Friday, May 15, 2015

Trimmings: Hands

THIS SERIES OF PHOTOS BEGAN WITH THE FACT THAT a regular roll of 35mm film has at least one or two more frames than fit comfortably into a standard negative storage sheet. For years that meant that, as a stingy young photographer, I'd save the extra, trimmed-off frames. After several years I became more relaxed with the penny-pinching, and would try to waste the first frame of every roll by taking a photo of my hand, held in front of my lens, to check that the auto focus was working.

The result was hundreds of photos of my left hand, either blurred or sharp, with perhaps a glimpse of grass or sidewalk or a corner of a hotel room behind it. I threw out most of them as I'd cut up rolls for sleeving, but near the end of the analog era, when I began letting photo lags process my negatives, I'd end up with a 4x6 machine print of my hand at the front of every set of proof prints.

This is a selection of just three of those proof prints, taken around a decade ago, with either my trusty Canon EOS Elan or the Elan 7e that replaced it. They're pictures of my hand, of course, but they're also relics from the last moments of film. It's not worth pointing out that I no longer take pictures of my hand.

It was actually part of a ritual: Squat down in front of the camera bag, unzip it, pull out the camera and mount the lens I thought I'd need; power up the camera, take off the lens cap, then hold my hand out and point the lens at it before squeezing off a quick frame. A precise sequence of actions that commenced every shoot I did for years.

You'll have to believe me that abandoning that ritual has made most of the work I've done since then feel less like a professional task and more ad hoc; more a hobby than a job. Which is probably true enough.

Because I'd usually hold my hand closer to the lens than the nearest focal distance, I'd hear the tiny servo motor in the autofocus lens rack in and out a couple of times, trying to find focus, before I'd press the shutter. It was like I was teasing the camera, frustrating it before letting the little machine I trusted so intimately do its job.

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