Friday, February 8, 2008

Outdated and entrenched

Because I have been away from home for much of the past few weeks, I've amassed a small horde of film cartridges awaiting development. I keep them on the hallway bookshelf above the reach of children. Every day I develop one four-cartridge tank, hang the film to dry and then sleeve it. This slow pace allows me to make steady progress but without it feeling like drudgery. I have developed as many as five tanks a day in the past, and believe me, at that point it begins to wear on you. But one tank a day is fine. At the rate I'm going, and assuming I still shoot one or two rolls per day, I have enough film to last several weeks.

Having a large pile of undeveloped film around is comforting. I feel less urgency to shoot. It's like I've built up a little cushion and can relax my pace a little. When I've run through all my development and have no rolls on the bookshelf, I feel empty. I feel like I really need to go shoot more immediately. When described in these terms, photography takes on the flavor of an addiction or obsession, which of course it is. This probably helps to explain why I shoot film instead of digital. it's not a rational choice, but more to fill a psychic void.

In my old house in Portland I developed film in the basement. It was gloomy, no windows. The only entertainment was a small radio. Our new house I use the downstairs bathroom, which is fairly bright and airy. The main difference is that above the rinsing sink is now a medicine cabinet with a mirror, and so while I develop I spend many minutes looking at myself. In the basement I could never do that. Now I have a chance to become very familiar with my face. I look in the mirror more than most teenagers. It's the perpetual self-portrait. Each time I look it's me but different. Sigh...yet another way photography encourages solipsistic behavior.

As I was preparing to cut and sleeve yesterday's negatives I got a shock. I opened a fresh pack of sleeves and somehow I'd ordered the wrong type from B&H. They were Savage top-loading sleeves. I've never heard of such a thing. Sliding in from the side was fine. Top-loading? It was cumbersome and insecure. If it ain't broke... Anyway I'd ordered them in 7 strips of 5 instead of my normal 7 of 6. This meant I would have to eliminate one or two frames from each roll. To find these frames I'd have to slowly sift through the roll before cutting the negs rather than afterward in the sheet. Throwing away one or two frames may not seem hard. At least half of every roll are obvious losers so there's usually lots to pick from. But for me it was torture. How could I throw frames away forever? Even losers? It took a while to cut those four rolls.

The fact that I'm a packrat is probably also why I save the little black end-rings from the cartridges. I have no idea what I'll do with them but they seem like they might be useful. A rattle? A necklace? Yard art? Game tokens? I just can't bear to throw them out. All that tin that went into them, the big mining operation, milled down to perfect circles, just to be tossed in a landfill? I have a cardboard box to collect them for whenever they might come in handy, the same type of box I keep my workprints in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I know the feeling, the security that oozes out of the rows of undeveloped film (I have them too, most of the time); my very own silver ore from which I can extract a steady supply of films.