I’m not 100% sure that this is my very first roll, but based on the crap technique and some of the subjects, I’m pretty certain that if it’s not the first roll, it’s not far off. I took a couple of photography classes in high-school and saved most of the negatives and a few of the prints. What you see is one roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 (24 exposures) that I shot in early 1990 using a Canon AE-1. The camera itself is no longer in my possession, having been passed to Martie Stothoff. She’s the daughter of one of my mentors from college. She went through the photo program at Bard College and used that camera to great effect.
It’s good to know the camera’s still in use and not just sitting on a shelf.
I’ve always been reticent to throw things away, but I’m not great at cataloging the things that I keep around…not a great combination. The only benefit is that it requires me to look closely at objects when I do eventually come across them again. When EM tweeted about creating articles featuring photographers’ first-ever rolls of film I was intrigued.
I knew I had my earliest negatives lurking somewhere in the basement. I was curious to see how they held up, both archivally and aesthetically. The notebooks were more-or-less where I thought they would be, and in passable shape. No water damage. Lots of dust.
My children are now the age I was when I took these photos. Back when I was 16 I never imagined I would ever see these again, much less have children to share them with.
Looking at this roll I see the obvious fact that I didn’t know how to roll the film onto the developing reel. This was before my school got the new auto-load reels, so you had to spiral it all in by hand onto a metal spiral, from the center out. I failed on this roll, and some of the frames stuck together and never developed, leaving bright blobs.
Although it’s amazing that I still have these negatives thirty years — and so many house moves — later, I’m also stunned a little bit by the lack of care I took with my negatives early on. There is caked-in dust, scratches, poorly aligned cuts, fingernail damage, poor chemistry, the list goes on. Here are the 25 exposures I squeezed out of the 24 exposure canister.
I also found two prints that I made from this roll and one of them is poorly aligned and covered in dust, the other is terribly underexposed.
I see my interest in subjects hasn’t changed as much as I might have imagined. I love that the only portrait is of the back of my friend Nate’s head. We also see some detail from one of my dad’s jackets, but not his face. The everyday objects have been posed oddly — a colander; a water jug.
Most of all, I love seeing the house I grew up in. The spices over the stove that belonged to the grandmother I never met. The geometric hanging lamp over our kitchen table. A brick of tea that we brought back from China a couple of years prior to my taking the photograph.
Part of this exercise is freely and openly sharing the imperfections: shooting, developing, printing, archiving. Part of it also is recognizing the through-line of our humanity and aesthetic over time.
Thank you for encouraging me to look back.
Want to share your first roll or sheet of film?
Poorly exposed, badly framed and blurry photos? No-one is perfect, especially when shooting their first roll of film...but that's ok and I'd like to spread that message. Submit as many frames from your first roll as you're able to with an accompanying text of at least 500 words using this Google form. If you would prefer to submit another way, please use the contact link at the top of the page.
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