Portra, Motherhood & Fields of Light

79740012.JPG

CAMERA: CANON ELAN

LENS: 24-105 L

FILM: PORTRA 400 RATED AT 200

 

As a mother I'm often told, "You've got your hands full!" At the grocery store, at the park. If I dare to venture to a small, quiet place that is not the library (note to self: never do this). And it's true. Full hands are occupied; I can't carry other things. Full hands are tired from a load. Awkward in life when the hands are needed - using a foot or an elbow instead. Vision obstructed by the fullness. Peering over what I carry while walking. You've got your hands full! A platitude that can even come off as an insult at times, but at it's best captures a beautiful reality. The opposite of loneliness. Like hands full of money, hands full of love letters. Hands full of film! I'm busy, I'm tired, I can't focus well; but I carry a burden of tremendous value.

Do you photograph well when traveling with your children? We booked an Airbnb in Flagstaff for our anniversary (eight years!) but the girls got sick. Like, no other human should deal with their snot at this stage type of sick. So we packed up their pea coats and brought them along, happy for the change of plans. Photographing them at home is easy; each of us in our familiar space and routine. But while traveling I find it difficult to enter either space with fullness - photographing and mothering. I find the modes totally opposed; mothering as an active, talkative, entertaining, need-meeting mode. And photographing as a silent, open, receptive and importantly solitary mode. As a remedy I take my camera out during specific intervals in which my husband has full command of the girls and their needs. It helps.

For this experiment I shot Portra 400 at one shutter speed (1/125) wide open, hoping again for an easier method than external metering. I rated this roll at 200. Approaching my kids space to take a reading is something I cannot get used to, having shot polaroid and digital for so long. The good news - it worked! The light was tremendous at this particular moment. Diffused by pines and brightly reflecting off the grass. Using one shutter speed enabled me to just shoot - focusing on composition and emotion more than mechanics.

This was Vivian's first time touching snow. Can you remember? I grew up with it in New York so I have a gamut of memories: numb fingers and toes, how it immediately turned to brown slosh, lumpy but respectable snowmen, the first snowfall blanketing the houses on my street. Watching it go by street lamps like a swarm of gnats in one direction. But then and now, how it looks was my favorite part. Vivian was thrilled to embody the things we've read about and watched over the years. Throwing snowballs, bravely making a snow angel and hearing it crunch beneath her feet.

These photographs were made in the swirl of chaos that is two little girls, colds notwithstanding. Whining and falling and running in opposite directions and my bag stuffed with other cameras being too heavy. Throwing a snowball directly at my lens (kid!) and needing noses wiped. Overall I'm pleased with how they turned out! It's hard to go wrong in dappled forest light. These pictures were taken on the Canon Elan that my mom got me at a garage sale for $10. 35mm continues to dazzle me with it's handling of light. The forced waiting of film is good for my body, brain and creativity. Waiting for the moment of intrigue, the leap, the laugh, the pinecone found.

These last few images mean so much to me since I have so few photographs of myself with the girls in comparison to the droves of them alone. I am cherishing this season we're in, especially since Eleanor dropped to one nap and we can actually leave the house for longer than a few hours. We have a new dynamic, the three of us. Not mama and Vivian and baby but now Mama and her girls. They play, they talk, Vivian feeds Eleanor cheerio by cheerio and says, "good job, little duckling." Being their mama can threaten to disintegrate my identity at times... it pushes to me to the limit of my physical endurance and then gives the final enthusiastic shove off the cliff. But I am getting used to it. To the tumbling and stretching; the painful yet fruitful work of nurturing these tiny image bearers to fruition.

Aperture Priority + Portra 400

79310028.JPG

Hello light lovers,

Let's talk about metering. The prospect of having to use a handheld meter kept me from shooting 35mm for a long time. Because the heart of my work is children in genuine motion I avoid interrupting them too much. But after this roll I can say that along with many aspects of shooting film, I get the results back and realize it's worth the cons, inconvenience and cost. Changing my shooting method feels intimidating, but I'm trying to lean into the discomfort and will do another roll soon metering all the way through. Photographers with more experience (bless you all, every last one) tell me that metering by the book is a season, and once you have experience you can usually guess based on your stored knowledge of lighting conditions and favored aperatures. Fingers crossed!

79310019.JPG

Although I've already shot a test roll of Portra 400, shooting it on aperture priority at golden hour was on my list of experiments. This setup was on my list because I hoped (wished) it would enable me to leave the meter at home. But really, I just needed to confirm that a less invasive metering method wasn't a workable option. I know it's limitations in the digital world but want to try it out anyway. It performed as expected: okay but generally unreliable with a tendency to underexpose. I rated this roll at 200.

79310004.JPG

Thoughts on this roll: I'm learning how film acts when pointed into the sun. I'm learning to yield to perfection as with polaroid — how to press the shutter only when all elements align: story, light, composition. But when the consequence comes a week later (or two if black and white) instead of right away, I notice my heart gets a little unruly. I grasp — I see magic in my viewfinder and I panic. The digital trigger pace creeps back in. And I'm left with about 30% satisfaction with the roll. I'd prefer arond 99%. 

Although that high of a yield is unrealistic, I enjoy striving after it. The stringent, unrealistic self-discipline of art-making. God knows I rarely apply such a standard in my life! But having a tiny curated room where I can arrange every stick of furniture as I see fit and be as manic as I please... that's satisfying. Maybe a psychological maladaptation to a fallen world (a blogpost for another day, I have maladaptations galore) but satisfying nonetheless. And a close confidante throughout my life. I heard in the trailer for Annie Leibovitz's new Master Class, "Don't be afraid to get obsessed." Don't mind if I do. 

79310031.JPG
79310005a.jpg
79310014.JPG

Thanks for reading, dear hearts. Where are you in your film journey? Seasoned vet? Scaredy cat? I'm smack dab in the middle of those two I think. Bringing 15 years of both experience and baggage to each roll. We get addicted to this feeling, don't we. The feeling of being a beginner. The pursuit, however mind-bending the learning curve. The voice inside keeps singing it's silent song and our fingers must put it to form. Film is the landing place for all of my deepest stories; I get a roll back and think how wondrous it is that there's this opera going on inside my head, with dramatic ups and down, and all I have to do to let it out is press a button.

My First Roll of Portra 400

It seems only yesterday I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light.

If you cut me I could shine.

—Billy Collins

 

When you have golden light pouring into a window it barely matters what camera or film you're using. So I credit the sun with the magic of these. And the whispy, untamed hair of these sisters. My first roll of Portra 400, shot on aperture priority. Because the light was strong I could focus on composition with these. Wouldn't it be lovely if that were always the case?