The Pride of the Palace

Although I haven’t used my Kodak Medalist II camera (“Kodak Red”) in a long while, I felt it was in need of a maintenance and upgrade. Somewhere along the years, Kodak Red’s internal rangefinder prism broke, and one of the focusing rings on the lens locked up. And yeah, it was just a BEAST to operate. It actually failed me on my railroad photography trip to Pennsylvania last month, so it was almost doomed to exist as a shelf-display unit.

But instead, I sent Kodak Red for a CLA over at CameraWorks, my camera tech company of choice. A few days later, Kodak Red was back in the pink. Yay.

So here’s my plan for a new photo experiment.

This plan will involve a daytime shot with respooled color film (Kodak Ektar 1000), combined with respooled vintage Kodak Verichrome Pan black and white film – which, in turn, was extracted from various Kodak Instamatic cartridges. And just for the hell of it, I’ll also add a roll of Kodak Gold 126 Instamatic film that’s been aged for the past 20+ years.

In other words … I’m shooting with these old films.

Yeah, you can tell how old these films are, just based on the various iterations of the Kodak logo.

First, I need to extract the Instamatic film from the plastic cartridges, and re-roll it in 120 paper. I asked McGreevy Pro Lab to save me a few spools of 120 paper from their most recent developing run, so that I would have a set of spare paper. And I ordered some replacement 620 spools online – Kodak Red works with 620 spools, which is essentially 120 film on a different spool. So I can transfer modern 120 film onto the 620 spools and shoot it without trouble.

That’s Kodak for you. If they had just made a 120 camera instead of trying to control their own film software, I wouldn’t have to do this every time. Yeah, I could have Kodak Red converted to be a 120 film shooter, but that involves machining out the camera’s interiors, and I’m not a fan of that, either.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, there are some Instamatic films that can be processed today. A majority of the black-and-white stock can still provide some decent images, and Kodak Gold 200 film – the last formula Kodak used for its Instamatic cameras – can still be processed, as long as you know you’re working with film that expired 20 years ago. Kodacolor film? Nope. Kodachrome? Nope. Triple Print or Fotomat film? No chance.

Okay. Into the darkroom I go. Two 12-shot Verichrome Pan films into one wrap, two more 12-shot Verichrome Pan films into another wrap, then the final 24-shot color film into a third wrap. Had some trouble getting the color film to come out of one of the cartridge, and it tore halfway. Too late to do anything about it now, I’ll just have to hope it works out.

Essentially, I have five chances to make this work. Even if I only get one or two usable vintage frames in this project, I’ll be a happy man.

So now … the plan. Downtown Albany. The Palace Theater, which should be lit up nicely for this evening, now that it can hold events after the pandemic. I can squeeze off eight shots of Kodak Ektar 100 from this camera, then I’ll pop some of the other formulae into Kodak Red.

I looked at my shooting options. Photographing the Palace Theater is not a problem. Photographing it without having the hanging traffic lights in the frame – and while capturing the entire marquee and the detailed, restored facade – is more difficult. I tried a few spots, but those spots either put me right in the middle of the road, or I had to deal with a swaying traffic light floating into my frame. Ugh.

And then, when I went to shoot my first test frame …

Kodak Red locked up. Again.

Oh, come on. Stop doing this. I need to be able to count on you as a medium-format camera. If I can’t trust you, I can easily stick you on the shelf and go buy that Mamiya Universal Press 6×9 setup that I’ve been constantly drooling over.

I went home, went online and started scouring the Internet for any clues on how to un-jam a jammed Medalist. And then, just when I had lost all hope … I found a military repair manual for the Medalist (it seems that Kodak made a ton of these for World War II Air Force reconnaissance photography). Thankfully, someone declassified these instructions a while back. So here’s what I need to do to un-jam this camera.

“Set the counter dial on “1.” Rack the focusing tube assembly all the way in. Press the trigger button down as far as possible and hold it down while turning the winding key knob until a definite click is heard. In severe cases it may appear that the trigger button cannot be depressed at all; however, by alternately pushing hard on the trigger button and turning the knob with strong finger pressure, it is usually possible to work the knob free. Rack the focusing tube assembly out at least to the infinity position and press the trigger button. The camera jam should be cleared.”

Essentially, I have to adjust the focus knob, press the shutter button and wind the film – all at the same time. I can handle this. Heck, if I can pat my head, rub my tummy and say “rubber baby buggy bumpers” ten times fast, I can certainly handle these instructions.

And sure enough, the film advanced. The shutter button unlocked. I lost a frame of film, but sacrificing a frame is better than sacrificing the entire photo shoot.

Okay. Back out to downtown Albany.

Luckily, at the time I arrived at the shooting location, the Palace Theater’s marquee lights were not operating. Great. I took a few shots in the morning, with the rising sun creating a tight shadow along the marquee’s profile …

And then I took a few more shots, this time at noon, inbetween sunshine and clouds. And just for the hell of it, I took one shot at a Dutch angle.

Now you might remember this, because I blogged about it a week or so ago.

Now comes the addition.

I loaded Kodak Red with respooled vintage Kodak Verichrome Pan Instamatic film – which were cracked out of their cartridges and re-spooled onto 620 backing paper. This actually exposed the images all the way to the edge of the film AND included the framing lines that were normally printed on the film itself.

Now some of the film was too old to really work, but I did get some great images here.

See, this is an example of what I’m talking about. Kodak Red shoots wide photos, so you could actually have an image that spans two frames of Instamatic film.

I took three frames from three different rolls of film, tinted them different varying colors, and then layered everything into a five-image collage.

And I got this.

Price of the Palace. Kodak Medalist II camera, Kodak Ektar 120 film (two shots), Kodak Verichrome Pan 126 film (three shots, tinted). (c) 2021 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

By standing at the exact same place every time I shot, and keeping the camera at a specific level each time, I was able to get everything to line up as tightly as possible. And boy, does that look impressive.

Don’t know yet what I’ll do with it, but I do have some ideas.

Man, I have ideas.

It’s good to have ideas. 😀