This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for July 21st, 2009

50mm Prime Lens and My First Experiments

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 21, 2009

A new toy arrived in the mail yesterday, a Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. I had read the reviews and knew this wasn’t the best 50mm I could buy, but, hey, the f/1.4 lens is four times the price! I think what finally pushed me into shelling out the shekels for the lens was a Prajneet Singh’s posting, The 50mm f/1.8 — Small Wonder, on Digital Photography School.

My first photos yesterday were a disappointment. OK, I have the lens. Now how can I photograph a plum so that the edges are sharp, not just the spot in the center? Oh, duh! Move further away or change the aperture. How hard could that be?

This morning I took my camera out on my morning exercise walk. I didn’t get much exercise, though. I was like a dog stopping at every lamp post for a sniff (“Oh, look! A flower! Look! Another flower!”). When I realised that I needed to get back in time to get ready for work, I stopped shooting everything that crossed my path. Here are some of shots I took.

“Depth of Field.” A municipal bench in a playground. I took several shots with different aperture settings and I could really see the depth of field in this one (f/2).

Depth of Field

Another shot of a globe thistle. Because the aperture can be opened to f/1.8 (but focus gets a bit soft at the extreme ends), it does really nice bokeh. I never get tired of these flowers. They remind me of exploding Death Stars. Actually, this one was taken at f/5, so I must have been using programmable mode.

Globe Thistle

Sun shining through playground equipment:

Blue circles

Insect eggs on a caper plant pod:

Very tiny picnic

Red bougainvillea with that lovely, shallow depth of field. I find bougainvilleas tough to photograph because they have few differentiating characteristics in their petals. They don’t have prominent veins or markings, so the petals often meld into a big pink or red, oversaturated blob of colour. Maybe it was the morning sun that helped in this shot.

Red bougainvillea

Tomorrow I’m shooting a neighbour’s raw food recipe and her contributor’s photo for a cookbook. If I feel sufficiently comfortable with manually focusing (one of my biggest shortcomings, because my eyesight is so poor) on her eyes, I may use it for the portrait shot. It took some getting used to not twirling the zoom ring to get closer to a subject. I actually had to use my feet for a change. Hmmm. Maybe I will get more exercise this way!

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Fish Mola

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 21, 2009

Framed mola

What are molas?

Molas are reverse-appliqued panels made by the Kuma Indians of the San Blas Islands in northeastern Panama. Originally part of the traditional Kuma woman’s costume, molas were made in pairs and adorned the front and back of a blouse. During the 70s, the Peace Corps introduced treadle sewing machines in a well-intentioned attempt to speed up the production process, which led to large-scale production of poor-quality molas for the tourist trade.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, the mola tradition is only about 100 years old and probably evolved from the custom of body-painting. The Smithsonian site shows an old mola that can be rotated for viewing (you need to have the QuickTime plug-in installed) and an extensive bibliography on the Kuna Indians and their mola art.

My Mola Quest

I’ve always loved molas. I really wanted to own one but Jerusalem is a long way from Panama….

Every August, the Jerusalem municipality sponsors Hutzot haYotzer, an international arts and crafts festival. There is live music, dance performances, scores of local Israeli artists, and dozens of international pavilions. Despite the crowds and generally high prices, I went last year in August, 2008, and found that there was a booth selling things from Panama!

The Panama booth had piles of machine-made molas, not of very high quality. They were machine-sewn, with exposed raw edges and untrimmed threads hanging from the finished design. After looking half-heartedly through all the piles, I was about to give up. Then I looked up and saw a mola sewn into a cheap canvas bag, the kind you get as a freebie at high tech conferences, tacked high on the back wall. Wow! A hand-made mola!

I asked the sellers, who spoke no Hebrew and very little English, whether they had other hand-made molas. They repeated, several times, “All our molas are made by hand by the Indians.” I tried pointing to the machine stitching of one mola and the hand stitching of the other, but I got the same answer. So I bought the bag, which cost four times (approximately $35 US) as much as the unmounted molas, and hoped that the mola hadn’t been made into a bag because of cigarette burns or bug damage.

Mola Recovery

This is what the mola looked like when I bought it, mounted on the outside flap of a shoulder bag (below).

Mola mounted in a canvas bag

I dismantled the bag and carefully unpicked the stitches of the binding (below).

Removing the mola from the bag

I was delighted to find that the mola was intact. Not even the edges of the applique triangles had been damaged by the mounting process, although they were trimmed rather close.

Mola removed from bag

The stitching is mind-boggling. There are 32 chain stitches per inch and 24 applique stitches per inch, as you can see in the photo with the ruler below.

Close-up of stitches

The mola shows signs of wear on the back, indicating that it was cut from a blouse when its maker grew tired of it or needed the money. The fine stitching and the fading also indicate that it was not produced for the tourist industry.

I like the idea that this mola was proudly worn by its maker years ago. I’m glad it didn’t end up as the outside flap of a bag. Although molas are quite durable, the embroidery stitches and old fabric would not stand up to that kind of treatment for long.

Here is a photo of the back of the mola:

Back of mola

This is a two-layer mola, which makes it a fairly simple example, although the workmanship is outstanding. If it were three or more layers, it would be worth more. The blue layer is the base layer. The red cloth is the second layer, slashed and stitched to show the blue background.

The other motifs, triangles and stripes, are small pieces appliqued to the blue or red layers. Its style seems to indicate that its age is about 20-30 years, since embroidered embellishment was a fairly late development. Also, the fish design indicates that it is not an old mola. The oldest molas were not embroidered and tended to have geometric patterns. The animal and tree patterns were more popular among tourists, so most modern molas reflect this preference.

More sources of information on molas

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