Innovations You Have To See To Believe!

Weird stuff is my favorite category at any show: the things that don't fit into sensible categories, but are useful, or unusual, or yes, just plain weird. Some manufacturers of weird stuff rejoice in being called weird (they are often the most fun of all) but others sometimes flinch and say things like, "Um, we'd prefer to be called, er, unique." At a frankly weak show such as PMA 2005 I was able to devote a disproportionate amount of time to hunting out weird stuff and I gathered a bumper crop, so let's start with the weirdest of them all.

A Real Corker
Matching wine and food is famously enjoyable, and if you don't drink wine or eat good food I suppose you can dispute whether Coke or Pepsi tastes better with a burger. But how about matching drinks to cameras? My good friends at Tiltall had a wonderful adapter that turns a bottle into a tripod. Well, a camera support, anyway. I shot a picture of my Leica MP on top of a bottle of Columbia-Crest Merlot Cabernet 2000, largely because I didn't have a bottle of Laphroaig handy, but I could equally well have shot a low-end digicam on a 99-cent bottle of Diet Coke. Over a million of these delightful gadgets have apparently been sold or at least have been given away in Japan but there is zero commercial availability in the US: this was a personal present. No one I showed mine to could stop laughing. Will anyone pick them up? Don't hold your breath!

Leica MP on wine bottle: the finest Weird Stuff of all.

Camera-Phone Tripod
In truth, of course, some form of camera support is always an excellent idea whenever it is feasible, and I was well taken with a camera-phone version of the UltraPod miniature tabletop tripod. Many modern camera phones have a standardized button-catch on the back, and the new UltraPod engages with that as a quick-release plate. A small adapter that screws into the tripod socket of a small digicam allows similar quick-release action. Conventional UltraPods are distributed by BKA but the camera-phone version will apparently be available from another distributor: details were not finalized at PMA but you can find more details from UltraPod themselves.

UltraPod camera-phone tripod; shot on the HP stand using their "open tube" studio lighting system

Bright Light Add-On
Also on the BKA stand was one of the most useful little accessories I have seen in a long time, the CameraBright!. This is a tiny four-head LED continuous lighting source that screws into the tripod socket of any camera. It can be used as a sole light source with fast films or with tripod-mounted cameras (of course there are no synchronization problems); or for setting up video or flash shots, as a sort of modeling light cum illuminator, before you turn on the "real" lights; or to reduce redeye (the very bright light causes the pupil of the eye to contract before the flash is fired); or as a macro light. Because of the design, the units can be stacked together to create a mini light bank, screwing the tripod screw of one into the tripod socket of the next. In one sense it does not do much that a small flash cannot, but it is very small and hardly expensive at $29.95 for the base model (daylight- or tungsten-balanced) or $34.95 for the double-bright X1-ER. Battery life is four hours continuous, but auto-off means that most users should see many months, even a year, before needing to change the batteries.

CameraBright! on a Leica

Beach Blanket Photos
Returning to the realms of high weirdness, there are two companies that will take your pictures and weave them into blankets, throws, or towels. Because the picture is woven in, not printed on, the product can be washed in the same way as any other. WovenArt does full color as well as two-color, but only does throws, while TreasureKnit does throws/blankets and bargain-priced towels, but only in two-color. At $24.95 for a beach-size towel, I'm already looking for the pictures I want woven!

Deckle It
On a completely different note, I was much impressed with Art Deckle. This is a very, very clever and very, very simple device for anyone who works with paper, including photographic paper. Imagine a ruler with one straight edge and one edge that is, well, deckle-edged. Tear paper along the deckle edge and you get a repeatable but still clearly hand-torn effect, which is much in demand in some circles including users of "alternative" processes, though it works perfectly well with most papers, even RC. You can tear tight to the edge for maximum repeatability or further out for a more random effect. As a bonus, the deckle kits come with various sizes of stylus that can be used to create embossed effects. The base kit (6, 12, and 18" decklers, three styli, a brass brush for teasing out the torn edge, and a natural sponge) looks expensive at $149 but it is beautifully made and with the possible exception of the sponge should last forever. The top of the line Commercial set at $299 adds two 48" decklers while the intermediate Pro has just one.

Laser images from the Great Alaskan Bowl Company

Clean Up
Barely photographic at first sight, but incredibly useful for all kinds of purposes, are foam-tip swabs from SuperBrush. Cleaning cameras; removing crud (Corrosion Residue and Undetermined Detritus) from processing machines; applying and detailing makeup; prodding still lifes into place without leaving fingerprints; there are endless uses for these things, and indeed, SuperBrush was prompted to come to PMA because so many photographic studios were buying their makeup swabs for all kinds of purposes.

SuperBrush swabs

Image Options
Back in the mainstream, a very noticeable trend at the show was an attempt to get people to make more real, tangible pictures, rather than leaving their images in cyberspace or committing them to electronic storage media of dubious durability. After all, even if your CDs don't bio-degrade to uselessness over the years, will you still be able to read them in a decade or two? If this seems far-fetched, reflect that the 3.5" floppy once seemed immortal but more and more computers are being delivered without drives that can read them--and that's even before you start worrying about software issues. Have you tried reading WordStar lately?

A jigsaw puzzle from Brooke International

Many of the efforts to get people to print more pictures focused on more or less conventional media and presentation, whether silver halide or ink jet, such as the Spaark Printable Photo Album or the wonderful jigsaw puzzle making machine--a jigsaw puzzle from any picture--for which Brooke International has U.S.A. and Canadian exclusive rights. At least two companies, however, offered very interesting alternatives. The Great Alaskan Bowl Company laser-burns images into beech-wood bowls (I wondered about having a collection of my friends printed in a nut bowl) while Universal Laser Systems Inc. offers a tremendous range of possibilities for laser engraving, wood burning, surface stripping, and all kinds of other tricks on a vast range of materials including tiles, metal, rubber, paper, and more. The equipment required to do this is expensive--the Universal Laser Systems machine is about $10,000--so for most people this is going to be a "bureau" job where you pay someone to do the work for you, but it's a fascinating prospect.