Great Expectations: Reading Dickens and Scanning South-East Asia

Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations finished on the tram ride home tonight. As I have said before, I hated Dickens until last year, and now I am finding great comfort in his novels and characters. Pip and Copperfield are now part of the literary characters I base myself on. I had no great expectations, pardon the pun, for this particular novel, nor did I start with any for my revisiting of old 35mm negatives in my archives. Unlike any other attempt at scanning my negatives, I am finding an entire new world of photographs that I never even knew I took. The rationale is that scanning was such a chore ten years ago that I would have only scanned a few images that I thought were worth the 30 minutes it would take per image. Tonight, I am focusing on Cambodia and Thailand.

While friends have heard me tell this tale countless times: the reason I became wanted to learn how to take photographs, the reason I bought a Canon camera with a 70-200mm lens, and the reason I dreamed of travelling to Angkor Wat was because of my grandfather’s collection of National Geographic Magazines. On the  first issue I found in his basement was the historic visit to the ruins of Angkor in the 1980s, and all of its jungle beauty. Within they often featured the big Canon white lenses photographers used to capture the world around them. In the days when Indiana Jones seemed like a real vocation, a little kid on the coast of Prince Edward Island vowed that he, too, would become and adventurer. In a way…I did.

The Angkor that I visited, while still exotic, was not the unrestored version the first National Geographic journalists saw, but it was real enough for me. I was mesmerized by the strange temples and the magic feeling that permeated the place. V. visited a few years ago, and I believe that she was able to enjoy even more of the complexes that I did. Still, it was a dream realized for me, and it was a truly magical place.

First big mistake with these photographs: I had them developed in a shop in Siem Reap who did film development super cheaply. Ironically, I did it to avoid ruining my “life’s work” negatives of this magical life-long goal. Yep, these are the worst negs money can buy developed by four teenage Cambodian girls. Streaks, lines and scratches galore. Never again have I developed anything on vacation; lesson learned. The brilliant way that Photoshop, Color EFX Pro and SilverFast appear to be working together has made the scanning process, and the repair of these negatives, less of a struggle.

My approach to Angkor was to shoot anything and everything that I could. I had no focus, and I had no concept of what the lenses did or how to frame an image. Depth of field was as much a mystery as how ancient peoples carved these mystical reliefs. I have never seen these photographs. I know that they are mine [my negatives, my film, my camera], but six years and never having seen them before means that these are like a mine revealed to a man digging for worms.

What is most fascinating for me is to not only see how I must have began developing a style/vision, but also how well these negatives have held up, where my digital files look old and dated. Before this trip I remember buying about thirty rolls of Kodak film and hoping that it was going to be enough; I suppose that I still do that with every big adventure V. and I begin. Life can be full of great and lesser expectations, but it is how you master those expectations that matters at the end of the journey.


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