Serendipitous Double Exposure of Found Film

double exposure

Example frame of double exposed film from 1980s

The latest series of photos I’ve posted to Flickr are very unusual and need a bit of explanation for anyone to make sense of what they’re seeing. The shortest possible way of describing it is this: you’re looking at double exposures made on film with two different cameras and two decades elapsing between exposures. Make sense? Probably not, so read on for the longer version.

I collect a lot of Vivitar cameras in order to test, photograph, and document them for Camera-Wiki.org where I maintain the Vivitar articles. I bought a camera bag containing a Vivitar v2000 35mm SLR with lenses and accessories at an estate sale in April, 2013. Also in the bag were several rolls of Kodacolor film. All but one of the rolls of film were still sealed in their box. The remaining one was unboxed but the leader was still visible, so I assumed it was unexposed.

Sometime later I obtained a new-in-box Vivitar IC101 Panorama camera. I wanted to shoot with this one right away, so I pulled my film box out of the fridge and looked at my film supply. I had all that shiny new expired film from the recent v2000 purchase. I selected the open roll and loaded it into the IC101. I shot a series of panoramic shots of the Las Colinas canals and a few shots of scenes in Deep Ellum near downtown Dallas. I dropped the film off at The Color Lab for processing, where Robert noted the film can artwork dated the film to the mid 1980s.

I picked up the film later and was surprised to see a series of double exposures. The owner of the Vivitar v2000 had shot the film and rewound it only partially, leaving the leader sticking out, then returned it to the camera bag where it stayed for 25 or so years until I found it at the estate sale and shot the second set of exposures on the same film.

The earlier set of exposure were full frame 36mm x 24mm shots taken at a now defunct water park in Galveston, TX called Sea-Arama Marineworld. There are also a few shots of nearby historic architecture in Galveston. These shots were superimposed with my recent shots of Las Colinas and Deep Ellum shot in 36mm x 13mm panoramic format. The results are somewhat unusual compared to other cases of double exposure, perhaps because of the extreme age of the film. Almost every frame has a unique color shift or effect. While most frames show a blue shift, several have a distinct green or red shift. In some cases, only the panoramic portion of the double-exposed image is visible, in other cases the entire frame is visible. In some frames the modern exposure wins out and the older exposure is only partially seen. In others the reverse is true.

Ok, so now that you know the backstory, go check out the photos!

Help Preserve Vivitar History!

Want to help preserve the history of an American camera and lens company? Let me tell you a story…

I’ve been using some of my spare time in the last few years playing with vintage cameras and lenses. I search for interesting vintage items at estate sales and online. I recently came across a very unusual lens, the Vivitar Professional 180mm f/2.8. It’s large, heavy, very good quality, and completely unknown. It was attached to a Pentax Spotmatic camera that I picked up for a few dollars and no particular significance was placed on the lens (it’s just an old Vivitar, right?) There was no trace of this 180mm lens to be found online until I started posting queries and information about it. No printed Vivitar price list or lens resale list that I’ve consulted had any record of it.

I took my mysterious Vivitar lens to Don’s Photo Equipment to see what they thought. Their conclusion was that I had either a one-of-kind prototype or a custom-made lens. The serial number suggests I have copy #2, so it’s highly likely that at least one other copy existed at one time. The lens is badged “Vivitar Professional” which is itself a rare thing. Only one other lens is known to have been made with that badge, the Vivitar Professional 135mm f/1.5, a lens designed and built for NASA in the 1960s, a small quantity were also made for sale to the public (some say as few as 30 were made). A little online research has turned up at least 3 existing copies of the Vivitar Professional 135mm f/1.5 that occasionally sell on eBay when one owner gets tired of it and passes it on to a new owner. It appears the 180mm may be even less common.

I hope to find time to shoot a series of test images with the lens soon. For now, I do have photos of the lens itself as well as one sample image I shot with it during a recent model shoot on the Texas-Pacific Railroad Bridge south of downtown Dallas (check out the rest of the photos from that shoot too!)

As I seached for info on my Vivitar Professional 180mm I realized just how little is known about Vivitar. German lens companies like Carl Zeiss or Japanese lens companies often have huge websites devoted to them and numerous books written about them. But there is almost no historical research to be found on Vivitar. I’m trying to remedy that by putting some work into the Vivitar pages on Camera-wik.org. I’ve been slowly piecing together Vivitar’s corporate history from old newspaper archives and scraps of info gathered from patents and other government filings. I’m also compiling a comprehensive list of lenses and other products they marketed. They sold a large number lenses designed and manufactured by a dozen different companies. Trying to piece together the lens families and an accurate lineage of each lens is proving to be quite a challenge.

And this is where you can help out in preserving this piece of America’s photographic history! I need two things: 1) Vintage photography magazines from 1938-1978 with lens reviews and Vivitar advertisements (e.g. Camera 35, Modern Photography, Popular Photography; Vivitar also advertised extensively in Playboy and Popular Science in the latter part of the time period). If you’re reading this and have any old camera magazines with Vivitar info from that time you’d like to get rid of, let me know. I’ll put them to good use, including scanning any public domain advertising and making it available to vintage camera researchers on Camera-wiki.org. 2) If you have any old Vivitar lenses of any kind that you were thinking of dropping off at Goodwill or the Salvation Army, send them my way instead. I’ll photograph them, review them, and add the data to Camera-wiki.org. And afterwards, I’ll give them to the photography group at Dallas Makerspace where they’ll be used as loaners for local photographers.

Goodbye Camerapedia. Hello Camera-Wiki.org

When I became interested in vintage cameras, I discovered an invaluable website called Camerapedia. It was a huge wiki created by vintage camera geeks from around the world with photos and specs for thousands of cameras. I started contributing in a minor way with what little I could; a new Argus C page here or a new link for the Bilora Bella page there.

In January, I visited Camerapedia to look up some information on a new Kodak Retina IIa. What I found instead was a disturbing discussion about Camerapedia itself. One of Camerapedia’s most prolific contributors had revealed some inside information about a brewing take-over of the site. The website’s original founder and, unfortunately, sole owner of the Camerapedia domain name had entered into some sort of secret negotiations with an unnamed company to sell the domain.

There was a lot of concern about the refusal of the parties involved to offer any explanation or even name the company. It turned out they may have been justified as the company was Wikia, not exactly a well-liked name in the Wiki community. For those not in the know, Wikia operates something like the Borg from Star Trek. They move from one free community wiki to another, assimilating them through unfriendly, if not unethical, means. The content from each wiki is moved to Wikia’s ad farm, the old domain name redirected, and Wikia takes control of the administration of the Wiki, leaving the community as little more than unpaid workers supporting Wikia ad profits.

Obviously no wiki wants this, so how does Wikia get away with it? One of Wikia’s tricks is to target a wiki in which a single person controls the domain name. They offer a tempting sum of money to this one person to sell Wikia the domain name. Wikia then announces to the community that they’re going to “help” the community by providing them free hosting. This is the part where a Borg representative shows up on the main viewscreen of the Enterprise and says, “You will be assimilated, resistance is futile. Your technology will be adapted to service the Borg.

By the time the Camerpedia community realized what was happening, the domain name had already been lost and only days remained before the domain became nothing but a redirect to Wikia’s servers. Fortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly as Wikia had hoped. A rebel force quickly formed among Camerpedia’s admins and contributors. Even though I’d been only a minor contributor, I had the privilege of becoming technical lead for the “rebel alliance”.

It was January 25 and time was critical. Wikia put the Camerpedia site into read-only mode that day, which meant they’d started the assimilation process and we now had only hours left. During the day I began receiving page lists and other information from inside sympathizers. Luck would have it that this was a Tuesday, so I skipped my usual DPRG Robot Builders Night Out meeting and stayed late at the office coding.

I set up a database and installed MediaWikia on a local server. Meanwhile, a Perl script was collecting XML exports of pages and edit histories from Camerpedia. By midnight, the export was complete and I started loading the data into my local MediaWiki. For a 10,000 page wiki, this was a time consuming process that continued throughout the night.

Without direct access to Camerapedia’s database, it wasn’t possible to get user account info. None of the sympathetic admins had access to the data either, so the backup plan was to export the public user listing and grab all the user profile pages. However, Wikia finished the assimilation and the old site went dead before that could be completed. I had a partial user listing and was able to get a large number of user profile pages, however. I wrote a quick Perl script that evening to generated random passwords and create an importable CSV file of user data.

Thursday evening, I skipped my usual Dallas Makerspace meeting and spent the time reconstructing the correct MediaWiki configuration to make the site actually work. Camerapedia relied on an assortment of MediaWiki extensions that took some guessing to figure out. I hadn’t thought to save the old version info page and Wikia reconfigured things on their assimilated version of the site.

While I was busy with geeky stuff, Voxphoto and others worked on selecting a new name and other organizational issues. As you may have guessed, the site is now called Camera-Wiki.org. Simple but descriptive; plus it had the advantage of all three major TLDs being available as well twitter and Facebook namespaces.

There were still more minor hurdles over the next weeks as we operated largely in secret. The new website was live on a local development server but before we could launch we had to find inexpensive scalable hosting. The community was already making donations to pay for the hosting. It seemed like a conflict of interest to host this at my facility, so I suggested Dreamhost. I’d had a good experience with Dallas Makerspace’s MediaWiki site hosted there. We opted for two virtual private servers, one running MySQL and one running Apache. Low-end VPS systems are not as fast as physical servers but are easily scalable, allowing us to start out cheap and scale as traffic increased.

Voxphoto started a Camera-Wiki flickr group and we began quietly letting other contributors know what we were up to. Membership in our group grew quickly and thousands of photos began pouring in. As with the original Camerapedia, the new Camera-Wiki.org, doesn’t host photos. We embed flickr photos hosted by the individual contributors. This saves money and bandwidth for us and makes it much easier for people to contribute a photo.

However, the hosting arrangement with flickr presented one difficulty for us. Camerapedia had a policy of accepting non-CC-licensed photos by using a blanket usage license that the user agreed to when submitting a photo to the Camerapedia flickr group. The wording mentioned Camerpedia by name. With a different name, it was no longer clear that we still had permission to use those images. Time to write another script.

This time I wrote a PHP program that used the MediaWiki API to export a list of every flickr image in the wiki. Then it used the flickr API to retrieve the license, user, and group affiliations for each photo. If a photo was CC licensed, we ignored it, if the user was a member of our new group and had already granted permission, we ignored it. What remained was a list of about 1,500 photos with potential copyright issues. This list was moved into a page on the wiki and we crowdsourced the problem to the editors. In most cases we were able to contact the photographers and get permission, in others we were able to replace them with CC images or images from our own group.

Interestingly, Wikia faces a similar problem with their assimilated version of the Camerapedia site. Many of the contributors allowed their photos to be used under a CC license that prohibited commercial use. Wikia is a for-profit company whose business is using those photos to sell ads. So far, they’ve made no effort to remove these photos, despite multiple direct complaints from some of the photographers asking for their removal.

We’re now very close to making an official public launch and things have slowed down enough for me to write this overly verbose blog post. I need to give credit here to all the Camerapedia admins and contributors like Voxphoto, Uwe, Dirk, Hans, HaarFager, S├╝leymandemir and many others, who did a lot of hard work to make this happen (sorry, I know I’m leaving out a lot of names there!). Voxphoto has been busy working on the new Camera-wiki Blog and keeping our Twitter feed going. He also designed our interim logo (a bit of a joke on the idea of forking a camera site). Vox and the other editors have also done a massive amount of work on the wiki itself, adding new pages and improving old ones.

I should also thank the many MediaWiki developers, experts, and users I sought help from along the way. More than once I was helped by people who identified themselves as “Wikia survivors”, some whose wikis had successfully escaped the takeover as we seem close to doing and others who lost their wiki and eventually gave up and moved on to other interests.

Finally, this is still an ongoing struggle and you can help. Let people know that instead of Camerapedia, they should be using Camera-Wiki.org now. Camerpedia was a well-recognized source of vintage camera information and there are links to it all over the web. Unfortunately, all those links now point to a domain that redirects to Wikia and their ad-encrusted, outdated version of the content. If you see one of those Camerapedia links, take a moment to change it or email the webmaster and let them know to change it – from camperpedia to camera-wiki.org – and maybe before long we can say for sure that the Borg didn’t win this one.

New Camera

Well, I finally did it. I bought a new Canon 40D with a 17-55mm f2.8 zoom. I also picked up an EOS to FD adapter on eBay so I could get at least some use out of my existing FD lenses. This is the third Canon I’ve owned. My first was a Canon A1, my second was the T90, which I still have. I thought some other old-timers might be interested in a comparison of the Canon T90 film camera with the new Canon 40D digital, so I put a few photos and comments of the two bodies up on flickr.

I should be uploading some photos taken with the new camera soon. Stay tuned to my flickr account if you’re curious.

My old FD equipment is destined for eBay soon, starting with my Canon FD 2X extender Type A.