Thursday, February 16

The history of my SX-70 cameras + replacing the leather.

I am lucky enough to have 3 SX-70 Polaroid cameras. Two of them get a lot of use and one of them has been sitting in my closet in a box for many years.

When I first discovered the joys of the SX-70 folding cameras, I was lucky enough to be gifted an original one by a friend when we still lived in Brooklyn (c. 2005). It's in good condition and has always worked well for me, but I have a ND filter stuck over the lens so I mostly use it to shoot the dwindling stock of expired Polaroid 600 film that lives in the back of the refrigerator. I suppose I could take the ND filter on and off, but I don't want it to lose its stick.

My second one is a SX-70 Alpha 1 SE and I think I bought it at a thrift store when we lived in Pittsburgh (c. 2005-2006) At the time, Time Zero film was still around, and to be honest, I didn't even know you could shoot 600 film in that kind of camera. This camera was in good shape but for the white coating of some chalk-like substance on the leather. I put film in it and if I remember correctly, I shot a few photos and then the camera pooped out. So into a box it went. (Throw out an non-working Polaroid camera? Never!)

Fast forward to 2007 when I actually know more about SX-70 cameras and how it's absolutely possible to shoot 600 film with one. (This little fact totally changed my life. Seriously. Just being able to focus makes a huge difference.) Hence the ND filter on the original SX-70. Then of course Polaroid film decided to stop making 600 film as well, but fortunately, by then, I was savvy enough to stock up on it while it was still available at a reasonable price.

Then came all the fun new films from The Impossible Project and I decided it would be convenient to have a second SX-70, one without a filter on it. I dug the Alpha 1 SE out, put some film in it, shot a few pictures and then it died. Again. Back into the box it went.

I ended up finding a decently priced SX-70 Alpha (red button instead of blue) on eBay. It came to me all the way from Germany. It's in fine shape, but it has a bit of a spitting problem. Sometimes the film just flies out of it. I'm used to it, but it's tricky sometimes when, say, the shot lands in the mud. Or it flies right out past the dark slide and the photo is exposed.

So once again I started thinking that I could use one more camera, one that doesn't spit so much. And also so I could use two different films at the same time instead of having to shoot through a whole pack before trying something new. Of course I can't afford a new camera right now, but then I remembered that I still had one that doesn't always work sitting in a box. So after stumbling across some of Dr. Love's tips on camera care, I decided to pull it out and give it another shot.

This time I loaded up some empty cartridges with "blank" shots and shot them off. And lo and behold, all the shots came out. Woohoo! I did that every day for about a week just to let the camera work out its cycle or whatever, and it kept working. Suddenly I had another working camera. Covered in some gross white stuff.

I decided that the next step was to recover it so I could take it out without getting white dust on my hands. The thought of scrapping the old leather off kind of scared the crap out of me, but I figured I could get through it. Of course before doing anything, I did some research on the internet. I found that you can get pretty nifty skins at and I was super tempted by that black one with the rainbow stripes. Then I found this Flickr discussion thread and discovered Aki-Asahi Camera Coverings. I decided that I would like to stick with the original look of the camera, plus people seemed to have only good things to say about the quality of the coverings.

The company is in Japan, but no matter, my order shipped quickly and I had the new covering by the following week. Also had a bit of a mix up when I placed my order and it was dealt with quickly. I would definitely recommend Aki-Asahi.

Next up, actually removing the old leather. I pretty much followed the instructions here. I also got a few tips from the Flickr discussion thread that I mentioned earlier + some tips from Dr. Love via Twitter.


You can see the white stuff I am talking about here. I tried to wash it off any number of times, but it always came back. So I guess the leather was just old.


I used a putty knife to start scraping off the old leather. It's the only tool that I have that seemed suitable and it's not so sharp that I could do too much damage to myself. First scrape and the leather pretty much disintegrated and made a big mess. That made me panic a bit as I figured getting all that crap in the camera would not be such a good thing. So I decided to try heating the leather with a hair dryer first. And, as you can see, I also decided to put a little artist's tape over the holes just to be on the safe side.

I heated it up one section at a time, and boy, did it make a HUGE difference. Still got a bit messy, but mostly the heat allowed me to get right to the sticky part and lift a whole block of leather off at once. After removing the leather, I was left with all the sticky gunk. And again, I only did one section at a time. In other words, took the leather off one section, rubbed the sticky stuff off and then moved on to another section.


Initially I tried soaking a paper towel in rubbing alcohol and letting it sit on the sticky area for a few minutes. This did not work so well. The gunk was moving around more than coming off. I ended up using Goo Gone and boy, that stuff works like magic. Rub a bit on and let it sit, then basically the sticky gunk came right off. And the stuff isn't toxic, but because I have sensitive skin, I wore gloves for this part.


Once I switched to using the hair dryer and the Goo Gone, the whole process was done pretty quickly. I now had a naked camera!


Actually putting on the new leather was not so intimidating. It's cut in the exact size of each section. I brushed alcohol on each piece before applying like Aki-Asahi recommends and that was pretty key in allowing some time to get the sticker straight before it really adhered to the camera.


And then, like magic, a freshly covered camera!


This baby makes me feel like I have a brand new camera. It's so clean and slick and it's been shooting film just fine. I've shot a couple of packs of Impossible films with it and it makes shielding easier since the film doesn't fly out. I'm so happy that somehow everything worked out so nicely...seeing Dr. Love's tips, finding the leather and getting it done.

If you have a camera that needs new leather, you should do it! Just take it slow and it'll all be fine. Put tape over any hole just to avoid getting dust in there and don't pour on too much Goo Gone or whatever remover you use. Best to soak a paper towel and apply it that way.

My only regret? That I didn't get the red leather covering! Next time, for sure.

Tuesday, February 7

Pay phone (at the liquor store).

Pay phone
[PX600 Poor Pod film + SX-70 Alpha 1 SE]

We live a few blocks down from what my dad says is the oldest liquor store in Santa Fe. (I assume he means modern liquor store as opposed to one that is 400 years old!)

It is not a nice liquor store and it draws a lot of homeless people from the shelter that is a few blocks away from us in the other direction. My running route used to take me near there and I finally had to change it because I got tired of people making odd comments or trying to "race" with me as I ran by. Nothing against homeless people or drunks, but I run for peace of mind so I don't particularly like such interruptions.

We bought a six pack there once and both felt awful after a few beers which may or may not have been the fault of the liquor store, but we haven't purchased anything there since.

As I write this, I realize that I don't even know the name of the liquor store. It's a rundown white adobe building on the corner of Juanita and Agua Fria. I think there's a Budweiser sign out front. And I've passed by it a million times yet can't put a name to it. Maybe it doesn't have one. I tried to google it, but nothing came up except a random geotag for "House of Booze." I guess that works.

There is a pay phone on the side of building. A pay phone that probably doesn't work since the receiver is taped together in a rather half-assed sort of way. (Probably hard to see in this particular photo, but if you look closely and squint a bit, you can see what I mean.) It's always been there, but on this particular day, I took notice of it, wondering how many pay phones are actually left in Santa Fe. Left anywhere, really.

And as I think about pay phones, I think about all the times in my life that I've used pay phones. Because when I was a kid/teenager/twenty-something, cell phones weren't around. (And yes, they probably existed when I was a twenty-something but not in my immediate world.) So if I was out at the mall and wanted to go home, I called my parents on a pay phone. When I would fly somewhere to see friends, I called them from the airport on a pay phone. That time I drank too much in Portland and wanted so badly to speak to my crush on the phone, I walked down the street to a pay phone. And oh! Oh that time I left my journal in Spain, my journal of my entire time spent there, I left it on top of a pay phone in a train station. (Pains me to think about that incident to this day!) Shortly after Will and I became involved, when I lived in Pittsburgh and he lived in Brooklyn, he called me from a pay phone in the middle of the night. He had just played a show at 9C (a bar that used to exist in the East Village) and *had* talk to me so he called from the pay phone on the corner. (Insert big smiley face here.)

I used to go on long runs with a quarter stashed in my running clothes so I could make a call if some sort of emergency came up. I don't think that would work anymore! When me and an ex-boyfriend broke down on the side of the interstate outside of Indianapolis in his VW bus, how did we even get a tow truck? We must have walked to a pay phone. And obviously there are a thousand other pay phone calls that I made, but there are certain pay phones memories that are stuck in my brain forever.

Who knew that posting a photo of a pay phone on Flickr was going to lead to this reminiscing?! Not me.

As much as I love my iPhone and my iEverythingElse, sometimes I miss those quieter days of not so much stimulation from so many places. Not so much access. Not so much mind-numbing entertainment. But here we are and it's all good. I'm just glad that I have memories of the days that all this technology didn't exist. Does that make me sound old? Nah, I'm just being nostalgic.

Monday, February 6

On going back to Pittsburgh.

I still haven't gotten all my film developed from our trip east last September and here we are getting ready to head back to Pittsburgh in a few weeks! I'm quite excited about the trip. Excited to be on the road again. Excited to see so many good friends again. Excited to be back in Pittsburgh, a city that is forever full of wonders to me.

I've been agonizing over what cameras to take along. I feel like I always take too many and then spend too much time trying to decide what camera to use. I also end up with too many of the same photos taken with different cameras and film. That can be interesting (to me, at least), but I want to approach things differently this time. Take less and shoot more. Of course sometimes I just get caught up in being there instead of having half of my focus on what might make a fabulous photo. I think that is important as well.

But this is a year that I really want things - some things, all things, I don't know - to be different. Maybe not hugely different, but a little different. And I have to admit that not a lot of change has happened thus far, but there has been some progress in certain areas. Baby steps of change. And it gives me hope.

So I would like my approach to photography to be different on this trip. Maybe try to be less self-conscious about what I am doing. Maybe actually make a plan of some places that I want to go to take photographs. Maybe focus on using one or two cameras instead of five. And I would really like to take some portraits of our friends (on instant film) even though I am not great at taking portraits these days.

And perhaps I should not reveal all here, perhaps it is putting too much expectation on myself, but I would like this trip to be different in other ways as well. I hope that I can let go and truly have a blast. Not worry so much about sleep and schedules and all the anxieties that often get in my way of having fun. (But still take care of myself; there's got to be a balance, right?) I want to laugh and smile and let myself out. I feel so trapped here in Santa Fe sometimes.

But no matter what happens, I imagine it will be a good trip. And it will also be okay if I have to feel anxious about some things. That's how I roll and denying it only makes it worse. One thing I constantly have to remind myself: be compassionate with myself as well as others. Because constantly being hard on myself, reprimanding myself or feeling bad about who I am or how I react to things, isn't particularly helpful. a a few shots from our last trip taken with my Lomo LC-A + Kodak Gold 400 film.

Gorgeous, giant zinnias in the Larimer Community Garden.

Steeple + sky.

View from the attic.
The view from the third floor of the Mayflower house.

The Mayflower house!

The church down the street from the Mayflower house.

Peeping alien!