my cell phone is so smart, S-M-R-T

Right around the time iPhones were becoming a thing, I bought a Blackberry, which at the time was still kind of hot shit. Lukewarm shit, anyway. But I could text and check my email and get on Facebook with it, which was all I really cared about. I’m not one of those people that needs to have a shiny new toy every time one comes out, and I never drank the Apple Kool-Aid, so I was happy with it for a few years. But then it got rained on during an excursion to New Orleans, and unfortunately I didn’t realize it right away, because I am almost 40 and I do not spend every waking moment glued to my phone. So it died. I’ve gotten my service through Virgin Mobile for years—another reason I will never own an iPhone is I refuse to sign a contract with AT&T—it’s $35 per month for unlimited talk/text/data, which is literally half of what other phone companies charge, but it doesn’t come with free phone upgrades. I was unemployed at the time and couldn’t afford to replace it with anything fancy, so I just went to Walmart and got a cheap phone for about $40. I’ve been using that for about a year and a half and frankly I was embarrassed to be seen in public with it.

So I promised myself if I got the raise at work I’d buy a new phone, and I did so I did. Virgin Mobile has a few Sprint phones that they sell under their own name that run on Android; I got the Supreme (I think it’s the ZTE Vital if you buy it from Sprint). I guess they call it the Supreme because it has a pretty big screen, substantially bigger than an iPhone (I compared it to my mother’s). Remember when cell phones getting smaller was a mark of advancement?

So far I just have on it my email ,a few social media apps that I actually use (Facebook, Yelp), a couple of games (Words With Friends and Mahjong Solitaire). Oh, and there’s apps for Etsy and Amazon, which is pretty convenient. And Pandora, if I want to listen to music and the batteries in my mp3 player have died or something. It came with Google Books, but I have my Tablet for reading so I don’t know if I’ll use that much. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll discover more as I use the thing. I’ve noticed most apps and games are free now, which is nice. When iPhones first came out there were all kinds of horror stories about people going app-crazy and winding up with a first phone bill in the quadruple-digits.

This is also the first cell phone I’ve had that has a really good camera (13 mp) so I started an Instagram account. I know, I was mocking Instagram as recently as like 2 weeks ago, but I’ve rethought that. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s trying to pretend these are photos shot with a vintage camera and cross-processed on expired X-Pro or anything. We all know they’re cell phone pics with filters slapped on them. I drive past a lot of weird stuff on my commute, what I think of “Louisiana stuff”: buildings that are just roofless shells covered in climbing vines, junked ice cream trucks, rusty water towers and grain silos. I wouldn’t have time to stop and take a “real” photo, but I can take a cell phone photo and share it with people. That, and photos of Hank.

It’s funny that I’ve lived to see this. Generation X is the last one that’s going to have real memories of a world where computers weren’t everywhere. I remember in… 2nd grade? 3rd? playing a game that I’m pretty sure was Oregon Trail on the giant beige box with green-on-black text that I shared with the entire classroom. And that seemed like such a big deal!


the hoodoo that you do

I still mostly make my own Conjure items, but one there’s one seller on Etsy that I absolutely love, Rita’s Spiritual Goods. I got a couple of items from her last week. (Both of the photos are hers, btw.)

work space protection witch bottle

This is a Work Space Protection Witch Bottle; she listed one several months back and I loved it, but I was unemployed at the time so I couldn’t very well justify purchasing it. I’ve been watching her listings like a hawk since I started my new job in March, waiting for her to list another, and when she did I snatched it up within seconds. It’s on my desk at work. I can identify a cats’ eye shell (for deflecting the “evil eye” from negative co-workers), safety pins (witch bottles always have pins or needles or shards of glass in them), and what I think is Spanish moss? That’s sometimes a money-drawing element, but more commonly used for jinxing. (It’s also used for stuffing doll-babies, but that’s more for practical reasons.) It might be some other kind of moss or lichen, though. There’s also some stuff that’s a complete mystery, herbs and bits of stone and something that looks like a nut that’s been painted gold. The seahorse is a good luck symbol and also carries meanings of patience and peristence.

hand of fatima charm bottle

I bought this Hand of Fatima charm bottle at the same time, I just really like that symbol (also known as a hamsa). I recently bought a necklace that looks like a rosary except there’s a hamsa on the end instead of a crucifix. In this one I can identify allspice berries and lavender, which I use in every positive work I make myself, an evil eye bead, and a skull bead. The skull is a near-universal symbol with a thousand different meanings, but in Conjure charms meant to bring fortune to the bearer it usually has a “reverse bad luck” meaning.

I like that I can identify some of the contents and know why they’re there, but I also like that I can’t identify everything. Good rootworkers for the most part “follow the recipe”, but we all have idiosyncracies. It’s like cooking: before you can be great you have to be able to re-create the classics, but once you have that down, a little improvisation can make the dish amazing.

hamsa rosary

This is the necklace I mentioned. The Etsy seller was shutting down her shop, so I got it for 40% off.

Crown of Success charm bottle

This is a Crown of Success charm bottle that I made myself last week. In the center is a High John root that I anointed with Crown of Success oil. It also contains cinnamon stick, allspice berries, vervain, lodestone gravel with gold magnetic sand, and rock salt. I sealed the top with gold sealing wax, sprinkled orange glitter on it, and pressed a crown seal into the top. (I didn’t have to buy the seal, it’s part of a set I already had.)

I’ve also recently become interested in Lenormand cards, a style of card divination similar to Tarot that was used by Marie Anne Lenormand, a Napoleonic-era French cartomancer. I bought a deck on Amazon yesterday; you know I’m a sucker for a pretty deck so had to get Ciro Marchetti’s “Gilded Reverie” deck:

gilded mass market cover

I don’t know a lot about the method yet, but I look forward to learning. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that cards can “tell the future”, but I think they can be a helpful tool to explore your subconscious. (And Carl Jung believed that too, so I’m in good company.)

Memorial Day weekend: we salute the fallen hamburgers! I mean, soldiers.

We don’t get too many 3-day weekends at the job; between receiving raw materials from all over the world and shipping finished product all over the world—places that don’t necessarily share our holidays, in other words—production falls behind too fast if we’re always shutting the place down. We’re even open on Mardi Gras, highly unusual in south Louisiana. All of which is to say that I savored every moment of my Memorial Day weekend. (Except for all of the self-righteous sneering I saw on Facebook yesterday about people having BBQs and whatnot. Do you think the people doing the sneering spent all day weeping and wailing in a military cemetery? I don’t.)

I kicked around several ideas for something to do on Saturday, and at the last minute remembered that my department manager mentioned last month that she went to the Strawberry Festival in Ponchatoula and that the town has a lot of antique stores, which she knows I like. I Googled it, and most of them are clustered around the intersection of Pine and Railroad, the original town center. I pride myself on knowing where all the best antique stores within a 2 ½ hour drive are, so I had to check it out.

I wound up buying another Polaroid SX-70, which I know is kind of crazy because I just bought one last month that I haven’t even started to refurbish. But this one has the metal body, which I really prefer over the plastic. However, it’s also an autofocus model with a sonar unit (I didn’t take a photo of the camera but this is what it looks like), which I’m not crazy about. For one thing, it seems like something that’s likely to no longer work. For another, I prefer to focus the dang camera myself. Also, I dislike it on purely aesthetic grounds. I wish it could be removed, although it can at least be turned off and the camera returned to a manual focus setting. Anyway, it was only about $30, and the patches were already halfway peeled off so it looked like an easy clean-up. I got them all scraped off and bought a set of oilskin patches from an Etsy seller that have a graphic flowers-and-birds design in primary colors on black. I’d had that favorited since I bought the first SX-70, but since that one has a black plastic body I don’t think that skin would look as striking on it (because it would be black on black). For that one I may spring for the alligator skin, or maybe I’ll just come up with something crazy myself. Whichever camera I wind up liking better I’ll keep, and put the other one up for sale in my Etsy shop.

It didn’t take long to see all the stores, and at close to 90 degrees it was a bit warm to just wander around. Although it did look like an interesting town and I’m adding it to the list of possible meetup sites. I knew I was going to pass Denham Springs on the way back home, which is another town that has a lot of antique stores in the old downtown area. Most of them are in buildings that date back to the beginning of the town, like the first furniture store and movie theater. My favorite is Heritage House, which is in the old boarding house. Every room is like a little store all on its own.

American Tourister train case

When I was a kid, we still had kicking around the house a set of light blue Samsonite luggage that was my mother’s when she was first married. Either to my father or her first husband, I’m not sure, but they were probably 15 or 20 years old by the time they became my toys. I was obsessed with the train case and used to daydream about running away from home just so I’d be able to actually use it. I have no idea what happened to that luggage set, probably it got sold or given away when we moved from the house on Torres Avenue to the one on Conovan Lane, because I never saw it again after we moved.

All of which is to say, I’ve had a vintage train case-shaped hole in my soul that I’ve been trying to fill for years. They’re a not-uncommon item in antique stores, but they tend to be overpriced and/or torn to hell on the inside. I found a closet at Heritage House that had 3 train cases; one of them was way too beat up, one of them was too small, and then there was this one. A few light scuffs on the outside, I can live with that, inside… it was definitely used a lot, but it had an interior plastic lining that could be very easily cleaned. It even had the sectional tray that fits inside the lid! Vintage train cases are ALWAYS missing that tray. Cost, with tax: $23 and change. And at the counter they gave me the key, so I can even lock it if I want. I Googled this brand, looks like it dates from the mid-1960s.

The rest of the weekend I was pretty lazy. Sunday I cleaned and ran some errands in Lafayette, including to Ulta. I now own all 3 of the Urban Decay Naked eyeshadow palettes, so my life is complete. (I like make-up, okay DON’T JUDGE ME.) Oh, and I think I hit a dove with my car on the way home! Two of them were in the road, they flew up as my car approached but one flew TOWARDS my car instead of AWAY from it. There was a thump and an explosion of feathers. I love animals, but whatever. Doves are basically the pigeons of rural areas, and to quote George Costanza, we’re supposed to have a deal with them: they get out of the way of our cars, and we ignore the statue-crapping. I would feel worse if it had been some kind of egret or heron, even though those are as common around here as seagulls were in California. After the ‘rents went to bed I watched the Hannibal season finale (OMFG NOTHING WILL EVER BE OKAY AGAIN), and streamed a few episodes of this insane Korean soap opera I have recently become addicted to, Vampire Prosecutor. It’s about this prosecutor? He’s a vampire. Monday I got the car washed, re-read The Virgin Suicides, and ate a hamburger. I like mine with melted cheddar, a pineapple ring, and BBQ sauce. Try it sometime!

Spring Sale at the Schoolhouse Antiques Mall

I am SO BEHIND on posting photos. I started a new job last month; my commute is twice as long as I’m used to (although largely on rural highways very light of traffic) AND I’ve been working a lot of overtime—I even came in for about 3 ½ hours on Sunday! I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually, and I’m certainly not complaining about the money, but lately it feels like I barely have time for anything else.

Anyway, on Saturday I made time for the spring sale at the Old Schoolhouse Antiques Mall in the town of Washington, thus continuing my unbroken streak—I haven’t missed one of the biannual sales (there’s another one in October) since I moved to south Louisiana. For a couple of years there in the middle they were kind of crappy, but they seem to have bounced back. I’ve gotten some of my best vintage cameras there, including my Land Cameras, and this year did not disappoint:

Polaroid SX-70

The SX-70 was the only Land Camera I didn’t have at least one type of*, and one of just three cameras still on my must-own list. (The others are a Rollei 35 and a Fuji Natura Classica. I don’t count the Arguses or Kodak Brownies I buy when I come across them, because I collect those brands specifically.) I only paid $20 for it because it has the plastic rather than metal exterior, and because it hadn’t been cleaned and restored. But the seller—who was selling refurbished ones for $100, so he clearly knows Polaroids—assured me it worked, and I figured I could afford to trust him for $20. Those old leatherette patches just have to be scraped off, and the old adhesive soaked off with denatured alcohol, then I can either buy a die-cut skin or make my own. I’ve seen tutorials where people used materials like old wallpaper swatches, or leather patches cut out of vintage purses.

Hoodoo Oils

And this is the other thing I bought there, a Japanese lacquered corner shelf. Some of the lacquer has rubbed off on the edges, but it was only $12 and I’ve always had a fondness for all the kitschy stuff the GIs brought home after WWII. Cheap as it was, most of it is still better-made and more charming than the crap Ikea sells. I think it’s meant to hang in a wall corner, it’s got a metal hook, but standing it on the dresser creates 3 shelves instead of 2. Which makes it the perfect size to hold all of my condition oils, which previously had been scattered about—some of them were actually being kept in my underwear drawer!

*I also own a 95A, the 2nd model ever made and one that covers the earliest roll-film era; a 150, which covers the classic ‘50s-‘60s era (mine is a 1963); and several late-model hardshells.

What I obsess about when I’m not obsessed with photography

I hate August. I was never crazy about it in the Bay Area, but my loathing has reached new depths since moving to Louisiana. Part of that is because it’s the start of hurricane season, something my family has not had good luck with in recent years: my grandparents lost their house in Rita, a couple weeks after Katrina; my parents were able to fix theirs, only to have it wrecked in Ike a few years later.

But mostly it’s just the weather. Summer (which lasts roughly half the year in south Louisiana) is never pleasant, and no two ways around it, but there’s something particularly nasty about August. It goes over 90 for most of the month, and it’s so humid that my sunglasses steam up whenever I leave an air-conditioned interior. Or maybe it’s been like that for weeks, and August is just when my tolerance starts to wear thin.

I was able to keep photographing outside until the middle of July–the last shoot I did was the Holy Rosary Institute in Lafayette the weekend before I went to California. But the lovely weather in Laguna Beach must have eroded whatever resistance I had built up, because I pretty much went into hibernation when I got home. Although next weekend is the Lomographers of Acadiana meetup; we’re doing the capitol building in Baton Rouge.  (I really wanted to do the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans, but the last Saturday of August overlaps with Labor Day weekend, which is when Southern Decadence happens. It’s like Gay Mardi Gras. I’m not opposed to that or anything, I just don’t want to deal with the crowds. I avoid the French Quarter during actual Mardi Gras, too.)

So since I haven’t been able to obsess over photography, I’ve briefly transferred my attentions. For a few weekends I was scouring all the antique stores in Lafayette and Breaux Bridge, looking for vintage fountain pens. Most of what I came across were Wearevers, a cheap but respectable brand that churned out millions of pens in the decades surrounding WWII. It was the Kodak Brownie of fountain pens.

But I came across a real treasure at Lagniappe, my favorite store in Breaux Bridge, an Eversharp Doric in pristine cosmetic condition–it’s pre-WWII and made of celluloid, which eventually crystallizes and starts cracking, but none of that is evident in my pen.

This isn't my photo but my pen looks just like this one. For some reason green seems to have survived more than any other color Doric--or maybe Eversharp just made more of them in that color.

This isn’t my photo but my pen looks just like this one. For some reason green seems to have survived more than any other color Doric–or maybe Eversharp just made more of them in that color.

I don’t think the seller knew what they had, because they were charging about 1/3 of what they could have asked. That happens a surprising amount of time with antiques dealers, which just seems lazy to me. I mean I know they can’t know everything about everything (to use the American Pickers’ phrase), but wouldn’t you spend 5 minutes Googling the thing? Sometimes this leads them to charge way too much–I once saw a Tom’s Peanuts jar in the same store that had an $800 price tag, WTF–but more often it works to my advantage.

Anyway, I bought it and cleaned all the dried ink out of it. The vacuum fill won’t draw ink, but I was expecting that; rubber seals eventually dry up but it’s not a big deal to replace them. I have no experience working with vacuum fill pens and I’m sure not going to practice on this one, so I cruised some shops on Etsy that refurbish fountain pens, contacted a couple of the owners with good feedback, and asked if they took commissions. One guy in South Dakota who specializes in Eversharps quoted me $40, which is about what I expected to pay. Added to what I paid for the pen, it still comes to well under half of what I’ve seen pens in worse condition than mine go for online. I’ve seen pens in my condition sell for $300.

And of course I wound up buying a pen from him as well, an Eversharp Skyline (which I believe is the model that immediately followed the Doric).

I love the fantastic “dieselpunk” look this pen has. I am Team Dieselpunk, even if it is the redheaded stepchild of cyberpunk and steampunk.

Last weekend I decided to check out the secondhand bookstores in Lafayette, which I have shockingly neglected to do before this. Most of them were crappy and like 80% of their inventory was trashy romance novels, but there’s one on West Congress that was really cool. They have a history and a science section, and they sell art books and cookbooks, and had a bunch of funky old books on needlepoint and embroidery from the 1970s.

I got one of those “Images of America” books about New Orleans cemeteries, and an old edition of Clarence John Laughlin’s Ghosts Along the Mississippi. That’s kind of essential reading for any photographer working in south Louisiana, and new copies go for about $70, so I was happy to find it used. All the revised editions have the same 100 B&W plates; what do I care who wrote the introduction? I need a copy of Richard Sexton’s Vestiges of Grandeur, but that’s probably too new (and too pretty) to wind up in a secondhand bookstore. Amazon has it for $30, and I wouldn’t have to pay shipping with my Prime membership. That’s not a bad price for a large coffee table book that contains dozens of color photographs.

Basically I’m doing research with these books, for when it finally cools down enough to go back out with a camera. I’ve already found a couple of places in the Laughlin book and I’m not even finished looking at it. Although I always Google first, because a lot of those houses have been restored since he photographed them (boring!), and a few of them have been demolished or burned down or taken by the river.

recent additions to my rosary collection

Damn you, Etsy!

gaudalupe rosary

I absolutely love this rosary; growing up in a part of the country with a strong Mexican influence, I’ve always loved Virgen de Guadalupe iconography and Dia de los Muertos imagery. The seller customized it for me with white stone skull beads instead of blue. And the beads look red in this photo, but in actuality they’re a lovely dark pink.

Shop: Artista Muerta. She does a lot of different kinds of jewelry, not all of it religious, and I want ALL of it.

irish penal rosary

This is an Irish penal rosary (Irish name: An Paidrín Beag). The original design dates to the time of the Irish penal laws (harshest under the Stuarts and Cromwell), when England tried force Ireland to accept the Anglican Church. Any form of Catholic worship–like praying the rosary–was against the law. (Protestant dissenters such as Presbyterians also ran afoul of the laws.) The single decade was easy to hide in a sleeve, and the prayer kept track of them by moving the ring from finger to finger. (A full rosary is 5 decades, each decade is 10 Hail Marys.) Often they didn’t use a crucifix on the end but a subtler symbol of Jesus, like a carpenter’s nail or a fish.

I love the unusual square beads, the mottled blue-green coloring, and the primitive crucifix. I like crucifixes that are neither too elaborate, nor too graphic–those enormous ones where you can see Jesus’ eyes rolling in pain and the drops of blood on his forehead freak me out. My favorite crucifix is the one on my Job’s Tears rosary, where Jesus is hanging from a dogwood tree instead of a cross.

Shop: One Days Grace. They make a variety of religious jewelry, not all of it Catholic or Christian.

rosary ring

This is a rosary ring, which was also popular during penal times for the same reason, and was even easier to hide. You moved the ring around your finger as you prayed and moved your thumb from one knob to the other. You had to keep track of the decades yourself, though.

I don’t know how old this is but it’s got a lovely patina.

Shop: Inspirational Supply. They mostly sell rosary parts, for people who like to make their own. This could be used as a necklace, it’s got a loop at the top, but I prefer it as a ring, which is its original intention.

Smena 8M

My Smena arrived from Russia yesterday! The seller didn’t bother to clean it before he packed it, and it smells like it spent decades stuffed in a closet with someone who had a 3-pack-a-day unfiltered Sobranie habit, but it’s a real Soviet camera and it works! I can’t wait to try it out; I won’t have to wait long, as the next Lomographers meetup is this Saturday in Jackson (Louisiana, not Mississippi).

A lot of the so-called problems that I’ve read about this camera seem to be exaggerated. Supposedly it was very light, and combined with the stiffness of the shutter button, and the placement of the shutter cock which guarantees it will snag on your finger when it comes back up, it’s common to get camera shake blur in your images. I must hold my cameras differently than most people, because I haven’t noticed the shutter cock getting in the way. (That sometimes happens with my Land Camera, though.) It weighs about the same as my Lomo LC-A+, and while the shutter button is a hair stiffer than normal, it’s not like, outrageously hard to push down.

Another deal-breaker for a lot of toy camera enthusiasts is that the manual controls are confusing. Well, if they are, then they haven’t been using toy cameras for long, because they’re not only perfectly straightforward, they’re actually more helpful than most. Take setting the shutter speed: on top of the dial is a little array of clouds/sun that illustrate a variety of natural light settings from full sun, no clouds in the sky to heavily overcast, it’s storming right now. But if you prefer going by fractions of a second, no problem, those are at the bottom of the wheel, from B to 1/250.

smena controls

Same thing with focus: it’s marked both by distance in meters, and little drawings that suggest settings for what you’re trying to focus on. Head and shoulders of a person for the closest setting of 1 meter, through 2 heads and shoulders (1.5 meters), a little group of full figures (4 meters), and a group of trees (8 meters), to infinity. And aperture setting is totally normal, the ring is around the lens and goes from 4 to 16.

The only thing I’m kind of worried about it the film counter, which is separate from shutter cocking and fully manual. There’s a little dial with hashmarks that supposedly tell you when you’ve wound to the next frame, but a lot of people consider it to be totally worthless. Hopefully my first roll doesn’t come back with a lot of halfway double exposures.

Speaking of which, I think I finally figured out why I’d been getting so many double exposures with my Rollei A110 (which I got for hella cheap because it was broken, and then fixed). Lomography designed their 110 cartridge film to work in their Baby Diana 110, which shoots square photos. (I think making non-120 film mimic the square format is like something that would give Howard Roark fits, but never mind.) So each advance only moves the film enough to advance it to the next square frame, which is only about 1/2 as wide as a regular rectangular negative. Unless you’re shooting it in the Baby Diana 110, you need to advance it twice. I tested this theory (and really Lomography, thanks for the heads up–the Diana wasn’t even the first 110 camera they released!) at St. Mary’s in Weyanoke and sent the film to Dwayne’s a couple days ago, fingers crossed that my theory is right.

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