Film photography in the Land of Enchantment.Read More
At heart, I am a seeker. It’s at the core of who I am. It is why every once in a while, I feel the need to drop everything and go. I also fundamentally believe that the way that we live our day to day lives, and what drives our society is flawed and is poisonous to our satisfaction in life. I also understand that my motivations are also flawed. In many ways they are selfish, and having the ability to leave my home for long periods of time, and the ability to cross borders freely is rare privilege in this world, and one that I don’t take for granted. I also accept, that the way I conduct my life, and some of the things that I believe might be wrong, but that is all part of being an explorer. Sometimes your preconceived notions about where you are going, and what you will do there are based on faulty premises, and you must reconsider your plans. It happens. It is a fact of everyday life, and it applies to all our endeavors, and especially traveling. For every time I’ve gone somewhere, and sat on some deserted beach around a bonfire in the middle of the night, wondering how I got so lucky, I’ve had ten times as many experiences in which I asked myself, “What the hell am I doing here?”.
I’ve been heartbroken, cold, hungry, and broke on the side of the road, with no way to get home again. I’ve been just as miserable in a faraway “paradise”, as I would be if I were in my car stuck in traffic in my hometown. The myth that sells a million travel magazines, and the myth we portray on social media, is that happiness is a function of your ability to, “Live your best life…”, whatever that means. It just doesn’t work that way, and it would be better for everyone if we told the truth.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll tell you that last summer, I traveled to Panama with my family. We were in the Bocas del Toro region, on the Caribbean side of the country. It was something that we had planned to do, and we had ambitious and noble goals. Without bogging you down with backstory, some of which, I’m just not ready to talk about, I’ll tell you it didn’t go as we thought it would. We had to chuck the itenerary, and start over, with mixed results. True, there were great experiences, that we will never forget, but we also had our share of troubles. In July, the monthly rain total equaled what Bocas normally sees in a year. Our Air BnB rental leaked heavily, had no hot water, and had faulty electrical connections, which provided a healthy shock when you flicked a switch or used the stovetop. We had to travel to from island to island to get supplies, most of the time in a heavy downpour, across open water. To top it all off, the harsh tropical conditions killed three cameras, my cellphone, and damaged my negatives. The kids got bored, and we read all our books in the first month, because it rained night and day. I got as depressed as I’ve ever been. It’s hard to give a true accounting of our experience, as those things always are, but we survived, and learned a lot of hard lessons about traveling as a family. We all promised we’d laugh about it some day, and now we often do. It got blended into the epic narrative we’re composing of our lives together, and that is how it should be.
I can tell you that when the sun is shining and you are out on the water, Bocas del Toro is truly beautiful. The surf is epic enough that many of the residents of the islands of San Cristobal, Solarte, and Bastimentos are willing to suffer through the rainy season; to endure droughts during the dry season, and to deal with hordes of foreign visitors, that bring both money, and problems to the area. They also have the most unique and delicious pineapples I’ve ever tasted. We met many wonderful people there, and there is a rich and interesting cultural blend of indigenous, Afro-Caribbean, and Latino. While I think the pictures tell an incomplete story, because much of what I saw was enchanting, and it’s hard to illustrate existential angst in a photograph, perhaps what they demonstrate is that often pain and beauty exist in close proximity. I will have to elaborate on this trip, it might be in a different format, because I don’t think I can do it justice in blog form.
I took my Sears KSX, which bit the dust because of salt corrosion, a Pentax K1000, an Olympus XA, and a Fuji X100s. They all suffered, and none were great for the tropics, especially in the never-ending rain. I was surprised to come back with anything at all, but I was persistent. I used Kodak T-Max 100, pushed a couple of stops, and Kodak Gold 200. I decided I don’t like T-Max, I’m a Tri-X 400 dude, all the way. I love the Gold 200 though, it’s great in my opinion. I had high hopes for the Fuji X100, but was let down by the awkward controls and the slow focusing. It just didn’t work well for me.
They say that scent is deeply connected to memory, and perhaps that’s why I can still smell the scent of oranges and jasmine when I think about Spain. It was all a dream for me, and it is one I return to often, especially in the cold months of winter. I was lucky to spend a month, getting to know the country, and traveling from Madrid to Barcelona: from the Canary Island to Andalusia. Spain is geographically small, but it is filled with centuries of history, dating back thousands of years. From the food and the art; to the landscape and it’s people, there is a lot to enjoy. Looking back at many of the pictures that I took, I realize it was hard for me to record the complete picture of what was happening and what I was feeling. It’s difficult when you’re traveling, and experiencing all of the different emotions that come with it, to capture the moment, especially when you are trying to truly live it. Many times I would leave my camera behind, just so that I wouldn’t be distracted, and I don’t regret that decision. Sometimes the instrument we use to express ourselves can also get in the way of genuine experience, so it’s good to recognize when to leave it be. It is an object lesson in life. It will all fade away, it comes to an end, some things will remain hidden. That is the essence of what makes it beautiful, the fragility of it all. Going to Spain was something that I had wanted to do for so long, that I had built it up in my imagination, and fortunately, I was not disappointed. I took a variety of films on this trip, including lots of expired slide film, Kodak Tri-X 400, and some expired color film, which lent some of the photos a dreamy, washed out look. I was carrying my old Sears KSX camera, and a Holga, as well as a Canon Rebel digital camera. I took lots of shots with my iPhone as well, but the pics below are all film. My Sears finally bit the dust last summer, in the salt and rain of Panama, but it had served me well over the years, and it was a good, cheap camera to learn on. Here’s a sample of what I was able to carry home with me.
I’ve always been drawn to black and white, contrast, and deep shadows. That is where I go, instinctually, when I pick up a camera. I’ve also never been much of a nature or landscape photographer, but I like to experiment, and when I read about the profile of Kodak Gold 200, I was intrigued and picked up some rolls on sale. I intentionally shot subject matter that I normally wouldn’t have, in conditions that I typically avoid. Mostly sunny, midday environments, while I was out walking with an Olympus XA. The Olympus itself is a quirky little camera. It’s tiny, and it fits in the pocket. It’s discreet and simple. Lots of people use them for street photography, but I like it as a walk around camera. Something I can tuck in my pocket when I go walk the dog, or have no destination in mind. It’s a rangefinder, and you have three options for focusing, so be prepared for screw ups. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy enough though, and you won’t burn through too much film. Shooting with it, I kind of let go and just shoot more haphazardly. I was pretty happy with the results, although the XA was a bit fragile, and I had some technical issues, I love the color profile of the Kodak Gold, and the XA has a sharp and contrasty lens that adds a little pop. The best thing about it is that it gives me an excuse to go out and spend some time outdoors, being content to hear the rustle of the leaves in the wind.