Instant Aerial Jury Duty

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I'm sitting here in the jury antechamber (or whatever title this pre-jury room inspired), exhausted, in that thoroughly putrid state of nervous nauseousness caused by that unique chemical reaction of a sleepless night combined with a Rockstar.

The wifi is broken, the stomach is empty, but the heart hums joyously. Deep in the recesses of my manly man-purse is a recently purchased, just repaired, polished metal, leather encased beauty of German engineering. Along with this mechanical, battery eschewing, photon-recording device, is its dubious cousin, another German wonder, with a a dark and lugubrious background.

We must, dear reader (I've been on a free ebook rampage, Main Street, done; Ann Veronica, done; Siddartha, done; Rights of Man, working on it; Walden, working on it; Winnie the Pooh, done; Treasure Island, done. I now find myself one third of the way through Les Miserables. Holy tangents! I thought I was bad! Just because this Mr. Valjean dude walked by a house on a the corner of "fancy french street name" and "equally fancy french street name" that don't mean I need to know the life story of the previous sixteen tenants. Ain't no one got time for that!) close our eyes (okay now open them again, you can't read with your eyes closed),

(Wait right here, I'm being called up (I'm the row opposite the row under the televisions) to validate my parking ticket. Yeehaw! Things are HAPPENING! Make way for juror number 120817647!)

and take yourself back seventy years or so, before hippies roamed the earth, back when the cars were pretty, and the world was on fire. Bombers lumbered and the Lord seemed to slumber. In secret rooms in secret buildings, secret people sent secret pilots on secret missions. In the front sat the hotshot aviators, in their dashing leather jackets and wonky goggles. In the back, nerds with pocket protectors were manning large camera with huge lenses. Flying high to avoid enemy fire, they captured hundreds of images per flight; army bases, weak points, bridges, convoys.

These aerial lenses were commissioned by the armies, specially manufactured to take in as much light as possible. Now they are prized for their speed, not for photographing the night, but for the speed, the larger the diameter of a lens is the smaller the plane of focus is so you get that crazy front-of-eyeball-is-in-focus-but-the-eyelashes-aren't look. But I bore myself. This particular chunk of glass, in a neighboring pocket of my manly man-purse, keeps for itself the stately title of "Schneider-Göttingen No57610 Xenon 1:2 f=12,5cm".

(Roll call. Schnorrer Berkowitz. Here. Downstairs I go. Past the out-of-order drinking fountain, past the garbage can with the Warning: Garbage and Lid Sold Separately, past two more non-working water fountains, past the cold drink vending machine and into room number 520 in department "M". Juror number 3987, 2870, 8430, 2101… I've heard many stupid things as a Judge. Lunch break. Reconvene at 1:30. Of course I am late. I run upstairs, freshly egged, smoothied, and watered. Judge is later. Gary J. Ferrari is his name. With that name I knew we'd be finished quickly. Right)

So the lens is made by Schneider, from the Göttingen division, which in 1936, either broke off from the Kreuznach division on its own to build aerial lenses for the Luftwaffe, or was forced to by the Nazi Government. Serial numbers are odd, but it seems that most of them are between 55,000 and 65,000. It's a Xenon designation which is a modified double gauss design (and we all know what that is). Its diameter is half of the focal length of 12.5 centimeters. And it's heavy. Very heavy, a lovely chunk of glass.

Leica (the big German camera companies were Rolleiflex and Hasselblad, the big lens makers were Zeiss, Schneider, and Zeiss), was also supposed to be designing optics for the Reich. They had this huge blueprint and prototype that they showed any official who came to check up on them, it took them until the end of the war. It turned out they just blew up the design for a tiny 35mm lens they were working on for their small rangefinder cameras. Sticking it to the man since 1936. In the early stages of Nazi Germany they gave hundreds of Leica's to Jews so they could be designated as journalists and be able to leave. They're cool like that. I really should buy one.

(Are you going to be prejudiced against this man because of how he looks? No, ma'am. Whisper whisper, whisper whisper. I wish judges still wore wigs. More whispering.)

I don't know which camera these lenses were supposed to be mounted on (they were probably specially made for this lens), I bought it from some friends in LA who stuck a SL66 mount on the back (that's the aforementioned camera in my aforementioned manly man-purse). The lens doesn't have a focusing hellicoid (that part of the lens you turn to focus) so it can only be used on a camera with a bellow focusing system (which is one of the reasons the SL66 rocks so hard). But this wasn't enough, no, not for the intrepid Wright Brothers, they had to modify a Speed Graphic to shove the lens onto, calibrated the rangefinder (NOT easy, and NOT fun), and modified the back so a Polaroid back would be centered (for some ridiculous reason (stuff like this is why Polaroid went belly up) the Polaroid back is off to the side, which in this case (where the lens doesn't properly cover 4x5), that just wouldn't do).

(Juror number 2 knows one of the lawyers. More whispering. My lip reading skills could use a brush up. Dismissed. Next. No speak English. Next. Juror number 5 dismissed. No speak English. Dismissed. Dang I got to try this.)

What's a Speed Graphic? Please! I'm trying to get to the point of this pointless diatribe. Okay sheesh, fine. The Speed Graphic was made by Graflex (in the good ole USA),

(Juror number 8 dismissed. I still haven't been called up and while I do pay myself for Jury duty, no one pays me to pay myself, and I REALLY can't do it, even though I kind of want to.)

it can be used either as a rangefinder, or through the ground glass in the back. It also has a remarkably complex shutter system(as opposed to the Crown Graphic which can only be used with lenses that have built in shutters) with 4 shutters and 12 tensions giving 48 (!!) speeds between 1/10 and 1/1000 of a second. And it's remarkably annoying to use. Let's say you see a scene you really want to photograph, you must:

(Juror number 8 dismissed.)

1. Get a meter and figure out how you want he Polaroid exposed (you have to be very exact with Polaroids).

2. Figure out which combination of shutters and tension will give you the shutter speed you want (noooo, no easy obvious numbers. Shutter A is 1/10-1/80 with 6 possible tensions (I.e. a large slit with 6 speeds), "B" is from 1/90-1/200, etc.).

3. Uncover the lens.

4. Compose your shot in the viewfinder (which is way off to the side and completely inaccurate).

5. Focus in the tiny rangefinder window.

6. Fine focus in the viewfinder.

7. Release the shutter.

8. Pull out the Polaroid.

9. Cover the lens to cock the shutter.

You have to do that each time. EACH TIME!

(Juror 11 dismissed.)

Is it worth it. I'm still not sure. The image it produces is delightful and unique. But it's so. Darn. Annoying.

To find out the exact awesome/annoying ratio and how much I'm willing to bend in either direction, I shot an all Polaroid session with a friend of mine in Redondo Beach. I actually screwed up a lot less than I expected but I did realize in middle that I was pulling the Polaroids form the camera too quickly and that was doing weird stuff (white, or magenta dots, and unexposed corners). I took the Polaroids home with me to scan, but normally I'd give them to the clients and just scan the negatives.

So here it is, some positives, some negatives. Just like life.

(Juror 4 dismissed. After five days you can go on twitter and all that other stuff young people use. Kids these days. Juror 4 dismissed. Wiser whisper. Juror number 6471 please come up. That would be me. Did you read the questionnaire? Yes. Did you answer "yes" to any? Yes. 4. Do you, or any relative, or close friend, have any formal legal training? Yes, of course I do, I'm Jewish. 5. Have you or any relative, or close friend, ever been a victim of a crime? Yup! I was kidnapped when I was 2 (nope, you don't get that story now, one day…). Did you testify in court? No, I was two…12. Do you have a personal reason to have a bias either way in this case? Yes (it was a child molestation case), I have 5 kids age 6 and under, so this would be hard for… 5 kids under 6! That would be hard for anyone! Everyone laughs. Sir, I would like to be excused due to financial hardship. Yes? I have 5 kids, one who is a newborn, and I freelance so... Whisper whisper. Juror 4 dismissed. Juror number 3071…)

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