Old Rochester postcards: Then and Now

Filed under: Mailbox Memories, Stop Defacing Rochester!, ephemera, photography — olivander March 20, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a decent number of old postcards depicting Rochester, MN. It’s a fun and (usually) inexpensive way to open a window into the city’s past. They’re also a good way to educate folks on the history of our city. To that end, I have a separate Web site that display’s most of them and give a little history of each scene.

I had originally planned a local history book centered around the postcard images, most likely as part of Arcadia’s Postcard History series. However, someone beat me to it–and did a much better job than I ever could have. So now I have a bunch of postcards hanging out in a binder.

Something I’ve been doing with them is attempting to recreate the shots as they look today, standing as near as possible to the same spot as the original photographer. It’s not always possible, but I do my best. Originally, I intended to exclusively use Conley cameras for the modern images, the Conley factory having been located here.  But that was rather hit-and-miss. I’ve taken to using the digital camera to take test shots, and eventually I’ll go back and re-take them with my Conley postcard-format field camera when time and expense allow.

Here are some I took this weekend. The full set can be seen on Flickr.

The Rochester Hotel began as the Pierce House in 1877. Over the years it underwent several major remodels. The top photo must have been taken after 1907; it’s postmarked 1914. In 1928, it was moved (by horse, in three sections) two blocks down and one block over, becoming the largest building ever moved in Minnesota at the time. Today, part of the Minnesota Biobusiness Center stands on the site.

The Rommel Hotel is long gone, destroyed by fire in 1953. This is more or less an educated guess as to where the lobby was.

The postcard is postmarked April, 1909, just three months after the YMCA opened. The little bank building alongside it was moved there from where it originally stood near City Hall about a block and a half away; the Martin Hotel was built in its place in 1916. The Y was torn down in 1938. The West half of the 1949 201 Building now occupies the site.

The top photo was taken in the late 1930s. Silver Lake was a WPA project, completed in 1936. Olmsted is the only county in the Land of 10,000 Lakes without a single natural lake. At 34 acres, Silver Lake is the largest man-made lake in the county, and is a year-round home to thousands of giant Canada geese. As you can see, the most significant change has been to the buildings in the background and to the bridge deck.

On July 23, 1908, the Zumbro River overflowed in one of the worst floods in the city’s history; at the time, it was certainly the largest disaster to hit the city since the 1883 tornado. Shown at top is the Chicago & Great Western rail bridge, with a  CGW locomotive stopped in front of Cole’s Mill. In the background in the College St bridge (now 4th St South) which in those days began at Broadway and crossed both the Zumbro river and the mill race. Due to dramatic changes to the river channel and geography of 2nd St as part of the 1990s flood control project instigated by the equally destructive 1978 flood, the original shot is almost impossible to recreate today. As it is, the pedestrian bridge in the foreground (immediately beneath the skyway) virtually completely blocks the view of the rail bridge.

The CGW bridge seen from the opposite side, looking North. Note the men standing on the bridge watching the flood waters. The angle of my photo isn’t quite right, since the modern street is much wider than the 2-lane bridge the 1908 photo was shot from. I would have had to stand in the middle of 4th St to accurately recreate the shot.

Another shot of the South end of the CGW bridge. At this point, the water is well on its way to completely washing out the ground from under the tracks.

Stereo Meta Stereo Meta

Filed under: AV Club, Finds, photography — olivander February 6, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

The above picture is a stereogram of a 1948 Stereo Realist camera, found in a local knick-knack store. So see it in simulated 3D, gently cross your eyes until the left and right images merge. Click the picture for a larger, more crosseye-friendly version.

A survey equipment company, the David White Company introduced the Stereo Realist to the market in 1947. It quickly became the company’s most popular product, despite a price of well over $1,000 in today’s dollars. Probably its most prolific and famous user was former silent-film star Harold Lloyd, who shot around a quarter million stereo images with one.

The David White Company is still around and still selling surveying equipment, but in 1971 they sold all of their Stereo Realist assets to former company design engineer Ron Zakowski.

The Stereo Realist shown above is a fairly early example, having a serial number in the low 7000s. It’s in nearly perfect condition, except the shutter is a bit sticky on very low speeds. With a little luck, I’ll be turning out real (not imitation) stereo photographs soon!

Intrinsic Value

Filed under: Rants, Typecast, photography — olivander August 3, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

Typecast 8/1/2010

Typed on a 1940 Corona Sterling.

March of the SOOCheads

Filed under: Rants, Typecast, photography — olivander February 13, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

Typewriter: 1940 Remington Model 1

#6: Lost Holidays

Filed under: Finds, Project 88, Stolen moments, photography — olivander August 10, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

Typewriter: c.1963 Remington Holiday

How clueless, photography-challenged people can take good typewriter photos in three easy steps

Filed under: photography, typewriters — olivander May 6, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

In response to a reader’s request, here is a general outline of how I go about photographing my typewriters. By observing a few easy guidelines, I believe that anyone can achieve similar results. I don’t have any fancy equipment; my studio is the top of my basement clothes dryer, and my camera is a Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot.

First, you need a typewriter. If you do not have a typewriter, I’m sorry, but you have more problems than I can help you with.

1. Make your typewriter look good. I don’t mean just cleaning it, although that should be done as well. Wiping down the machine with a light coat of Pledge or Old English will give it a nice shine. To eliminate background distractions and make your typewriter the focus of attention, place your typewriter on a plain white surface, like posterboard. As it turns out, this is helpful for the last step.

2. Photograph your typewriter under the best possible conditions. You should have good, bright light. I can’t emphasize enough how important good lighting is to good photographs. Either shoot outside on a sunny day or underneath a soft, white indoor light. (I shoot mine underneath daylight-replicating fluorescent lights made for reptile enclosures, available at most pet stores.) A regular, bare light bulb is both too yellow and too harsh. Avoid using camera flash. Use a tripod or some other stable surface combined with a remote release or self-timer to eliminate shake. Close down the aperture as small as it will go for the sharpest detail. Don’t worry about long exposure times; you have a tripod.

3. Adjust your photo’s colors. Ideally, you set your camera’s white balance before you took the photo, but you can rarely avoid having to do some color-correction. I use Photoshop, but most of these adjustments can be done in almost any photo editing software.

Set your white point based on the background posterboard. I prefer to use Curves over Levels because unlike Levels, Curves doesn’t destroy pixel data.

Bring out the machine’s details by lightening the shadows. About 10% works for me most of the time. Too much lightening of shadows or darkening of highlights can make your photo look like one of those crappy HDR jobs, and you don’t want that–unless you like crappy HDR jobs, in which case see my comment about not having a typewriter.

Even lighting with sunlight or using indoor lighting filters will result in a little yellow cast. Go into Color Balance and adjust the sliders until the blacks look closer to true black. Deep black reflects highlights as blue, so I shift the colors closer to the blue spectrum.

Sharpen the picture just a bit.

This isn’t absolutely everything I do in post, but these basic steps ought to be enough for anyone to take great-looking typewriter photos.