As my blog’s name suggests, I am a huge fan of photography– especially lomographic work like that made with a Holga, Diana or other plastic toy camera. The unpredictable nature of these cheaply made cameras is their bane to a professional looking for consistency, but a treasure to those looking to release control of the photographic experience and just let things happen. The only drawback to using these cameras is that processing of the film is not as readily available as it once was. It can take a week to get a roll of film processed and printed or scanned. I’ve looked at Flickr a lot lately, losing myself in the eye of other people’s plastic lenses. Page after page of light leaks, dreamlike colors, unexpected textures and vignetting have been yelling inside my brain. Seeing the magic that people have been able to conjure out of the film by processing it at home, they know something I don’t, and I don’t like it. I want to know. I want to learn.
This need to learn is what put me in my car and led me to Showcase Video on Cheshire Bridge Road here in Atlanta. List in hand, I made my way to the darkroom supplies area of the store. I stood, dumbfounded, looking at shelves of chemicals, tanks and reels. I was completely overwhelmed. I needed more than a list. I needed help. After about ten minutes of picking things up and reading labels before putting them back, a man I later found out was named Barry came up to me and started asking me what I was looking for. He didn’t work there, as he did not have on a logo shirt for the store. I meekly told him what I was wanting to do, and he started suggesting things to me. “Pick this chemical. It’s the same as that one but not expensive.” The blaring sound of his cell phone put an abrupt end to our conversation. I was again sweating inside as I continued to look at the almost cryptic labels on the developing chemicals.
After he finished his call, I asked him to confirm the chemicals he had recommended to me. I started looking at the tanks and reels, which prompted him to give me a business card and tell me to come see him for my hardware. He was going to sell me everything I needed for a small fraction of the price Showcase was charging. After looking at the price tags on the reels and tanks in the store, I quickly agreed. I told him I’d be at his work, Photography Center of Atlanta, at noon on Friday. I still didn’t know what I was in for.
Friday, I showed up and was led back to the wet room. It was a mish-mash of trays of liquids, bottles of other liquids, tongs, reels…you name it. Barry took some time to answer some preliminary questions, then did what any pro would do. He showed me some of his work. Prints from 35mm, 120, even 5X7 plate film. Unbelievable work from as recently as January and as old as the start of the 20th century. I loved every second. This is where I belonged.
He took me into the wet room and showed me his setup. After a few minutes, he asked if I wanted to sit in while he processed a few rolls of 120 film. I couldn’t believe it. I eagerly agreed to stay and watch him do his work. Over the next three hours, I watched him process three rolls of 120 film and 5 rolls of 35mm film. Between each roll, he told me stories of exhibits he had done and people he had met along the way. As I sat in the dark talking to him and listening to him pull the film out of its protective canisters, I realized he was giving birth to someone’s vision. He was taking personal moments of someone’s life that had been transferred to film, and giving them safe passage to the world outside those canisters. Photography became not so much an act of capturing moments, but setting them free.
All in all, I got a hell of a deal on equipment and made a new friend. I honestly could have stayed in that wet room/dark room all day long. I didn’t feel afraid to do this on my own. Instead, I felt challenged, inspired… I felt alive. For the next few days, I’ll be practicing loading film onto reels in the dark. It’s the hardest part of the work, and leads to big problems if you don’t do it correctly. Ultimately, loading the reels is not difficult, it just requires focus.
While I have my doubts about many things in the universe, I have no doubts that this was not just a chance meeting. This man’s path crossed mine for a reason. He came into my life so I could realize a dream that I’ve held with slippery fingers for years. Look for more from me. A lot more.