Thirty-six Frames and 165 MPH

I had a dream last night that brought about a feeling I haven’t felt in quite some time. It should have been something other than a dream, something more conscious, because I am almost always engaged in it on some level. The problem is, I realize now, that I’ve discounted the feeling by its automation, its technology, even its omission, because I don’t even need to do it anymore, that action that brought the feeling about.

The dream was about loading a camera with film. Even writing this brings that sentiment back. Load in the pellicle of thirty-five millimeter Fujichrome Velvia thirty-six exposure, or even more elementary, some Tri-X.  Snap the back shut and hit the shutter release a couple of times and let the winder feed the celluloid across the film plane, making the rewind crank turn confirming its been loaded properly. If that last sentence doesn’t make you feel something, chances are you’ll never know that feeling. Locking in a card isn’t the same thing. It never will be. Thirty-six exposures meant that’s all the chances you’re going to have on this roll where now, our chances are indefinite.

At one hundred sixty-five miles per hour on a motorcycle you only think about one thing. It’s not the mortgage payment, whether the iron was unplugged or if you’re ready for tomorrow’s class. You think only about velocity and its consequences. Like thirty-six exposures, your choices are limited. And I can’t help but think that maybe we were better off that way.

The feeling was the same between having a loaded camera and full gas tank on my motorcycle. It was one of limited possibilities, that I better not screw anything up in my pursuit of making every frame count. Every mile means something more than just covering ground, it is getting there, where the getting is more important than the there and in doing so there’s more at stake.

Shooting more frames or fixing it in post doesn’t ameliorate the craft of photography, it decreases the odds of luck. And rolling around in a cage with six airbags and antilock brakes is more insulating than asphalt ever wanted to allow. Sure, we’re all happier and safer and we look good doing it. The questions is, are we getting any better?

The miles have turned into keys on my piano and the frames have turned into days I have as a husband, father and professor. Writing and arranging my songs certainly doesn’t pose the risks of three digit speeds on the Blackbird, but playing them for an audience or releasing their recordings feels just as vulnerable, and that’s a good feeling. And every now and then a day gets wasted like an accidentally released shutter exposing a frame on my feet or the backside of a lens cap, but there’s always redemption in the film advance lever.

At this point in my life I just hope there’s more than twelve frames left.


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