The Sprocket Rocket

Three weeks ago I was given a 35mm film camera called the Sprocket Rocket to play around with. Made by Lomography, the Sprocket Rocket is a low tech camera that exposes the sprocket section of 35 mm film that is typically left unexposed by normal 35 mm cameras. The functions of the camera are minimal, but even though I had never used a Lomography camera before I was ready to see what I could create.

Roll one - David

I decided to jump right into shooting without reading the manual. In hindsight this was a bad idea, because I didn’t know there was a tiny piece of plastic inside the camera that had to be removed. Otherwise your film would expose as it normally would. This means my whole first roll had blank sprockets.

I chose a cheap plaster bust of Michelangelo’s David, an unflattering but still interesting reproduction of the statue, to be the subject. I grabbed a piece of red fabric and tossed the bust on top of it on my bed, next to a big window and began snapping. The controls of the camera are basic so I was unsure how far I needed to advance the film with each snap. Reading the manual (after the fact), it says you should get 18 extra wide photos on a roll of 36 exposures. I advanced the film too much between each shot and only got eight images. 

Not only was advancing the film a challenge, so was using the viewfinder. What you see when you look through the viewfinder of the Sprocket Rocket is a very rough estimation of what you will actually get on film. Most of the images on the first roll are completely off center, some so severely that only a small portion of the bust is visible in the photo.

But all hope was not lost: After developing, I was happy with the look of some of the double exposures so I decided to pursue that style exclusively.

Rolls two & three - David, again

On the second roll of film, I returned to David with the same set up: on a sheet of red fabric, next to a large, bright window. This time went much smoother. Loading the film was easy, shooting was easy and quick, since I knew I wanted double exposures, and the developing process went smoothly as well. I was elated when these turned out so well. I think by now I’m having fun with the camera and I plan to continue shooting with it. I really feel like the third roll is where I hit my stride. The compositions were much better than my first roll of film and I could tell I was becoming more comfortable with the camera.

For the third roll, I decided to play around with some iridescent plastic film I had laying around. I think the plastic creates interesting images but as a whole I don’t think it works well with the soft, velvet appearance of the red silk that I’ve been using up until this point.

Initially, I wrote the camera off as not worth more than just a gimmick. And, while I don’t think the sprockets are integral to the work that I’ve created with it (I actually think they take away form the aesthetic value of the images that I was creating) I do love the soft focus the camera provides. The softness has elevated the quality of the images in my opinion. Taking similar photos with my DSLR removes any of the surreal, dreamlike quality they may have. There’s also an intimacy to some of the images, especially the ones where the bust is on the fabric and not the iridescent plastic.

The final roll - Hermes 

I saved the final roll for a second plaster bust that I had ordered from a week or so ago. Once it showed up, I returned to the same setup and started shooting again.

I’m not sure what it was, but for this last roll it felt like I was shooting for the first time again. For now, I’m attributing it to the few days of down time I had since the previous rolls . The second and third rolls are where I really hit my stride, the composition was up close and personal and I was getting great double exposures. The fourth one had some good images but nothing that I was particularly in love with. It feels like I was holding back too much, keeping my distance from the subject which made for some pretty boring compositions with blank sprockets.

I love the experience I’ve had with this camera, so far. I don’t know if I will continue to shoot with it or not, but I enjoy the soft, dreamy quality the camera provides. I don’t care much for the sprocket exposure though. It still feels a bit gimmicky, and when I look the contact sheets, even though I like them, I think the sprockets are more of a detriment than anything else. In my opinion, the sprocket rocket is a camera that’s better suited for subjects that will fill the entire film frame. That way they will look more like they belong there and less like a nuisance or intrusion.  They have their charm, though. The sprocket rocket has found its place in my heart. 

Shooting the MET

In February I took a two-day trip to New York City to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was my first time in the New York, so I was excited for new things to photograph. During my stay I ran into some problems, some intrinsic to the nature of museum photography, and some with my camera itself.

As soon as my friend and I landed at LaGuardia we hopped in a taxi and sped off to our hotel. While she unpacked I took a moment to enjoy the view. 

After a few minutes (and a complimentary coffee from the lobby) we were off. We decided to walk from our hotel on the corner of 10th and 42nd to the museum, a three mile walk which at first didn’t seem like it would be so bad. I misjudged the amount of time we would be stopping at corners and waiting to cross the street. I also underestimated just how cold it would be in New York in the middle of February. Somewhere along 42nd I lost the feeling in my hands and had trouble taking photos. We made a few stops along the walk to have a few tourist moments and I managed to get a good shot of Prometheus in Rockefeller Plaza.  

From there it was straight to the museum. We were both in dire need of heat. And food. Arriving at the museum was an amazing experience. The facade of the building is easily the most grand I’ve seen since my time in Italy in 2014. Looking up I noticed a series of medallions decorating the facade, celebrating the great masters of the renaissance like Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, and of course my favorite, Michelangelo.

Inside the museum was incredible. Before I did any serious exploring, we stopped by the cafeteria to get a bite to eat. Once we were done we began our visit in the American sculpture gallery. The Charles Englehard court in the American wing is a lofty pavilion filled light. It was in this beautiful gallery that I first noticed there was a problem: my camera was back-focusing. All the images were soft. I was frustrated but I knew I would have to improvise in order to get some decent images. That, and shoot a bunch and hope that I have something in focus. 

The upside to having a gallery full of natural light was that I could shoot on ISO 100 with no worries. The downside was the that the wall of windows was flanked by a cafe and was full of people. There was no chance that I would get a photo of Bernard’s sculpture (pictured above) without people in the background. The piece was also half in shadow and half in the light. This caused problems with exposure, so I ended up bracketing my shots, with varying degrees of success.

When I first went over these images in Lightroom, I completely discredited them. When I shoot sculptural work I really want to create an image devoid of human presence. I’ve grown to love the shots for what they are. 

The problem of exposure reared its head again when I focused on a bronze sculpture called The Falling Gladiator by William Rimmer. I couldn’t get the detail in the bronze that I wanted with a properly exposed background, and vice versa. In the end, I underexposed the image entirely and then fixed it in post.

Michelangelo’s Cupid and Lombardo’s Adam

After my short stay in the American Wing I quickly made my way to the European galleries. These two works are something that I had been looking forward to seeing for a very long time. 

Michelangelo’s Cupid, or the Manhattan Marble as it’s sometimes called, is situated in the middle of an oblong gallery, with a set of three doors behind it. It’s a picturesque scene and when you position yourself correctly the doors frame the diminutive sculpture almost perfectly.

These galleries were much darker than the Englehard Court, unfortunately. They were also high in traffic. It was impossible to get a shot of the marble without people coming in or going out of the three doors in the background.

Adam, on the other hand, was tucked away in a small room on it’s own, and considering it’s high profile incident in 2002, it’s no surprise. It stands in a niche so high that upon close inspection, you find yourself at eye level with the statues feet. I’m not kidding.

To get a decent view you would have to bring a stepping stool. I did the best i could by holding my camera as high above my head as I could and hoping for the best. I’m pleased with the results. Even with my luck, however, I had to correct for the significant angle of the image in Photoshop. I have to say, the team responsible for the restoration of the piece did an incredible job. You really have to look for signs that the marble once shattered into a hundred pieces.

Greek and Roman Galleries

The Greek and Roman collections at the Metropolitan had me as happy as a kid in a candy store. Something about the art of antiquity calls to me like nothing else. The first section of the Greek & Roman galleries is a gorgeous barrel vaulted corridor with galleries flanking each side of the hall. The windows in the coffered ceiling offered beautiful, soft light to work with. At the far end it opens up into a beautiful courtyard, also with a gorgeous natural light. In addition to the natural light, as the day progresses artificial light begins to illuminate the works. Sometimes this can become a problem when trying to properly color correct. I don’t mind it, personally, but I imagine some people would spend a lot of time trying to remove the warm and cool color casts.

The best part about this is that a lot of the works in the corridor are placed against a blank wall, which lends well to the photos.

The Youthful Hercules is a different story. Placed between the columns of the courtyard, it’s impossible to take a full body photo of this behemoth without something unwanted, be it fellow museum goers or other items on display, being in the background. Despite the presence of these smaller artefacts, I didn’t mind their presence much at all in the final photos.

In this instance the competing color temperatures are a plus, emphasizing the curls in the hair and the contours of the statue’s body.

Final thoughts…for now

The most frustrating obstacle in museum photography, as I’ve mentioned before, are museum goers themselves. By no means am I trying to imply that they shouldn’t be there. The museum holds the combined cultural patrimony of us all. It’s theirs to enjoy as much as it is mine, and I understand and accept this. The human element is just another variable that makes artful photography difficult to accomplish.  The hustle and bustle of institutions like the Metropolitan will almost always be present, whether photographed or not.

Sometimes, people even play around in the background while I take photos, like in the case of Rodin’s L’Âge d’airain. 

These kinds of extras always make me laugh when I’m reviewing photos on my computer. It goes to show just how oblivious we can be sometimes when we’re looking through our viewfinders. I loved my experience shooting the MET and I cannot wait to go back this winter. I plan on writing an addendum detailing my new experiences. Hopefully I’m able to use the knowledge I’ve gained through my first experience.

Until next time.

(Special thanks to Quintia, a close friend who helped revise the first draft of this post.)

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