A couple of years back, I wrote a piece titled ‘Roll 600’. The piece marked the moment I logged my — wait for it — 600th roll of film in my film spreadsheet. In the piece, I mentioned how rewarding it was to rediscover old memories, holidays and events one six-frame strip at a time, sometimes having to employ creative detective work to deduce when old rolls were shot.
In the past couple of weeks, I logged Roll 800.
My 800th roll of film was — much like my first — a consumer 400 ISO colour negative film. Only this time around it was Fujifilm Superia 400 instead of Kodak Gold 400. And the camera was a little bit different.
In 2003, I was shooting a Polaroid 2100BF — a ‘focus-free’ 35mm point-and-shoot that was largely forgettable except for the fact that it was my first camera. I’d been gifted it prior to a holiday some time in the late 1990s and my overriding memory of it was the judicious selectivity that came with having only 24 or 36 exposures.
The subject of Roll 001 is a trip to Sydney, though you wouldn’t know it from the photos. Rather than opera houses and bridges, my lens was fixated on other icons, such as X-Wings and TIE Fighters. For me, this was basically a pilgrimage: a visit to The Magic of Myth, a Star Wars exhibition at Powerhouse. I went with my best friend Dan who was living in New South Wales at the time. Usually he would come down to Melbourne and visit his dad in the school holidays. This time, I was excited to be visiting him.
The Magic of Myth was a travelling exhibition consisting of models, costumes and other ephemera from the (then) five Star Wars films — thankfully focused mainly on the original trilogy. Once working objects never intended to see out the shoot let alone almost three decades of fascination, these iconic objects were displayed with the same care and gravitas afforded to artefacts of history.
I remember wanting so badly to capture each and every little detail and greeble the ILM model shop had kit-bashed onto these starships, but feeling thoroughly underwhelmed when the photos came back. The intervening years have given me an understanding about why these pictures weren’t as I’d hoped — the crappy plastic lens, very low light, use of flash against glass — circumstances photographers and cameras still struggle with today.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised when I scanned these shots in. First off, even with the plastic lens, some of the photos are really quite sharp, far sharper than I was expecting. My Nikon Coolscan brings out a great amount of detail I can then colour correct in Photoshop. They’re hardly reference-quality photos, but they’re much better than I remember. However, the composition could do with some work.
As it turns out, Roll 001 isn’t actually the first roll of film I shot. There would be at least half-a-dozen from the few years before, but this was certainly the first roll I took an active interest in why it came out the way it did. I wanted to know how I could take better photographs and the equipment I’d need to do so — one of those ‘big, professional cameras’ would probably let do the job.
And it’s my number 1 roll because it was my first roll. It was the first roll I kept with my belongings and filed safely away — that’s why I can find it and show you the scans today. If it had gone into my mum’s photo envelope pile, chances are the next time I’d see it would be clearing out their house. This was the first roll that ended up in my own album, instead of my parents’. And here it is almost 20 years later as good as the day it was shot. Better, in fact, as I’m able to re-scan at a higher resolution and correct much more than the K-Mart lab monkey ever could have. I’ve lost countless digital photos since 2003. Indeed my high school years are essentially a digital black hole with far more JPEGs lost than I’ll ever get back. Exchanges via MySpace and MSN Messenger lost to deletion and corruption that will never become prints in a shoebox under the bed.
Looking back, I can even see the strands of ideas coming together that would later become my ‘photography’. I enjoyed taking photos of ‘things’ much more than photos of ‘people’. This caused my mother much consternation when she dropped my rolls in at K-Mart for processing (a single set of prints only — “I’m not wasting money on two sets of prints of nothing!”). It wasn’t meant in any malicious way, but her understanding of photography was to act solely as an aide-mémoire for family events. To me, it could be — and should be — so much more. I remember flicking through family photo albums from way back wishing the people would get out of the damn way so I could get a clearer view of the Melbourne circa 1966.
I hope, for my own children, I’ve gone some way to achieving both — photography as a family record and photography as something more. I hope they won’t be browsing Lightroom of the future, cursing my name for not capturing something important to them in a distant future my younger self could not conceive of.