Sunday, March 16, 2014

Aujourd’hui, caméra est morte

Another camera exploded this week. I should be more careful. 

To be more precise, a piece of Instax film exploded inside my camera. You've heard the expression "coming apart at the seams"? This is what the photo did. The insides squirted out the sidesides. Then somehow that led to the topside exploding. I'm not really sure what the chain of events was. All I know is I pushed the shutter button just like normal. But this time the camera top came shooting off followed by a photo with black gunk smeared on it. When I looked inside the camera, which was much easier now that the top had exploded, the rollers were covered in black gunk too. A little bit of that goes a long way. 

Oh well. I'm a dad. I'm used to dealing with explosions. I've cleaned shit smeared up a kid's back. I've been bruised by projectile vomit and I've cleaned spaghetti from behind the couch. But none of that stuff was as inaccessible as gunk inside a camera. It was really in there. And goopy. The only thing I could think to do was take another photo. It's my go-to move. 

The next one looked about like you might expect.

In this jpeg the gunk has dried, but at the time it was still wet. I had to blow on the photo for a few minutes, then wave it in the sun to dry before putting it in my backpack. That worked for the print, but inside the camera was still beyond the sun's reach. That gunk wasn't going to dry any time soon.

I decided to roll with it. Maybe I could turn this lemon into lemonade. It's not every day my photos are covered in black streaks. It created an aura of grit...and mystery. Maybe there were naked ladies from New Orleans under the black? Or scratch off lotto numbers? A scratch-n-sniff photo? The possibilities were endless. Best of all they were completely dependent on the viewer. I'd transcended post-structuralism without even trying. It was even easier than exploding a camera.

Here's how the next one came out.

Was the gunk dissipating? Was I using it up? I couldn't tell. But the photo had a certain charm. If I squinted and imagined myself in a museum it resembled one of those Gerhard Richter painted photographs. But uglier and by accident. 
Gerhardt Richter, Uebermalte Fotografien, – 02 MARCH ’05

No. Who was I kidding? My photo had no charm. The content fought the form. The punctum was battling the studium. And besides all that it was hard to make out what was under the black crud. I was no challenge to Richter. But he could walk away at any time. I was stuck with my exploded camera.

At this point most photographers would've come to a sensible conclusion. The camera was fucked. Pack it in. Time to repair or find another one. And I'm usually on board with that. Cameras have very little sentimental value to me. They're like shoes. You use them. They wear out. You find another pair. And right now this camera was like about as usable as a shoe without laces. But alas, I was in San Francisco. Did I mention that part? Repair or replacement was not an immediate option. The only way forward was through.

I thought my photos could use a little human touch. After the gunk had dried on my next photo I used my thumbnail to scratch away part of the black area. 

Aesthetically it had a ways to go. But as evidence it worked fine, because this was the photo which first showed me the problem went beyond surface gunk. Part of the interior emulsion was screwed up too due to the uneven rollers. There was a big white gap in the upper right. And some other smaller splotches lower down. But was this a lemon or lemonade? I needed more evidence. And to get high.

This is from a third floor fire escape. Lesson: black splooge plus undeveloped emulsion gaps doesn't necessarily equal success. But I knew that.

On my next photo the white spots seemed to be shrinking. Or maybe they were hidden.

The problem was I couldn't determine which parts of the image were intact without removing the gunk. And by that point it might be too late since there was no way to add it back. I'd gone past photography into sculpture. 

By the next morning the roller gunk had dried into a relief painting. I tried a photo. The black streak was gone! But it was replaced by dolphin lightning.

If I were a Chargers fan, this photo would seem like an act of God. I wasn't, but the photos still seemed like an improvement over yesterday's blackouts.

The lightning bolts were sometimes yellow, sometimes whitish, usually with a tinge of magenta. The key thing is they always jumped out of the ocean in the same general area of the photo. Repeatability is the heart of the scientific method. I could work with this. In fact it fit perfectly into my normal mode of operation in photography, which is to tweak the viewer. Confusion, artifice, etc. If I could combine those dolphins with the subject matter I'd be in business, and if I did it well maybe no one could tell? Maybe I wouldn't need a new camera after all. I'd just have to photograph white and gold dolphins from now on. 

Unfortunately there were no dolphins in downtown San Francisco. Just coffee shops, bums, and hipsters. Here's the hotel lobby where I was staying on Grant Ave.

Clouds are an ever-ready subject. 

Here are some spring Charger blossoms found in a gutter.

I thought my car pedals might look like dolphins but I was wrong.

After shooting this way for a day I started to realize I'd never find the right dolphins in real life. So I opened up the camera and started chipping away at the relief painting with my pocket knife. I know what you're thinking. How could I destroy the source of all those good times? Once I took that step the dolphin series would be gone forever. But the thing is, I just wanted my old camera back, with smooth rollers and no gunk.

If you've been shooting long enough to wear through a few cameras, you realize that jamming a pocket knife into your camera is no longer any big deal, certainly no more complicated than neutering a pet or clipping a chicken's wings. And unlike an animal, most cameras have a back that opens. 

I pulled open the film holder, then held the blade against the rollers while I pushed the shutter repeatedly. After about 20 spin cycles I'd removed most of the gunk. The camera didn't even put up a fight.

My next attempt looked like this.

Getting closer. The dolphin lightning was gone but the rollers weren't quite clean. I opened the camera again, repeated the pocket knife process, then tried another photo. 

That's when I saw Jesus.

The face was blurry yet identifiable. It was either the Messiah or the ZigZag rolling papers guy. Either way I knew I'd stumbled on something important. If I played it right this photo could be a gold mine. I'd heard about people driving for miles to see Jesus on a tortilla chip. How far would they drive to see Instax Jesus? And this was even more lucrative than a tortilla chip, because not only did I have a photo with accidental Jesus, I could make more whenever I felt like it. I had the magic rollers. 

I know what most people would do in a situation like this. Pump out more photos. Sell them on eBay. Retire to the French Riviera.

That's what most people would've done. But I pride myself on being a contrarian. I like to scratch below the black paint before making any decision. I realized that pumping out Jesus photos would flood the market. One Jesus photo is amazing. Five thousand Jesus photos? Not so unique any more. 

I had to nip this in the bud. I called my agent Bethany and explained the situation. "How are we going to handle this?" I asked. She said same way we always do, by forming a plan of action. A plano ng pagkilos, she called it. In April we will market a limited edition of twenty Jesus photos. Each photo will be made available through my gallery at an escalating price depending on the edition number. 1-5 will be $7,000 each, #6-10 $8,500 each, and so on. #20 will be $75,000. If you think that sounds like a lot of money, just consider this. It's the Messiah. And likely to appreciate in value.

That left just one key step, destroying the camera. Yes, I could've taken a pocket knife to the rollers instead, but it seemed too risky. They might've produced more faces. To protect my investment there was only one safe recourse, a fiery explosion. Luckily I had some gasoline handy. And a pack of Mentos. And a Sodastream pressurizer. 

And that's how my camera died today.


Robert Schneider said...

Oh dear. All you needed was damp paper towel and time.

Though burning Fujifilm products for other reasons has a point....

Anonymous said...

Dolphin lightning! Dolphin lightning! Dolphin lightning!

Eric B said...

This reminds me of when your other camera had a sprig stuck in the carpe diem insulator mechanism.

j_castro said...

You know that when you discover Jesus and turn your back on him you go to hell, don't you?

Seriously, I find the gunk images attractive, really. Got better as the gunk became more irregular. And the comparison with Richter not so far fetched. Remember when big Artists scratched sx70 pics?

Tabatha said...

Quick update from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: I've gotten some of the gunk off the rollers but there are still some smudges. But it is doing a workhorse job as color recorder of some fantastic scenes, blips included. I'm recording photos in b/w with small 35 mm camera too. They are more "perfect". I seem to need a combination of straight and imperfect cameras wherever I am. But I think I'm done with gunk for a while...

Eric B said...

I'm so glad Blake lets you use his cameras! Maybe he'll do a "What was she thinking" post for you soon...

Anonymous said...

No posts for a while...est "B" morte aussi?