22 Frames / A Whole Roll(ish) 0f Kodak T-Max 100 – A Garbage Idea – #FullRollFriday – By Charlie Bierwirth

As I was backing up I saw the heap of dumpsters outside the gas station in the mirror, and for some reason they intrigued me. That image of literal garbage captured in my rear-view mirror struck me as dramatic. So I created the challenge of dedicating a whole roll of film to just dumpsters.

The parameters were simple: the whole roll would be the project and I could only take one picture of each dumpster. No re-dos. Also, because of trespassing issues, I could only take the pictures from public spaces (parking lots, sidewalks, etc.) It took a while to find the time to dedicate a whole roll to one subject. Eventually I loaded a roll of Kodak T-Max 100 into my Canon AE-1 and set out. I chose T-Max 100 because I love street photography in black and white and also because I live on the border with Mexico where it is incredibly sunny nearly all the time.

I initially started with the dumpsters as the subjects. After about five dumpsters I actually got bored and realized this challenge was not as cool and edgy as I thought it would be. I shifted gears and allowed myself to capture any public trash receptacle and expanded the scene so that the dumpster could be part of the shot, not just the subject. I started to look for situations that included the dumpsters with other interesting subjects, such as the abandoned shopping cart in image six or the 160-year-old cemetery in image 13. As I drove around I found it interesting where trash cans were placed and started to think about this when looking for shots like 19 and 20.

The problems with my Canon AE-1 occurred around the 6th or 7th shot. I have had the issue in the past where all of a sudden the internal battery meter would read that the voltage was too low to fire the shutter, even with a brand new battery. After this malfunction occurred, I pulled the battery out, put it back in, pressed the battery meter a few times and it magically popped back into action. I continued to have the same issue as the day drove on but was able to overcome it as I proceeded.

I drove around El Paso, TX for about three hours before getting exhausted and having 22 shots of the 36 exposure roll. I returned home and set the camera away for the next weekend. When I set out to take pictures the following weekend I was plagued by the same battery issue, although this time nothing I did could remedy it. Defeated and angry, I wound the roll and called it good.

Upon development I discovered 5 blank frames. The development lab I use (State Film Lab out of Louisville, KY) said the frames were blank on the film. Since the AE-1 is an SLR I know that the lens cap wasn’t on when I shot them, so there had to be a malfunction with the shutter release button and the shutter actually releasing. Nonetheless, those images are lost forever.

Maybe after I troubleshoot and repair the AE-1 I’ll try this project again. Driving around my city for 3 hours straight was a bit exhausting, so I may try to break it up into more sessions or use a 24-exposure roll. Even though it was more tiring than I imagined, it gave me a little bit more confidence in my street photography skills.

Not only did I only shoot 22/36 frames, but five of them are just blank. Below are the results of my project.

Smile for recycling
Frown for garbage

Still trying to figure out where the light is leaking in…..

This is one of the blank frames. I’m including them to show how frustrating it was to spend the effort of driving around for so long only to have nothing to show for it.

I was able to recreate the mirror shot, the one that inspired me to do the project in the first place.

To put in perspective how close El Paso, TX is to Juarez, MX, the giant “X” in the background is in Mexico.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy.

–Charlie Bierwirth

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15 thoughts on “22 Frames / A Whole Roll(ish) 0f Kodak T-Max 100 – A Garbage Idea – #FullRollFriday – By Charlie Bierwirth”

  1. Thanks for this unique post and an interesting choice of subject but I guess that is what makes photography so fun. I’m sure Oscar the Grouch of Sesame Street would enjoy it immensely!

  2. Yeah, whatever is wrong with your Canon AE-1 is effecting the shutter. There are a few exposures with horizontal, light bands, undoubtedly produced by an unstable horizontal traveling focal plane shutter. My first SLR, in the early 1970s, was a Canon AE-1. Wonderful camera.

    Not sure if it has to do with being in the Southwest, but I too have photographed dumpsters. I live in Tucson, and man, those things are everywhere!

    The fourth, third and second from the end are nicely done.

  3. Cool project, and nice pics- your lab did a good job. And I hadn’t thought of the Oscar The Grouch angle of our friend Peter above… particularly with your gear issues. You have to consider it a matter of the heart (ie not to think of the cost but the value) but I’ve recently had various cameras, including an ’80s Pentax that I’d been shooting since the ’90s, professionally overhauled and all of the problems and filth of a 40yo machine just disappear.
    Is the ‘X’ something to do with a the very powerful AM radio stations that I’ve rear about, and which inspired a ZZ Top tune?

    1. Michael, Thanks for the thoughts about restoring the camera.

      The X statue is actually in tribute to Mexican President Benito Juarez, who officially changed the name of the country to “Mexico” from “Mejico” in the mid-1800’s.

  4. Really cool project Charlie. Thank you for including the blank frames, it really did represent the whole process. I think that you really hit your stride once you included the scenery. It brought your little slice of home to us. I hope that you figure out what’s up with the AE-1 and that you take us on an excursion that we might not do otherwise.

  5. You could have a garbage field day in New York City at trash pickup time around Times Square – where the dumpsters do exist they are buried from the overflow. I admire your sticking to things with a fiddly camera. Thanks for the fun and genuine post.

  6. This is a great concept given the amount of garbage this nation creates. I think you have a topic that you can continue to expand on. If you don’t mind can I make a suggestion about your camera? Why don’t you switch over to the Nikon F2 (or the Nikon F but I like the F2)? A solid platform and it’s mechanical so you aren’t dependent upon batteries and electronics. Yes, there is a battery but that is only for the light meter.

    1. Thanks Michael. The AE-1 was actually my mother-in-laws, so there’s the sentimental value attached to it. I was able to find a video to short circuit the shutter manually. I did that a few times, and have since sent two rolls through with no shutter misfire and all the frames had an image, so I believe I found what my issue was.

      I am thinking of expanding my film collection and getting a rangefinder, and I’ve been looking into mechanical ones so that I won’t have this issue in the future. I just need to convince the wife as to why I need another film camera….

  7. My second SLR was an AE-1, I loved that camera and should never have parted with it. I agree with those who have pointed to shutter issues but have to mention that a mechanical camera could be equally subject to a sticking shutter. The mechanism is largely the same, just the timing is handled mechanically rather than electronically and I don’t think that’s what’s gong on here. An AE-1 would be more than 40 years old by now, time for a bit of lubrication.

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