This post includes some difficult found images, as well as pictures of my own, from a roll of film bought partially exposed in a camera. I was quite disturbed to discover these images on the processed film. And this was made more difficult, for no rational reason, because they were on the same roll as pictures of my granddaughter’s third birthday party.
Perhaps other people will not find these images disturbing, but I have known a few people who have lived the life depicted on parts of this roll, and it is horrible to think of them or anyone living like this. At the same time, I know that these same people would be delighted to meet a three-year old, and would find a lot of joy in spending time with one. Probably there are three-year olds in their families that they do not get to see enough of, and are saddened by the distance of their disease.
I have sat on this roll all year, not knowing how to present it. I still don’t know what is best, but have decided to just post it like other rolls of film, but all of the images regardless of quality, and in multiple galleries with small thumbnails so that parts can be skipped over without looking in detail at larger versions of the images, if that is your preference.
This roll of Kodak 400 was in a Yashica EZS Zoom 105 that I bought at a second-hand store in January, the same time that I bought a Pentax Espio with film in it that I wrote about as my 2016 Roll 4 (link). For the Pentax I went with rambling mind to speculate about the people shown in the first half of the roll. I could do the same thing here, but I think a close examination of any one of the photos will say more than I care to.
The roll starts out with some pleasant photos taken beside a deep inlet – I am pretty sure they are along the road to Squamish, BC overlooking Howe Sound just north of Vancouver. I am imagining someone put the roll of film in the camera for the trip to visit a friend or relative, stopped at view points along the way, and relished the beautiful day and what it would bring. They are those kinds of photos.
Then very abruptly the roll contains harsh flash-lit interior photographs. The first photo is out of focus but shows a fly strip coated with insects. As one examines the photos it is revealed they are in the apartment of someone addicted to alcohol. The interior shots are a graphic story of the horrible filth resulting from a protracted bender. They reveal that the person who lived here was a woman who lived alone, always sleeping on the same side of a double bed. Her poison of choice was Bols’ Apricot Brandy. She spent a great deal of time in bed and relied heavily, though not always successfully, on diapers to assist with personal hygiene.
There is something antiseptic about the emotion behind the photography, as if the photographer was documenting things in a business like way, emotion buried. Showing no person. Trying to avoid the human tragedy in the details they captured. Trying to not breath too deeply. Trying to not notice the smell. Determined to not cry. There is a feeling that the woman is gone – either she has passed away, or has been taken to hospital. There is a sense that another person, another interloper, is with the photographer, perhaps waiting outside.
Why the photos were taken I can only guess. Perhaps to prove to family the enormity and urgency of a problem that needed help and intervention. Perhaps to capture the moment for private reasons.
The camera was never used again, the photos were left inside unprocessed without any more shots being made until eventually it was disposed of, ending up in a second-hand store on Vancouver Island, somehow. It is as if the images and the story they hold were contained, put away where they could be forgotten, like a malevolent genie trapped in a lamp; or a deep sorrow bound and secreted away in the dark.
It is this idea of horrible things trapped in the camera waiting release which is probably at the root of why I find it so difficult to have these shots on the same strip of film as my granddaughter. For a short while I trapped my granddaughter in the camera alone with this sordid and tragic tale. I know it is magical thinking but surely my reaction speaks to the power of story telling through images. And perhaps somehow, in that camera, the joy and hope represented by a happy and healthy three year old could mingle with the ruined life of the woman and bring her joy.
Perhaps these images from one roll of film will speak powerfully to you too.
2016-48: Yashica EZS Zoom 10, Kodak Colour 400, found in camera partially exposed, commercially processed, scanned at home.