One of the most painful things about the past few years is how fast they’ve gone. It feels like I barely have time to clean my room, so don’t even get me started on making memories. It’s like as soon as I get to know someone, they’re gone. It’s like as soon as I’ve grown accustomed to someone’s face, it’s already fading in the back of my mind where old acquaintances go to die. Errands have a life of at least a month on my to-do list. I seriously can’t get it all done.
(And so I lay in bed in protest.)
I’ve found one remedy, though, and I’m lucky to have it. My camera and I have been together for nearly ten years now. It’s been a learning process. I can assure you, the photos I produced when I was younger were subpar and almost entirely cats with flowers dangled in front of their faces. (Why?) There really was no way around it, though. My love affair with film had begun.
The developing process is an adventure every time. In the dark, you trust your hands to know what your eyes can only guess. Your nose fills with the stinging scent of chemicals that might kill you someday, but for now, it’s killing you not to know if you got the shot. Nothing is more exhilarating than to flick on the lights in the negative room, finally open the developing tank, rinse the negatives, and then unroll the thumbnails of your success. And nothing is more heart-wrenching than unrolling a set of 36 blanks–wasted time, wasted chemicals, lost memories. I would work for hours in my college darkroom with nothing but the pulsing rhythm of the old fan and the distant tunes blaring from the radio station next door. I had the choice–size, contrast, exposure, paper type. In the developer, the image appeared like magic. Every time, my heart would soar.
Even sending photos to be developed by someone else is a trip. There’s no way of knowing the shot you want will turn out. And when you open the little yellow envelope, you lick your lips because you’re so damn nervous your mouth has gone dry. It matters to you because, with film, each frame is precious. Film is fast becoming a non-renewable resource. It’s not a thing to squander.
I’m not saying I don’t like digital images. They certainly serve a purpose and have democratized photography, but they’re just as fast as my life racing before my eyes. I don’t feel the same connection to them. There’s no blood, sweat, and tears. There’s no sense of a battle fought and a battle well won, and I don’t have anything to hold in the end. I don’t remember the first digital picture I took, but I remember the first picture I took with my SLR. I can remember where I took it, who was there, and how I had to sit to get it just right. Every time I look at it, I relive those same moments. It really takes me back.
On Monday, I finally got off my butt and developed the four rolls of film that have been staring at me, begging to be processed, for nearly four months. It’s been a really rough year. I’ve been running back and forth between pure bliss and rock bottom–the good seems fleeting, the bad seems unending. But I found a way to press pause. When I held the final prints in my hand, time stopped while I sat in the parking lot and stared my life in the face. I had the choice. The moment ended when I said it ended. The moment came back when I wanted. Sometimes it can feel like I’ve been nowhere, but I have hard proof that I’ve seen the 1860s. Sometimes I feel like I’ve done absolutely nothing, but I have photographic evidence that I’ve watched the sun set and I’ve tasted custard heaven, and maybe that’s good enough for now.
It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed what me and my little Minolta camera are capable of producing, the sorts of memories we share, so I’ll stop professing my love, and just show you what I mean. It’s a beautiful life.