Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Returning to the Scene of the Crime


Slow and methodically I've been using up this latest round of Harman Direct Positive prints in my set of nine film-canister pinhole cameras. Every time I do so, it's been in quantities of three, enough to develop in one batch in the 35mm steel development tank. Three seems a good number; a triptych, in quantity if not in actual intention.

To do this, to make the creating of these little gem-like prints part of one's private life, means that there has to be a sense of balance between the desire to chuck it all, ignore family, friends and obligations for the obsessive pursuit of one's Arte, and maintaining peace in one's life and relationships. In the past, I've been much more apt to obsess over the pinhole photography process, each outing a mission dedicated to the One Big Objective of returning with some trophy-like images - or don't come home at all.


These days, I'm a bit more laid back. For one, I've eased back on my expectations, happy with one or two good prints, even if they are small enough to fit in the palm of one's hand. Also, the gear is small enough to easily carry, even with a modest tripod. I'll carry a small day pack, with tripod in hand, metal camera mounting plate attached. Once I find a promising scene I'll get the tripod set, meter the scene and then pull out of its storage box one of these little cameras. The typical scene might only take all of a minute to set up, meter and expose. Quick, and expeditious. Then, I can get back to the business of whatever the day requires. No day-long pinhole expeditions, no choosing between creativity and life's responsibilities. Just fit it into those interstitial moments that have so much to do with whether a day has been successful and rewarding, or not.

Honestly, if I could be satisfied with a short, handheld tripod and the restrictive compositions it might limit me to, this whole process would be that much less obtrusive.

Last week, I made a visit to the Green Jeans Market in Albuquerque, a cluster of cafes and shops made from metal shipping containers, situated in a bit of land adjacent to Interstate 40, and made a few pinhole exposures; today, I returned to the scene of the crime, prints in hand along with a digital camera, fountain pen and notepad, to document these thoughts, while having a bite of lunch.

Now, since constant improvement (or, at least, spurious innovation) has been a continual part of my photographic journey, I've been thinking about the possibility of a combination pinhole camera and developing tank. Since I have several spare 35mm steel processing tanks, the thought came to me that, were I to drill a hole in the side of one of these tanks, then outfit it with some sort of liquid-proof pinhole/shutter mechanism, that I could expose and process a single, larger Harman Direct Positive print in said tank. I can imagine carrying a little box of small containers of processing chemicals, along with my little rotary base.

I can imagine a scenario like this: I visit some photogenic locale, such as this Green Jeans Market area, and expose one image. Then I retire to the cool comfort of Santa Fe Brewery's upstairs seating area, burger and brew at hand, and proceed to process said pinhole print at my table, between mouthfuls of greasy burger, washed down by a cool beverage that might resemble, were it not for the carbonation's bubbles, a glass of expired developer; best not to get the two confused. The result being - what? - a wet print that still requires a lengthy archival wash, then taped to a sheet of glass to dry for an hour or two in a drying cabinet?


This is where the needle scratches the record, where the whole idea falls flat on its face and I all too easily express my frustration that Harman/Ilford refuses to make an RC paper version of this wonderful positive photographic medium. For with a resin-coated, direct positive paper, the possibility remains of having finished, dry, one-of-a-kind positive pinhole prints in-hand at said brewery table, after a brief water rinse, squeegee and air dry, again between mouthfuls of greasy burger, washed down by cold brew. Which opens up the possibility of being able to create portraits on-location, reminiscent of those street portraitists of old, who would prowl the dark nightclubs of the 20th century in search of couples who wished to document their nocturnal encounters.

For now, the dream remains but a dream, and I have to be satisfied to return home to process these prints to completion. Yet I continue to dream these dreams, incessantly, never giving up hope for the things that could be, for that is what the joy in life is made of.

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