Film pictures without film

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I recently went under the rain to take a few pictures of New Taipei city RGB lights. Those who know me you know I’m obsessed about Taiwanese night urban landscapes. I took my film camera, I got mentally ready to get soaked in the water and off I went to capture my dreamy images. It was late, already tired after a whole day working on my own projects and taking care of my kids, but capturing the night is always an adventure that pays off the effort. I took a bus up to Xindian, and not realising how wet I was becoming, I walked all the way down back home through the un-walkable and dangerously traffic-filled roads that go down back to Yonghe. Excited about how lucky I was that night, I was feeling excited capturing some of the best frames I had taken so far since I recently started taking film pictures again after almost 30 years. It was a true light festival, but not only that, everywhere I looked there was something interesting happening: people walking out of their buses back home, people waking on lonely paths with their umbrellas, all sorts of frames I only could imagine in my best photography dreams.

After a long solo session, looking for the best spots under the rain, with no umbrella and totally soaked, rewinded the film reel and felt like it was too loosen. Maybe the film got out of the reel? I decided not to open the camera and took directly the camera to the lab so they could deal with it safely. Once in the lab I told the staff about the film problem and he went to the dark room, and I still can remember his face when he came back. “There was… no film in it”. My face then became a sad poem. Has this even happened to anybody? I couldn’t bear the embarrassment. All those perfect frames that I looked forward for so long would be lost forever. How could I be so stupid? I wasted all that night and in addition I felt ridiculous. 

I could see each and everyone of those frames so clearly in my mind and waited for so long for them. I even hated photography for a few moments. But those moments of hate slowly evolved into deep thoughts about what was happening.

After a few days I started realising something unexpected, there was something going in my mind that never happened to me before. All those pictures I couldn’t develop and that I would never see on my screen or printed, I couldn’t get rid of them in my mind. More vivid than ever, I could even see them crystal clear when I closed my eyes. That feeling of anger with myself and regret, had in fact printed those images in my brain, and not only the images but the moments that they represented. 

 That quote came to my mind a few days later: “Moments are better appreciated once they become memories”. Are they? Don’t get me wrong, to be totally honest I still wish I had my pictures. But there is something to learn from this experience. I am afraid that with the actual technology and the way we are taking pictures, with phones and cameras that connect us to social networks instantly, we may be killing photography.  

This life lasting lesson helped me understand how pictures stay in our minds when our photos are associated to a real story and not to an immediate visual picture that satisfies our artistic ego. Only photos that represent a moment stay in our minds as more than an image. Our ego is taking us to compete and showing off in social media, but no matter how good are those images, if they don’t represent a personally lived moment of our lives, for good or for bad, those images although perfect, are still empty. 

I am very careful now every time I load film and that mistake won’t happen to me again, but I am now fearful somehow that my next pictures, because they will surely become a physical image, may not stay in my mind so vividly as those non-film photos I accidentally “shot”. 

I will never again complain about film being expensive or taking too long to be developed. A much worse problem is not living the moment and taking images that don’t represent a lived life. 

The best pictures are in fact those that stay in our mind, forever. 

Albert Ventura, Taipei, March 22nd 2022