When I arrived in Shanghai, I got hold of B&W Fomapan 400, film that had been introduced to me by my friend Lewis as an affordable alternative to my favorite HP5. It’s cheap, got nice contrast and grain, and wasn’t a pain in the arse to process when I was doing it myself in London. I still buy it here in Shanghai because HP5 is even more expensive, and cheap Chinese film just isn’t my bowl of rice.
At around the same time, I had gotten a hold of a beautiful AF35M, Canon’s 1982 extremely noisy film point and shoot camera.
I shoot film on a point and shoot so that I almost completely lose control over the medium. The camera focuses, choses aperture, shutter speed, and the emulsion on the film does its own work relative to this. The only thing I have to do is point the camera at something, press the shutter release, and think about something else. I don’t have a preview, so I can’t chimp like an idiot and basically spend my life staring at a screen.
Oh, the liberation. Seriously, photographers, amateur, professional, whatever, if you are on some kind of crisis, try it out, it’ll make you love photography for what it is again: making pictures.
I had lost control over my photography, and it felt great. But when I thought I had given up everything, some space time continuum warp blew up in my face.
When the processing lab clerk showed me the negatives with a cramped up face, I knew something was wrong. I had just stopped sweating (90% humidity does that to a westerner) but I was going at it again, apprehending some kind of negotiation with the guy. My broken Chinese translation of what he said « It’s not our lab, or your camera (I was gripping it with my sweaty hands, pointing at it repeating in Chinese « NO PROBLEM, I KNOW NO PROBLEM »). It’s a problem with the film. »
When he showed me the negatives, I felt like reaching over the counter and strangling him, but reconsidered when I saw how wide the northern Chinese employee scanning film being him was (he was wide, therefore he was from the north) . It was like someone took some acid soaked steel sponge and scratched the negatives as hard as they could. Probably sensing my jaws clenching, and that I’d be receptive to this kind of stuff, Mr not my problem decided to show me the scans on his 1992 Viewsonic.
Good move, as I immediately turned into a child on Christmas Eve.
It was like some other dimension had ripped a passage through my images. Bubbles had exploded, smearing chemicals and bits and pieces of reality around the then formed anomalies. The weirdest thing for me was that all of the anomalies seemed to have a mind of their own: they spared faces, or completely ripped some people’s heads off. They would make people mute, destroy their artwork and let them stare back at the camera with puppy eyes. They go around plastic pandas. Rip through an image, sparing a rabbit sitting in a small cage in the street. They spew out of a flute like some kind of alien incantation.
I emailed the company for which makes the film, and I like to think that they have a forensics team working on the case. They say it might have been a temperature problem with the processing chemicals, and I’m honestly loving this detective game happening with them (great customer service by the way).
But all I care about now is reproducing it, so I can take back control over this beautiful explosion of anomalies.