It is ten-fifteen, Tuesday morning, and this is a horror story.
At the time, I was exhausted from the flu and troubled by sinusitis and decided against my better judgement to ride out my misfortune with some friends and a couple of cases of beer in a small cabin at the Western coast.
We hit the cabin in the evening and had been hitting the beer on the way. It was cold like you would not believe, the wind coming in hard from the sea, leaving any exposed skin a stinging blue-white. During the past hours, our drive had slowly erased the urban landscape in which I feel at home, and replaced it with a desolate and deserted scenery: Sand, dunes, and sea, all held together by a grassy vegetation, whose frozen coarseness, should you be careless enough to throw yourself into it, seemed able to cut right through any protective layers of clothes and skin and scar you from the inside out.
We lit a fire, threw ourselves around the fireplace, and drank them down. Soon, I was swallowed by the soothing calm of a velvety darkness.
I woke the next morning feeling miserable. Somebody wanted to go down to the water, and I was too weak or too indifferent to object. Anyway, I had brought my m3 freshly loaded with a roll of Ilford xp2 just in case. Normally, I shoot regular black and white films, but lately I have taken to the xp2. Its latitude and vast tonal range seems to go well with the relatively low contrast and resolution of old lenses. In addition, you can have it developed within the hour at most photo stores.
Peeking out the window, the light seemed all right. So I stuffed my camera into a bag and followed the others.
Hung over and cross-eyed, I danced clumsily around the beach composing and clicking, occasionally being thrown off balance by the icy gale. I did a couple of portraits of my friends but felt less than inspired. I turned my attention towards the surrounding seascape. It seemed inhospitable and hateful and the feeling was mutual. Close by, two giant wind turbines were churning away frantically, filling the air with sinister, unearthly sounds. I tried to visualize and capture this dread while photographing, but I am not really a fan of landscape photography and felt generally out of place. Eventually, we had enough and headed back to the cabin to tend to our wounds.
Back in the city, I felt the pain lifting and the fever receding. I didn’t feel confident about the photos I had taken, but went to my local photo store anyway to have the roll developed. I don’t think they do a lot of film development there, so I carefully instructed the girl behind the counter: Just develop, no printing, no cutting. She seemed to understand.
An hour later I returned to pick up my film. The girl was there and proudly showed me the result: A nice, uncut roll of film placed in a paper envelope. Good enough for me.
But then the horror occurred. A guy in his twenties, presumably the manager of the store, walked up and inspected the envelope. Swiftly, he snatched it from the girl, turned it upside down, dropping my film on the counter. I was speechless as he picked up the roll and exclaimed: “This film is far too unprotected like this. Let me sort it out.” He grabbed the roll of film by the end and started rolling it up tightly, both his thumbs and index fingers placed firmly on either side of the film. Before I could object, he walked into the back room, still rolling, and eventually returned with an old film canister, into which he had now forced the roll. “Now it’s well protected.”
Returning home, I inspected the damage done by his busy fingers. It seemed irreparable. Loads of dust, large scratches running across the frames, and the occasional ornaments of greasy finger prints. I scanned the film and confirmed my first analysis: The photographs were ruined. I tried touching them up, but they were ruined. I am all for allowing any mistakes and faults under the license of creative freedom, but I am having a hard time justifying a portrait with a large, greasy thumb print smeared across the face of the portrayed person. Call it lack of imagination.
A few weeks later, I looked at the photographs again. Most of them were ruined, but a few of the landscape depictions stood out. The fingers of the photo clerk had conveyed upon them a certain appearance, almost like an effect filter, with a distinctive worn, eerie look that was starting to appeal to me. Somehow, it seemed to cloud the photographs in the feelings of dread and misery that I had myself experienced in their taking and tried to visualize and fixate.
That’s when it dawned on me: With this, I have discovered a means of stable income. Other photographers would want this effect as well, as soon as they witness its splendor. They would want it applied to their film rolls. And later, the digital community would discover it and pay me to replicate it. That greasy-fingered photo clerk effect filter. Then the instagrammers. Then the hipstamatics. I would never have to starve again.
But it all needs to start somewhere. The word needs spreading. So send me something, a soul or a firstborn, and I will disclose the location of the greasy fingered photo clerk and you can take your own rolls there for his special treatment. Better yet, send me all your film and all your money. I will kidnap the guy, lock him in my basement and have him do nothing but roll up 35 mil and stuff it into old film canisters. A fitting punishment, after all.