The sun made up for a mostly grey week, by showing its face yesterday, warming the day to a balmy 2°C; an invitation to head out. None was needed. I’ve been heading out in all sorts recently; rain, fog, night, day, freezing wind, just to get a break from being inside.
I ended up walking around random suburban streets for hours and hours. Not really going anywhere. Just enjoying the sun, and delaying going home. Terraced housing, was one of the things that weirded me out most when I moved to England. Whole streets and neighbourhoods; same, same, same. I grew up outside a city where 80% of houses are detached, and each is different from the next. When I walk around here, I look around for small details in amongst all the sameness. And find it too. At one point yesterday, I had two old guys across the street call out to me, asking me if I was lost/needed help. “No, I’m just looking at that, thanks.” *points at a thing*
Maybe I do feel a bit lost. Lost in limbo. Like a lot of us do at the moment. Unable to make plans, go places or see/meet people. But I’ve been finding it sort of comforting just walking around without a set destination in mind, and without consulting maps on my phone. Being in motion, if only temporarily. Maybe there’s a comforting analogy here; we’re all individuals, but we’re all in a similar boat. Or in similar-looking boxes. Waiting out a time when we might escape again.
Well, I’m continuing the trend from the last post and doing a bit of writing for the sake of catharsis. I like this idea anyway of words flowing from images anyway. I took this one down the street this morning.
In a normal year, I’m usually travelling between Christmas and NYE, because it’s usually pretty dead in the city around that time. It’s also a good time to try and grab a few days of winter sun. Last year I spent Christmas day walking around a completely deserted forest reserve on Sao Miguel island on my own. It was eerie, but it was amazing. Pure nature. A dream day. This year, under the current Tier 4 restrictions, I stayed home like I was supposed to (although I had invites from friends to join them at theirs). In the evening, my neighbour and I dragged out chairs into our doorways, put on our biggest coats and had a drink by candlelight across the hallway. A cool little bonding sesh.
Even when I’m travelling, I’m usually back home before NYE, to decompress before getting back to work the Monday after. I’ve always been loathe to go out and see the big fireworks in the city. The idea of being in the crush in the cold doesn’t appeal to me. The last time I thought fireworks were actually beautiful was watching the red glow of them, reflected in the turquoise waters of the ocean at Arniston when I was a teen. The air was still warm from the scorching day, and we watched a few drunken skinny dippers run into the waves below, from the bluff where we were sitting. Red glow, blue water, white waves, warm air. Some memories stick like that.
Last night I went to bed around 11pm; feeling mellow (and slightly drunk), and thinking I might sleep right through the fireworks. But I was stirred by something like the sound of popcorn popping in another room just before midnight. I was going to stay in my warm bed, but the noise increased, and beckoned to me, to do what I always do. Stand in the bath/shower, open the dormer window above, and watch the it all go off. Fireworks are always big around here, but it felt like everyone had bought twice the amount they usually do, and was hell bent on blasting every bad memory of 2020 to smithereens. Every internal scream, every anxious/frustrated hour, every depressed feeling, was tied to a rocket and blasted into the night. The sound of it resembled a war zone. Every loud pipebomb-sounding explosion, every multipop, every screech and every whistle, was aimed at obliterating 2020. The red flashes on the horizon resembled lightning.
I suppose fireworks are meant to be celebratory, but from where I stood, it looked like a send off. A great big “f*** you” to the year gone. A cleansing of sorts. I thought about the people I met around my neighbourhood this year, and in bordering neighbourhoods, seeing and hearing the same thing. Wondering what they were thinking and feeling just then. I felt a weird sense of solidarity, even though I curse the fireworks every year. Eventually the noise started dying down to a low crackle. The air was thick with smoke. It blanketed us. Everything and everyone. And I imagined a collective sigh of relief rising up through it.
I imagine this will be one of those “might delete later” posts. Thought it might be cathartic to write it anyway. It’s been an odd year, needless to say. A year of many “never have I evers” for me. Never have I ever spent so much time continually in the same room (working and living). Never have I gone a year (since moving to London anyway) without going to a single gig, or seeing the ocean, been on so many walks, and had so little face to face interaction/conversation. The list is long.
I usually purge my phone every now and then, and tend to review / pull out my favourite mobile shots at the end of the year. Looking back almost makes for a visual diary of the year past. Some moments feel unfathomably distant now, other themes repeated themselves month by month; nature, light, correspondence, film, food…..
As much as I’ve hated spending so much time indoors this year, I still appreciate the flat I live in for how great the light is in different rooms at various times of day. I only really noticed this year how the position of light and shadows shifts through the seasons. There’s a lot of evidence on my phone of playing with the light. Maybe sun is all the more beautiful for its rarity in these climes.
I spent a lot of time in the park this year, and discovered new green spaces in my neighbourhood I’ve never visited before. Nature has always been an escape for me, but these green spaces became even more of an escape for me this year. I’ve probably visited our local recreation ground 200 times since March. That’s how it feels anyway. Again, I saw all these spaces change with the seasons, which was pretty cool.
A big chunk of my time this year was spent focusing more on analogue than digital photography. I went through quite a few rolls of film; maybe 20 odd(?), and also finally learned how to develop film myself (I’ve done a couple of posts this year on this). My Konica C35 was my go to companion, and carried it with me almost every day.
Music was another close companion this year (always has been anyway). I had all of the time, to listen to every record I own several times over.
I often scoff at people taking pictures of food they are about to eat in restaurants, and yet, here I am, with evidence that I felt I needed to document evidence of comfort foods. The hypocrisy of it. Hah! I definitely had to document my first (and probably last) attempt at preserving / bottling food, which is basically one of the most stressful things I have ever done. How do moms do it?!
Another always-comfort to me are plants. My plant habit probably went a bit overboard over this summer though. I kept growing new plants from cuttings, and ended up with my kitchen turning into a greenhouse. Not the greatest tragedy. I eventually gave some away to neighbours. I amused myself with timelapse videos of tomato seedlings dancing towards the sun.
In the absence of being able to see people face to face much, slow mail really became “a thing” again this year; a way of exchanging something tangible between friends and family. My friends know me as a prolific (and excellent) sender of slow mail anyway; been a fan of post since I was a kid. Sending parcels are an excellent excuse to get creative for me. 🙂
Interactions with the postie became a tether to the world outside in summer and autumn as well; a friendly face and a welcome interruption to long days being stuck inside, feeling trapped and seeing no one. It made long, boring days better. The sound of the intercom made me jump a few times this year; engrossed in a work thing or lost in a daydream. Postcards held extra value this year somehow; some even made me want to cry they were so great.
The good vibes postie sadly left around middle autumn, which was a real bummer. Miss the guy a lot to be honest. The new one is rather annoying. Blah.
Whilst my artist friends got creative with their postcards to me, I also wiled away time with some creative projects, although there were whole months where I felt totally uninspired. It was surprising looking back to see I’ve done anything at all. 🙂
This was definitely a weird year, a dark year, a bum year in many respects. The isolation and physical distancing were the greatest tortures for me. Along with the lack of conversation; I feel like I forgot how to talk at times.
We get tempered by going through difficult things though. Human beings have a way of enduring. The exercise of scrolling back through the camera roll on my phone showed me that it wasn’t a total nothing year. I walked more than I ever have in year. I’ve seen parts of my neighbourhood and city that I never have. (I actually need new trainers because my current ones sound like walking on squeaky toys.) I let myself wander and get lost, without worrying too much about time or a destination. My neighbourhood became a well worn hoodie. There were moments of light in the dark for sure this year. I reckon photographers know the value of contrast better than most. 🙂
Well, I finally did it. I finally managed to develop a roll of film and not scratch a single frame. I took extra care with this one. Pity it wasn’t a roll of Bergger like film 9. I shot quite a few rolls of Fomapan this year while learning to develop film. It’s pretty inexpensive and pretty forgiving in the development process. This particular one was a roll of Fomapan 400, shot with my Konica C35 and developed using Rodinal. I’ve shot 100, 200 and 400 this year, and I think I prefer them in this order: 100 (by a mile) > 400 > 200. Most of the shots on this film were taking around the same area as film 9, so it is a good comparison. I’m definitely shooting a roll of Bergger again next! Anyway, here’s a couple of shots. Compositionally they’re a bit meh, but the actual walks on which I took these were pretty ace. Just walking aimlessly and seeing what new things I can see. Good practice in terms of chemistry and process on the development front though.
the travel tracker app on my phone recently informed me that it has been 281 days since my last trip. it feels as long, and longer. (I think it might be the longest period I’ve been at home uninterrupted….ever. e-v-e-r.) a few weeks ago I was scrolling back through pictures of past trips, and found one of those nothing and everything pictures that take you right back into a time and place.
an attempt at a “self portrait”, taken in the room I was staying in in a “lodge” of sorts in juodkrante in lithuania a few years ago. I’d been to juodkrante before, but only passing through on a daytrip to nida. I don’t know why I thought spending a few days there, and out of season would be a good idea. I guess the appeal was the forest and the isolation (the deep, deep irony of that); far away from london. it was a slightly bad idea actually. I ended up being slightly bored and lonely. everything was pretty dead at the end of season. there was no decent food to be had, and it was eerily quiet, except for the odd shouty drunk who would join me to watch dusk settle on the glassy pink-blue of the lagoon in the evenings.
I walked through the forest to the beach every day. and shared it two or three people. I remember exactly how warm the sun was, and exactly how cold the water was. exactly how cool and green, and slightly scary the forest was, walking through it and in it. how sticky the spiderwebs and how pungent the mushrooms. the creak of trees leaning in the wind. the pink-blue lagoon, and dreaming in green in that room.
TL;DR: it’s great what vivid memories pictures can evoke
Spent Sunday night developing another roll of film, with my trusty old 2nd gen iPod and old 2007-2010 favourites for company. This was my 9th roll – I’ve never shot or developed Bergger Pancro 400 before. The manufacturer’s instructions called for rinsing the film before developing (which I dutifully did), and also required a longer than normal fixing time (6 mins). I used Rodinal (1+25) as developer; 8 min total developing time, with 30 sec agitation to start with, followed by 10 sec at the top of each minute.
Unfortunately I ended up with scratches over several shots again, which is a huge pain, because I think the light and composition in a few of them are pretty great. Almost wish I’d had it developed professionally, but I reckon making mistakes helps you improve. I think the scratches either happened when I was loading the film in the changing bag; I misaligned it at first and had to unspool it, and rewind it back into the film cannister, then try and get it onto the spool again. Or it happened when I was finger squeegeeing it before drying. They say you should just let it airdry if you’ve used a wetting agent (which I did; Ilfotol in this case), but I’ve also ended up with watermarks in the past. Scratches are more likely to have happened pre-development, but maybe I’ll lay off squeegeeing anyway on the next one. It’d be easier to rewash and redry, than to fix scratches. I know Silverfast software offers a fix, but I can’t be bothered to try and figure out how to use it at the moment.
I’m sharing my favourite shots here.
I’d definitely go for this film again. Not too grainy, and I like the level of contrast it offers.
Throwback to home alone summer and this light / shadow study with a Venus t-shirt I printed a few years ago. It used to annoy my mom (probably still does) that I always want to keep wearing ratty favourites. I find it comforting. I have a pair of sneakers she actively begged me to bury on an isolated beach once. “We can make a ceremony of it.” I refused.
I should probably get the film advance lever on my Konica sorted out some time. But then I wouldn’t get random shots like this. These two were probably taken on the same day. Sun and gloom side by side. Maybe it is also an apt representation of different moods in the same day recently. Film: Kodak Ultramax 400
I spent 4 months of 2020 not taking public transport at all. No trains; although I saw them from my windows. And felt and heard them, lying in my bed.
It feels bizarre that a year ago, standing inches from a stranger, while another breathed into your neck was normal. It’s a thing that’s always blown my mind about London; how you can be in this crush of humans, and be so isolated simultaneously. A weird duality in our alien(ating) city.
The Tube / trains / public transport is generally is a good place to daydream (and I excel) or just be an observer (and I excel at this also).
One of my favourite Tube journeys is the Jubilee line section between Kilburn (where I lived 10 years ago) and Wembley Park. Looking left side out travelling North, I love seeing the blue, red and white reflection of the train snaking across the back windows of houses. Like an articulated toy snake, making its way through living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms uninvited.
Travelling in the opposite direction, one of my favourite views from the Jubilee line is the double “Man” tag on a red brick building just beyond Kilburn. It ends up reading “Man Man”, the name of one of my favourite bands when I still lived around there. The lyrics from Van Helsing Boombox always come into my head, passing that spot: “Only time will tell if I’ll allow / The scenery around to eat me alive”. I often thought the city would eat me alive when I first moved here. And somehow I’m still here.
In July I started to make the occasional journeys again; fatigued with the scenery around here. Worried that the sameness of months stuck in this particular corner of Zone 4 might eat me alive. (It might yet!) I still have to psych myself up for masked journeys, but it’s mostly been worthwhile. Escaping for half days into different corners of the city, and walking around streets I never have done with the camera. I probably spent more time seeing new things in London in the last few months, than in the last 5 years, because travelling out wasn’t an option. That’s not a bad thing.
I’m sure I’ve lost weeks of my life waiting for trains, and I loathe them for it, but I’ll hail them in 2020 as a means to escape. /