Sunday Next

March 13, 2006

Courtyard Vines

Originally uploaded by briannaorg.

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.

  • CATEGORY: Greece

5 thoughts on “Sunday Next”

  1. i love the smell of darkrooms … and the glow. i have a goal that someday i will have one of my own.

    nice job with the reel! i totally heard a “DOH!” in my head when you dropped it, hee hee!

  2. and btw, the grey photos are gorgeous and if you hadn’t said anything about the fogging, i wouldn’t have noticed. actually, i still don’t notice.

  3. wow… this brings back memories. loading film was always a nightmare for me too… I was constantly engaged in barters with all my classmates trying to cajole them into doing it for me since i completely sucked at it. Working as a reporter on a small town paper and taking all my own photos, I eventually gained a negligible degree of competence out of necessity… but never any real expertise. sigh. However, I loved everything else about darkroom work.

    And I second Se’s comments about your photos… they are achingly lovely and I certainly don’t see any fogging. And besides… i think the imperfections add to the charm!

  4. Gotta love the wonderful art of loading film…I think I put off loading reels until I had about 5 rolls and then decided that I’d actually like to see what I had taken. I love reading your entries…if I close my eyes, I can feel the salty wind on my face and the smell of the sea. Beautiful. You’re lucky to have had rain, the other day, we had about 10 inches of snow in MN. Oh joy.

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