Friday, October 07, 2005

The Latent Image the Fading Memories

My folks are getting on in years. Sometimes I forget how old they are. Both are in their late 70's, but they have never truly aged to me. In recent years they've taken to going through their house, and pulling out boxes of stuff that I and my two brothers and three sisters left when we moved out years ago. A somber sign I guess that the are readying themselves, a thought I can't begin to fathom.

Late last year when I was visiting, I was explaining to them about how I had gotten back into photography. This prompted an excited reaction from my mom, who hurriedly left the room and came back with a box of photography stuff that had been tucked away in some storage cabinets in a bathroom off the garage (the very one I used to process my film many, many years ago).

The box was filled with packets of photo paper, developing reels, chemical bottles, thermometers, and exposed film. It figured. I had just gone out and purchased developing equipment off Craigslist and from a couple of dusty old photo stores with deeply discounted sales, so after smacking my forehead, I focused on the real gems of this rediscovery: the exposed unprocessed rolls of film.

I knew they were exposed, because I have always rewound film all the way back into the canister. I shot the rolls; I knew I did, even though my sister followed my photography interest and used my equipment to complete her photography projects. I could feel that they were mine. They were like little gems, cold in my hand. I knew I was the last to touch them 20 odd years ago, and the first to touch them again, 20 odd years later. There were 6 rolls of 20 exposure TriX and 5 rolls of color print film.

I didn't hold out much hope for the long suffereing latent image, imagining it wasting away, pining for the light of day, waiting for the scratch of solvent, the chemical magic, anticipating release. I couln't image what was on the rolls, however.

I processed a couple of the TriX rolls and knew immediately why I hadn't processed them earlier. The entire roll consisted of shots of television screens. Back when these rolls were exposed, in the pre-cable TV, pre-MTV days, it was kind of cool to take pictures of images projected on televisions. I shot these for a filmaking project/idea, which I later abandoned, and back around that time things like found footage, and audio clips from movies and t.v. shows were finding their way into movies and popular music (e.g. Talking Heads, and Big Audio Dynamite). Like I said it was cool.

I still have a few rolls left of the TriX, but I now turned my attention to the color film, the 4 C-41 process rolls. I knew these were considerably more vulnerable to the crawl of time. I held very little hope here, and dreaded dropping them off at my local Long's Drug store fearing not only that I'd garner the suspicious looks of the one hour lab personnel, but also that I'd end up paying for faded shots of some Sophia Loren movie on an old TV screen.

I finally mustered the courage and dropped one of them off for processing. I was surprised how well they the film fared. The color had shifted, the negatives had suffered. The negative strip was the color of cold coffee with not enough cream, or 1% milk.

The shots were of a family Christmas dinner party. There was my mom and dad, younger. My dad was still working at that time, and he was on crutches, the result of an accident incurred while working as an electrician on the waterfront in Oakland. My cousin was there, as were two of my three sisters, one looking very eighties-ish with her spiky hair and drastic makeup, and the other young and plump in a frumpy little dress. These shots were legible, but with crazy color shifts and a muted dim light.

The clearest shot was of my dad and my uncle. Within maybe two or three years of this photograph, my uncle would be dead from cancer. His eyes in the photograph were bright and his face was happy and full of Christmas cheer. My dad there with him, the big brother, smiled easily—easier than I have ever seen him. They both looked at me then, twenty-odd years ago, and now twenty-odd years later. Happy to no longer be the unknown latent image, precariously near extinction. Happy to see the light of day.