Photography straight. No chaser.
Over recent years, I’ve noticed a few things about my photography; mostly, that it’s deteriorated. For reasons I’m still sorting through, I’ve lost interest in taking good photographs, and the results show. Nice enough, but throwaway stuff.
In late September 2007, I dug out my old Yashicamat 124, which I had purchased in Cape Town a few years ago, and started using it again. Immediately I could feel a strange energy coursing through the act of photography. The fact that I could not immediately see the result only enhanced that feeling.
A few days later I scuttled off in search of an old place in Windhoek’s northern industrial area, a place called Midland Distributors. They used to be Namibia’s eminent photography suppliers, having provided darkroom equipment to the Government, the Police and a number of private individuals. As digital photography took hold, people stopped using their darkrooms, and demand dwindled. Midland branched out into selling second-hand tyres.
Shortly after I bought the camera, I had obtained a bunch of expired 120 film — Ilford XP4+ — from them. I shot a few rolls, never developed them (no darkroom), and they sat in my fridge for years.
When in September I visited them again, they had a very small amount of darkroom equipment left: just enough to kit me out with the ability at least to process the negatives. Two Paterson developing tanks (one big, one small), two adjustable spools, one litre of Ilford HC film developer concentrate and one litre of Ilford rapid fixer.
I left Midland a little sad. While there is still some photography-related stuff on their shelves, it’s so bitty and disjointed as not to be worth purchasing. For all intents and purposes, now they just sell second-hand tyres.
A few days later I light-proofed, as best I could, my bathroom, laid out my new kit and two exposed 120 films — the one I’d shot on a whim, and one ‘from the vault’. Mixed the chemicals using de-ionised water, and finally turned off the light.
I had not been in a darkroom for a long time, and I had never processed 120 film before. This made getting the film onto the spool a little exciting, but after a certain amount of struggle I prevailed. Two films were in the tank, and the lights came back on.
(That lights-on moment has always been fraught with a little uncertainty; is the tank really light-tight? Did I really do everything right?)
The thermometer was consulted, the countdown timer activated and the developer poured in. I banged the tank against the bench as I’d been taught. I agitated at regular intervals. The time came. I poured out the developer. This was going well. I washed (without stopping), I set the timer again and I poured in the fixer. Time passed, and I poured out the fixer and hesitantly opened the tank.
I washed them, looked at them, washed them some more, hung them up to dry over the bathtub.
I sat in the library, drank a bourbon, and did a little dance in my mind.