Disposable film

13 November 2008

For the last two years, I’ve kept a yellow disposable Kodak squirrelled away, virtually unused, in a succession of cardboard boxes, a green file cabinet, a desk drawer, and, afterwards, in a series of suitcases & bags & pockets after I fled Boston.

I used up most of the remaining film in my last two months in Boston, and during my first two days in Jaén. I only managed to have it developed yesterday: pictures I didn’t remember taking, from a camera I wasn’t sure worked, perhaps damaged irrevocably by the half dozen airport x-rays it had been through, the metal detectors, the altitude – or perhaps by my poor photography; my ignorance of lighting, exposure, framing.

They are none of them great photographs. But there is a certain power in holding in my hand a fragment of my past, a happenstance. I can remember now taking each of these pictures – all of them marginal moments, brief gestures – leaning against a stainless steel bartop in the Lower East Side where a friend used to work & writing down book recommendations on a napkin; a street in my neighborhood on the way to the T after a rainstorm [dig up, by the way, William Trevor’s short story “After Rain” if you can, to approximate the feeling this photograph gives me]; hiking up to the unused, scummed over & leafy pool above a hotel in a desolate stretch of highway outside the city to find a view, briefly, with my last frame of film.

None of these are central moments – except insofar as they are made so, by their commemoration. They become a synecdoche for the rest of the experience, the unsayable things, the meat of it. What matters about what I actually lived through usually doesn’t make it into pictures. Not the kind I take. But the picture can remind us.

To have only one object, one image, a coincidence, that becomes a talisman & a memory – something I can pin above my desk – however faded – retains a concrete power that swamps the infinite replication of digitality, tweaked, comprehensive. A mute feeling of, These fragments I have shored against my ruins.

I am not unaware that using a school scanner to replicate, digitize, these fragments is in some sense a contradiction in terms. As is a digital collection of writings that claims ‘analogue’ life.

[And if you’re at all interested in these questions as regards photography in specific, Errol Morris has a really excellent series of essays posted to a blog at the New York Times, called Zoom.]

But there it is. Here are three fragments, shored up:

NEW YORK CITY –  September, a week before I left.


BROOKLINE, MA – Fall 2006


JAÉN, SPAIN – Day 3.


2 Responses to “Disposable film”

  1. digitalpharaoh Says:

    I have a Ziploc bag full of film that I shot from 2001-2003 that I have yet to get developed. Guess I’ll end up being surprised when I finally break down and get it processed.

  2. Bryan Says:

    I did the old Cummings Road-era shot. I bookmarked your blog a while back and then forgot to come back to it, so now I’m (re)discovering everything you’ve written since you’ve been in Spain.

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