Log Rafts and Baptisms

Missourian photographer Fred Lynch ran an old Frony picture of a log raft being piloted down the Mississippi River. It just so happened that I was editing a batch of photos I had taken of a Mississippi River baptism in New Madrid and spotted a small log raft tied up on the riverbank. Up until then, I would have said I had never seen one. Funny what you miss when you’re focusing, literally, on something else.

New Madrid Mississippi River baptism

I was pulling the photos together for a special project. After I see where that might lead, I’ll run the whole batch. I’m kind of pleased with some of the images. I shot them just before I left Cape for Ohio University, so they turned out to be a sort of final exam that marked where I had gotten photographically up to that point.  Some of them stand up well close to half a century later.

The only thing I’m kicking myself for after all these years is being infected with One-Shot Fronyism. There were too many circumstances where I took a single frame of a subject that cried out for more exploration.

How to Save a Bad Picture

Most of my photos are uncropped and have minimal enhancement. My goal is for the photo to reflect reality (or, at least my vision of reality) as much as possible. That might mean that I’ll burn down (make darker) areas that I want to minimize or lighten areas that I want to emphasize. Your eye naturally goes to lighter areas, so I may subtly darken the outside of the print to lead you to what is important.

During the 70s, photographers overdid that effect, creating what we purists called “Hand of God” burns where the backgrounds were taken all the way to black and the center of the print had an unearthly glow. That phase didn’t last long, fortunately. (As usual, click on any photo to make it larger.)

I won’t add nor take away people and objects like some national publications have been caught doing.

Old film can be challenging

Because I’m working with a lot of old film, I have to spend a lot of time taking out scratches and dust spots. Some of the film had uneven development or, because of the way the film was stored, it may have deteriorated. That’s not so much of an issue with black and white, but it can require quite a bit of tweaking with color film.

Sometimes, like with these photos of Bald Knob Cross, which I published in February 2010, the picture is made in the darkroom almost as much as in the camera.

Here’s what I started with

I didn’t even realize I had these. They were tacked onto a roll of other aerials. They were grossly underexposed to the point where I originally probably dismissed trying to print them on photographic paper. The Nikon digital film scanner picked up detail that I didn’t know was there.

Here are the problems

  • The film was way underexposed.
  • The developing of the film was uneven, probably due to lack of agitation during the first step.
  • It was a cloudy, hazy day.
  • It was sharp, but not REALLY sharp.

First crop was too tight

My first attempt was driven by laziness. My thought was that the more I cropped the photo, the less I’d have to fix., so I came in very tight. That got rid of the uneven development problem, but it didn’t feel right. It was cropped so tightly that the cross didn’t have room to “breathe.”

How did I get to the final Bald Knob Cross?

  • I cropped out the imperfections, but I gave it more “air.” It turned out that the dark cloud shadow behind and in front of the cross helped emphasize its whiteness.
  • I increased the contrast, making the blacks blacker and the whites whiter. That caused the trees and their shadows to do some interesting things. It caused the cross to “pop,” too.
  • I applied sharpening. Adobe’s Photoshop editing program has what are called Sharpening Filters. You don’t want to overdo those. I normally set them to from 33% to 66%.
  • I hit the Sharpen button and liked the effect, so I punched Sharpen More. Wow, those trees are really being emphasized nicely. One more punch and it looked like they had been drawn with pen and ink. One more punch and they looked like crap. Time to back off.
  • I could have burned in the edges a little more, but the cross is so white that your eye doesn’t need much help to figure out what is important.

Making something out of nothing

This photo has more wrong than right.

  • There are ugly dark spots from poor development all over the frame.
  • The cross is lost in the haze and distance.
  • The foreground is a jumble of uninteresting brush. (To be honest, there are some intriguing shapes in that brush. Someone more skilled in Photoshop and with more patience could probably pull something out of it. I’m not that person.)

Finding the pony in the manure pile

There’s an old story about an optimistic child who, when given a pile of manure for Christmas, immediately started digging. “There’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere,” he exclaimed.

Here’s what we did to find the pony in this picture:

  • We cropped the bejeebers out of it, turning a dull vertical photo without a center of interest into an extreme horizontal that drags your eye right to the cross.
  • We bumped up the contrast and let the sky go almost completely white, which allowed the cross to have some texture.
  • The hill was taken from a dull gray to almost completely black. The left and right edges, an exception to the normal rule, are allowed to keep just a little texture to balance the grayish white of the cross. The grainy effect of the extreme crop gives the illusion of a forest.

It’s not great art, but it’s what distinguishes the professional from the amateur. Many amateurs can outshoot a lot of professionals on any given day. The difference is that the pro ALWAYS has to come back with a picture, even if he has to dig deeply into the pile to find it.

Carve away everything that’s not a lion

Do I really have to go through all those thought processes in the old-fashioned darkroom or the digital editing process?

Nah, not really.

The way you print a photograph is a lot like what a sculpture said when asked how he was able to carve a magnificent statue of a lion: “I start with a square block of marble and keep carving out everything that’s not a lion.”

A photographer captures a tiny fraction of time in a box, then works to bring it back to life. Some days it works better than others.

Fischer’s Market / Islamic Center

A March 15, 1946, Missourian brief said that Arthur M. Fischer has purchased the two-story brick building at 298 North Boulevard, the ground floor of which he has occupied the past five years with his retail grocery, Fischer’s Market. The purchase of the building was made from Mrs. Carl Umbeck, whose husband erected the structure and for years operated a grocery there. Mr. Fischer bought the grocery business from Mr. Umbeck when the latter retired.

“Mr. Fischer also purchased a vacant lot adjacent on the south to the store, the entire property having a frontage on West End. Boulevard of 135 feet and a depth of 132 feet. Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Klaproth, who recently sold their frame dwelling at 1318 Perry avenue to M.G. Campbell, have moved into the second floor apartment. Mrs. Umbeck went to New York City several days ago to reside with a son, Theodore Umbeck.”

A Sept. 22, 1987, story said that Fischer’s Market was going to close after 50 years. At one time, three Fischer’s Markets were operating in Cape – this one; Fisher’s Four-Way Store at Bloomfield and Koch, and Fisher’s Downtown Market at 19 N. Spanish. J. Ronald Fisher Jr. said, “You might say that Fischer’s Market has run its course. The small neighborhood grocery store has a difficult time staying afloat.”

Cornerstone Assembly Church bought the property in 1991.

Grocery became Islamic Center

I was surprised to see that the former grocery had been turned into a very attractive Islamic Center. I don’t know what the long, horizontal building behind the Center is used for today, but it once was where the chickens were processed for the market. Fischer’s had a standing ad wanting to buy “heavy type hens for top prices.”

I didn’t do an exhaustive search, but it seems like the Center has managed to avoid the controversy that has surrounded similar centers in other towns. The members have joined with other religious organizations in acts of fellowship and charity. In fact, it was once of those ecumenical meetings that caused EVERYONE who participated to be condemned in Missourian comments for being  tools of Satan and for fostering “one world religion.” You know you’re making progress when the equal opportunity haters target Catholics, Methodists, Muslims, Baptists and those of the Hindu faith as a common group.

The Missourian’s coverage has been positive and there have been a number of supportive editorials.

In 2009, a Cape Girardeau man was sentenced to three years in prison for hate crimes for vandalizing the center and a car in the parking lot, plus driving while intoxicated.

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.