Much of my photography over the past few months involved getting to grips with my new used medium format camera, a light meter and excursions into processing and moving analog to digital (assignment 1: Office at Night was the first project to use a film camera).
Last week I begun to process the film in the local community workshop space. It didn’t go to plan. These facebook posts are an account of risk, attachment and memory in my photography. The events have been really useful in helping me figure out where attachment lies in the images, what a processing flaw may also tell me then about ‘faulty memory’ and the truth claims within a photograph. There is also something in here about ephemerality of the images that I am interested in taking: I was figuring out the ease or lack thereof for restaging, retaking some of these images and realise that the easiest one to re-do involves a 12-months wait until the trees are about to burst again, and hoping that there will be sunny weather during that time.
I am discovering that processing my own films is a fairly high risk strategy. After closing the door behind myself and standing in the most complete darkness for the second time ever, and contemplating that well-known fear of the dark and its very temptation, I realise that I must not switch on the light. I also realise that I may not be able to load the film, one after the other, onto the spiral. What if the two films aren’t properly separated, what if my fingertips are greasy, what if I don’t seal the tub properly. I am working calmly until someone starts to knock: are you alright. Yes. Ten minutes later, another knock. Are you alright? Yes I am, and somehow the people outside the dark seem concerned. Maybe I ought not to be alright? The clip disappears. And why do I keep thinking that the film unrolls off the spiral rather than onto it? I had carefully chosen which films to process first: neither California nor Curtains in their entirety, so that if something were to go wrong, I wouldn’t lose all of the images. As I keep working I am thinking back to the images that remain hidden for the time being and that I am winding onto the spiral.
Once I finish I return to the workshop. Someone starts to talk to me, and he keeps talking all the time until I leave another 30+ minutes later. I take him to be the technician whom I haven’t met yet and he is to usher me along as I seem to not know what I am doing. He panics once the beautiful German machine that is to process C41 starts processing straightaway without heating up first, and I realise that there is an entirely new strand of risk coming in the way of images… he keeps talking and I am trying to assess whether this new risk means just a bit of extra time or the loss of four films. Remembering that my hands had been warm at some point, we eventually reconstruct that the chemistry was still so warm as it was freshly mixed for me that Yobo didn’t need further heat.
I learn a lot about the compact travel arrangements of photo agencies in the mid-1980s which would pack such a machine onto their photo assignments (the most compact film processing machine every produced); about the layout and aerial photography of Sennelager, and that this former British army camp is in fact near Paderborn (I heard the name so often when men would tell me that they were in Germany too, but never established where exactly it actually was).
In the end, I have nicely aftershaved four rolls of film drying and taking colour. They have images on them as I can see.
I walk back home through the park and it looks entirely different to the days when I hung out there just 2.5 weeks ago: no more shadow shapes and the skyline is completely different. Just as well that risk remained a statistic for today.
This latency thing is utterly fascinating. It intrigues me almost more than the images. It meshes with memory in a most curious manner.
Risk did manifest itself in more than statistic and I now have a set of what looks like seriously underdeveloped images. Curtains will have turned black, Thomas’s and my face will be absent against a dark sky, and shadows on the pavement in full sun a kind of apocalypse pre-told. It looks like a faulty temperature gauge, and my trust in Vorsprung durch Technik misplaced (or perhaps in its maintenance routine). One response may be to take photos I do not care about. But there will possibly be other responses too. Time is enforcing itself again and it will be Tuesday before the scanner will show me the actual nature of what befell my images. Just as well I didn’t load the remaining two rolls, then all curtains would have been blackened. And, hello, trusted snappy shit who haven’t scratched any of my negs before.
I do not want to take images that I don’t care about. But that means there’s this thing about attachment again.
Okay… dearest four film rolls… I guess he was NOT the technician, and it possibly wasn’t the temperature gauge but the excess water in the bottom of the tank. His instructions on when to close the valve and to run another cleaning cycle with a closed valve were opposite to the ones I was given 40 mins earlier by one whom I know to be a technician and which resonated with the instructions on the wall…
I remember thinking that some tech seems to have a lot of leeway, and how exciting that was. I think it may, but it also has effects (currently borne by myself as to working out whether ephemerality of images that I care for is really what I should be focusing on).
I may have experienced mansplaining and I mistook it. That hasn’t happened very often. But then, when I noticed he wasn’t interested that much in what I was contributing to what I thought was a conversation, I could have attended to that misreading a little more, but in any case: the valve was closed at that point and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the excess dilution of the developer.
There may be a performative story in here.