Saturday, November 17, 2007

Astonishing Panoramas of the Recent Past

[Above] Film Canisters

Over the last ten years, I have managed to bring a camera pretty much everywhere I go. A successful image is sometimes more luck than preparation. At this point, I feel like I am missing an important piece of clothing if I leave the house without some form of camera in my backpack. Having a camera along can turn even the most mundane tasks into potential opportunities.

I love the unobtrusiveness of a high end point and shoot for daily use. Practicality prevents lugging a 4 pound DSLR and lenses most places. The DSLR’s size and storage needs are hefty and preventative for working undetected in public environments. I’ll take the 8 megapixel, 6 ounce, point and shoot version any day. High quality digital images from a consumer grade point and shoot cameras weren’t always an option, but today, there is virtually little difference in a quality point and shoot’s image quality compared to the DSLR, only lens choices. Remember, megapixels have little to do with image quality. I have actually seen photographers use the number of megapixels their camera has as a marketing tool. For an uneducated consumer, I can see how this would be an effective strategy, but the reality is, after a certain point, megapixels become a moot point unless you are planning on printing extra large images. Seems like in any gear driven endeavor, there are pissing matches about whose equipment is better. Personally, I will take creativity over technology any day.

The bulk of my images from the 90’s are either film or slides. I have drawers of negative sleeves and hundreds of boxes of slides that never get looked at. I keep them for sentimental reasons, but they will probably never see the light of day again.

In a corner of my studio, sits a large glass container filled with at least a gallon of undeveloped film canisters. The canisters are in essence miniature time capsules of images from forgotten days ten years in the past that have been preserved in decade old air. At the time, as I accumulated more and more canisters, I lost interest in getting them all developed. At $11 dollars a roll, the financial investment would have been substantial. I wasn’t working professionally yet, so there was no urgency of a deadline to meet. A majority of the images in the containers are experiments, travel documentary, and a few failed attempts at cliché band photography. Today, the value of film photography has decreased substantially allowing me to have the film developed directly to CD.

The first electronic SLR I owned was a Canon EOS Rebel with a National Enquirer sticker on the outside of the lens hood and a Trek Mountain Bike Racing Team sticker on the inside. I think the system cost me in the neighborhood of $800 in 1990 dollars. I loved taking that camera to bike races because the Enquirer logo started a lot of conversations with interesting people. Somewhere in my archives, the camera and I are sharing a frame with Marla Streb just outside the press office at Mount Snow, Vermont. That Rebel has accumulated quite a few frequent flier miles.

I only recently started developing the film, and like some new age regression therapy, small details of past lives came flooding back in vivid detail. For the last ten years, undeveloped images have been preserved in small black cylindrical time capsules, bathed in the air of the day I sealed them. Atmosphere from Breckenridge, Ground Zero, thunderheads off the coast of North Carolina, mountain summits, underwater plant life, forgotten projects from art school, former friends, arch enemies, and younger versions of myself sporting varying lengths of hair, has been freed from the stasis of the small black and gray cryotubes marked with cryptic geographical information written in fine point sharpie: monster, obx, adks 03, winter3, nyc 0801, grd 0, kayak 4, moca, dc 00, troy wor, cc 98. It is a language all my own. Photography lost something when there was no longer a need for film canisters.

There is a strangeness is seeing the world as it was in your own recent past. The faces of former friends seem at the same time familiar and foreign, each linked by a nebulous shared moment of common geography and interests that have since evaporated.

Sometimes you are friends with people for no other reason than common and unpredictable intersections in personal history. The shared adventures of the past, both major and minor, are enough of a magnetic force to draw two people together.

Sometimes, that magnetic field weakens and the bonds that connect personal histories fail. They fail like cheap batteries and the signal becomes weak. The legends of youth are no longer impressive. Neighborhood tall tales shrink with old age as if starved for calcium. Sometimes, the simple fact of the matter is that people grow apart and little more analysis is needed.

Sometimes on nights like tonight, I sit here in front of the monitor and muse about all the people I once called “friend” and wonder how they are as they go about their days insulted in whatever cocoon they have chosen as I go about mine inside of my personal cocoon, orbiting those things and people who are important to me.

Sometimes the velocity of life is breathtaking. People become strangers a lot faster then it takes for them to become friends.

Did you ever wonder where the strangest place a picture of you resides? That drunken pose at a summer party locked away in someone’s junk drawer, or that trip to the shore with that person you dated for a few months folded up and stuck in a book on a shelf thousands of miles away, or a stranger’s blog? Every single picture of ever taken of you has to be somewhere. The evidence of your former self is scattered in a million unreachable places. What was once familiar is now taken out of context and stripped of sentimentality, like a piece of trivia.

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