-Go

If you love typewriters and mechanical things it's natural to like multitools. When you have a screwdriver, can opener, scissors, tweezers and toothpick in one tool you are ready for anything the world can throw at you. I personally love Swiss Army Knives for their design and quality. I also love that there is a vibrant collecting community and an equally strong DIY modding ethic.

Absent in most SAKs is a sewing kit. I know there are some sewing-themed knives made, but without getting into the ins and outs of Victorinox and Wegner and the custom sewing knives made for Bernina, I thought I would try making my own sewing kit in a small SAK.

The first step was to define the problem. I wanted to have a Victorinox Classic SD (the smallest and cheapest SAK) with a full tool compliment including tweezers and toothpick and a place to store some thread, a needle and three buttons; two shirt and one sleeve placket. This, in my mind, was the bare minimum for the kit. Most sewing kits include scissors, but since the SD has a very nice set of scissors already.

From there I sat about thinking about the design. The tweezers and toothpick (T&T) would need to move to the same side. I designed a scale that allowed them both to nestle on one side. The other side of the SAK was free for the sewing kit. The scale itself would serve as a spool for the tread and the needle would held in place with an elastic band.

I got into TinkerCad and came up with these designs: 

A couple of 3D test prints, a little fine adjustment, and a final print:

This is deceptive. The smooth surface is a result of sanding and then spraying with flat black. Then I waxed the paint. It seems counterproductive, but it gives the paint a really nice feel. The elastic band holds it all together. Undo the band and then:

The needle and the thread is revealed. Remove the thread and the access to the buttons is revealed.

Now this little set is ready for all your fashion repair needs. The knife functions still work and overall it's thicker than the old SD, but I think that the thicker scales are more pleasant to use. I'll keep working on iterations. I don't like the idea of the needle not having a more secure storage place. Also, if I could eliminate the elastic band everything would be more secure.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pinhole MG Filter Adapter

A few months ago a friend gave me an old set of Ilford multigrade filters he used in college. He thought I would get some use out of them in my home darkroom. It's nice to have this set. They are good for a couple of really cool contrast techniques in darkroom printing on multigrade paper. It can really save your bacon with a difficult print.

I wanted to also use these filters with my pinhole camera and multigrade paper. The contrast with the paper negatives can be a little extreme and these filters can tame contrast. However, my filters can't easily be taped to the front of the camera. I had to devise a method to hold them.

The 3 inch filters are designed to go under the lens on a darkroom enlarger. Each filter is mounted in a plastic holder that slides into a corresponding mount attached to the enlarger. I pulled out my calipers, did a little measuaring, and crafted a design in Tinkercad. A hours later and I had this design:

I decided to print it in two pieces on my Monoprice Mini Select and use a fair amount of cyanoacrylate. The grippy bits were printed with the flat side down and the larger filter holder was printed standing up. Because of the tight tolerances required in the filter holder, I didn't want to deal with internal supports. There would be too much friction when I try to install the filter.

This camera has a 90° angle of view and several iterations didn't take this into account. In the end I guessed about the diameter of the cut-outs. The corner of a sheet of paper was a perfect tool to see if there was any obstruction in that 90° angle of view. It looked good.

All of the filters slide nicely into the holder and the fingers grip the bezel around the pinhole. It's sturdy and easy to use.

The next step is to try out the filters with a paper negative. Maybe I'll be able to tame some contrast.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Typewriter Mentor

Last Thursday, my student teacher graduated and I gave him this typewriter as a gift:

Oooh boy, that's a shiny typewriter.

With Marie Kondo whispering in my ear, I stuffed my heart with steel wool and tin foil and made some decisions about my many collections. A few weeks ago I culled the typewriters, keeping the ones that brought me the most joy. Before that, I decided how many slide rules you need to have a collection, but not an obsession. Days before that, I asked myself if I need three of the same Swiss army knives?

The process continues, but I am sure that Joe (my student teacher) will enjoy this typewriter as he begins his journey in teaching.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


No, it's not a typewriter. Imagine an alternate past where this might be on your desk:

Pretty cool, huh? I took an old desktop mouse and created a 1940s-inspired Opto-Electric Interface. The body is made from basswood and the buttons, screen and screws are all from the hardware store. The vacuum tubes are dead ones that I save every time I service my old TV. In reality I have a big bag full of dead ones that I needed to do something with. I 3D printed a tube holder that would fit in the insert. The screen is also from the hardware store.

The product tag is a toner transfer onto an old bit of disposable aluminum roasting pan roughed up with some 0000 steel wool.

The electrics were dead simple. Move the switches from the PCB to the external ones. I did mess up the traces while I was removing the old switches. In the end I soldered the switches directly to the appropriate IC pins.

You can still get winkle paint and it is a challenge to use. I imagine on warm days it works quickly without a lot of intervention on my part, but is has been cool. Compounding the trouble, I decided to paint the body it was cold and rainy out so you could just imagine me standing in the garage with a hairdryer trying to get this paint to wrinkle.

The body still needs some weathering and aging, but it's wonderfully large and definitely feels like something old.

This proof-of-concept is the first stage in a larger project for a modern computer that has this aesthetic. It will have dials, switches, and lots of knobs. Fun!