I think a commonality we all have as film photographers is the excitement, self-doubt, and surprise that comes along with developing each roll of film. Maybe it can summed up as “expectation vs reality”, and not in a funny meme way but in a very private and self-reflective sort of way. Currently it’s been 80 days, 6 countries, and 19 rolls of film since I have developed a single picture. So I can assure you I am full of excitement and full of self-doubt.
Not developing any film for nearly three months has not been for a lack of resources or even some artistic statement. Why I did this is not that interesting nor the story I want to tell, but a necessary prologue to this piece.
- 1 Developing Day
- 1.1 Conclusion (after development)
- 2 A Look Back At My Favorite Images
In February 2017 I sold off all but three cameras and left New York for Europe to find a new country to live in. As a non-European citizen I am forced to dance around the continent a bit to avoid legal trouble. In the summer I found myself living outside of the European Union in Belgrade, Serbia. When entering a country for the first time there are three things always on my mind; getting local currency, finding a sim card for my phone, and discovering analog camera shops.
I found only one shop that developed film (and zero places selling gear). Though to my delight film processing and scanning was only 550 Serbian Dinars a roll. For $5.47 or 4.64 Euros I could have my 35mm color negative film processed, scanned at 5444 x 3649 pixels, and emailed back to me in about 2 hours. And if I were to self scan, processing alone would cost 1.49 USD or 1.26 EUR.
I traveled some more and made my way to New York where I couldn’t bring myself to fork out the $20+ knowing it was 1/4th the cost back in Serbia and just under half in Budapest (where I spend most of my time). So that’s all really, I decided I wouldn’t develop any film until I was able to make a trip back to Serbia. All very logical of course.
The interesting things is that today is the I develop my 600+ photos. But before I lay eyes on a single image I want to externalize my normally private thoughts on this commonality.
This article will span my 8 hour train ride to Serbia [from Budapest] as I try to recollect the images I have taken, the story behind them, and what drew me to the image. By the time you read it I will have gotten the images back and placed them with their corresponding memories. Which images stuck in my mind and why I cannot answer. I hope you find some amusement, peace-of-mind, or inspiration from what’s to come.
If you’re curious, the cameras used were a Lomo LC-Wide, Voigtländer Bessa R3A, Voigtländer Bessa R4M, Nikon FE, & Contax G1. Lenses are 17mm, 21mm, 35mm, 40mm, 45mm, & 50mm in length.
Stars on the lake
I was in Finland working with Juho Lepännen on the CameraVentures campaign in Tampere. We were on our way to the Helsinki Airport to pick up Vincent Morscetti from One Year With Film Only. Stopping in Hämeenlinna Juho wanted to show me the Häme Castle. And just after he made an instagram story explaining Vincent was about to arrive, he gets a call saying he had missed the flight. So with nowhere to be and already an hour out of town we began to explore the castle. We walked to the perimeter at the base of a castle near a lake. I had my 17mm lomo LC-Wide in hand with a pocket tripod. Supposedly it has a maximum shutter speed of infinity. So I assumed it could stay open long enough to expose the night sky.
Later I learned beyond 8 seconds of auto exposure it pops into bulb mode and stops when I release the button. Like a game of Twister I knelt on some rocks halfway in the lake, and bent nearly upside down to look through the viewfinder aiming upward at nearly ground level. The composition is pretty symmetrical and I hope the bottom of the frame is the lake and not the rocks. I’ll be lucky if the horizon is level. Across the lake is a small hill littered with cabins between the pine-like trees. Various lights were emanating from the rooms inside where someone was home. There we some stars I think the sky was clear of clouds. The lake was very still and should be a mirror reflection of the night sky above.
Eventually Vincent arrived, the three of us along with Juho’s business partner Jussi went to Jussi’s sauna on the lake. The scene was cold and ominous and beautiful. The sauna itself was like something I’d only seen in Dwell Magazine. One of Jussi’s boats is laying on shore with its rear nearly in the water. I think it was white and blue. I focused on the bow of the boat, placing it in the lower right corner of my portrait orientated shot. You can see into the boat slightly, a paddle and some rope. Behind it is a cold blue lake with a thick row of dark green trees lining the far bank. Scattered around on the boat and in the foreground are large wet leaves of every color.
Sauna in the Forest
At some point when I felt the sky was the same luminosity as the forest I walked back away from the cabin just enough to frame it in its natural surroundings. The sky should be thick of low black and blue cauliflower clouds, and there are a few lights from the cabin slightly illuminating the porch. I imagine the finely designed wet black cabin is a nice contrast to the saturated colors and natural arrangement of the forest trees. There may be some smoke coming out through a chimney from the steam in the sauna room.
Looking out from the kitchen of my Hostel I saw an interesting architectural array. Two or three different rooftops came together in one frame like a wide “V”. There is some reddish clay tiles on one and another with a black air vent or ventilation. I see somewhere too some pastel green architectural details, some kind of buttress or window framing. How the brightness of the sky might reflect off the different textures on the misty rooftops interests me. I shot it with a Jupiter 8 50mm lens that looks a bit shotty and I have yet to find out of if it focuses properly.
I had just come over the crest of a small rock formation in a park near the bay. I see a hundred meters away two sail boats racing each other from my right to heading left. They are approaching a small channel boarded on the sides by the park I am in and a small island. It was so quiet I could hear the men and women from one boat talking and laughing with those on the other. I see the picture I want in my head but I’m too far away to capture the shot in time as they pass in front of the island. Rushing across the slippery rocks, past a road, and down onto the sand I while trying to decide what aperture to shoot at. I am not a candid or quick shooter, I like to take my time so this shot made me uncomfortable.
I took several pictures of the boats in the harbor. I can remember quite of few of the boats although only one of the actual compositions. It’s a portrait shot looking at the water with the edge of a boat on each side of the frame. I liked the colors and textures of the various materials, wood, plastic, water, and rope.
New York, New York
I met two of my friends in Turtle Bay at a their favorite bar for 50 cent buffalo wings. After the wings I stepped outside and ended up talking to this guy, and he was telling me how I just missed a big fight and a guy got knocked out in the street right where we stood. We spoke for a while and before we split ways I asked to take his portrait. It was really dark but I had what I call my “night vision” setup. Fuji Superia 1600 film and a Voigtländer 35mm f/1.4. I remember the left side of his face had some red tones cast from the light of the ambulance holding the guy who had been knocked out.
Radio City Music Hall
So far I have never broken a camera due to water damage but this night I was genuinely worried my Voigtlander might not see another day. I was in midtown and it was raining hard, onto my shirt and through to the camera beneath it. Like a bug I was drawn towards the bright neon lights of Radio City Music Hall.
I think I had a roll of Fuji Superia 1600 and a Jupiter 8 f/2, so if I held still enough I could shoot just about anything. But focusing a 50mm lens in the dark on a rangefinder with a wet .52x viewfinder is no easy feat. I don’t enjoy making images lacking context as this one appears to be, but the red and blue neon off the rainy streets is very much exemplar Radio City Music Hall. I hope this picture to be symmetrical and saturated with neon and grain with dead center focus.
Queens, New York
There was some kind of discount clothes store called Rainbow. The building sits on a street corner and is cotton candy blue with an equally playful gigantic white RAINBOW sign written in a bubbly almost script font with pink neon lights coming out from behind it. It was night time during some rain and the streets were dark with people walking by and waiting for the bus. The store seemed like some kind of beacon in the night and had a 1960’s architectural feel. There was no question about this picture, it was already a picture when I saw it. I just had to stand in position and hit the button.
I walked up to a train stop for the Long Island Railroad just to see what was up there. Walking along the empty platform, across from me I found a nice view of some construction. Towards the end I was curious to see at least 10 guys all working on the same section of a building. From my perspective I could see them on various floors looking up looking down, shouting and working together. There was no depth to the scene all the action was happening at the same plane and it felt to me like a stone relief sculpture you’d see in a museum. And as the basic function of a photograph is to freeze a point in time, I always feel something so fleeting as a construction site is well suited for a click.
While there is nothing special about this moment, I did like it aesthetically. To see the seemingly endless advertisements clash and mend together as they compress and fade into a distant perspective was something I enjoyed. All the signs fighting for my attention but I can’t read any of them.
Brooklyn, New York
I was coming home from the bar and stopped in a Dunkin Donuts for a bagel. I thought it was strange when the clerk greeted me with a “Good Morning” but that’s when I saw it was 4:30 am. In this part of Brooklyn the subway moves above the street along these rusty green iron bridges. I found a nice angle that complimented my 21mm lens. It was a little bit foggy and I decided to squat down to emphasize the perspective on the lines above. A trash truck came down the road towards me, I couldn’t decide if it was a good photo so I didn’t push the button. Finally a moment felt right and as it did a man walked across the street from left to right. I think on the left there was also a guy riding a bike.
Beacon, New York
Fall in the Hudson Valley
I think if there was ever an exact time and day to mark the peak of falls beauty it would be this day at this time. It was a shame I was stuck in a van and had to shoot it passively through the window.
Russian Girl Russian Lens
My friend Regina and I took a train north of New York for a Sunday morning hike. I had just purchase the Lomography Minitar LC-A Art Lens for Leica M-Mount. Its small size and decent aperture was exciting, but honestly I didn’t hear a good thing about it. Mostly due to the not being sharp even at its sharpest point. So the least I could do was get up close and try to fill the frame for some better resolution. She is holding a red and yellow leaf up on each side go her face and they are as big as it too.
Girl with Bear
Stumbling upon a peninsula that I found what was probably to be the wealthiest part of Oslo. It was a haven of modern architecture and million dollar views. At 1pm the sun was barely above the horizon. Being my first day there and I didn’t know if the sun was about to set or if it was going to ride the horizon for hours and hours. Alone and with no internet I was left only to find out as they day went on. The whole area was mysteriously pristine and underpopulated, as if I had arriving hours early to some performance. Behind me was a museum and I enjoyed how the wide shape of the structure matched the aspect ratio of my camera in landscape orientation.
Raising my camera to see if I was at the right distance with my 45mm lens, I could see a family in the shot although I was just checking framing and didn’t plan to shoot them. But then something on the floor got the young girls attention and her parents continue to walk onward and out of frame not noticing she was behind. So I hit the button. To find that little girl standing there alone with her bear in the midst of this exuberant metropolis rightly conveyed the emotions the place evoked.
Los Angeles, California, USA
I was taking the train from my fathers house to downtown Los Angeles to meet a guy from Hollywood who had an interest in buying a Contax G1 I had for sale. Back in Brooklyn I had met with Hannah and Michael from Revolog Film and they gave me a few rolls. I had the G1 ready with their Kolor film. Trying to finish a roll before I sold the camera nothing much caught my eye along the ride. The short ride along the LA riverbed before entering the station had some nice scenes passing by. I didn’t like having such little control over my framing but I thought at least it would make a nice picture in 50 years.
It was suppose to be a great day, my first trip back to California in over a year. My high school buddy was going to pick me up from the airport. We would immediately drive out to the Joshua Tree National Park for two nights of camping on his newly aqquired land. But there were a few problems. The Los Angeles Dodgers were playing in the World Series of Baseball, and it was also Halloween. We went east on side streets streets through areas personified in west coast rap. Inglewood, Watts, and Compton. We got passed by a shirtless teenager riding an ATV on the sidewalk. I did aim up on that but didn’t take the photo as I didn’t like the composition.
Like many days but especially this evening the traffic was so bad you simply cannot go anywhere. So we found a bar in South LA and had a drink. We had to leave late enough that the traffic died down but soon enough that another 60,000 people nearby were not leaving Dodger Stadium. Another 5 hours later we were finally getting close to Joshua Tree. While just about to exit my friend got a call from his girlfriend acting irate over one thing or another. He decided to abandon our trip and turn back to go calm her down. It was back to Los Angeles for us.
Joshua Tree, California, USA
We slept at a sleazy motel and finally made it to the desert the next day, no hard feelings. Just before sunset we took a small walk to a trailer on an adjacent plot. It’s no secret that there are a lot of meth-heads in Joshua Tree, and they love to raid empty properties and steal whatever they can. This particular trailer had not only been broken into and stolen from recently but completely trashed. After exploring the multi-room trailer we were just hanging out and talking. My friend was standing at entrance of the hallway and a skylight about ever so delicately lit is face in the otherwise muted light. I think I had my 35mm lens on and snapped a shot of him while I was standing in the kitchen.
The trailer was probably built in the 70’s or 80’s. Amidst its wreckage you could feel a sad wave of reality that this trailer never was and never will be the happy family vacation home it was built for. I really felt this when I found the kitchen window beautifully framing the desert sunset. The rusty and broken kitchen sink is out of focus but not so much that you can’t tell what state it’s in after your eyes are drawn away from the contrasting view.
It was my first time in Budapest during winter. Before this day I only knew it as a warm summer retreat drinking over the river on the arms of a bridge and sunny hikes up Gellert Hill. 7am Heading for a tram to the train station, everything was blue and the clouds kept a perpetual twilight for the whole morning. People love the look of trams in Budapest I hope you can see why. Some of them are still running that came about in the 60’s. The front of the tram is to my left at a 3/4 view. Inside the yellow lights show the passengers holding on to the railing in their big coats. If it wasn’t raining then it was a bit dewey. The tram is number 24 or 19. There is a man in the foreground half cut off by the bottom of my frame.
Conclusion (after development)
When first getting the idea for article I could really only remember about 4 actual photos that I had taken. As a result I had to take myself back along my travels, the memory of each image leading me to the memory of another. Like turning on the lights as I walked through a dark house. There were a few images I could recall I guess because they were difficult to frame or calculate. I found most of the images stuck in my mind because they marked the midpoint of an experience. Other memories like the Helsinki rooftops were not difficult to shoot and had no significant emotions wrapped around them.
After seeing the real photos many of course were better in my mind, and after so long I almost wish they had stayed that way. At times my memory was so spot on I could have painted the image with a brush, and other times I describe them as if viewing from another dimension. I even somehow had one blank roll and shot another roll twice (once in Helsinki and once in New York) 😆.
As I spent these last months shooting and seeing nothing of my work, surprisingly it didn’t irk me much. I felt perfectly happy with the adventure of making each photo. I was often questioned by curious friends as to the status of the ‘photos we took that day’. But like my own vault of gold I found solace in its existence and no burning desire to see it. Of course I won’t go around shooting and empty camera I will always and eventually open the vault.
Now the question – Would I do this again? Well I’m not sure- if the circumstances were to repeat then I probably would. But with the same passiveness towards the outcome, I’m happy to let my life dictate the developing schedule not the other way around. I can surely say one thing though. Sitting alone on a Saturday night in a crowded cafe in Serbia drinking prosecco and smoking a cigar sifting through 19 rolls of lost memories was by far the best night of the year. So take your time and take your pictures!
A Look Back At My Favorite Images
Now that I have seen all my photos I’d like to share my favorite 50 images of the 684 returned to me.