Out of Massachusetts: Exploring Pittsburgh’s Strip District

As one might gather from the photos I posted a few months ago about our trip to Philly, one of our favorite things about traveling is trying the local food. So when the time came for us to try and decide what we wanted to do during the few hours we spent in city of Pittsburgh in June, a small amount of research quickly pointed us toward the Strip District. My brother Patick was to be our ride and our guide, though he isn’t 100% familiar with Pittsburgh either since he lives about an hour outside of it. I took that as a good thing though — we’d all be experiencing something new.

Now, I’ll be real here: we did have one stop of our tour in mind already as a must-eat for the trip, and that was Primanti Brothers. The Travel Channel and Food Network sold us on it a long time ago. When we looked a little closer at the surrounding neighborhood, we figured it’d be a good starting point to see the rest of the Strip District. I opted for the vegetarian option in hopes that it’d keep some space available in my stomach for the next food stop, and if I’m being totally honest, I wish I didn’t. All that meat looked and smelled completely unreal, and I was very conspicuously ogling Brian’s brisket sandwich the whole time.

   
One of our food stops included this kabob stand (you really can’t hold us back from food trucks), which we first noticed because of the bearded man who was painting a massive bird on it. Patrick, being a novice to our travel style and not having stomachs like ours, skipped this and watched on while Brian and I indulged in a kabob and a couple spring rolls. 
   
We also passed by a couple street musicians in our travels through the Strip District. They weren’t exactly Brian or Patrick’s cup of tea, but reminded me of Ghost Mice a little bit, so I took their picture. I always love when singers seem to use their whole face or whole body to express their vocals. Look at that dude’s neck. Damn.

 

Camping (again) in Tolland State Forest

As I’ve already posted at least twice before, I love when we go camping. We’ve always gone together to Tolland State Forest in Otis, MA for one-night stays. My favorite thing has always been the quiet and the peace, and Tolland State Forest is the perfect spot for when we want to get out of the neighborhood and really relax. I always bring an analogue camera and do my best to keep my phone off and away to really take it all in. This time I brought my current favorite, my Mamiya m645, loaded up with my favorite film, Kodak Portra 400.

This time, I had just taught Brian how to play backgammon, and since we haven’t bought our own board yet, he used what we had access to and made a board for us to play while dinner cooked in the fire.

   
    
  
   

 

Scanning negatives like a big girl: troubleshooting and proper flatbed scanners

As I posted before, I recently got into scanning my own 120 negatives. I was gifted a sweet photo scanner-printer combo, which I considered to be a step up from the clunky desktop 35mm negative scanner that I’d been using for over a year, which was on the cheap side and always left my scans with bright green corners that I constantly struggled to edit out. I felt that I was due for an upgrade, and in my excitement, I totally thought my new Epson XP-310 would get the job done sufficiently without me having to drop dime on something extravagantly pricey.

But I was so new to negative scanning using a flatbed that I didn’t know what to look for in a scanner if I was going to get the clear, pristine results I craved. In retrospect, at the time I didn’t even know that any scanner anywhere in the world had these few parts, or that they existed in any way.

What follows is a semi-embarrassing account of my reaching out online for an issue that I didn’t realize was relatively minor and easy to solve.

Whenever I’m having a technical issue that I need to troubleshoot, my first step is almost always Googling the problem and looking for a reliable forum with a few responses. I’ve had the most luck with Flickr group discussions since there are a lot of professionals who use Flickr and contribute to discussions and help hobbyist film photographers like me fix the problems they’re having. I find it really cool that communities exist where longtime photogs actively and constructively reach out to people who are just getting started and can explain things in basic terms. So I logged onto Flickr and started a discussion in one of the medium format-related groups I’d joined.

Within a day there were multiple responses detailing what my problem was and a few options on how to fix it.

Let’s dial it back a minute, though, so I can tell you what the problem was. I originally posted looking for a reason that (and a solution for) my photos would come out, at best, like this:

Brian shuffling cards, scanned on the XP-310

Lines! Lines lines lines, brightness minimal clarity and lines! I couldn’t edit it out, and though I’d found a tutorial in another Flickr discussion that looked like it gave good results, I didn’t want to wind up spending so much time on every single negative just to make it look the way it should if it was done with the proper scanner with no editing needed.

The XP-310, though a great photo printer that has consistently given me high-quality prints of my work, is very basic as far as scanners go. It’s meant for documents and photographs, not negatives. This is one of the first things my responders pointed out to me in the discussion. One responder told me that the better, more expensive film scanners have a part called an illuminator inside the scanner’s cover that moves with the bottom scanning mechanism and provides clear images. To be totally real, I felt like a moron for not figuring that part out on my own, but I was still glad to have the help and more of an explanation provided.

That same responder suggested a few other Epson scanners, one of which happened to be right within my budget. My free trial of Prime was still in effect, so I ordered an Epson V550 and got it the next day. It was less than $200 on Amazon and to me, has been worth every penny. It made me enthusiastic and excited to be shooting again, and it came with scanning masks for both 120 and 35mm film. All problems solved.

This is how my photos come out on the V550 (without sufficiently cleaning the glass first … my bad):

Brian shuffling cards, scanned on the V550

Needless to say, I’m totally satisfied and extremely happy. Online forums can be a great resource, especially when you know there are professionals reading your posts and taking the time to help you out. It makes it so much easier to hone your craft when you can find a community, real or online, that’s welcoming and constructive and doesn’t bully or mock those who are new to what the discussion is about.

Camping in Otis with Morgan the Dog

Last summer, Brian and I went on our first camping trip together at this campground in Tolland State Forest. We’d been dying to come back ever since, this time to a waterfront campsite, and found the perfect opportunity one Sunday in September while dog sitting for a few friends who had just gotten married and were away on their honeymoon. Since school was in session and most people work Monday through Friday, the campground was really quiet; we only saw one other occupied campground while we were there. We had the entire peninsula of the grounds to ourselves and, save for some overnight rain and high winds, it was gorgeous and lovely the entire time. Is there any better way to find your inner zen than a good night camping? Not for us (unless it was two or more nights camping…).IMG_1616.JPG

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Out of Massachusetts: the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

As a birthday gift to myself, I took a weekend trip to Philadelphia with Brian to visit my uncle, aunt and cousin, who I haven’t seen in about a year and a half. My uncle’s house is in the perfect location for all the things we wanted to see and do — everything was within a 30-minute walk. The first full day we were there, we visited the Eastern State Penitentiary. I’d been wanting to see it for a long time, ever since taking a class on prisons and related literature when I was in college. There’s a lot of history behind those walls; it was the first big prison built in the United States, was built slowly over a period of decades (with some sections even built using prisoner labor) and you can clearly see the differences in the ways different cell blocks we’re put together. The place was cold the day we visited, almost a veritable wind tunnel, which further demonstrates the conditions in which the prisoners lived as the structure didn’t have heat while it was operational.
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