Photos & Projects

“I am Lonely” Said Vinnie the Voigtländer Vito BL – by Andrew Morang

January 28, 2022

Vinnie, the little Voigtländer Vito BL camera, shares shelf space with his friend, Spottie, the Honeywell Spotmatic.

Both feel a bit neglected. After all, one can only use so many cameras in rotation. 35MMC readers will remember that Spottie took an outing recently. Vinnie was jealous. Although well over 60, Vinnie is still a sturdy, well-built little fellow. He is strong and rigid, and has a fine 50mm ƒ/3.5 Color Skopar lens. This is a unit-focus 4-element lens, Voigtländer’s masterful 1949 revision of the classic Tessar formula. This may be one of the best of these post-war 4-element lenses, and it benefitted from being coated. The refined lens and the precision of the entire system contributes to Vinnie’s excellent optical output.

As Vinnie was calling, last October (2021) , I loaded a roll of Kodak BW400CN film and took Vinnie to Jackson, Mississippi. BW400CN is a C-41 monochrome film. It was intended to be used by photographers who wanted convenient B&W prints from any store or photo shop with a C-41 processing machine. I have mixed feelings about the BW. Sometimes the tonality is very pleasing and the results look good; other times, the dark areas are muddy and nasty. It is surprisingly grainy and often looks gritty. But that sometimes works for me because I frequent gritty places. Regardless, I was using up my stock. I exposed it at EI=320.

Jackson is the capitol of the State of Mississippi. It is located about 3 hours drive north of New Orleans and about 4 hours south of Memphis. Jackson has a lot of decaying and crumbling neighborhoods with plenty of photographic opportunities. Security can be an issue, but in bright daylight, there is not much danger, especially on main roads. Honestly, most people look at me curiously and move on, consumed with their own lives and issues. One friend hires a security service to accompany him when he photographs in Jackson. I only once had a potential issue while photographing a traditional residential court lined with shotgun houses. A handyman saw that I did not belong in that neighborhood and chased off a drug dealer with his hammer. That is life in Jackson.

East Jackson

Junior Achievement of Mississippi, High Street, Jackson

This is the abandoned Junior Achievement building at the very east end of High Street. The organization educated young people in business and economic issues, taught them financial literacy, and prepared them for work and careers. However, Junior Achievement of Mississippi failed in the 2009 recession and left its building behind.

Bayou at High Street, Jackson (1/300 ƒ/11, green filter)

This is a typical bayou, or stream. This one separates Junior Achievement beyond the thicket to the left from the BMW automobile dealer off to the right. This bayou may be too small to support any alligators, but it is wise not to go wandering down in the grass.

Morris Ice Company, 652 S. Commerce Street, Jackson (yellow filter)

Morris Ice Company, 652 S. Commerce Street, Jackson

The former Morris Ice Company is an interesting time capsule of early 20th century industry. Ice was critical in the hot southern summers for hospitals, food preservation, brewing, food shipment, and keeping your martini chilled. The man who was planning to redevelop the old factory let me photograph inside in 2019. The Covid must have disrupted his plans because I have not seen any changes there since 2019.

South State Street, view north, Jackson (1/300 ƒ/11, yellow filter)

Dot Com Motors, 1011 S. State Street, Jackson (1/300 ƒ/11, yellow filter)

State Street is a major north-south street running through the heart of Jackson, The southern part of State is pretty grungy, with closed car dealers, tire shops, and warehouses. The Corvette in the first photograph has been perched on its post for at least 3 decades. The former fast food restaurant once hosted Dot Com Motors. I supposed it wanted to be modern.

West Jackson

Tarrymore Motel, Hwy 80 west, Jackson

Former Coca Cola bottling plant, 1421 Hwy 80 west, Jackson (1/125 ƒ/16-22)

During the post World War II era, Highway US 80 west was a thriving industrial and commercial area. Old-timers recall sophisticated restaurants and motels, and major companies established factories there. Today, Hwy 80 is a wasteland of closed hotels, empty factories (like the Coca Cola bottling plant in the photograph above), low-end fast food restaurants, payday loan shops, used car dealers, and abandoned warehouses. Homeless people have occupied old hotels and stripped the fittings. I am baffled and have no explanation for the decay. But this is not unique to Jackson; many other American cities have experienced the same hollowing out and decay of their infrastructure.

Bel Air Plaza, US 80, Jackson, Mississippi (4 ×5″ Kodak Super-XX film, 135mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar-S II lens, ƒ/22)

This is one last photograph from Hwy. 80 west: my favorite 1960s sign at Bel Air Shopping Center. The former tenant, Land of Sleep, is long gone, but other shops are still operating. This is a Kodak Super-XX frame from Vinny’s other occasional friend, Taki, the Tachihara 4×5″ wood field camera, taken on a cloudy day in 2021. Taki does not get out often enough, either. You can see more of my Hwy. 80 photographs in my 2020 article.

Summary

Vinny enjoyed his outing to the big city of Jackson. His Prontor shutter is reasonably accurate and his little 4-element Color-Skopar lens is definitely capable on modern standards. He exudes a sense of quality precision manufacturing and has aged well (better than I have!). Vinnie does not have a built-in rangefinder, but I have no trouble with guessing distances. Various models of Vito cameras are still reasonable price, so go ahead and try one.

The Kodak BW400CN film worked out well for these frames. It is grainy, but that is fine for some topics. The film has been discontinued, and I recommend 35MMC readers not bother trying to find any. I will use Kodak Tri-X or Fuji Acros in the future. Jackson still has areas to explore, but the security situation is deteriorating (especially with gun violence)

Dear 35MMC friends, thank you for coming along for the ride. For more photographs of Jackson and other topics, please visit my blog, Urban Decay .

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    thorsten
    January 28, 2022 at 10:21 am

    Sit Vinnie. Good boy! Land of sleep is incredible, and with your Super-XX rendering I expect Rod Serling to step into the frame, narrating away. I had no clue about prontor shutters, until a bunch of Schneider-Kreuznachs fell into my lap last year. Good to hear that Vinnies shutter does not show s six decades, and great shots from the Mississippi. I would like to stroll around there, one day.

  • Reply
    Michael
    January 28, 2022 at 4:18 pm

    Great pics- I’ve had a Vito B, the old one with the small viewfinder that looks cooler (in my opinion) , for about 36 of my 48 years and it still amazes me how good the pics can be when it all goes right. That lens is indeed lovely.
    Is this the Jackson in the song? Johnny & June or Lee & Nancy…

    • Reply
      Kodachromeguy
      January 28, 2022 at 4:59 pm

      I did not remember this song! Thanks for reminding me. I do not know which Jackson Johnny Cash was referring to. There is also a Jackson in Tennessee. Here are the lyrics:

      Hey, will you sing a song with me?
      I would be very pleased to sing a song with you
      Sure look nice
      Thank you, I’m glad to be back in Folsom
      Well I like watch you talk
      I’m talking with my mouth

      We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
      We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out
      I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,
      Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson,
      Look out Jackson town

      Well, go on down to Jackson; go ahead and wreck your health.
      Go play your hand you big-talkin’ man, make a big fool of yourself,
      Yeah, go to Jackson; go comb your hair!
      Honey, I’m gonna snowball Jackson
      See if I care

      When I breeze into that city, people gonna stoop and bow. (Hah!)
      All them women gonna make me, teach ’em what they don’t know how,
      I’m goin’ to Jackson, you turn-a loose-a my coat
      I’m goin’ to Jackson
      “Goodbye,” that’s all she wrote.

      They’ll laugh at you in Jackson, and I’ll be dancin’ on a Pony Keg
      They’ll lead you ’round town like a scalded hound,
      With your tail tucked between your legs,
      Yeah, go to Jackson, you big-talkin’ man
      And I’ll be waitin’ in Jackson, behind my Jaypan Fan,

      Well now, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper Sprout,
      We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went
      I’m goin’ to Jackson, and that’s a fact
      Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson, ain’t never comin’ back

      Well, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout’
      And we’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went

      • Reply
        Tom Redd i
        March 10, 2022 at 1:20 pm

        I recently traded a duplicate non working beat up Schneider 50mm Xenon for an excellent Vito BL with large viewfinder and a working light meter. The camera store was able to sell the lens for way more than the Vito was listed for. They thought the Vito was non working. I was thrilled because I knew you had to have film in the dang thing for it to work and surprisingly, the camera store didn’t know that. I think the Vito BL is one incredible camera. It screams “QUALITY.” It is small and pocketable but totally solid. Voigtlander cameras were always top of the line and that Color Skopar lens is right up there with the best. Someday, I would like to see a comparison with a Leica Elmar. Finally, that 1:1 viewfinder is incredible. You can follow the action with both eyes open. The only complaint I have is that my particular camera is a European model with only metric notations. Sometimes, the metric system ain’t all that it is cracked up to be. What the heck is 1.6 meters? Estimating 5 normal human paces (or 5 FEET) is a whole lot more intuitive. But love the camera inspite of my “xenometricphobia!”

        • Reply
          Kodachromeguy
          March 10, 2022 at 2:42 pm

          Thank you for writing. A working light meter? You were very lucky because I think most of these selenium light meters are no longer linear. Mine responds to light, but it is nonlinear and really not usable. I use a Gossen Luna Pro Digital Light meter, which can be set to show EV numbers, but it would be nice if the little unit in my Vito did work properly. Keep photographing!!

  • Reply
    Alan Chin
    January 29, 2022 at 4:39 am

    I think you’re over-hyping the street crime in Jackson. It’s all about how one comports oneself. Most crime isn’t directed at strangers but rather is the result of disputes gone too far between people who know each other … carry oneself with confidence and street smarts, and it doesn’t matter if you’re photographing or exploring or what have you, most people will be friendly … or test you and see how you react. It’s all par for the course and I’ve never felt unsafe in any American inner city no matter how bad the crime statistics … I’m not there to engage in activities that might lead to a dispute, and battered old cameras don’t look tempting to petty thieves who’d rather nick your iPhone if you give them a chance. Of course that doesn’t mean don’t be situationally aware — but I can’t help but think you might be imposing a possible class or race or other bias into your thinking onto this.

    • Reply
      Kodachromeguy
      January 29, 2022 at 6:00 pm

      You are correct, normally there is no problem photographing in Jackson or many other cities. I wrote in the article that most people who see me photographing, if they care at all, zip on by to continue with their activities. And you are right, you do need to be situationally aware.

  • Reply
    NigelH
    January 29, 2022 at 10:32 pm

    Nice pics with your BL, I’ve had a B for almost as long as I’ve been taking taking photographs and it was my fathers before me. I have never been disappointed by the images it produces. Like Vinnie though it has been laxing on a shelf for a while… maybe an outing soon.

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