Well, today marks the vernal equinox, and it is my first spring in Western North Carolina. Due to the COVID-19 virus, this has to be the oddest spring that I can remember. Of course, here at my house, we are pretty much keeping to ourselves as we usually do. Retirement is the perfect time to be able to not have to do anything, but I feel for those that have kids home from school, the people who have to work, and endure the anxiety and uncertainty that this pandemic has caused. It really is unprecedented in the modern era. The rapidity of how things have gone topsy-turvy has amazed me. No more eating out or going to a bar for a pint in the afternoon (which of course, is a minor thing to us, but no so much for the restaurant industry). The tailspin of our financial markets doesn't surprise me in the least, as I have felt that it's a house of cards for the past 3 years. I am not sure where this will all end up, but I can only hope that efforts to reduce the impact of the virus will have the desired effect, and that the lock-down of our society is only a short hiccup. However, I do think that the ramifications of what's transpired over the past month (and in future months) will remain with us for some time - the fragility of our health care system, the gutting of our governmental acuity and the lack of resources to those that need it the most. It's hard to not have dark thoughts these days, and art isn't immune to these events -- it's often a mirror of the time.
It's a bit trite to say "go lose yourself in what you love to do in these times." I do get it it -- "go do photography and forget about the troubles of the world." Except that it's not that easy when the troubles are everywhere, not somewhere else. So, while I can't ignore the current state of affairs, I can try and at least do what I love, and buffer the events a bit. I generally don't write about current events in RCB, but I think we are all a bit overwhelmed by it all.
So, what about photography?
What I have been doing of late is going back and scanning in b&w negatives from 2008 and earlier. I'm working on another issue of Monochrome Mania, and I found that I had some really good images that were from rolls that were never scanned in, save for a couple of frames. One thing that I have found is that you should never think that the scans you did a long time ago are going to be satisfactory later on. This is due partly to better scanners and software, but also due to changing attitudes and how we view our work over time. In the museum world, it's a fact that changing technologies mean that digital images will be replaced with better versions every decade. However, that's only part of the story.
From my own experience, I know how easy it is to see a fresh set of images where I connect with the immediacy of the day that I took them. It doesn't matter whether they are digital-borne or scanned from a freshly developed set of negatives, there is a connection to the event of the making of the images. That connection often influences our evaluation of the images. Do you remember when you shot your first roll of film and developed it yourself? I know I was in high school, and though by my standards today, they were not very good images, at the time, I thought they were great. It can also be the reverse - in 2008, I shot a lot of film while on a trip to Sleeping Dear Dunes with my buddy Marc Akemann. We were attending our first Photostock event in Emmet Co., MI, and we took a day to go to Ghost Forest of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I shot several rolls of film there that day. One of the rolls was Kodak Technical Pan film, and I don't remember how I developed it - though I suspect is was in Technidol developer. The negatives were thin and there were lots of spots on them. I don't think I thought they were very good, and I had other rolls shot from there on APX 100 that I liked much better. Anyhow, I know that at the time, my scanner was not as good as I have now (Epson Perfection V700 Photo), and after scanning in the Tech Pan negatives, I saw many that were really very good images. After spending a few minutes cleaning up this one negative, I love how the ghost forest looked ghostly.
|The ghostly ghost forest. Lensbaby lens, N8008, Kodak TechPan. 2008.|
I'll have to have this one printed digitally, as a traditional optical print would be one big pain in the ass to spot and clean up.
|A quite different image. Nikon FE, APX 100 film. 2008.|
Going back to these older sheets of negatives has allowed me to go on a bit of memory lane as well, and also drove home that I have a LOT of sheets of negatives that I haven't looked at in some time. If I estimate that on average, I shot a minimum of 100 rolls per year for the past 20 years, that's 2000 sheets of negatives. Of course, not all of those are worthy of rescanning, but there are lots that I need to look at for material for upcoming zines!
So, to summarize:
It's a good thing to go back and look at images you shot long enough ago that there is no longer an emotional connection to the event of shooting the image. If an image is good, it transcends that connection, and creates a new one - an appreciation of the image itself, not of the event it's associated with.
Review your old work and learn from it.
Re-scanning with better tools and software is a good thing when you can do it.
Our perception of our own work changes with time, and we can get motivated by looking at earlier work we've done. Maybe it was the camera, the film, the lens, or your vision that helped make an image something truly special. How has that changed?
Be well, be safe, and document this crazy world. I hope that you can look at images from 2020 in 2025 and find some images that showed what made the year so special.