Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Scanfest, continued, or interrupted...

 It seems that I make a yearly pilgrimage to my negative treasure trove for a scanfest. My latest spate of salvaging, or chronicling the past, has been delving into old negatives of poets from the 1980s, and rendering, or perhaps wrestling them into digital format. 

The problem is that so many of my photos rely heavily upon use of dark and light. I was using TriX film, after all. I am a sucker for light hitting someone’s face, especially when it pierces one of their eyes, and the image comes alive. Like the one of John Oliver Simon at his desk, giving time that guarded look. Then the come-hither look. Then naked desire tinged with his dislike of feeling so vulnerable.

Many of my photos rely heavily upon that severe lighting. But minor details like hands and background tend to get chopped off because the Epson Perfection v. 550 scanner can’t see what’s there, so it makes drastic assumptions. When I attempted to scan Kenneth Rexroth photos last year, Michael McClure‘s hands were chopped off because the camera lens couldn’t see that there was something at the end of all that darkness. Ditto that with Carolyn Forché’s hands. I decided to wait it out.

But the used scanner I want, at the price I want, has not materialized in three years. I can no longer wait. Having to huck three heavy boxes of negatives up and down stairs three times now, from evacuations in progress, has prompted me to seriously consider just getting on with it with what I have, and scanning my entire collection, and then parting them out to library collections. At least they will be preserved.

Sure I will need to redo several collections, but for the most part, I‘ve salvaged an extraordinary amount of photos. However, some of the negatives are so dirty, with embedded dust, and hard water marks, cleanup is a nightmare. I’ve tried to gently clean the images with rubbing alcohol, or that deadly movie film cleaner,  but it didn’t work. I would need to soak the negatives and distilled water and see if I could clean them that way. Seems far too risky to do, so I scan the dirty negatives anyway. Better than nothing. 

My Meridel LeSueur images were hardest hit. And they were in film sleeves. A lot of good that did. I noticed that certain (not so inert) film sleeves (with frosted backs) clung to my negative strips, as if moisture that had gotten to them. Sigh.

The hidden Easter egg, as I combed through my folders, was that I found envelopes with negative stashed inside. Images I have never seen before. No proof sheets. Oftentimes when I needed a photo I would have an entire roll of film with images, but would choose only one, maybe three photos from a roll. I never looked closely at the rest of the images, so they never left the contact sheet stage. 

Our epic 1980 road trip to Port Townsend with Sharon Doubiago—images of Meridel LeSueur, and me reading with her. I had forgotten that I had produced an art show, an art opening, a workshop, at Sonoma State (12/81), plus a reading with Meridel at Garbo‘s in Guerneville. Was I ever busy. When did I sleep? Finding photos of Julia Vinograd in my Practicing Angels reading collection was a delight (7/86). I also realized that I had gone to two poetry events and recorded them in one day. As if one event wasn’t heady enough.

When I post the old photos on Facebook, it creates a flurry of memory for many people. Wild release. Old poets. Even Andrei Codrescu chimed in. Odd, I could never get anyone to pay me for my photos at the time, so many promises to use a photo for book covers that never materialized. I felt betrayed, but then, what was I expecting, poets are notorious for never paying for anything, would never consider paying five dollars for a hand-printed photograph. So here I am, giving it away. Again. 

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