Alternatives to Technology’s Arms Race

Growing up in Gary, Indiana in the Sixties, one of my favorite movies was The Day the Earth Stood Still. Filmed in monochrome, it showed ornate street lights and the robot Gort’s energy glowing in the night, shaping my vision to see in black and white. Later, after reading The Eye of Eisenstaedt, I bought a 35mm camera and began making pictures with black and white film that I learned to process during a summer session at Clarkston College.

Back then, my mother wrote checks and letters with a fountain pen. While I was in college, a high school classmate gave me a Cross ballpoint pen.. An alternative to the growing crop of disposable items designed for one-time use, the pen’s craftsmanship taught me that we get what we pay for.

Seeing a National Geographic magazine ad for Cross’s first fountain pen set my sights on writing with a fountain pen. That quest ended while serving as a Navy officer - the Navy Exchange sold Montblanc pens. That cartridge-filler wrote thousands of words and signed hundreds of letters and never needed a system upgrade.

Instead of upgrading an iPhone I rarely use, I rejected the technology arms race for a used Montblanc 146 and a used Pelikan M800. I still read paper books, get news from the print edition of the New York Times - and weather from NOAA Weather Radio with a police scanner, carry a slide rule, and make pictures with Kodak Tri-X film I develop and print myself. These tools, along with my Leica film cameras, were designed and made to last.

Why a fountain pen? Why paper? MOO CEO Richard Moross put it this way: “Paper cuts the noise.”

Letters are more secure than email, and almost forty years of constant availability is enough

My first car phone, a Motorola Pulsar I, 1980.

My first car phone, a Motorola Pulsar I, 1980.

Writing on paper with a fountain pen is much better for my fingers and neck than swiping on a phone or keyboarding. and paper books are easier on the eyes. No one ever got text neck writing with a fountain pen, reading a paper book, or using a slide rule.

Why film? Watching a print come up in the tray of developer is like opening presents on Christmas morning - and the tonal range of a fiber-based traditional silver print remains unrivaled. And I prefer the soft, amber light of the darkroom to a computer screen.

Saturday Night: The Story Behind the Print

When it was time to develop the roll of Ilford Delta 3200 film I used to make this image, like Toros Lab - which develops my Delta 3200 while I'm Paris - I used straight D-76. Why Kodak D-76 and not Microphen? For consistency in the negative, and when printing.


       Indeed, when I placed a sheet of traditional silver paper in the easel, the same overall exposure time I used for Paris: The Art of Living - also shot on Delta 3200 and 


developed in straight D-76 - provided a good first print. How did I remember how many seconds to expose the paper? 

          By keeping a notebook in the darkroom and writing the time, contrast grade filtration, and f-stop for each paper size. What's contrast grade filtration? Instead of having to buy different contrast grades of paper, manufacturers make multigrade paper, and we use filters to change the contrast of the paper. Average scenes are printed at grade two, with grade zero being used to print more contrasty scenes, and grade five being used to print flatter scenes.  

         Once I have a working print, I examine it for overly bright areas that need to be burned in, like the lights hanging from the roof at Eddie's Grill, and the illuminated walls of La Brasserie de l'Île Saint-Louis. What's burning in? I used my hands to shield everything but the lights, and give the lights extra time at a contrast grade of zero. 

         For darker areas or faces, I may "dodge" those areas by waving a wand or holding my hand over them, allowing more detail shadowy areas., and keeping faces from printing too dark. 

         Why do we have to dodge and burn in when printing on silver paper? Our eyes correct for most bright and dark areas, but film does not. So printers employ dodging and burning in to make our prints accurately render the scene. 

         Finally, to bring out the blacks in these film noir images, I "flash" the paper for a couple of seconds with light from the enlarger at grade five contrast. 

        To watch a short video explaining how I dodged and burned in the print of Paris: The Art of Living, please click the arrow below. 

         Thanks for watching.

         Elizabeth Avedon selected Saturday Night for inclusion in the juried exhibit: black + white at ASmith Gallery in Johnson City, Texas, The exhibit, which runs through September 10, 2017, includes a framed 11 x 14 print of Saturday Night

Photos © 2007 and 2015 Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved

Magic light

A roadside sign touting old gas pumps intrigued me as Lucky and I made our way West in 2015. Getting off the Interstate revealed the restaurant was part of a truck stop. But two old Shell pumps outside #Shoemaker's restaurant doors kept me going.

Inside, a treasure trove of light awaited. The light was even more magical on that overcast Saturday. Because it’s all about light. 


Remember: Don’t judge a book - or a photo op - by its cover. And always carry your camera.

Photo © 2015 Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved   

Honoring Those Who Served

As the Grand Army of the Republic Highway (U.S. Route 6) winds its way from Provincetown, Massachusetts to Santa Monica, California, it fittingly passes the 103rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry grounds on Lake Erie’s shore in Sheffield Lake, Ohio. 

Honoring those who volunteered from Lorain, Cuyahoga, and Medina counties, and originally the site of annual reunions of 103rd O.V.I. veterans who returned from the Civil War, the grounds now include cottages that are an encampment to descendants of 103rd O.V.I. volunteers. 

What was the reunion barracks now houses a museum open to the public on the four Sundays in May, June, September, and October of each year that the 103rd O.V.I. hosts a pancake breakfast to raise funds for the foundation and museum. You can also make an appointment to tour the museum. 

Inside the museum, Lou Wagner poses next to the image of his grandfather, Sgt. Timothy Metzler, in a mural print of a photo of a reunion of 103rd O.V.I. veterans. 

Inside the museum, Lou Wagner poses next to the image of his grandfather, Sgt. Timothy Metzler, in a mural print of a photo of a reunion of 103rd O.V.I. veterans. 

 After seeing a sign a couple of years ago touting a pancake breakfast, I came to the May breakfast, and attending them has become a tradition. As the son of a World War 2 veteran and as a former Navy Officer, to me the organization and its members, breakfasts, Camp Week, and grounds are a tribute to those who volunteered and served. 

Now that I've been visiting three years, the members are used to my quiet, unobtrusive camera. They welcomed Lucky, God rest him, who always enjoyed a bit of sausage and some scrambled egg from the breakfasts, and who calmly watched the firing of the 3-inch gun during last summer's Camp Week. 

What's Camp Week? Every summer, descendants of those who served in the 103rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry reunite at the 103rd OVI grounds in Sheffield Lake, Ohio to remember those who served and to share stories. 

Lucky didn't flinch when the 3-inch gun fired.

Lucky didn't flinch when the 3-inch gun fired.

Three-inch gun, 2016 Camp Week.

Three-inch gun, 2016 Camp Week.

Camp Week 2017 kicked off with a potluck supper on Saturday night, the traditional turkey dinner Sunday afternoon, and raising and lowering the colors. The 8th OVI Company B was encamped. 

Company B answers questions about Union Army life during the Civil War.

Company B answers questions about Union Army life during the Civil War.

Captain Harvey covers his ear during Company B primer check on Sunday.

Captain Harvey covers his ear during Company B primer check on Sunday.

Company B stands at attention after lowering of the colors.

Company B stands at attention after lowering of the colors.

Having established a presence, I look forward to this fall's pancake breakfasts, documenting the annual reunion again next summer, updating this post and blog, and passing along the energy and inspiration this fine organization generates as it honors service.

Want to learn more about the 103rd OVI? The next pancake breakfasts are from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 10, and Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 5501 East Lake Road in Sheffield Lake, Ohio. Website:

                                        Photos © Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved 

                                        Photos © Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved 

What's the Difference Between Fiber-based and RC Prints?

Back in the day, almost all black and white printing was done on fiber-based paper. Fiber-based paper is just that - a photographic emulsion on a base of paper, which is made from wood fibers.

To ensure the highlights reflect enough light and that the shadows absorb enough light, manufacturers add a layer of barium sulfate. As a result, photographers sometimes call fiber-based paper "baryta" paper. 

In 1975, Kodak began to offer resin-coated, or "RC" paper. A layer of polyethylene, or resin, separates the emulsion from the paper base.

Because the paper base is separate from the emulsion, RC prints develop more quickly, and require only a five-minute wash as opposed to an hour or two for fiber-based paper. RC paper's reduced processing time appealed to news and other photographers working on a deadline. 

Fiber-based prints depict a greater tonal range, partly because fiber-based paper's semi-glossy surface (compared to RC prints) reflects less light in the deep blacks of the image.


Although fiber-based prints require more processing time and must be flattened and then carefully dried, their greater tonal range makes them more valuable to fine art print buyers, and they command a higher price than an RC print does.

RC prints' utility stems from their quick drying time and ease of mounting. Many clients find them more suitable to their needs and budget. 

Working with film and printing in a traditional wet darkroom, I enjoy the best of both worlds - Fiber-based and RC. 

Photo: The Art of Living, La Brasserie de Île Saint-Louis, Paris.  

Photo and text © Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved

Why I'll Always Fly Delta Airlines

Back in the mid-90’s a consulting gig required so much airline travel that I eventually achieved Gold Medallion status on Delta. Despite no longer having that “snob” status - as my friend Phil Borgo, MAJ USAR (ret) calls it - I’ve continued to enjoy superb service from Delta. 

A couple of years ago I used my debit card to buy a ticket to London.  The charge was approved, but for some unknown reason, the funds didn’t get to Delta. Delta graciously agreed to hold the reservations and the fare for four days until the issue was cleared up.

On the third day, a great customer service agent at Delta's international desk named Lori spent 45 minutes calling the bank, the airline’s card processing agent, and got the bank on the phone a second time to get the flight ticketed that day at the same fare.

And recently, Delta stood up for its passengers and staff after Ann Coulter threw a Twitter tantrum over not getting the seat she wanted. 

So while there may be lower fares on other airlines, I’ll continue to go out of my way to fly Delta, including upcoming trips to Atlanta and Paris. 

Thank you Lori, and thank you Delta, for going the extra mile.

“You get what you settle for” – Thelma and Louise

There's no place like home

Although I’ve been blessed to have galleries in London, Chicago, New York, Durango, and at home show my Paris pictures, far away places where we spend limited time can be challenging to photograph and to market. I’m glad I included some pictures of my faithful friend and companion Lucky the Jack Russell Terrier the last time I showed prints at FotoFest Paris.

Thankfully, Krzysztof Candrowicz of Łódź Art Center said “Go with it!” when he saw the picture of Lucky wondering what to do after the new owners of my home town camera store no longer allowed pets. 


  As I continued working on the project, which eventually illustrated the book A Lucky Life, I realized what Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz is a truth in photography. Our best photo ops are right here at home, with unlimited projects, if we keep an open mind, remember to carry our camera so we’re ready for the decisive moment (as @thorstenovergaard explains it), and make time to see what’s right in front of us. 


Because most of us spend the majority of our time where we live and work, we have a better chance to make great images in our home town than we might at a frequently photographed far away place. 

      So click your ruby red shoes (or cordovan loafers in my case), and remember: “There’s no place like home.” 

                     Photos © Bob Soltys All Rights Reserved


You may never pass this way again

When I showed this photo from my ongoing project on American eateries at Center for Photography at Woodstock’s (CPW) salon , photographer Steve Gentile told me that Elliott Landy’s photos are no longer on the wall at Bread Alone  (a bakery and coffee shop). 

That makes me glad I made the time to make this picture before leaving the bakery during my visit to Woodstock two years ago.


You may never pass this way again, and even if you do, things change. 

Did you remember your camera?

As I carried my devoted friend and companion Lucky the Jack Russell Terrier across the street couple of nights ago , a driver slowed down and told us: “I wish I had my camera!”  Her wish - and the encounter - was the Universe’s reminder to always carry your camera with you.

Remembering my camera meant I was ready after listening to the voice of synchrodestiny – as Deepak Chopra calls it, aka the law of attraction – that said: “Go to the diner for breakfast,” bringing me to walking monk Bhaktimarga Swami’s world when he visited John’s Diner during his walk across America.

Rosie, Bhaktimarga John's Diner

My ever-present camera allowed me to take the photo of Lucky that became the cover of his new book, A Lucky Life, which is illustrated with my photographs of his travels and encounters along the path of a lucky life. 


After one too many missed photo ops (hat tip to David Kennerly) because I didn’t feel like dragging my motor-driven SLR with me, in 1989 I bought the Leica M6 I’d been wondering whether I should spend so much money on. That smaller, lighter camera facilitated carrying my camera on my shoulder or in my satchel. No more excuses for not bringing my camera.

Although you can buy a used Leica at a reasonable price - for example an M4, M4-P, M2, or (for those who work with digital) a used M9 or Monochrome M at Tamarkin Camera, it doesn’t have to be a Leica. Any small camera - film or digital - will do. 

Whatever you have (or get) - carry it with you. 

   Photos © 2016 and 2004 Bob Soltys All Rights Reserve