Only the Penitent Man Shall Pass: 35mm Film Scans Persist Into the Night

Deep inside, I always wanted to be a real-life Indiana Jones. Growing up in the 1980s, the world was filled with action heroes and mysteries that could never be explained without travelling far into the darkest of lands. Indiana was a swash-buckling academic whose only match might have been Ernest Hemingway – now that would make for a brilliant movie. Adding Sean Connery to the mix in The Last Crusade only added to the brilliance, and Petra became a place I needed to see with my very own eyes.

Having done my Minor in Fine Arts History, I knew well that Indiana’s wild archeological exploits were more fantasy than fact, but the romance of discovery and having the adventurous spirit to take risks led me to Jordan. V. and I spent an entire day walking the ruins of Petra, looking at the facades of what were only small cave dwellings inside. While there was no holy grail offered up to those being humble enough to kneel at these altars, I was able to miraculously capture one shot without any human tourists in the frame. Using a Canon 17-40mm L series lens, I was just able to squeeze the treasury facade into the frame at 17mm on my full frame 35mm film camera, the EOS 3.  The negative, itself, is pretty beat up from the developing process, but it remains one of my proud travel photography moments.

The pyramids at Giza were another story altogether. From Coke cans to tour buses and men selling camel rides, the pyramids are a tourist trap nightmare. With guards randomly asking people not to climb on the pyramids to then taking bribes to be in photos with those same people, the place was a zoo. I just wanted to get away from the crowds, so in the blinding heat I went to a far corner and snapped these two photos from the main pyramid’s backside. Scale is the real issue when trying to convey the magnitude of the pyramids in a photograph. Like the moon, they always seem much smaller than they are. Perhaps that is what is to be learned from the pyramids: the feeling that comes from their towering, massive presence.

Finally, I scanned a photograph taken from a car in Costa Rica. It is blurry and fuzzy, but I have always liked the colours and the sense of motion almost set into play. Technically, it is a terrible photograph from eight or nine years ago, but emotionally I find it satisfying, which leaves the interesting question about what makes for a compelling photograph. Obviously, there are a multitude of answers to such a question, but in my mind sharpness, resolution and accuracy are not the prize-winning attributes of a photograph, whereas in most people’s current rationale for why they purchase a specific camera these are key criteria. Still, if I were shooting a product catalogue, then those are the main things I care about, too. One thing that I know for certain is that I am enjoying the time I have spent lately with my collection of 35mm negatives, and I figure that there is another week before I move on to the medium format negatives.

The entire process of scanning has drastically improved after watching Taz Tally’s videos on Lynda.com last month, and with the now-working SilverFast 8.0 update. I should also note that I have been processing my images in Photoshop, Lightroom and ColorEFX 4 to get the style that I want. These are my personal photographs, so I have no qualms about putting a border on them in archive; if I were trying to sell these as prints later on, then I might save them unbordered in archival TIFFs.

I am still sick with intermittent moments of energy – stupid cold virus. The solace I take to bed tonight is that even though these photographs were taken years ago, before I knew how to use my camera, they do not resemble the snapshots that the average family collects from their vacation times, and perhaps that is what I am most humbled and thankful for.

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