Yesterday was a rather dismal WPPD here in England with heavy rain and light levels more associated with mid-Winter than mid-Spring, but it is always enjoyable to participate knowing that thousands of others are doing the same, some in groups, some alone. I have been mulling over a few ideas for weeks now on attempting to depict time and impermanence through a new set of images – I must admit I often wish I was drawn to more straightforward subjects! – and WPPD seemed a good time to start.
I was aiming to play around with the movement of a pen across paper, with the text becoming fainter as the writing slowly advanced. The first challenge proved to be estimating the speed at which to write. Also I needed to decide when to stop writing but let the exposure run in order to retain some faint but legible impression of the words written towards the end of the piece.
I opted to include a clock to add to the feel of passing time, knowing that the hour hand would remain sharp while the minute hand would smear through the minutes of the exposure. What I didn’t anticipate was how physically difficult it is to write so slowly. Before more than two minutes had elapsed the muscles in my back and hand were tense and painful to such an extent the my handwriting became shaky. Having to fit myself around the tripod made things awkward, of course, but I was taken aback at how exhausting the apparently undemanding task of writing twelve lines could be. To make the process more arduous, the desperately low light intensity stretch the exposure way beyond what I thought would be necessary.
A final complication presented itself in the film stock used – Polaroid type 55 which expired in 1998, already slow at ISO 25 and probably slowed further by its age. (Certainly, the contrast and the smoothness of the developer of this beautiful but ancient film seems to have deteriorated since I last exposed a sheet a few months ago.) I attempted three exposures: the first was ruined completely when the developer sachet failed to burst in processing leaving a completely blank negative; the second worked but was poorly aligned and the transition time of the hand moving was too slow; the third 15 minute exposure gave an acceptable but imperfect printable negative (though barely, due to the very low contrast). I had by now run out of time and daylight was fading so I retreated to the darkroom to make a print.
In between washes, I helped my daughter Emma make her own pinhole image using a body cap on a digital SLR. After a bit of technical help I left her to her own devices and she came back a few minutes later, delighted with what she had come up with.
By now I was losing enthusiasm for the battle with old materials in difficult conditions. When I looked at her superb photograph next to mine, I did feel slightly uncomfortable to observe that I had made things far too difficult for myself by misjudging the prevailing conditions and sticking pig-headedly to the “traditional” route when some quick digital work would have made the day far more fun. I am not done with the idea yet but it will wait for a fresh surge of enthusiasm and good light.