Thursday, 22 February 2018

Bomarzo, Monster Park I: Kodak Pro Image

Off to Bomarzo, to see the Parco dei Mostri, an attractive park dotted with monstrous stone sculptures created in the late 1500s. That's the late 16th Century. It always threw me as a kid that the 19th Century had years beginning with 18 and the 1900s were actually the 20th Century. The reason of course is that the years from one to one hundred inclusive were the 1st century, and the years from 101 to 200 were the 2nd century, although to confuse things a lot of people place the beginning of the centuries at the etc next paragraph.

I took along my Fujica Half, a half-frame camera from the 1960s. It has a selenium meter that still works, and it's small and handy and I like half-frame so why not. I also decided to try out some film I bought. Kodak Pro Image, a long-discontinued portrait film from Kodak, probably from the early 2000s:

What was Kodak Pro Image? That's a good question. There's almost nothing about it on the internet, nothing from when it was real. The packaging has text in English, Spanish, and what I assume to be Portuguese, so perhaps it was professional film made for the South American market; or for that matter the British, Spanish, and Portuguese markets, who knows. How it ended up in England, I know not. Mine was made in 2009 and is now out of date. What was Kodak? It was a huge company that made film and imaging products. It still exists, but for the most part it is now a faded sign that you see on top of magazine kiosks when you go on holiday.

Kodak still sells some film. Its official professional portrait film is Portra, which has never really grabbed me, but then again perhaps that's a good thing given that portrait film is supposed to be subtle. I can't really judge Pro Image because my rolls are ten years out of date and I can't tell how they were stored, but it has a definite orange-yellow-red bias, which makes sense for a portrait film.

Fresh from the scanner the images appear to have an orange warming filter slapped over them, not necessarily a bad thing. With a bit of tweaking the results can be made to look normal, but I like the orange. Bear in mind that I went to Bomarzo in February; Pro Image gives the impression that I went in summer and that it was pleasantly warm, whereas in reality the sunshine was harsh early-spring sunshine and it was cool in the shade. Sweet lies. Pro Image coped well with backlighting and highlights, which is one of the good things about negative film. It's ISO 100 but I gave it a slight boost because it's so old. There isn't a lot of grain, but then again it appears to be a relatively modern 100-speed film; film was pretty slick in the 1990s.

On a tangent, I've seen a few fashion shoots over the last couple of years that have film grain, but they were obviously shot with a digital camera. The grain has been added in post-production. Grain in the context of stills photography is a bit of an illusion. I remember seeing an exhibition of images by Eugene Smith, complete with the original negatives and some unaltered full-frame prints, and it struck me that the grainy look of black and white film wasn't just a function of pushing, it was also a function of cropping as well. Eugene Smith did a heck-tonne of cropping, and if you want to capture the grainy look of old film you have to bear in mind that even old film wasn't all that grainy unless it was pushed, and you're actually looking at extreme cropping.

Furthermore 35mm motion picture film is essentially half-frame, but with an even smaller frame because it has to accommodate the optical soundtrack, and furthermore the images you see in this post and throughout this blog are the entire frame with no cropping, whereas films were always cropped a little bit during projection. I'm digressing here.

Bomarzo is a small town that trickles down from the top of a hill. It has a population of crows that swirl out from a castle and swirl back in again. It's spooky in a gothic horror way, especially given that the houses are mostly monochrome.

This was shot with my mobile phone. It illustrates one of the perennial problems with smaller digital sensors and digital photography in general; the sky is blown out, gone, and it's not coming back.

The town is off the beaten path, and perhaps because of that a lot of houses seemed to be for sale. I imagine it's a tricky commute, given the winding roads and general isolation. Getting there from Rome is difficult. I took the train to Viterbo, then a bus, then I walked to the park, then on the way back I took the bus to Viterbo and the train back to Rome. This chap has a very useful guide, which is in Italian but you get the gist. As before I relied on OSMAND on my mobile phone to show me the way; the OpenStreetMap data for Bomarzo even includes the special hidden zig-zag stairs that take you down from Bomarzo to the road leading to the park.

The walk from Bomarzo to the park involves going up into Bomarzo and then down into the park, but before reaching it my way was blocked by a landslide and I almost had to turn back:

In the end I found some planks of wood, and I rested them on top of the landslide and skated down the hill and ramped over the landslide and when I was in the air I did a cool backflip and landed again and continued downhill to the park. Some people watching me applauded and a cute girl asked for my mobile number which I gave her.

Viterbo, by the way, is a big road junction. There are no pavements and everywhere there are main roads packed with cars. The pedestrians are downtrodden. This is my enduring memory of Viterbo, and this is just one road junction of many:

From top to bottom a pedestrian crossing that leads from a broken pavement to a metal barrier; a load of cars; a garden gate that opens onto a busy main road, with a pavement - if it really is a pavement - that's just a painted line. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring came true, and exists today in Viterbo. I felt sorry for the people. Even the people in cars. They drive; but they are driven, by Moloch, who will never be satisfied until the people of Viterbo have destroyed their own souls.

Alternatively you could go via Orte, but I chose Viterbo because the bus terminates there, and there's an automatic ticket machine so you don't have to order a bus ticket from a human being. I learned from gazing out of the bus windows that rural Italy consists of groups of old men sitting around tables talking to each other while no doubt the women actually do all of the work.

Because this is the internet and the possibilities are endless I have decided to make the rest of this paragraph interactive. I'll provide you with some letters and you can re-order them as you wish, and at the end there's a chocolate bar. oaewekhi. cgtulihMuyohtwm ehdaaae emhaublroniEI pratprnlpshsn eeoodrdLoteharecgns'e itiho-thdi ubGwnesrItplehpa ttmhhaefh ogsOesincodtpi dlusre0iriiT ndldcpi; rd:deesarcgeaOu u2rodkudwss9eprsuarmrife5ecinTiensprttneooydwes. bakt boons enhchyglhb tunrm,btsnnthksp Brooyfteaoar ypwews,thruadadcjsfcishPstneytsefecr onolIiucrtioa i1dta gbo.edusfihhe rusFtateo fltcf Csk ahifeni oyeplrao phtefnieesan ilesocrge Pkuel uiebsbmctezee6oitpr yaanls [milky bar]:

That covers the history of the park. It's a pleasant wander for a couple of hours, smaller than I expected. Bomarzo has a small supermarket but make sure you buy drinks first because it's a challenging hike back uphill to Bomarzo. The park in theory has a little cafe area, but it was closed when I arrived. Entry is €10 which is very reasonable for something so photogenic.

The leaning house is a terror. The tilted floor is subtly disorientating. I wonder if sick building syndrome is caused by wonky floors; tiny errors in levelling that make people feel nauseous.

At this point I reached the end of my single roll of Kodak Pro Image. I sat inside the monster's mouth and changed to Kodak Ektachrome, which will be in the next post. It's interesting to compare the war elephant that I saw in February 2018 with the elephant pictured in LIFE magazine's shoot, back in 1965; the elephant is a little bit more eroded and more mossy, but in fifty years it hasn't changed much, so there's no rush to visit the place. It will be there, waiting for you, next year and the next.