Hey there. It’s been a minute. And for those of you still paying attention I feel I should address that.
This year has gone sideways in the most spectacularly awful of ways; from the obviously terrible (like the sudden death of my mother in law) to the completely normal yet also dreadful staffing-issues-I-cannot-discuss at work to the inescapable chemical issues plaguing my film development.
Every time I turn around something else goes wrong.
In the past month and a half I have gone from purchasing a new car, getting a gig at E3, finishing the school year, and getting ready to spend the summer on my art and my family to . . . . totaling my new car on the way back from E3 (every person involved is physically fine, two cars are totaled), more school related table flippage (still can’t talk about it), and somehow acquiring two infections in my throat (yes, two).
I’m not going into more detail than that.
You don’t want more detail than that.
But I’m having issues leaving the couch . . . I’m level 38 in Skyrim . . . and I have rolls of film staring me down.
More on the film and why three rolls of it still sits on a shelf in the next post.
Anyway, balancing work and art has been more difficult this year than I ever thought it would be. I’m so far behind where I wanted to be right now. But also, it’s forced me to thing of more efficient ways to do what I love and make the most of my time. And objectively, that’s a really good thing.
I’m going to leave you with photos of my car accident, and remind you that we’re all okay.
And I’ll see you all in the next post.
I got a message yesterday from someone I shot at San Diego Comic Con asking if I had the scans from my 70mm shoot with them . . .
I leaned back in my chair and looked up at the canisters of undeveloped film above my computer I realized: I've done a bad job of keeping those of you who
have shot and worked with me informed about what is going on.
I haven’t posted to my blog in months.
I created this darn thing so that I could document my journey, but that journey was waylaid.
The goal is to get back on track this holiday season. But first, I owe it to you, and honestly to myself, to share with you what’s been going on and why that
film is still on a shelf.
I shot five rolls of 70mm film at SDCC 2017.
When I returned from SDCC 2017 I had no chemistry to develop the film, so I ordered some when I was able (it's expensive and I don't charge for helping
me make art) with the intention to develop the film as soon as then chemistry arrived.
However within a week I was back in San Diego, this time for an AVID conference (surprise!) for my new job teaching Seventh Grade Math and Science
(and journalism and yearbook). After that it was trainings and meetings and planning and students and when I looked up it was halfway through September.
I took a deep breath and started to plan pacing my way through the film, at worst I could use my Thanksgiving Break to develop nonstop. But September
ended with a blow that did the kind of damage you don't recover from, you learn to live with the pain.
Last Christmas found my Mother in law, Pam, in the hospital with aphasia, a condition where a person has difficulty communicating.
For Pam that meant that she couldn't link the appropriate words to meanings, often using words that were in no way connected to the meaning she was
aiming for. The diagnosis lead to scans and tests and another diagnosis: brain cancer. Specifically a tumor in the speech center.
The doctors did surgery, and her prognosis was good.
Our year went on, holidays, birthdays, I got hired and we celebrated, I started work as a full time teacher . . . and then it all went to hell.
Pam went to the hospital at the end of September because the aphasia was back, and with it, the cancer.
At first we thought there would be another surgery; we braced ourselves for changes in her medication, and we waited for the scans to come back. If you had
asked me then, I would never have thought that another surgery would have been a best case scenario.
It took about two weeks for the scans to come back. The cancer had blown past the radiation, there was no treatment, no surgery, no medication to look to
We would be lucky to be able to spend Thanksgiving with her.
We were not lucky.
We didn’t even make Halloween.
I can’t tell you how I spent the next few weeks.
I don’t remember.
I remember crying as I told my students what was going on.
I remember them crying with me (I have phenomenal students).
I know that my husband put school (he’s in a double baccalaureate program) on hold and moved in with his mother.
My kids moved in with my parents during the week because with my teaching schedule I couldn’t get them to school in the morning.
My husband’s sister came down and helped care for their mom. She was amazing and powered through a struggle and a loss I can’t possibly imagine.
I was numb to it all. I poured everything I had into supporting my family and teaching my students. The world at large ceased to exist for me.
It felt longer than it was, it felt like months. Looking at a calendar now it was only a two weeks from that diagnosis to when Pam died on the 21st of October.
But that time passed in this fog of emotions and exhaustion and I have aged because of it.
Pam’s Memorial was held the Thursday following her death.
I have never been so torn apart as I was that week.
I should have been supporting my husband. I should have been there for my family.
I was not.
I was at parent teacher conferences.
The job is, what it is; and everyone understood that.
Pam was the sort of person who would have been livid if I hadn’t kept up my end as a teacher for that week.
She was already pissed off that my husband had put school on hold to take care of her and live with her in her final weeks.
A part of me is proud that I got through that week. I think she would have been proud.
A part of me is ashamed that I was not there for my family more.
I think I’ll always feel that way.
Through this whole experience, I forgot that the film was above my computer.
I forgot I shot film.
Hell I forgot a lot of things.
I forgot STAR WARS was coming out.
All my energy was going towards my family.
And it was like that for a while.
Thankfully my district gives us a week at Thanksgiving. I spent most of that week in the kitchen or on the couch, trying to recenter myself and get to a point
where I could move forward.
I spent time with my side of the family, dearly loved friends, made two rounds of Thanksgiving dinner, and played my favorite video game.
December came and with it life began to return to something familiar. It was like waking up, I realized how much I had set aside in late September and all
of October. Somethings I had to address immediately like teaching research and exams I needed to write and the half and half going bad in my refrigerator
Other things, like art and film and photography, would have to wait until the winter break.
Which brings us to where we are now.
The quiet cold of winter break.
The Christmas tree silently twinkling in the living room.
The urn centered on the piano.
The chemicals that sit still in their shipping container, under the bathroom sink.
The film that waits on the shelf above my computer.
The aimless days between Christmas and Spring semester.
And the hope that I can make something out of all of that quiet.
Well I did it, I shot 70 mm at San Diego Comic Con.
It was not the affirming magical experience that I expected however . . . due to technical difficulties, humidity, and my favorite areas of the convention for photography being closed, it was more of a train wreck.
FYI this post is all words, photos to come later.
First: The Weather
Oh god the weather. It was humid, unbearable humid, all weekend. I looked at the forecast before I drove down, and everything said mid to low 70s and I was stoked. Okay I live in Fresno, while I was in San Diego it was upwards of 102 at home, it hit 106 a couple times. Overnight lows hover in the land of 78.
Do you have any idea how excited I was?
And then . . . the humidity attacked.
It felt like it was 90 the whole time. It was sticky and gross and nasty.
And I couldn’t shoot inside because 160 speed.
I won’t lie, by Friday am I wanted to go home and dry out. Photography was pretty far from my mind.
AND YET I shot four rolls of conventional color film, three rolls of slide film, and five (5) cartridges of 70mm.
I’d be proud of myself if I could remember doing any of it, but it’s all kind of a blur. . . that’s probably not good.
While testing my gear at Wondercon I had a minor issue getting the camera synced up with the back on Friday, and from then on everything was more or less fine. But on Thursday of SDCC the camera decided that it wasn’t going to sync up at all, and I mean physical gears. Remember that my camera is entirely mechanical. There’s no light meter, no batteries, and no connections to scrub or clean. Just gears.
At one point the back was stuck a full 3mm away from the body, that’s A LOT of space for light to come in, those frames are toast. It got so bad I had to brace the back against my chest when advancing the film. By Sunday I was just used to dealing with it, I have no way of knowing if this is related to the weather (think film swelling) or if it’s all mechanical. What I know is that I probably need a new back, or at least another one so I can swap out instead of changing rolls out in the open.
Closed for Photography:
There are areas of the San Diego Convention Center that are classic spots for open air photography. Areas where Cosplayer and Photographer alike can get away from the crowds, for the benefit of everyone. One of the biggest complaints I hear at cons is “people just stop in the middle of a walkway to take pictures and that negatively affects my experience”, and I get that, I do. Which is why so many cosplay photographers like to shoot in out of the way places. We don’t want to get in your way and more than you want us too, but at SDCC this year a wrench was thrown into all of that.
The convention decided it would close off one of the major areas where photographers would go, which meant more of us in the way, or shooting on the convention floor. Both bad options for me. With my film being 160 speed I couldn’t very well take it onto the convention floor, which is where a lot of people were hanging out because of the weather and closures of popular areas.
But more than that, cosplay for better or worse is how a lot of people celebrate what they love. It’s how they connect at conventions, how they find people who love what they do; and that’s a wonderful thing. Added to that, there is a reason that cosplay photos and videos are popular, people love see (or love to hate) cosplay. We live in an image driven society, and to effectively be told “We’ll use your photos for promotion but we won’t make spaces for you to take them” is more than a little messed up.
Ugh, soapbox aside, I didn’t get to shoot where I wanted too, that made me grumpy and threw off my whole weekend.
I spent most of my time photographing cosplayers offsite, I don't think I took pictures of very many people at all at the convention a proper. But seeing as how I burned up probably a quarter of the film I took with me just trying to get it through the camera and constantly having to check on it and it and manually advance it I think it was for the best.
I had a lot more fun shooting film at Wondercon than I did at San Diego. If I get a chance to go to Stan Lee's Comikazi or LA Comic Con or whatever it's called now, I’ll be more confident taking the film. That's not to say I won't shoot film in San Diego next year, but now I know more about the limitations that I’ll be dealing with and how to anticipate them.
Now, on to development.
So far this experience and journey has been amazing, I have reclaimed so much of my own creativity and vision and artistic view, but I’ve come up on something that has never occurred to me before.
The ethics of editing a photograph.
With digital I always believed in doing what I thought was best for the image, focusing the intangible pixels into what I saw in my mind’s eye when I pressed the shutter. My sensor doesn’t have its own integral personality or unique quirks the way that this film does. My sensor definitely does its own thing, my camera has a personality, but really, this film is so far past that it’s unreal.
It shoots green, I cannot get over how green these images are, they’re also muted and low contrast, as expected for expired film. I have taken so much time to develop these rolls, careful to respect the film’s state as it sits, as it performs, as it develops. I love how they develop and scan in. Green or not they blow me away.
As beautiful as these images are, they like every other photograph I create, can be more . . . and I keep asking myself, is it unethical to make such alterations to my film?
Is it unethical to edit the scans of my film?
If I edit them does that change the narrative of this project?
When I began this project I had never considered doing more than just minimizing the green cast and upping the contrast.
But then I was thinking about what I would do to this image if I had a wet darkroom . . .
I could suck more of that green out and play with contrast by lowering it,
I could up the color dramatically, take out the green cast, and really pop the contrast
Or I could get rid of the color all together and go black and white . . .
I could ditch the color and crank the contrast, which I did a fair amount of back in the day,
I love all of these images for different reasons, and I’m not sure what’s “right” in terms of editing.
Not right as in "what looks good" because they all look freaking fantastic.
But “right” as in ethical.
It may seem silly to you, to worry about the ethics of film; seeing as film is an inanimate object.
But to me it's more than that: I've been operating with this idea that the expired film would have just a raw scan and I would document what it looks like empirically, and leave the image alone past that. I don't know if that's what I want to do anymore.
I'm not sure.
Maybe I should just play with the images until I feel done with them? Present all versions as I create them?
Does it even matter?
I have a history of overthinking things. I’m probably doing it again.
I’m just going to keep doing high resolution scans until I find an answer.
I am devastated.
There is something to be said for being calm in your heart and mind when loading film, or cutting mats, or spotting prints. There is an amount of meditation involved in doing these precise and intricate things.
I did not adhere to this when I loaded one of my rolls of film.
It was the second to the last roll, I was stressed and wanted to be finished, and I forced the load.
For whatever reason I kept feeling like me film wasn’t loading all the way or that it was catching on something. I was not in the proper mental state loading the film.
And it freaking shows.
I lost four frames, four more were damaged, where the film touched in the developing tank.
And I have only myself to blame.
I have one saving comfort, this is expired film, this whole thing is an experiment, and while I lost those four frames, three of the four other images at least look . . . artistic.
It could be worse, I guess.
I mean it could always be worse.
Ugh. Looking at those frames makes me feel like a raw beginner.
Eff this noise I’m going back to scanning. I have a day and a half left to get through, and lamenting my bad load isn’t going to do any good.
See you all later.