Tall Grass & Sky – Greenwood County

Tall Grass & Sky – Greenwood County   photo by Alex Hawley

Hard to believe that its been a month since I last posted. Its been busy. On Labor Day weekend, I loaded all the photo gear into the pickup and headed back to the Texico Hill area in the Kansas Flint Hills.  Went back on Road CR2 to view the area in the afternoon sun. The sky was mostly hazy but the haze cleared long enough to get this one on the 7×17 Folmer and Schwing. This one is the first in the series from that afternoon.

The more I use the 7×17, the more I like it. For what looks like a simple camera, simpler to use that the 8×10 Deardorff it would seem, the learning curve has been steep. You think after using 8×10 for several years that going to an Ultra Large Format (ULF) camera would be a breeze. Wrongo! Or, at least for me it wasn’t easy.

First, the F&S camera itself is quite literally, a hundred years old. F&S started as an independent camera maker in Rochester, NY. At the time mine was built, early 1900’s, they were owned by Eastman Kodak. Then, the Folmer Brothers patented a focal plane shutter for a 4×5 camera. Soon, the legendary Speed Graphic was born and F&S became known as the Folmer Graflex Company. The legacy of this company is still with us today, quite strongly, even though it ceased to exist nearly forty years ago. But that’s digressing from the point. A century old camera means a bellows of similar age which means never ending light leaks. Finally got that problem solved. Even though I have recoated the bellows, I still take special care to drape it with the darkcloth until I complete the exposure.

Developing the large negatives was another challenge. I thought I was smart and could use the brush development technique by inspection.  I had always developed my 810 film by inspection and didn’t think the 717 would be any different. Bought some relatively expensive hake brushes and proved to myself I could do it. Well, sort of.  Even though the negatives developed quite evenly, I was continually misreading them and underdeveloping. This sucks! Fate intervened and an old set of Beseler Unicolor drums and motor base came my way, which included a 16×20 drum.  Now I develop by time, in the daylight, and the negs come out probably better than I have ever gotten them before. Can’t say enough good things about rotary development. Uses a lot less chemicals too.

Then there was the problem of getting a contact printing frame. I quickly learned that 7×17 frames are custom built for several hundred dollars. On the other hand, 16×20 frames are plentiful and cost substantially less.  So I got a 16×20, which is four times larger and ten times heavier that the 8×10 frame I was used to. The 8×10 frame now feels like it’s for gurly-men.

So, essentially, photographing in ULF magnifies all the little gotcha problems by at least two orders of magnitude, and I haven’t even talked about having to cut down paper, loading/unloading film holders, or even purchasing film (which, let’s just call it “seasonal”). But, all those challenges withstanding, its still highly worth it.

On Road CR-2 – Flint Hills

I usually photograph during the midday period. That’s supposed to be the sweet period for B&W photographers. But when Mark Feiden e-mailed me and said “do you want to go out this evening”, I couldn’t resist. Especially when we were going to an area I hadn’t seen before.

We met in Madison. I brought along the trusty 8×10 Deardorff, the 7×17 Folmer & Schwing, a stock of film for both, and all the other paraphanelia that must accompany wooden, totally un-automated view cameras. Mark uses some very portable digital SLR equipment. My very non-portable ULF and LF gear filled the remainder of his pickup cab. Good thing it was a super cab. We headed west out of Madison. After a few short miles, we were in some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen anywhere. The Flint Hills at its very essence.

We were in the very northwest corner of Greenwood county, bouncing in and out of Chase county. We stopped at this spot to take our first shots of the evening. A thunderstorm was moving in from the northwest, obscuring the sun. We hoped maybe the sun would break through the clouds for a few fleeting moments of that spectacular pre-storm light, but no such luck. I found a likely spot and proceeded to set up the 7×17 while mark shot numerous frames from several angles. In the low light, my exposure was going to have to be 40 seconds. Meanwhile, Mark is racking them up. Finished the shot, disassembled and packed everything back in the truck. Off we went again, vaguely trying to get around the storm. About twenty minutes later, it caught us and we were wishing we were somewhere, not out in the open hills with rain and wind so heavy that the hood emblem is no longer visible.

“On Road CR-2, Greenwood County” is a 7×17 inch contact print made directly from a single in-camera negative. Copyright Alex Hawley 2008.

Snokomo Creek School – Flint Hills

Snokomo Creek School by Alex Hawley

Another door to learning in the Kansas Flint Hills. This one is at the Snokomo Creek School in Wabaunsee County, Kansas, near Paxico. Snokomo is easy to get to and getting there is half the joy. On I-70, take the Snokomo Rd exit, follow the road South for about 3-1/2 miles. The school will be on your left adjacent to the road. Snokomo can give you what photographers call a “U-turn Moment”.

North Wall, Snokomo Creek School by Alex Hawley
North Wall, Snokomo Creek School by Alex Hawley

“North Wall” was taken on my second outing to the Snokomo area. My friend and fellow LPA member, Rob Young, was along for this trip. His rendition of the school is done on gum bichromate. Please see Rob’s blog for complete details.

Fine Art prints of “Snokomo School” may be purchased through my APUG Portfolio. Please contact me if you desire to purchase one. This version is an 8×10 contact print printed on Azo fiber base silver chloride paper.

“North Wall, Snokomo School” may be purchased from me directly. The version shown is printed on Slavich fiber base silver gelatin paper

Lower Fox Creek School – Flint Hills

"Keystones" photo by Alex Hawley

"Keystones" photo by Alex Hawley

No doubt, the Lower Fox Creek School is one of the most photographed places in the Kansas Flint Hills. Its very easy to get to. Just go three miles north of US 50 on K-177, near Strong City. Sitting prominently atop a hill next to the highway, it can’t be missed. The National Park service has a nice virtual tour and good directions on how to get there.

I’ve photographed there several times. “Keystones” was taken in 2004 on the 8×10 view camera and is printed as an 8×10 contact print (meaning no enlargement). For me, there’s some special meaning for school house doors. Perhaps its because I see them as doors to the future no matter how humble and plain they may be.

In fact, it was an earlier version of the Lower Fox Creek School that was a key factor in spurring me to use large format cameras. So, in part, this humble school building was a key factor in my future as a photographer.

There are many of these old school houses throughout the Flint Hills. One can’t help but find one or more whenever exploring the region. Many have been preserved to some extent or another, and several still serve useful functions in their respective communities. I’m glad they are still there.

Fine Art prints of “Keystones” may be purchased through my APUG Portfolio. These are 8×10 contact prints made on Kodak Azo silver chloride contact printing paper. Please contact me if you desire to purchase one.

All photographs copyright Alex Hawley.

Old Stone Fort – Flint Hills

Old Stone FOrt, Wabaunsee County

Old Stone Fort, Wabaunsee County

No one that I’ve talked to knows much about the The Old Stone Fort. Located in southwestern Wabaunsee County, Kansas, this old building sits atop a small hill overlooking the old Trail Drover’s Road and a stream crossing. Privately owned, it serves as a convenient place to feed cattle who are grazing on the rich Flint Hills grass. Going west from Volland on Old K-10, find Trail Drovers Road on the right and follow it for a few miles. You should some to the Old Stone Fort.

My guess is that originally this was a Cavalry outpost for Fort Riley. There is also a stable, just to the left of where I was standing. Both buildings were not built for ranch or farm service; they don’t appear to have had the amenities for permanent occupancy of either humans or livestock. The location makes sense as a good place to station a detachment of Horse Soldiers. Trail Drover’s Road was the main cattle trail in the area for driving the herds to the railroad, some six miles away at Volland. The nearby stream crossing was probably important for the cattle drives too. And, the stream could supply water for the men and horses stationed there. All this is just my rank speculation of course.

The negative for Old Stone Fort was taken on 4×5 Polaroid Type 55 sheet film. I loved that film! One more sigh for its demise.

Prints of the Old Stone Fort are available for sale through my APUG Portfolio. Please contact me via e-mail or a Blog comment if you are interested.

All photographs copyright Alex Hawley

New Black & White Still Life

Skull #1 by Alex Hawley

Skull #1 by Alex Hawley

This may be the obligatory Polaroid Type 55 cow skull photo. Seems everyone does one but that’s not why I did it.

Both elements shown came from the backyard; the wood (which is a walkway I built years ago) from my yard, the skull is from the neighbor’s. The skull is an authentic Kansas Flint Hills cattle skull.

Those of us that used Polaroid Type 55 film have been crying our eyes out ever since Polaroid’s demise earlier this year. I bought five boxes and swore I was going to put it to good use. A final fling I suppose.

Gearhead info: 8×10 Deardorff field camera with 4×5 reducing back. Schneider 305 mm G-Claron lens, Polaroid 545 film holder, and Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film. This scan was made from an 8×10 enlarged print on Kentmere Kentona fiber paper.

Featured Print

Feed Sign, Sharpe, Kansas

Feed Sign, Sharpe, Kansas

Feed Sign, Sharpe, Kansas has been one of my favorite prints. It was both fun and rewarding to make, and I think its fun to look at.

I had photographed it few weeks earlier from this instance but wasn’t quite satisfied with the print. When I went back, a small tree had grown up just to the right, casting shadows from its leaves across the sign. “Why not?” I thought.

The subject scene was extremely flat in contrast. The sign is a simple white plastic decal applied to the faded galvanized metal sheath covering. I developed the film for an N+1 time to pull as much contrast out of it as I could. It prints successfully at about a grade 3-1/2 paper contrast. All and all, an excellent exercise in B&W contrast control. It looks most lovely printed on Forte Polywarmtone paper, which is, sadly, no longer available.

This print is for sale through my Analog Photography User’s Group (APUG) Portfolio. If you are interested in buying a print, please click the Portfolio link or contact me directly.

All photographs copyright Alex Hawley