It stormed on the island all weekend, vicious winds driving the rain into the cracks in the plaster. The wind was from the south, and warm, so I wore flipflops in the flooded streets.
The Wellington-clad locals stared.
Sunday, I did not rise at six, or rather, when I did and noticed it was still grey and wet, I lolled in bed for several more hours. Then I slowly crawled into the kitchen for tea, and onward to a shower. I took some pinhole photographs while I moved slowly and silently and listened to the wind rattle my shutters. I was not hungover, or particularly tired. Just – slow. I’d spent nearly eight hours in the painting studio the night before, and needed a mindful wake up.
It was nearly one o’clock before I left my house (reading last week’s entry, this seems to be a Sunday trend) and the only item on my to-do list was to visit the darkroom and develop a roll of film.
Simple, eh? Actually, it’s a task that has eluded me for about ten years.
It’s not that I find the chemistry difficult – on the contrary, I relish it. It’s loading the damned film onto the reel that gets me every time. Never before have I had the luxury of time to spend hours locked in a black, lightless room fumbling around with metal reels and springy coils of sensitive emulsion. Sunday, I swore, would be the day that I mastered this.
I had shot a few rolls with the twin-lens Mamiya, and carried them in my pocket, flip flops sliding wetly on my feet as I slushed through puddles. The darkroom was empty and quiet and I set about organizing the room – laying out trays, bottles of developer and stop bath and fixer and hypo clear. Then I fussed with the organization of the beakers on the rack. I was doing everything possible to delay the moment when I would once again be locked in an airless little closet, sweating while I tried desperately not to smudge or bend my carefully composed exposures.
Finally, Brie came in to process film, and I knew I’d have to get down to business. I grabbed a reel and a tank, checked all my equipment, took a deep break and locked the door. I shut my eyes, but then I opened them again. I couldn’t see anything, but my fingers seem to work better with my eyes open.
After unreeling the film and clipping the ends, I proceeded to load it carefully into the reel. The sharp end pierced my nail. I stoically ignored it and refused to take it as an omen, and continued guiding the edges of the film. I figured the 120mm film might be a success where I’d failed with 35mm before, and I was right – the film went on the reel mostly okay.
Then I dropped the whole thing on the floor. But it’s ok, it’s alright, I picked it back up, dropped it in the tank, closed the lid and opened the door. I did it. It was loaded.
I proceeded into the darkroom, flipped the book open, measured out my developer, and filled the tank. I started agitating. About two minutes into the thirteen minute process, I noticed my hands were covered in developer. I checked the lid – damn it. There was a crack. Who knows how much light had filtered in? But I still plowed ahead, figuring I needed the practice.
I’m glad I did. There’s a lot of obvious damage on the negatives, but seeing the wet strip hanging from the ceiling with actual, visible pictures on it was a big sigh of relief. I had conquered my fear of the film reel (well, my finger was still bleeding, but I’m not afraid of a little blood). This opens up a whole vista of opportunities for me – for one thing, I can start actually using all the photo equipment Josh has been patiently storing for me for half a year. For another, I get more use out of all the medium format cameras I’ve been collecting specifically so that I could shoot 120 and scan the negatives.
Next up, 35mm. We will see how it turns out.