You may have noticed a few pieces of fiction appear at strange times of day on 35mmc recently. Quite possibly you wondered what the hell they were. I’d like to talk a little about the protagonist, the Pipes Man, and how these things came about.
If I were to describe Aperture Zero in one sentence it would be something like ‘dystopian sci-fi micro fiction for camera and photography nerds’. Yeah, pretty niche and honestly I did not have great hopes of getting this out to a good-sized audience. So I would like to begin by thanking Hamish for offering a platform, and also whomever took the time to read any of my posts.
As you might have guessed, I am new to writing. I live on a fairly small island and so with no travel options last year, I took a week of my leave to do something I had never done before; I wrote a story. It was no great epic, in fact at 10,000 words it neither qualified as a novella (17,000+), nor a short story (up to 7,500), so I’m still trying to figure out what exactly to do with it. However, I had fun with the writing—especially the short pivotal scenes I could approach as set pieces.
Another interest that helped ease me through the various phases of lockdown is photography. I was shooting mostly digital and a little bit of 35mm with an SLR, but accidentally fell down a wormhole a year and half ago, and came out the other side with various tiny viewfinder cameras, a couple of 120 beasts, and a cupboard’s worth of home developing and scanning gear.
These two interests of mine finally came together after re-watching ‘Tetsuo: The Iron Man’ (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1989). It’s such a bizarre and outrageous film, and the cinematography with its high-contrast black and white footage reminded me a lot of another rebellious Japanese creative, Moriyama, and his Provoke group of the 60s. It really stuck in my head. A couple of nights after, I set out on a run and by the time I got home I had a character, an environment and the visual mood all down, plus ideas for three or four pieces.
The what, man? The Backstory
The Pipes Man grew up in the 80s; a fairly standard suburban British childhood of blue ice pops, potato waffles, Reebok Classics, and anime taped off the telly. He had a Casio watch that played 8 different classical tunes in beeps, and also an Agfamatic 110 that he liked to bring everywhere (he didn’t really think about photography so much at the time but carried around as many gadgets as possible, like that one kid in The Goonies).
One Saturday he was hanging out with older boys in a small garage behind a row of terraced houses. It was a bright but chilly afternoon and they left the door raised so that anyone passing the spartan square facades would hear the techno they were picking up via a CB radio. He grew bored as the others debated Escorts versus Novas and started taking photos of them. ‘Oi what you doing ya little wazzock?’ Ian had a mean streak and liked to show off. He approached the younger boy and punched him with expert precision between the bicep and deltoid. The young Pipes Man dropped the camera, winced and tried hard not to howl as Ian then picked it up and threw it as far as he could down the concrete drive.
A couple of months after, his uncle Bob (not really his uncle) gave him a very strange camera he had picked up at a boot fair. ‘Thought you might like this,’ he said. ‘Agfa innit.’ It was much older than the Agfamatic and he was fascinated by the flap-down front and flimsy bellows that folded out. Upon further examination it became apparent that the light-sensitive panel on the front was somehow controlling the shutter, but all without batteries. He had to know what was going on inside this thing, so carefully took it apart and found an incredible pneumatic system of valves and tubes that coacted to supply a precise level of air pressure to a spring-loaded piston which then regulated and powered the shutter. That first time it took him one whole stressful day to put it back together, but the allure of the mechanism was strong and he became adept at disassembling and reassembling the camera, though he rarely shot with it.
Everything changed for him after a traumatic incident with a dustbin truck. He grew withdrawn and started experimenting with dangerous things that his friends didn’t understand: half frame, cafenol, infrared, and DIY modifications.
Soon after, the world began its own transformation—separate but no less frightening than that of the Pipes Man.
What does it mean?
Not a great deal, really. Whilst some pieces are silly and just for fun, I tried to inject themes, thoughts or situations that have caused me to think a little more and question myself when I’m taking photos—bad habits, hang-ups, scenarios I find myself in that are objectively ridiculous (who hasn’t been asked by a stranger why you’re taking a photo of a grotty alleyway, and struggled for an answer?).
For each piece I tried to set a broad theme for imagery: ‘lines and angles’, or ‘pronounced shadows’ for instance. This gave me flexibility to not necessarily recreate the narrative in visuals (difficult, and likely tedious), but resulted in collections of photos that—hopefully—were complementary to the words.
Regarding the aesthetic, I mentioned earlier that this was a dystopian setting so finding suitable locations was part of the fun. In such an environment, the materials the Pipes Man has at his disposal are slim and so results are unrefined and rough. To create the look, I found the best method was to shoot through a well-worn sports sock then develop in a Bombay Bad Boy, with a splash of petrol. Nice and crunchy!
Thanks for the encouragement and constructive comments thus far, it has been good to get different perspectives on this rather than have it exist in my own private echo chamber. Now the run is over, I will try to answer any questions (or accusations!) you have in the comments, and in the meantime you can follow me on Instagram for news on future episodes.
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