Thursday, September 22, 2011

Southern Exposure

February 1986

It wasn't a very cold Sunday afternoon in February, on the ground at least.  A friend and I were wandering midtown with our cameras when one of us got the idea to see if the observation deck of the RCA building (and it will always be the RCA building to me) was open.  I remember we had to search the lobby for the right elevator, as there wasn't any ticket counter on the ground floor.  We took one elevator up to the floor that the Rainbow Room was on, bought our tickets, then went along another hallway or two for the final ride to the top.

Unlike the Empire State, there wasn't any fencing along the parapet, and unlike today, no glass, either.  Just a stomach-high (to me) ledge that you could lean on, and over.  The deck itself was rectangular, with a raised area in the center with steps you could walk up.  A few satellite dishes and small antenna were up there, but the best views were from the wall, where the coin-operated binoculars were.

850 feet in the air it gets pretty windy, and the temperature drops the higher you rise.  So while it may have been in the balmy high 40's in the plaza, it was pretty cold on the 70th floor.  So we didn't spend a lot of time up there, but I did have a chance to make what have become a few of my favorite pictures from that time.

This is a pretty grainy image, because I was using a pretty grainy film at the time.  Kodak's fastest black and white film at the time, Tri-X, was rated at 400 ISO.  But working in the printing trade as I did, I knew a few photographers and custom labs and camera stores, so I was able to get hold of another Kodak film, one that wasn't sold in drugstores.

Recording Film had a basic ISO of 1000, but could be pushed (underexposed, then overdeveloped) to upwards of 3200.  Nowadays, 3200 is fairly common for even pocket digitals, but during the seventies and eighties it was a specialty item used for surveillance by cops and private investigators.  The grain was like gravel, but it had a charm to it, and I found myself using it in daylight as well as for night shots.  But like all my favorite Kodak products, it was discontinued towards the end of the decade.

This picture is available on a coffee mug!

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