These five frames come from my first-ever roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 that, insofar as experience goes, was only my fourth roll of film. They are shot on a Nikon FE and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AI lens from 1978, purchased by my dad when he was 27 years old—an immigrant from the Philippines to Toronto, Canada. And here I am, just now, starting my film journey at 36.
Why Tri-X? Not for any real aesthetic reasons, compared to other films. But for personal ones. As I age, I seem to be delving deeper into the recent past, trying to recall childhood memories and cultural touchpoints of my youth, while grasping for a thread to explain the current historical moment. Tri-X brings me in touch, however superficially, with a lineage of street photographers who tested the potential of the medium. They figured out how to use this film in their own way. I am trying to do the same.
And to what end? The ends of the amateur. Of exploring what it means to expose, correctly or incorrectly, of the value of sharpness, of the texture of grain, of the effect of contrast, shadow, and highlight. Of finding a counterpoint to the digital image, which involves the analog pain of wasted and missed frames you know you’re paying for with every press of the shutter.
With every satisfactory picture comes the feeling of elation, of a surge of electricity that courses through my being to create a temporary forgetting of the images that failed. Among 31 failures, these five frames speak to me insofar as they pose questions. Why did I take this, then, at that time? Haven’t I taken a similar frame before? What compels the repetition? Why did I walk to this corner of the city? Who are these people? Does the perception match the representation (and as a representation of what)?
Tri-X, in conjunction with camera and lens, is the medium through which I am trying to understand the world as it shows itself in the instant of its appearing. Life moves quickly, while photography comes to the scene too late.
So the investigations continue. I’m just getting started, trying to be on time.
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