Life, Death, and Dinner in 1968


The year was 1968. My uncle was killed in Vietnam, and this was the camera that he carried into war.

But this isn’t a sad story, nor is it the end of a story, it’s a sort of a cool new beginning–not for my uncle Rick unfortunately, but it is for this little camera.

Enter stage right: Seattle’s largest cultural festival, Bumbershoot. Hundreds of bands, theater, performance, food, it’s a 3 day festival in September. Very cool. Enter stage left: my good friend, renowned food guru Michael Hebb (he’s my partner in our www.songsforeatinganddrinking.com project). Hebb was an artist in residence at this festival, and he chose to do what he does so well – host open dinners for 50 people to share, discuss, and revive ideas. The topic for this series of dinners?…the ideas behind arguably the most revolutionary year in US history (and certainly a huge year worldwide), 1968. And to this dinner, guests were required to bring something to share – a story, a poem, memory, an artifact – from or about 1968 in exchange for this meal that he would prepare. From Hebb:

greetings – you are here at one pot at bumbershoot so that i can feed you – but also so that i can get something from you – the basic request is one of reciprocation – I cook you dinner and you bring me something – it seems to be that this basic exchange is the root of most culture. money is an unfortunate substitution for basic reciprocity – it is silent, and generally rather dirty, “it don’t sing and dance and it don’t walk” – many cultures have (had) great ritual in the matters of the table and the guest/host relationship – the greeks in the classical era were famous for long treatises on the importance of proper exchange – the table was central to this – the collapses of this code often resulted in calamity. take for instance when paris decided to take more than food from the the table of menelaus (he slipped helen of troy into his pocket) the result was the most mythologized war of all time. so don’t steel my woman – I will burn down your village. restaurant tables do not offer this kind of currency. this table was built as a kind of modern agora for an exchange about a very important time – 68 changed our world – I don’t profess to be of high knowledge about this era – this year – in fact I wasn’t even born – but I launched this project to learn about how it came to pass that all the way around the globe thought and ideas turned into action – the world is filled with ideas – and yet the world has arguably never seen as much action as it did in 1968.

As you’ve already guessed, I brought the this little camera to the table along with the story of my uncle’s passing. And I brought it all three nights, along with a handful of Ilford Delta 3200 film, taking a snapshop portrait of every person in attendance, largely total strangers, over their shoulders, in near total darkness. [More story and photos after the jump. Click ‘continue reading’ below...]

So, aside from this being my uncle’s war camera, the other interesting things about this camera are:
1. It hadn’t seen a roll of film since my uncle’s death in that year of revolution, 1968, and I was keen to change that.
2. The camera is called a “half-frame”, meaning that it takes 35mm film, but takes photos that fill only half of a 35mm frame. As such it gets 72 “portrait” images on a roll.
3. It has presets for 160 and 200 ASA film only.
4. It has a built-in ring flash (can you imagine how stoked David Hobby would be?!)
[Update - turns out it's not a ring flash, but a selenium light meter..]

With that information, I formulated the following plan:
1. I wasn’t going to “check” my work after the first night. I planned to just snapping portraits all three nights and see what I got. I WANTED – was desperately looking for – unique, awkward snapshots of total strangers bonding beautifully, strangely over dinner. Eerie pictures, weird pictures.
2. I couldn’t locate the appropriate power source for the ring flash given the short time between when I tracked down the camera in my family and the event. As such, I was forced to go natural light – when there was none. Hence, I’d shoot 3200 iso, and I’d push it.
3. Since there’s only a single dial on the front of the camera with shutter speeds, aperture, and ISO all on the same dial, I had no idea how to get 3200 thru there “properly”. As such, I decided to shoot a test roll. Since the room was going to be “lit” the same for all three nights, I’d be ok. I just clicked off 35 pictures of the room right when I get in there on the first night. When it came time to process the film, the lab could then “snip” this roll — develop a bunch of different pieces of the film for different lengths of time — and decide what the right development time in the tank would be for the remainder of the “real” rolls.

Well, the plan was a reasonable one. And I got a pile of fascinating, simple, bizarre images from the dark dinner table. They are indeed blurry, weird, old-looking, but cool. And I think they’re cool because of what they recorded and how and why. And now they’re a part of the permanent Bumbershoot festival collection. Here’s a sample:

So I’m looking forward to my new beginning with this weird little camera. Sure I love my iphone, but this is something different. It can’t be used, but it has it’s special place. Here’s a couple more snaps of this neat old camera below, and then a whole lot of pictures from dinner–150 or more. Keep in mind that a lot didn’t turn out. The camera misfired, or people were unrecognizable, or I blew it. Many of these suck beautifully, and some suck poorly. I’m fine with that and hopefully you are too. There’s some well known people tucked in these pictures if you care about that stuff. There’s the good snaps, crap ones and everything indecipherable and in between–the bulk of which can be found at this link here.

I learned a lot about 1968 that weekend from poems, songs and first hand accounts. I learned more deeply what revolution stands for, how it works, and how it fails. And I learned how to shoot this cool little camera. I love the power of the story or the image and a meaningful meal. I hope you enjoy these photos in a not-so-perfect sort of way. They are a slice of a strange and powerful dinner in 2008, of half-frames, and 3200 Ilford Delta film pushed like mad.

UPDATE: posted an online version of a giant print composite (4ft by 7ft) that we’ve made with the images to celebrate this series of evenings. View it in this online gallery here

[Full gallery of blur, 3 pages long, begins here.]

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57 Responses to Life, Death, and Dinner in 1968

  1. PhoebeT January 7, 2009 at 11:46 pm #

    The picture of that older guy is a real stopper. Wow.

    Great story Chase. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Alex DiFiori January 8, 2009 at 12:10 am #

    I’ve always loved the majesty of using old cameras. I have a Polaroid field reporter’s camera, and I would love to dust it off one day and shoot something with it. You defiantly got some awesome shots and I think you should carry that bad boy around a little more.

  3. admin January 8, 2009 at 12:29 am #

    Chase I have an old Nikon F that I go out and shoot with at many occasions. My weapon of choice is Kodak T-Max 400 pushed to 3200 or 6400…..amazing stuff, truly I think their best, most versatile B&W; film to date.

    I love the "old" grain look of film. (shit, it seams like just yesterday that I was in the lab processing).

    Never forget these cameras, they have server history to this point, and always will. the digital revolution is something that we can embrace, but is never as world-moving as film was, and will always be.

  4. q January 8, 2009 at 12:41 am #

    enjoyed this post, as i also own an olympus pen (ee3). because it's half frame, i've mostly been using it to shoot diptychs.

    i should try shoot with b&w; sometime.

  5. Tuffer January 8, 2009 at 12:47 am #

    I love this camera. I bought it on the streets of amsterdam on queens day (which starts with one big garage sale and ends in a flood of heinekan). Knew nothing about it. Started to get concerned when it showed 40…50…60 picture on a roll of 36. Opened it early thinking it must not be advancing the film, then figured out teh half frame thing. I worked on a series of candid street portraits where I shot one person per frame in Italy.

  6. Karen Ard January 8, 2009 at 12:53 am #

    Great post! We all seem to love our oldies but goodies. There is certainly a sense of nostalgia one gets with the older film cameras. Thanks.

  7. James Ogle January 8, 2009 at 1:13 am #

    Chase, as cool as a ring flash would be on this great little camera. It unfortunately isn’t….. The ring around the flash is a Selenium light meter.

    They made a PEN-EF way later on that had a flash but it wasn’t around the lens either.

  8. Delos January 8, 2009 at 3:31 am #

    Wow! I just flashed back to ’68. I was 20 years old and working at a little camera shop in Atlanta named Carnegie Camera (directly across the street from the main library). We sold a few of those little guys and had a lot of fun with the half-frame format.

    That camera, the Nikon F1, the Canon Pellix w/f.95 lens, and the Asahi Pentax (screw mount lens) elicit some really fond memories.

  9. Michael Warf January 8, 2009 at 6:00 am #

    Here is sit totally stoked about the ring flash (yeah, blame Hobby) only to have a comment or two above me reveal it as a light meter? Ring flash would have been waay cooler. ‘Specially in ’68.

  10. Tammy M. January 8, 2009 at 6:05 am #

    Love this post and I love the pictures. Makes the world a bit more homey to have just read the post about it. Strangers coming together to share and enter into face to face contact. Wonderful.

  11. Chris January 8, 2009 at 6:23 am #

    That first shot almost looks like a Greek god. Awesome post, idea, and project. Keep it up Chase!

  12. ross millar January 8, 2009 at 6:46 am #

    dig the whole project, dinner included, thought provoking. some great frames too. thanks for sharing.

  13. Anonymous January 8, 2009 at 7:09 am #

    just because it’s a cool old camera doesn’t mean the photos are cool…

  14. Adam January 8, 2009 at 7:21 am #

    Sounds like fun, thanks for sharing. I like the idea of going into a photographic situation with some limitations and seeing what you can do…it really forces you to be creative in your process.

  15. RayK January 8, 2009 at 7:38 am #

    Must be something in the NW air this year. I dug out my Dads Kodak Retina II that he carried all over Bolivia in the 50s building roads and decided to give it a new life this year. It is the first camera I ever used. Great post and a real rush to be reminded of what it was like in 68.

  16. Anonymous January 8, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    Cool post. I love to hear about the backroads that a high end pro travels with his or her photography. To not be afraid of snapshots and to be curious is perhaps more inspirational to me that any Nike campaign.

  17. GeoWulf January 8, 2009 at 8:28 am #

    My father in law passed away and unfortunately we had to sell most of his old war cameras to pay for his burial. He had two of these kinds of cameras. My father in law had a really cool collection. *sigh*

  18. Veronica January 8, 2009 at 9:35 am #

    Fantastic post, thanks for sharing the story & the photos! How timely this is for me, I recently dusted of my Pentax ZX 35mm camera and started shooting it again. Looking forward to seeing the results soon.

    I also just purchased an old SX-70 polaroid & Kodak Tourist II (not sure I'll find film for this one) in hopes of snapping a few photos with each.

    I was inspired to buy the SX-70 after seeing a lot of great captures on flickr and hearing Dan Rubin talk about it. Seems more & more people are having fun with the older film cameras and sharing the results. Very exciting!

  19. Alex Photo Blog January 8, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    Thank you so much for posting this Chase, it was really inspiring!
    After reading it, I decided to take my D300 only with the 50mm lens on it, adjust it in recording pics directly in B&W;, boost it in 1600 ASA, take a night walk around my city, do some shooting and see what happens.
    You can see some of tonight’s pictures here, unedited and untouched (except from minimum sharpening due to resizing):

    http://s281.photobucket.com/albums/kk213/alexandrosphotos/Corfu_1600ASA/

    There’s nothing wrong in trying to achieve the perfect exposure, the perfect white balance, or a totally clean noise-free image, but I think that sometimes we forget that taking pictures is an art, or that we can do it only for fun or just for relaxing after a hard day at work. :)

  20. Anonymous January 8, 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    Here’s an impromptu portrait I shot of Michael Hebb while at Bumbershoot last year:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/swerbo/2819187029/sizes/o/in/set-72157607066029615/

  21. Veduta Valeriy January 8, 2009 at 2:29 pm #

    It is very nice device. :)
    AND ilford – just love it!
    BTW it is nice idea for CANON or NIKON to make a lens with build in ring flash! Macro photographers will vote for that!
    Veduta Valeriy

  22. Tristan Wheelock January 8, 2009 at 2:47 pm #

    Hey Chase, like the stuff with the old camera. Ironically enough I was looking through an old suitcase the other day and I found a bunch of old photos that were taken in of all years 1968. You can take a look at them here if you want…

  23. Will January 8, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    Great post Chase!

    First let me say I’m sorry to hear about your uncle, what a terrible war that was.

    I was shocked to see the Pen EE camera! I have the same one, it takes beautiful, sharp photos. In fact I have a collection of old Olympus film cameras, mostly rangefinders.

    James is correct about the ring flash, it is actually the meter and if it still works you are lucky (mine does) more here-

    http://www.camerapedia.org/wiki/Selenium_meter

    Thanks for the extensive post!

  24. CHiRS_LTS January 8, 2009 at 6:00 pm #

    I love the story behind the camera. The pictures that came from it are pretty cool…

  25. Jeremy Earl January 9, 2009 at 6:22 am #

    i haven’t shot film since i think,…99? so i miss the old cameras, and I’ve been searching for one at the local antique stores, i miss film.

    oh, one note, I teach web design at the local art institute, and as a matter of principle i have to scold you for not putting a title on your gallery pages :-)

  26. andria January 9, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    My dad gave me this same camera! Very exciting find. I have yet to develop a roll from this but I believe, the “ring flash” is actually a selenium meter so you can shoot in full auto mode.

  27. Benjamin Schneider January 10, 2009 at 2:52 am #

    Hi Chase,

    Great story, it’s definitely worth the time reading it! Thx for sharing!

  28. Nathanael Gassett January 10, 2009 at 8:51 am #

    Really cool. That clip from Michael Hebb really stopped me in my tracks. This guy thinks about food in way that is completely alien to me. Having done food photography and styling, I had since realized that food can be an art form, but never to that depth. Despite various instances in both my own life experience and by other artists and/or advertisers, it didn’t really click until now that food can really bring people together. In a way it is far more accessible than “art” because everyone needs it to live (though I suppose the same could be said of less carnal arts as well). Trading stories for dinner is perhaps the best idea I have heard of in a long, long time. And I know I said I liked this idea when you first posted about it, but every time you show something new, some little detail about it, it inspires me to thought again and again.

    _Nathanael

  29. catsighs January 10, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    The first shot of the old fellow with the beard gave me goose bumps. It’s beautiful and I wish I could have heard his contribution to the fellowship that night.

    About 1968 – I turned 12 that summer and lived near NAS Memphis which was a training stop for many of the “boys” fresh out of bootcamp and taking their next training necessary before moving on to their duty stations and a great many of them were headed to Nam. They were men, but they were also just kids like us; I still wonder how many of them didn’t get home to their families. Where’s Joe Redding from Montana, or Ruben Vargas from California? Or Tom from Boston? I hope that, like me, they are grandparents with years of interesting memories from the years since then.

  30. Anonymous January 10, 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    I went to Vietnam and I am always moved by art from that era. Your pictures are mystical and painterly. Thank you for sharing them. I still keep in touch with friends from those times and will forward your link.

  31. Travis Dunn January 10, 2009 at 3:59 pm #

    Awesome post, I am inspired to shoot some film now. Pawn shops and antique stores here I come.

  32. JFRphoto January 10, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

    somebody is shooting film again!

    hahaha, I love the results from film cameras, there is always a old story behind it.

    like Alex said, use it, as your walk around camera, and just enjoy the freedom and not the rush of checking the screen.

    Cheers from Germany

  33. Anonymous January 11, 2009 at 11:19 pm #

    Chase,

    It’s so weird that you posted this. 5 days ago I got the desire to develop some film that has been sitting around my house for about 2 years now. I had do idea what was on this film, but I just felt like doing it. I’m glad I did. One of the roles had some photos from 2 years ago that I took on my 7th wedding anniversary. I shot them on an old kodak Duaflex that I found at a garage sale. I liked it so much that I’m going to buy one of those Holga cameras. I would use my Kodak, but it takes a bunch of work to get the 120 film to fit in the camera.

  34. Anonymous January 11, 2009 at 11:29 pm #

    I forgot to put this in my other post. Over the years I have found a bunch of old film in thrift stores, garage sales, and estate sales. I don’t know who the people in the photos are or how to reach them. So I didn’t think it would be a problem to post them online. There’s something very cool about looking at old photos. Here are a few that I have scanned and put into my Lost And Found Flickr gallery.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/brownpolyester/sets/72157605721047623/

  35. Bryan Darling January 12, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

    I’ve used my pen camera many times. Scanning the film is a pain but it’s a great snapshot camera with a good lens. A couple technical corrections. Besides the “flash” being a meter, the white numbers are your ASA settings and the yellow/orange numbers are the aperture settings for use with a flash. When using the aperture settings, the shutter is locked at 1/30th of a second.

    Knowing that makes it real easy to use film higher than the ASA setting allows(my pen goes up to 400), or in darker settings where the meter won’t ready correctly. It’s also great for shooting with a flash.

  36. Chase Jarvis January 13, 2009 at 1:29 am #

    @ bryan darling: Thanks for your tips Bryan. I’m starting to pick up on the details of this little bugger. Super cool.

  37. Anonymous February 4, 2009 at 5:20 pm #

    Chase, love your work but you could have done a lot better with some research. I googled your camera and found out that the camera you have is an Olympus Pen EES.

    Check it out here:
    http://www.subclub.org/shop/pene.htm

    So the center ring is the focus and it has three settings (that’s probably why you have lots of blurry pictures).

    Regarding exposure if you set the lens at f/2.8 you get 1/40s shutter speed. If the lighting was EV 3 you would have had a perfectly exposed ISO 3200 shot. EV 2 would have meant EI 6400. EV 2 equals 10 lux so that’s pretty low light.

    You could also had attached a Nikon flash to the pc sync connector and run it in Auto mode and set the corresponding f-stop on the lens.

    Well, just some ideas if you pick it up again.

    Keep up the good work,

    Pete

  38. Maruko June 8, 2009 at 3:20 am #

    i love olympus pen, and all the retro cameras. I did an amazing job in Africa with an Olympus pen , where you cannot point and shoot at the people.have a look if you wont..
    http://www.markotardito.it/Afrika.html

    ciao
    Marko

  39. kaos game October 20, 2009 at 5:58 am #

    I love the results from film cameras, there is always a old story behind it.
    somebody is shooting film again!
    I went to Vietnam and I am always moved by art from that era. Your pictures are mystical and painterly

    Kaos Game

  40. pen camera October 20, 2009 at 6:00 am #

    Awesome post, I am inspired to shoot some film now. Pawn shops and antique stores here I come.

    Pen Camera

  41. Dave January 11, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    Why I just now found this post, I have no idea. At least I’m consistently late to the party.

    I have that same camera. I’m pretty sure it is; the selenium ring around the lens isn’t ringing a bell, but I can’t be sure until I drag it out of storage. I found it at a yard sale, somewhere in western Indiana. 2 or 3 bucks, IIRC. Had a roll of film in it, Ektachrome. I had it processed, but I’ve moved many times since then, and the pics are long lost. They were a real time capsule.

    In 1968, I had a large, brown Bakelite ‘Brownie’ camera, with a textured, gold-colored front plate. 620 film. Such a beast.

    I’m always torn… I’d love to do darkroom again, but space and time restrictions keep that from gelling. Shame, because these cameras deserve so much more than trophy status.

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