A love letter to film, and an unexpected gift
How many photos do you have of you and your partner? In today’s digital age, you probably have hundreds, if not thousands. I lived with Ryan McAlpine for almost 3 years. You know how many photos I have of us? Maybe 50. And that’s because of film.
Do you remember how special film was? When you only had 26 frames, you didn’t waste them. You didn’t click away mindlessly, you chose your moments. You waited for the right shot and then you waited again. You had to use up the whole roll and then bring them somewhere and wait some more! It was torturous, not knowing what turned out. I resisted the digital age for so long. I loved film. I loved the lesson in patience, I loved the way my hands smelled after hours in the darkroom, I loved the way the camera shutter clicked, that satisfying clunk. There’s a reason we love photos from that time so much, why their vintage quality almost makes them look more real. It’s because we take too damn many photos now. Today’s kids will never get to experience that feeling of walking into the photo shop to pick up a double set of your newly developed photos, all of which turned out. Of tearing open that package in the parking lot and passing them around in the car with your friends, laughing at the moments you’re all simultaneously reliving, together. It was euphoric. Film taught us to be hopeful, that things would turn out alright.
When Ryan died almost 12 years ago, I thought I might never be alright again. I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone that before, but that’s the exact thought I had the night I went home from that emergency room without him. It was the only I could think actually. I stared at the ceiling, chain smoking and picturing his dead face in my mind, thinking over and over: I may never be alright again.
I recently dug out my old film camera, the one my grandfather placed in my hands when I was a teenager and said ‘a camera is a gift that teaches you to see the world without a camera.’ I put it together and ordered several obscure batteries and cleaned out my old camera bag and found 2 rolls of never developed film rolling around in the bottom of it. It took a few tries to find a place that developed true black and white film but a week later I was sitting in my car, ripping open packages with anticipation just like I used to. One roll was dead, a single hazy image came out. The other was the last roll I shot on the camera. There were some of a camping trip, a few of the house and then there he was. Three frames, never before seen. His eyes, eyes I haven’t looked into in over a decade, staring back up at me, cradling our old dog.
What a gift.
And a reminder that everything turns out alright.