01 April 2013

Living in the past*

*Jethro Tull, Living in the past, 1969, Island records [also included on Living in the past (LP), 1972]
 In the enforced rest during this recent period of illness and recuperation, I've been trying to do things which don't take a lot of movement or brain power. One of the things I have been doing in lucid spells is going through old negatives.
Scanning old negatives to disk is one of those tasks which gets endlessly put off ... it ties up equipment and time which can always be used for something more urgent and/or interesting. This last few weeks, though, I've rigged up a redundant spare laptop to a scanner and tottered through to it when I felt able.
It's been an ideal task for the circumstances. There's about two minutes concentration needed, threading a strip of six negatives into the scanner, then clicking the necessary things in PaintshopPro (or whatever vehicle you happen to use for scanner import). After that, computer and scanner are left alone to do their stuff ... about 25 mins for the high resolution scans I'm doing ... and if I happen to be curled up in a fœtal ball when it finishes, well, it'll just wait until I next surface. After that it's another minute or so of clicking to save the results. Then start again with the next strip.
Seven strips to a sheet ... so if I'm feeling really focused, I can get on with something else in the 25 minute gaps and do a whole sheet in a day ... if I'm completely zonked, then a single strip or nothing at all.
Then there is the periodic business of moving the resulting files off the spare laptop onto my main machine, numbering them, adding them to the archive, tagging them ... all of which can also be done in bits and pieces of time, when I feel up to it.
At no time is there any need for real thinking, or scope for tragic errors ... if I make mistakes, the negatives are still there and I can always do it again.
To be honest, most of them are boring – either to me, who took them, or I realise that they would be to anyone else. The younger me was, I am discovering, very internal – or, perhaps I should say, even more internal than I am now. I look at some pictures and I remember the passion that made me, in pursuit of an idea, photograph this pale grey blur against that even paler grey texture ... but in the resulting photograph there is nothing intrinsically of any visual interest to me or to anyone else.
Roll after roll of film from a walking trip with my brother in France, forty years ago (see “What is lost and gained”, 26 Feb this year) record (with a very few exceptions) not the experience, or the land, or the people, or even my brother, but my obsession at the time with the use of poured concrete in architecture and civil engineering design.
Nevertheless, as my wise friend Luís said to me only this morning, “Even if they contain material you are not necessarily keen on now, all photographs carry some history in them and may be useful to someone” ... so I scan them, file them, and shall keep them.
The point of all this, however, is that every now and then I'm coming across pictures that amuse me, or awaken moments of memory, or just strike me as good and worth resurrecting. Some excite me. Some I look at and wonder why I didn't pursue their line further than I did.
Luís also said to me quite recently, again about these old negatives: “As you look at them, they will start to tell you stories”. He's quite right. As I work through the largely random order of these sheets, I am finding stories ... and, in particular, stories (usually, though not always, heartening ones) which I hadn't heard before about myself. I am hearing new, revelatory stories about my relationships with my brothers, with my ex wife, with a small piece of woodland, with photography as a medium.

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