View Full Version : Help save my French large format vacation!

Larry Kellogg
24-May-2013, 12:24
Day 2 in France, my Wisner 4x5 camera tumbled, smashing the ground glass and bending a rear strut. Perhaps a new ground glass will get me running again. What can I do? Can I fashion an emergency ground glass? Does anybody know how I can get a ground glass in France? I have sent Richard Ritter a note and will try to call him.

Any help appreciated!!


24-May-2013, 12:33
Are you near Paris? There are a number of well stocked photography stores, including medium and large format here

http://www.bing.com/maps/default.aspx?rtp=adr.~pos.48.857253_2.368207_52%2c+Boulevard+Beaumarchais+Paris%2c+75+75011_Maison+du+Leica_01 43 55 24 36&where1=52%2c+Boulevard+Beaumarchais+Paris%2c+75+75011&FORM=LARE

24-May-2013, 12:44
Ouch. If you find a hardware store that will cut you a piece of glass, you can scotch tape the side closest to the lens. That will work in a pinch.

24-May-2013, 12:47
The frosted scotch tape works very well.

Larry Kellogg
24-May-2013, 13:06
I'm not as depressed as I was a few minutes ago. I will search a plastic picture frame and sand the back, or find a piece of glass and do the scotch tape trick. Richard gave me a few tips. Besides one bent strut, everything else looks fine. If I can focus, I can shoot, no??? :-)

I'm in Provence, not near Paris. I will see what I can find tomorrow.

Thanks for the help. There is hope,I have not run over the camera with a car, yet.


24-May-2013, 13:08
Scotch tape is clear in Europe :D well at least the type I buy, there are white opaque tapes but they are far less common.

I could get a plain screen in the post tomorrow if I have one that fits in stock - I a selection (I carry a few variation in sizes for various 5x4 cameras), if not it's a Bank (National) holiday here Monday so it would be tuesday before I could post one. If I can help PM the size.


Ed Bray
24-May-2013, 13:12
Scotch Magic Tape is the stuff they mean Ian.

24-May-2013, 13:19
It's not the perfect solution, but I had a local glass company (in the states) cut a piece of in stock frosted glass to fit one of my 8x10 backs. I've not found the need to buy better (?) in well over a year and the price was only about $20.00. Maybe you can find something like that easier than a 'real' ground glass where you are.

Larry Kellogg
24-May-2013, 13:21
Thanks for the offer, Ian. We located some Scotch Magic Tape and it is opaque. We also found a piece of glass and will find a place to get it cut tomorrow, hopefully.

I think everything is going to be ok. ;-)


24-May-2013, 13:37
Where exactly are you?

Larry Kellogg
24-May-2013, 13:45
I'm in Buis les Baronnies, a little village in Provence: http://www.buislesbaronnies.com/

I had a nice time today photographing olive trees, the mountains, and the village.


Louis Pacilla
24-May-2013, 13:50
Check the hardware store to see if they sell spray on glass frosting. This is used to make a bathroom window a bit more private. I have used this in a pinch and it's damn good I almost forgot I needed to replace the gg on that camera. You can then use any thin sheet of glass that fits your back, spray a couple layers of frosting on your glass, install the glass and go shoot. The best part is it dries in seconds and it can be washed off and reapplied when needed.

Very decent to focus on as well.

Larry Kellogg
24-May-2013, 14:01
You guys are great. I will look for the spray on glass frosting. You gotta love a camera that you fix in the field. By the way, the camera did not fall in the field, it fell when I got home. The rear leg was a little too short. I thought it was standing ok turned around, and it went over backwards. Ah well, another lesson learned.


24-May-2013, 15:55
You can make your own ground glass using fine valve grinding paste, not as fine as a bought glass but very workable and quick.

Larry Kellogg
24-May-2013, 18:12
A ha! Lapping compound. Brilliant! Thanks! I will try to find the words in French. Perhaps a visit to the auto store is called for. :-) What do you use to apply the lapping compound, a rag? I have lapped valves but never glass!


Jim Michael
24-May-2013, 19:35
Melted paraffin would be another option. Perhaps you could find some carborundum or aluminum oxide abrasive. Hardware stores on Yelp (http://www.yelp.com/search?cflt=hardware&find_loc=Paris).

Nathan Potter
24-May-2013, 20:20
Larry, lapping abrasive of any kind is a good bet. If you find anything between a 300 and 800 grit particle size you'll be in business. I think valve grinding compound is within that size range. To frost a piece of glass use water as a suspension and a small piece of glass as a grinding tool. You put abrasive in water between the small tool piece of glass and the GG to be frosted. Use your finger to move the top, small piece in a circular motion around and around to eventually cover the whole GG piece. It'll take a bit of time, 15 min. to 30 min. typically to get a fully and smoothly frosted surface.

I've had to do this in the boonies ME and made it work well using window glass with valve grind.

Nate Potter, Austin TX.

mathieu Bauwens
25-May-2013, 02:35
If it can help, send me your vacation adress before 16 and I can mail today (I'm from Brussels, it will take a couple of day) ; 9571395714
from an old Calumet 4x5 camera

Larry Kellogg
25-May-2013, 02:58
I have sent you a PM. Thanks! We are going to try with a piece of plexiglass and some static stick privacy film. The glass people do not work on Saturday in France, and the Bricolage places do not cut glass, it is a special order, and will take 5 days.


25-May-2013, 04:12

Bricolage places sell glass cutters and cheap picture frames. Cutting thin glass is really easy. Matte privacy film or fine sandpaper will do the rest if you can't find any grinding powder.


Larry Kellogg
25-May-2013, 05:22
Hello Andres,
Ah, you are right, but I missed my chance to buy a cheap piece of glass and a glass cutter. I don't know why the guy at the Bricolage place did not suggest this solution. Mathieu is sending a ground glass and I think we can get the plastic to work in the meantime.

Next time I travel with the camera, I am going to carry a spare ground glass. Of course, then, I will not beak it.


Larry Kellogg
25-May-2013, 05:32
Part of my problem is struggling to get things done in a language I have trouble speaking!

Tim Meisburger
25-May-2013, 05:44
Sounds like you are getting there. I broke a glass in Indonesia, had a local shop cut a replacement from regular window glass, and sanded it with regular fine sandpaper from a local shop. Worked fine for three weeks (well, it had hot spots). Better would have been the thin glass from a cheap picture frame, cut with a cheap glass cutter from the hardware store. Sandpaper will not provide an excellent screen, but it will provide a usable one, and is likely to be available most anywhere.

Bon chance!

billie williams
25-May-2013, 09:50
Thanks for the help. There is hope,I have not run over the camera with a car, yet.


hahaha! hang in there. you've got the best solution - a good dose of humor! (well, and a hardware store, of course)

Larry Kellogg
25-May-2013, 14:15
Thanks for the help. There is hope,I have not run over the camera with a car, yet.


hahaha! hang in there. you've got the best solution - a good dose of humor! (well, and a hardware store, of course)[/QUOTE]

Thanks Billie, it helps to have people who are willing to help, and, if nothing can be done, to commiserate with, and laugh about it. After the initial shock wore off, I realized that it could have been a lot worse. It was hard to hear my wife say "Ten shots, and that's it for the camera", after the Wisner hit the floor. I had a hard time convincing her to go along with bringing a large format camera in the first place, and we had such fun on our first day shooting it together, that I thought everything was ruined.

Sometimes things are unknowingly for the best. I didn't manage to get the plastic cut today before we left for a trip to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, the source of the river Sorgue. Well, it would have been a nightmare to try to shoot the camera there. My Leica was a far better choice. There were tons of people scrabbling over slippery rocks, and getting too close to raging water. I could see the Wisner slipping off of a rock and floating downstream with its little red bellows disappearing under the waves forever! ;-)

I'll get the emergency ground glass put together tomorrow. Thanks to everybody for their suggestions, and thanks to Mathieu for shipping me another ground glass.

Keep on shooting, no matter what.

P.S. My dilemma now is whether I chance another trip through the airport X-Rays on the return flight, with my lead bags, or just ship all of my film to the US before I leave, risking a lost shipment. There is risk in everything. What do people think?

25-May-2013, 15:29
Carry the film. It will be fine. What makes you think that shipped packages are not xrayed?

Tim Meisburger
25-May-2013, 17:07
Just DO NOT put the film in checked bags. YOU MUST carry it on. If you do that you will be fine, as they use a different machine for carry-on that is film safe. The checked bag luggage scanners will produce banding in exposed (but not developed) or unexposed film, ruining it all (I know from experience).

Cheers, Tim

Larry Kellogg
26-May-2013, 00:28
Yes, I'm sure that shipped packages are also X-rayed. How do the mnufacturers ship film around the world without it being destroyed? I guess carry on is the safest bet. I was never going to put it in checked baggage. What if they force me to take all of the boxes out of the Domke lead bags and x ray them? My lab guys have said they have seen ruined film from the carry on machines.


mathieu Bauwens
26-May-2013, 00:58
couldn't you dev your neg on site ? I'm sure you can find or the chemical either a good lab in Avignon.

Doremus Scudder
26-May-2013, 01:02

Glad to hear your ground-glass issue is resolved, or close to being so.

On the subject of carrying film in carry-on luggage: I transport film regularly, without lead bags, between the US and Europe and do a lot of traveling with the camera inside of Europe. On a recent trip to Venice I carried unexposed film that had come from the US (cheaper there) and been through the screening machines twice already. It was screened another three times on the trip to Venice and back. --- Five total trips through the x-ray scanner and not a problem. I developed the film after arriving back in Vienna. The film was Tri-X and TMY sheet film.

I'd advise carrying your film home with you in your carry-on luggage. If you have a lot of extra-complicated looking stuff in your carry-on, take the film out and run it through the scanner separately. I asked once why my bag was being re-scanned and the answer was that I had a lot of cables and mechanical shutters that obscured the view of other things. Had I taken my film out, it would only have been scanned once. I'd also advise against the lead bags; they just turn up the juice to see through them or ask you to remove the film and send it through the scanner again.

Best, and have a great remainder of your time in France.


Larry Kellogg
26-May-2013, 02:53
Hello Doremus,
Thanks for posting your experience. I took out all of the film bags when boarding in New York and put them in plastic trays. I did not have a problem. I also took all cable releases and anything that looked like wires and put those things in checked baggage. I'm carrying a F-stop Tilopa BC pack which fits in the overhead, much to my amazement. You have to hope that you can find an empty overhead bin, however.

I'm back up and running. The Scotch magic tape provides the clearest view, the privacy film is a bit distorted, and shows kind of a pointillist view of the scene, ha ha. I bet a digital camera would have been out of action for the remainder of the trip, so I am happy.

I don't think I'll have time to process all of the film, and besides, I wanted to do all the processing myself once I get back to New York. I like controlling the whole process. That way, I only have myself to blame when things go wrong. :-)


26-May-2013, 02:59
The postal services use similar scanners to airport carry on scanners so films are safe to be posted internationally, but don't place in a lead lined bag, if they can't see what's in it they may divert it to be scanned using more intrusive deep X-rays.

Like Doremus I travel frequently with films and in fact the HP5 I've just finished was posted from the US to the UK, then taken to Turkey, some went through scanners at ferry ports, and on a cruise ship (every time you re-board), all had multiple scans. I gave up worrying a few years ago.


Larry Kellogg
26-May-2013, 05:33
My goal for this trip is to give up worrying, a good idea!


Larry Kellogg
30-May-2013, 01:51
The ground glass from Mathieu (thanks!) has clipped corners, which I have learned can be used to see the aperture to assess whether or not you have coverage. My last ground glass did not have clipped corners. So, I learned something from smashing the ground glass.


Jan Becket
4-Jun-2013, 02:31
How is your French? Give this place a call to locate a gg source nearby: http://www.legrandformat.com/GFweb/GFsommaire.html

Itʻs on Boulevard Beaumarchais in Paris, but the folks there will be able to direct you, or send you what you need. Itʻs a small country.

Thanks for the reminder to the rest of us to carry a spare.

Larry Kellogg
4-Jun-2013, 05:39
How is your French? Give this place a call to locate a gg source nearby: http://www.legrandformat.com/GFweb/GFsommaire.html

Itʻs on Boulevard Beaumarchais in Paris, but the folks there will be able to direct you, or send you what you need. Itʻs a small country.

Thanks for the reminder to the rest of us to carry a spare.

Thanks for the tip, Jan, but we made it back to New York a couple of days ago. The plastic ground glass I made worked well until Mathieu's replacement GG arrived from Belgium. Yes, I learned the hard way to always carry a spare! My French is ok. ;-) I managed to survive a couple of weeks at my in-laws with whatever words I could dream up. I understand far more than I can say.

By the way, all of my film went through the carry-on scanners inside of Domke bags without a problem in New York and Paris. Now, I have to see if there is anything on the film!