Slow Photography

A while back I read a story about slow food, the kind of food that people at those long tables in Tuscany. Meals that people talk about for the rest of their lives.

But we’re not really built for that anymore as a society. We’re in a big hurry. We need to do everything faster. Immediately.

That extends too to photography. Now you can pick up a camera, focus on what you want and get a perfect image in two seconds and move on. So today I decided to pick up my Lubitel, which I had totally forgotten how to use, but we’re in year three or month three of quarantine. I literally have no idea. But anyway, the camera came out of mothballs, I mean a drawer at my parents house and out it went.

Well, not so fast. First, there was still a roll of film in the camera from I’m going to say 2004 but I can’t exactly be sure. My dad had two rolls of 120 lurking around in some corner somewhere. We had to take the film out the camera, which I had pretty much forgotten how to do in the first place. We stood in a dimmed bathroom and relearned how to load film in a camera.

We went for a little walk around a rather pleasant botanical garden around here and I decided to take the Lubitel for a test drive. A review. I’ve put the idea in my head that I’m going to drag that camera up to the top of a mountain next winter. I will become the skier with the weird camera around my neck. But I kind of wanted to figure out how to use the controls before I’m trying to take a picture and avoid frostbite at the same time. Try it out in neutral circumstances, I guess.

Anyway, what fun the Lubitel and I had today. Now, the number of pictures you can take, well, how many times can your finger press that button???? Infinite??? Well, imagine you could only press that button 16 times, sometimes 12. LOL. Choose your shots wisely dear child.

So I got to the botanical garden and choose my first shot with the Lubitel. Oh wait, how to focus this thing again???? Is the image in focus???? Wait. I don’t want to take it this way. Why won’t this thing focus???? OK, I’m going to take this another way. No, I don’t like this. Don’t waste a shot on this. Wait for something better. After I got over the initial shock of this, it got fun. It was interesting looking through the little view finder and composing in there, just like the compose through the screen function is now on my DSLR. The camera has a kind of an odd appeal to it. And hey life is SLOW now, so there might be some more production from it.

Speaking of slow. So the photos for tonights fire side chatting are the definition of slow. I took these between 2001 and 2003, when I lived on Capitol Hill right after I graduated from college. I guess everyone looks back on different phases of their lives and thinks — what a strange time that was, but for me, it feels that way when I think about DC. Recently I was making a joke about a certain presidential daughter who was giving a commencement speech where was giving advice to a bunch of new graduates about like economic uncertainty or something she has never had to experience. SHE got offered a job at Vogue, even though she didn’t accept it, blah blah blah. She knew she wanted to do real estate development, blah blah blah. Girl, sit down. Anyway, I graduated from college with a truckload of academic honors and moved in a house with a hole in the ceiling of the living room. Not a small hole. I used to sit in the living room and think the toilet was going to fall through the floor into the living room.  I was a cub reporter back then.  No I did not write about baby bears but cub reporters are very young journalists just getting their start in the industry.  Cub reporters aren’t really know for being overpaid but for the money I was making, the place was just right.  And I was a cub and I was living in what was essentially a cave.  Perfect.

Capitol Hill was interesting back then. It was this area that you could feel was about to completely transform. The buildings were very nice but they were very run down. It felt like people had either lived there for their entire lives or were 22 year old recent college graduates who worked and socialized 24/7 and didn’t care if their shower actually worked. I was the later but the shower actually worked. Most of the time.

Capitol Hill was mysterious back then for lack of a better word. There were buildings that looked like they had been put up during the Civil War and hadn’t changed any since then. Around the corner from where I lived was a school that had been abandoned for a very long time. I would peek through the windows to see broken desks and dusty old books. There were different businesses that I would never really see open. Close to where I lived, there was a little shopping plaza where I went to the supermarket, the Safeway. One day a guy walked up to me and said — watch out for yourself. There was a dollar store in the same plaza that sold the oddest products, just the weirdest things. One day I saw a window display of Tide Laundry detergent and the labels were all in Russian. It was one of the few days I actually left my camera at home. What an crazy oversight on my part!!!!!!

I worked a lot during the week and I did my share of socializing but I’d also be there alone a lot. I’d make dinner and watch DVDs from Netflix. Yes, it was that long ago. I guess I was trying to figure out how to actually run a life. I kept feeling like I was really not good at that, whereas everyone had already figured out where they wanted to live, who they wanted to be with, where they wanted to work and me sort of adrift in all of this. I spent a lot of time thinking I had missed that day when everyone had just figured it all out.  I had also missed the lesson on how to do that.  I think back on that now and I can’t believe I actually thought that way.  But, nobody ever tells you how hard your 20s will be but that you will eventually figure it out.

One thing that I did all the time was take the Lubitel and photograph the neighborhood. This was the time when people were already using pretty good digital cameras and here I was using a box with a hole in it with a length of film inside. But it was great. Capitol Hill was full of all of these odd little details, stuff that it took you a long time to discover. You had to be there with your slow camera doing your slow photography to notice them. I think I also captured the area the way it was at the time. It’s much more gentrified than what I remember. I googled my old house address and the house I lived in after college just sold for just under a million dollars. Needless to say, they patched the hole in the ceiling. I’m kind of hoping when we can all do some significant moving around, I can go down to DC to look at some old corners.

So here we are today. I’m at my parents house and these negatives have been gathering dust for almost 20 years. I scanned them all in yesterday and I was really happy to see how well they all turned out. Little worlds onto themselves. A couple of them really brought back how I felt when I took them. One in particular took me right back to how hopeless I felt when when I took and how hopeful I feel now. Nothing lasts forever. Life adds on layers and nuances and that’s what makes us people. Eh, ok. Enough deep thoughts. The pictures!!!!!!!

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