Monday, September 15, 2014


the marble box

PERHAPS ITS MY SCOTTISH BLOOD, but I hate wasting anything useful, so I save rubber bands and plastic bags. Back when I shot film, I used to save film trimmings - the stray frames from the beginning or the end of rolls that you'd sacrifice to make a better fit when you were cutting up a roll to fit into negative sleeves. I'm aware that anyone who's only ever shot digital won't have a clue what I mean.

Back when I started as a photographer, I discovered that if you fed your 35mm rollfilm onto the take-up spool of your camera carefully, you could get 37 frames out of a 36 frame roll. I didn't know what to do with that odd frame when I'd finished cutting up rolls to sleeve, so I had a habit of saving them into a little marble box on my desk, a hand-me-down from my brother-in-law. (I think he used to keep his stash in it.)

I used 36 frame negative sheets for the first few years that I shot until I discovered that 35 frame sheets fit into binders better and made for neater contact sheets on 8x10 paper. Which meant that I had to sacrifice a frame to fit a 36 shot roll into a 35 frame sheet. Needless to say my Scottish tightness chafed against this waste, and so the trimmed frame would end up in the marble box.

Talking to my friend Jonathan Castellino the other day about those stray shots that your camera takes when you put it in a bag without turning it off, I remembered these film trimmings as the closest equivalent in the analog world, and remembered the marble box on my desk.

The trimmed frames were still in it.

And so, as a tribute to the random nature of film photography and those happy accidents that sometimes happen, every month I'll pull a frame out of the box and scan it. Some might be abstract blurs or shots of my camera bag or offhandedly composed pictures I took, knowing I was wasting a frame. I might even remember where I took them. Here's number one:

The Catalan signs hanging from the balconies are a dead giveaway - this is the Placa del Pi in Barcelona, and the view from our hotel room at the Hotel el Jardi in the early summer of 1998. This might be the first frame of the first roll I shot there, on the first trip I took with the woman who would be my wife three years later.

There was some kind of protest going on by the residents on the square against some local authority, but without sufficient Catalan I couldn't tell you what it was about then or now. It's a lovely square, with a medieval basilica on one end and a Basque tapas bar I'd frequent while my girlfriend was off teaching classes at the university. I would love to be there now.

1 comment:

  1. Single frames were such a pain to mount in the darkroom and such a pain to file and find later that I would purposely advance to frame 2 before shooting just to make sure that I only had 35 frames to contend with after the shoot.

    Different strokes I guess.