Jun 21, 2017
by Dan Murano

In the mid to late 1970s, I managed a barely successful nightclub on the North Side of Pittsburgh called the Home Circle Club, which sounded more like a knitting circle than the gay girls bar that it was when my family took over the license.

The club was in a white, brick building with a forty-foot chiseled- hill looming over it. Branches and rocks often tumbled down onto the graveled roof that leaked whenever it rained. Parking was on residential side streets, and public transportation was a shadowy walk through a shuttered neighborhood.

Faux-oak paneled walls surrounded the oval bar and a pool table on the upper level, and table seating overlooked the lower level, which had an oversize stage with a dressing room and a dance floor lit up by strings of Christmas lights flashing to disco beats. An industrial gas heater hanging from the ceiling rumbled like an idling bus through the long Pittsburgh winters, and in summer, pedestal fans churned sweltering air, mixing cigarette smoke with the smell of sour beer.

Our bartender staged a walkout with her customers shortly after we took over, saying she said she didn't like the way we were running the place. Fortunately, I had known Pittsburgh's gay scene for years, so  my friends and I fanned out through the bars to bring in new business. Friends brought their friends and we collected a congenial mix of gay and straight patrons who found the atmosphere homey and comfortable. Some came just for the homemade meals that mom cooked on Wednesdays and Sundays. It was a family operation.

Our new customers included actors from local theater groups, and from one of those groups came Gorman Lowe, who also became a good friend. Gorman had recently played a seriously overweight King Herod in Jesus Christ, Superstar, furiously pedaling an exercise bike while singing his part. He was a brilliant actor and playwright, and a very witty man. Gorman recognized the club's potential for theater, and it wasn't long before he proposed a theater production designed for our humble stage. He and fellow producer / actor KC staged a musical comedy, Bosom Buddies, which became the first in a string of performances featuring dozens of multi-talented actors, singers, choreographers, costume designers and musicians. Each show was written, directed and scored by the same performers who played the leading roles. They were comedic geniuses, and audiences loved them.

The Wizard of Odds

Dec 05, 2013
by Dan Murano

When Nikon stopped production on their Coolscan 9000, I thought we'd never see another dedicated medium format scanner. I could have kicked myself for not buying one, but at the time, I wasn't ready to shell out $2,000. Now, several years after production ended, the same scanner, used, is selling on auction sites for well over $3,000! I understand it's a great scanner, but no way.

So I was excited to find out that Plustek came out with its own medium format scanner, the OpticFilm 120, for the same selling price as the original Coolscan 9000 when it was available retail. Initially, I held off purchasing one, wanting first to read every review I could find. There were some early production problems, during which time Plustek actually stopped production for many months. Rather than put me off, I was impressed that a company cared enough about its customers and product to do this, so I waited it out until production resumed. The Opticfilm 120 begain showing up again in late September of this year. I waited a little longer and heard good feedback from people who bought these newer releases. Then, once I heard that Vuescan was supporting this scanner, I ordered one and was not disappointed.

The scanner ships with Silverfast Ai Studio 8 and a slew of well designed, sturdy film holders.

The image above is one of my first scans, made from an Ilford Delta Pro 400, 6x6 negative. I will post more as I continue mining my archive.

Here is another one, this one in RGB mode with a slight tone, same film info, also made with the Bronica and scanned using the OpticFilm 120:


This next one is a color slide converted to a sepia tone. This was scanned with one of the first versions of Vuescan to support the OpticFilm 120. The IR dust and scratch removal set at medium had little effect. This issue may have been addressed by now, but I have not yet updated the software. Note that Vuescan is frequetly updated and tweaked. One of the great time-saving features of using Vuescan is that you do not have to preview the entire holder to scan one image - you just set the frame number in the software and then get a quick preview of just that frame. Another great feature (there are many) is that you can use one instance of Vuescan for every one of your scanners, whereas Silverfast is tied to an individual make and model. You can even save your scans as raw files along with the IR channel, so you can return to process and tweak your images later before outputting the final tiff or jpeg files.

Cape Cod sand dunes

And this next one is an Ektachrome slide scanned with the Silverfast application that ships with the scanner:

Ektachrome slide scanned using Silverfast on the OpticFilm 120


Oct 15, 2012
by Dan Murano

The last Kodachrome processing lab closed a long time ago. I had an exposed roll that had been sitting around since 1986, first in a drawer, then in the fridge and finally, years later, it ended up in the freezer -  just a 35mm film cannister wrapped in aluminum foil. I remembered what was on it, but expected the latent image was long gone. It wasn't!

Back in the early eighties, I had to scrimp and save for every roll of film that I bought. One day I was shopping in Woolworth's and saw a batch of outdated ASA 25 Kodachrome II for about fifty cents a roll, and I bought the whole batch.

It was expensive to process though, and I held back on sending out this last roll.  About 23 years later when I was getting back into darkroom work, I remembered this film and even some of the images that were on it. With a freshly mixed batch of Diafine black and white film developer and some free time, I set off to experiment.

I read posts from other photographers who had successfully retrieved images from Kodachrome with black and white chemicals, so I figured I had a good chance of getting something out of it. I would have been happy to see even a trace of what I had photographed.

Diafine is a two-part, compensating film developer with a very long shelf life. Processing temperature is not critical, nor is processing time beyond a minimum three or four minutes in each of the solutions. I processed for four minutes in each bath, A and B.

I was amazed when I unspooled the film and discovered an image. Kodachrome has a black rem-jet carbon backing that has to be removed to make the film transparent. I did this by laying the wet film down in the sink and carefully sponging the backing away. I missed a few bits here and there, though, and these show up as white specks on the final image. The film also had an overall yelllow stain, which fortunately, caused no trouble my Nikon Coolscan.

This was on the grounds of the Supreme Court in Washington.Another statue in the same area.I was studying Greek history at the time and was fascinated by the the columns and flourishes. This is the Supreme Court.More columns on the Supreme Court building. The sky also shows some developer agitation streaking or mottle.This is the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress. The sharp contrast and shortened tones emphasize the building's geometry.This giant urn is outisde the Supreme Court. A bit of soot adds to the dimension.I was fortunate to photograph these sculptures before they were cleaned. I don't believe the stonework is now as gritty and dark as it was when this image was made in 1986.This is one of the sculptures in the Court of Neptune fountain in front of the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress.Here is another powerful sculputre in the Court of Neptune fountain.A turtle sprayer are in the Court of Neptune fountain.

The biggest treat in doing this was discovering the photos I had made of my niece, Sharon, with her then new baby. Even though the copy of it here was flatbed scanned through the plastic negative sleeve, it looks nearly as good as all of the other frames scanned with the Nikon.

This was a special treat at the end of the roll of Kodachrome, a photo of my niece, Sharon, with her then new baby boy, Michael. Before I processed the film, I remembered that it had images of statuary, but I had forgotten about these last few exposures.