Imperfect Italy: Colour 35mm Film

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There is poetry in mischance, mistakes, mishaps. The best ideas sometimes lead into secret gardens undiscovered, down pathways never intended to travel. I dug my old Nikon out of wrapped tissue and took it to a gentleman working from a nook in a Singapore side street. His desk was strewn with cameras, dusty, whole, pieced together, as if from a better era when mistakes were meant to be made. He promised to tidy up my camera and remove any cobwebs, and that he did. And then I bought a lens, sharper and more beautiful than my eye: a fixed focus to keep things simple. When I attached the lens to the camera it didn’t work, in fact a tiny slip of the shutter fell out onto the palm of my hand when I took off the new lens to peer inside. Since the lens had been lost in transit and only tracked down through some goose chase, I must confess I despaired at this stroke of bad luck. My gentleman had since left on a trip so I had to find another person to tend to my camera, this time a lady with a gentle and comforting smile. She assured me it would all be fixed within the hour. Except it wasn’t. Her grim shake of the head told me, an hour later, that it was in need of further attention, one that would come at a steep price and take some days. The dollar count was creeping upwards yet, still, I said yes. It had to be done, the idea chased.   It was a thing of risk and wonder to finally pull the film into the camera and click the shutter. I couldn’t see the picture, like a whisper it flitted from my mind to my eye through the lens. And, like magic it lay somewhere beyond. No digital screen, no instant satisfaction, no chance to delete, share or send. With a breath, I knew I had taken a small step back in time and a little leap into the unknown. With all risks, mistakes are frequent and I was to find this out.

It turns out I had loaded the film incorrectly. The first film loaded in 14 years and I had taken a miss-step. For when I went to collect the film, the man shook his head and said the whole strip was bare. Not one of the 36 carefully composed photos was there. Venice. Its light, its chill, its magic in black and white would have to remain a memory, turned right-side up on the mirror of my mind. Is it too much to say I felt sorrow for the photos left unseen? Taken but never shared? Could be there be a lesson here about impermanence, the futility of capturing a moment, the resistance to keep close everything that is fleeting? I took small comfort in the colour film that would be ready the next day. And here is the poetry of the thing. The chance one takes with film. For these were spoiled, damaged, stained with lines and blotches of blue like thoughts printed and pressed where they were uninvited and unwanted. As if something had stolen into my camera and licked acid across the tiny squares of shiny film. I cannot find any reason why this happened. No fault lies with me, nor the camera and the film was sealed and new. It is likely human error in the lab, but whatever the cause, the images were now imperfect and a mystery had taken hold. I pressed my head into my hands and asked a naked ghost: Why?

A few days later I looked at them again and found some magic in the spoiling and some symmetry in the lines of damage that traced time and trust across Venice, the place of fairy tales and magic, hope and art and despair and heartbreak. For Venice is so beautiful it can make one weep. Perhaps, having been captured by cameras too many thousands of times, the city turned, creaked and refused to be perfect.

Here, then is my imperfect Venice and Rome.


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