Saturday, August 27, 2011

Time Developing


I took 36 exposures. I was so excited to see them developed. The black and white roll of film was one of the higher quality films in the industry. Because of that, Costco would not develop my Ilford Delta Black and White film. I insisted to the technician that it required no special processes but she was kind of...unpleasant to me.

Anyways, I carried around this roll of undeveloped film as if it were a child. I put it in a cool dark place in my aunt Nan's basement (not that you should do that with children, just that I was very careful with it). Finally I had the time and courage to ask my grandfather if he would walk me through the process of developing film in his dark room.

“I haven't done it in years,” he croaked after I asked him to help me loudly, “I still have some—uh—chemicals.” He coughed and tried unsuccessfully to clear his throat, “come with me.” And he led me to the dark room. It was filled with photos and an amateur love of an evolving art. My grandfather had abandoned using film years ago; he was digital, and I was the curmudgeonly man trying desperately to hold onto an obscure format. But he obliged.

For nearly an hour we set up the proper requirements for developing this special film. We looked at everything and made sure that it would work. He showed me the equipment and how to measure it out. Each time he explained something, I nervously repeated it; checking and re-checking the tables we had.

My cousin Louie appeared, “it's time for dinner.”

I went upstairs and found grandma, “I think I've gotten myself into trouble.”

“Why?” She asked.

“Because I asked grandpa to show me how to use the dark room.” Truth be told I was very excited to try the process out but very scared that it wouldn't come out. And those had photos I desperately wanted. I knew the roll had a portrait each of both my grandmothers and I was sure that they would enjoy the gift. There were also excellent shots of scenery and the beach house. It would be a shame to lose them. Of course excellent probably because I fancied myself the next Ansel Adams, but nonetheless important to me.

“The darkroom? When I was a kid my friends used to joke about Dad and the darkroom,” my aunt Phil piped in, “he used to ask him if they would like to see pictures that he had taken of them, and of course they did. Then he would start developing film and they wouldn't be allowed to leave for at least an hour,” she laughed, “Dr. Hara and his darkroom.”

I headed to the dinner table, grandma pointed out where I should sit. Then she showed me the vegetarian option she had made, “this is for you and Ciera. Don't eat all of it, leave some for her,” she said sternly.

I smiled and nodded. I appreciated that grandma was looking out for Ciera while at work. It was funny that grandma believed that I wasn't. So it goes. Dinner was pleasant enough. As we cleaned up the dishes—actually as Phil and Andrew did—Nan gave the family news of Auntie Marian. My great aunt has been diagnosed with lung and brain cancer; her treatment options have been discussed and hopefully she will recover. During the course of the conversation it was resolved that we would make paper cranes for her. In Japanese culture 1000 paper cranes is a sign of good-luck.

Because of grandpa's poor hearing, Nan had to tell him directly and slowly. The words were deliberate and emotionless. Noise was the key. And it made it heavier for me. Speaking with volume gave my system a shock. Something stirred slowly inside me.

Grandpa took the news quickly. It entered into him and he filed it away to think about later. Grandma sensed this and justified it to everyone. I understood. How do you react when you are told your only sister is very sick, but it has been told without tone because you are nearly deaf?

Grandpa and I went downstairs to the dark room and he left me to start the process. “You ready? Do you know where everything is?” He asked. I nodded and he turned off the light and shut the door.

I was in the room alone. I felt around for the can opener and pried apart the canister that contained the film. I strung it on the roll carefully and slowly, each second ticking by brutally. My eyes adjusted to the dim red light. I hoped it wasn't too much to ruin the film. I finally put it all on the roll and put it in the canister.

I filled it with water and washed it. 68 degrees. That was the temperature of the water. It had to be for optimal development. I turned on the light and opened the door. I saw my grandfather sitting in a chair, looking at the hallway. What was he thinking? I felt I had interrupted a deep thought. I poured out the water and put in my pre-measured container full of developing fluid. I started the timer. “Be patient. This takes time. Keep it agitated,” he said as he turned on the radio.

I watched the timer; an old analog clock face where the hands could be moved manually. It ticked down. I wandered around the room gently rolling the container in arcs. Every so often I tapped it against the counter to make sure that there were no trapped air bubbles. Music circulated the room. I poured out the fluid, rinsed the container with water, and poured in the fixer. I reset the timer and repeated the process of shaking and tapping.

I finished the process by rinsing the container with water and pulling out the film.

“Midnight,” grandpa turned to me with genuine disappointment in his voice. I felt empty inside. Something had gone wrong in the process and I had lost the entire roll. He checked and re-checked the film, looking for something to salvage. I knew the answer. I could see that no light penetrated the dark paper.

My gut opened a hole and sucked in an anvil. I smiled weakly at grandpa and told him it was ok. He told me to check with a pro-photo shop and hopefully they could tell me how to fix the process in the future. I barely listened and excused myself to go upstairs.

When I got upstairs Nan was showing off different cranes she had found. Then she picked an unopened package of origami paper from a box. “These should be fine; let's use this size.” I sat at the table and opened the paper. I grabbed a sheet and started folding.

In no time we had George, Louie, Adam, Jesse, Nan, Phil, and I all folding cranes. I thought I was the fastest one, churning them out quickly, but Adam was faster. Cranes. It starts slowly, but then the fingers catch up to the job and the mind turns off to the process. Cranes appear below your fingers almost magically. It is a time to reflect on the people around you and why you are folding over and over again—a thousand paper cranes. It meant something. It would mean something to the recipient.

I lost the roll; the time I spent taking the photos, anxiously waiting for them. But it's funny how even though I lost them I felt like I had gained something. I cared about that roll because I wanted to show my family something: an emotion, a feeling, a new perspective.

I have spent the entire summer here, engaging with people I have known all my life but never with such depth. This summer has given me the time to be a special part of my family. What is there to regret? I lost the material record of the moment. I gained several hours with my grandfather and exactly what I thought that roll of film held.