Chasing Times

Summer is upon us without it having passed through spring; and though May is only halfway done I'll dare to throw a clout, as well as a jugful of cold water over myself to ease the heat. The foreign students have arrived in London; you can hear the nasal accents of the Americans from the other end of the tube carriage. It is blindingly, stiflingly, insufferably hot. I perched myself above the frozen food section in the supermarket and rolled myself over the open top of the deep freeze as though I were on a spit. But everyone looks good in the afternoon light as they soak in the sun at the outdoor tables of the pubs, the city is bathed in a wonderful glow with dark blacks in the shadows and subtle gradients running up the domes and rooftops, and music is in the air. I suddenly remembered Snow Patrol's hit, 'Chasing Cars', from two summers ago. Record companies who are pushing a song by having it played on the radio incessantly want this sort of association; because the song is everywhere, you don't associate it with a place, but with a time: what you were doing in your life, whom you were dating, how you were feeling. I'm currently listening to A Fine Frenzy on my player, but I opened the window and let Snow Patrol blare out into the street as I was preparing dinner, for old time's sake.

When everything is glowing in the late afternoon light I mourn the passing of Kodachrome, of Technical Pan, and of Polaroid, all of which I would have turned to on a day like this. I miss my home darkroom, also known as the kitchen, where I would have chemicals and developing trays beside the chopping boards and food. It had the advantage of being my own place, where I knew the equipment by heart, and things would be where I left them; but frankly, I'm surprised I'm alive. I'm surprised the dog survived, even after lapping at a dish filled with selenium toner. I've found darkroom space in London, albeit at the other end of the city, and for the first time I have a properly-ventilated space with automatic multigrade heads which switch contrast at the press of a switch, huge developing trays with chemicals mixed and ready for you, and several archival print washers. The main drawback is that now I don't have an excuse for my crappy prints, which look especially bad when I'm working beside professional printers, creating gloriously perfect images with efficiency and precision. I was testing out the darkroom space in the ambition of going on to do some alternative process work, so I wanted to get my head back in the game by making a few prints just to see if I still could; apparently, I can't. So I'll be roaming the city with ordinary HP5+, because that's what I know best, and doing standard 8x10's until I'm up to making interpositives for contact negatives.

As I thumbed through my archive of negatives to try my hand at the enlarger again, I realized that they were arranged more or less chronologically from the time I bought my Leica and started taking photographs, through some of the best and worst years of my life. They weren't many years; they just felt that way. I stopped long before I came to England. The summer of 2006 was a decisive one for me; it was when I started being happy again. I stopped experimenting with exotic emulsions; I ditched the heavy 75mm and learned to shoot wide, and have stayed with the 35/2.0 since then. I shot two rolls in 2006 and then went trigger happy in 2007. This summer, maybe I'll actually make a few images worth keeping.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would have loved to meet you, but maybe in another lifetime. I did practical photography in London a few years back and I can truly feel what you had just written - the the 75mm, the 8x10s, having your own dark room and most especially spending the whole day (or night) for that one perfect print. Now I truly miss my darkroom days. - J&B