Thursday, November 09, 2006

Negative Thoughts

There is a not insignificant segment of the planet who, by virtue of having once held a pen in their hands, has fancied themselves a writer in the rough - a cosmically thwarted individual struggling to reveal their inner bestseller. In the same vein, there are those who have picked up a camera and are instantly metamorphosized into a burgeoning Henri Cartier-Bresson. Without being accused of lobbing sharp little stones from the safety of my glass house, I admit to having no pretentions that anything that I might ever produce will grace the New York Times Best Sellers List, sending anything that Salman Rushdie writes into paroxyms of envy, or spawn a series of calendars, notecards and mousepads with photos from my "Goats of Morocco" series.

So yes, I too enjoy writing from time to time (blogging doesn't count) and I often find myself lurking about with a rather beat-up camera in hand. Possibly because my 3 photog-mentors are my brother (knarf in the city), my father (Heaven), and Mr. Cat in Rabat (currently in the kitchen) - all purists - my expertise hasn't evolved much past their camera of choice, the single reflex lens camera, although their technical skill never seemed to permeate my thick head. If I shoot a decent photo, I consider myself lucky. I eschew digital cameras (and please don't inundate me with comments about their convenience et al.) undoubtedly because of some conceit passed on to me from this triumvirate of men in my life. To further distance myself from the Great Unwashed photo-takers of the world, I also prefer shooting slide film over print because it allows me to manipulate the slides into Polaroid image transfers (see right), and also because, in my mind, nothing compares to the vibrancy in colour that a slide produces. In evolutionary terms, if I were a finch, Darwin would be holding out little hope for me.

So who cares, right? Well no one much except me & Mr. Cat in Rabat. The thing is, you can take the most breathtaking photographs in the world but if you can't find a decent developer, then you're pretty much screwed (again, please withhold comments about shooting digitally). When I moved here last year, I was rather keen to pick the brains of my predecessors and through their collective experience and mine, I learned that:

a) If you deposit black & white film (Mr. CinR's favourite medium) for processing, your prints (assuming that the developer can produce anything on paper) will be the visual equivalent of jibberish and, oft-times, the negatives will be sliced to bits - putting an adolescent cutter to shame. Pay no mind to their claims that they can process black & white. They can't.

b) If you deposit colour film and ask for it on a cd-rom (which is more economical than prints) and in high resolution (which the few publisers of my photos have requested), you will get prints and a disc, or just prints, or just a disc - but the photos will never be in high resolution. I have since purchased a scanner.

c) One hour service is really one Arab hour service which means 'whenever'. Or more likely, 'service while you wait' on your 3rd return visit. The fact that pick-up tickets are not time-stamped, nor are names & phone numbers recorded on the processing envelopes should have been my first clue.

d) Never become too attached to any print that is processed because you may never again be able to replicate it ... which brings us to:

Negatives ...

I confess that I am one of those reviled individuals who stacks loose cd's in Babel-like towers, effectively driving Mr. CinR to distraction. I may also have done the same with vinyl records as a teenager; I really can't recall. But even loathesome creatures such as I have limits, and I do take great care in handling film negatives (but admittedly not prints). Even I know enough not to leave my pawprints on my negs. Apparently this little nugget of film-developing arcana has not yet achieved "tools of the trade" status in Morocco. How so, you ask?

a) Usually, negative strips will not be cocooned lovingly into plastic sheaths but crammed mercilessly into the main photo envelope, free to explore the inner delights of said paper envelope and mingle with other like-minded negatives.

b) If (and that's a pretty big if) the developer decides that day to use negative holders, all of the strips will be shoved into one slot - you can almost hear the negatives scratching against each other as you walk home; or lastly,

c) Surprise! You will receive neither strips nor plastic sheaths but one long coil of negatives creating an excruciatingly nerve wracking fun-for-the-whole-family activity called Cut Your Own Negatives. Or you can just set them aside and use them to decorate your Christmas tree next year along with strings of popcorn and cranberries.

Is there a moral to this rather long-winded harangue tale of photographic woe? Only that I'm sending Mr. Cat in Rabat off to a local art college where he can learn to develop photos himself and build his own dark room. Oh, except there isn't one. Damn.

And you wonder why I've stopped shooting slide film.


Blogger knarf said...

Just to clarify, the SLR isn't my "camera of choice". It used to be the camera that I used the most, as it's such a flexible all-rounder. I do own several bodies and many lenses, and my 35mm slr's are certainly used in many more situations than other bodies.

However, these days, most of my "serious" street work is done with a 35mm rangefinder. Small, quiet, unobtrusive, simple, less vibration, they've been used by everyone from Cartier-Bresson to Erwitt to Winogrand, for exactly the above reasons.

I commiserate with your lab woes. I'm fortunate to live in a large city, but even here in Toronto, there are fewer and fewer labs that do black and white well. When mine goes (and it will, as business is down so much due to digital), I don't know where I'll go.

I guess I'll have to get developing in my bathroom...

4:45 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Thanks for correcting my error. As I said, I have a thick head.

Nice to think of something creative coming out of our bathrooms though ...

4:58 p.m.  
Blogger carmen said...

Cat In Rabat, you are most probably my new hero. And if not that, then you've come close.

You see, I'm at the tender age of fifteen (yes, just coming out of the infamous slamming-doors-and-painting-nails-black years) and have been an unhappy resident of Rabat for over seven years. (I'll thankfully be on my way soon enough.)

Though your blog, from what I've read so far, shows no signs of total loathing for this bitch-tick of a city, it brings me comfort in knowing that someone as well-spoken (or well-typed, for that matter) as you lives so close! Does that make any sense at all? That you being in Rabat serves as consolation to me?

Anywho. Your blog has been widely entertaining at times informative. It's a good read. So I thank you!


PS. Are you actually Moroccan? I doubt you'd want to blow your cover after having been on a thrilling anonymous roll for so long ... but I'm just curious, like everyone else I suppose. I think it would be hilarious if I actually knew you or if something coincidental like that were to turn up. Ha.

7:57 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Congrats Carmen - you just made me blush - not mean feat that.

Nope, not Moroccan ... could you tell?

9:15 p.m.  
Anonymous ByronBring said...

My dad used to develop his own pics - he got so engrossed with his hobby that he bought his own enlarger as well, and the house was flooded with images. You'd turn a corner and come face to face with an enormous version of yourself looking thoughtful or busy or puzzled - and more than one picture of someone losing their rag at being caught by surprise AGAIN.

Note to self - must watch less TV and do more hobbies!

4:57 p.m.  

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