Brian's Photo Blog — Article 437
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They Don't Make Them Like They Used To
Thursday 28 May 2015   —   Category: Shooting

Recently I got a new bed mattress for my thirteen-year-old daughter. It was high time! She had been using an ancient, decrepit mattress which her old brother and sister had also used, and which used to belong to my sister. It had to be a good half-century old! The label on it stirred vague memories of a McMahan’s furniture store in Santa Maria, California, where I grew up.

The problem was, how to get rid of the mattress. In order for the refuse service to take it, I would have had to make special arrangements. Therefore I decided to simply cut it into quarters and put it in the trash bin. How hard could that be, right?

On my first cut into the mattress, I immediately encountered what seemed to be a metal rod running the entire length of all four long sides of it. Well, this might turn out to be a bit harder than I thought. As I cut further, to my shock and dismay I discovered that there was not only metal along all the edges, but the entire inside was made of metal! Yikes!

I had never seen such a thing before. But I guess if I would have looked carefully at the labels on the mattress, I would have known ahead of time that it was stuffed, not with foam, but metal spring coils — 312 to be exact, as the label boasts. In my ignorance, I had imagined that bed springs were in the box-spring, not in the mattress itself.

After a fair amount of sweat using various tools to cut through the (horse-hair?) padding and the metal, I was finally able to cut the mattress completely in half. The 36-inch bolt cutters I had purchased at Harbor Freight Tools some years ago came in very handy! My hunting knife was useful too, but in the end, plain old scissors worked better.

When I took a peek inside the center of the mattress, I found the view of more than 100 coil springs, all neatly aligned in rows, to be amazing. I can’t imagine the effort it took to put all that together! If nothing else, the insides were definitely photo-worthy, so I set about that task before I destroyed the mattress any further.

I positioned the mattress vertically, with the open end sticking up. Then I mounted my camera on my beloved tripod that has a center column which can be positioned horizontally. In this way I could hang the camera over the opening and peer straight down into the mysterious depths.

I had the idea to use the maximum f/2.8 aperture of the lens in order to have the minimum depth of field, and then take a series of photos, each one with a slightly different focus point. I ended up with 80 photos! I selected 32 of them to combine into a sequence, showing the focus point traversing the length of the mattress’ innards.

As I wrote recently in Fun With Photo Sequences, I prefer sequences over video. But in this case a sequence was not going to perform very well given the large number of images which would need to be downloaded to the viewer’s browser, and the speed at which I would want to move through the sequence. Therefore I decided to compromise: I still chose a sequence of photos over a video, but then I combined those photos into a video for playback. Click on the following video to watch the focus change over a period of 14 seconds.
A few production notes before we go on. In the past when I have included videos on my Web sites, I have used the aging Flash video standard. But for this article I finally decided to try the newer HTML5 method. There are major differences between the two approaches.

The above video is playing back just fine on my devices — I hope it is working well for you too. If not, please leave a comment below to let me know about it.

You may be wondering about the music I used in the video. A month or so ago I came across a band with the unusual name of This Will Destroy You. I was immediately captivated by their electric guitar abstract instrumental music — it’s just up my alley.

For this video I used a short extract from their song Villa Del Refugio from their self-titled album This Will Destroy You. Be sure to listen to the samples from this album as well as their other recordings.

OK, back to the mattress. It was cut in half, but it still wasn’t going to fit into the trash bin. Therefore, each half needed to be cut in half. But as I thought about it, I realized I only needed to cut through the metal down one side, and then it would fold in half without any further cutting. So rather than having separate quarters, I could just make hinges in the two halves.

This time around I knew what I was facing, so I was able, as one of my teachers used to say, to work smarter instead of working harder. It didn’t take too long to cut through the mattress’ hide and lay bare its skeleton. When I folded the half in half, I was able to stuff it into the trash bin. But the other half would have to wait until the following week.

For me there is something fascinating about the structure, order, and repetition of these ancient coil springs ... something a bit hypnotizing. As you can see, I took photos from various perspectives, including those in the above video, to try to capture what I was seeing.

There is also the historical journey this mattress went on, since the time my parents, in their 20s, bought it so long ago. It served our family well for two generations. They for sure don’t make them like they used to. Perhaps that is why it lasted fifty-plus years!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 437
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