18 January 2008

Positively Negative

SAN CARLOS, MEXICO--Andrew Tonn stands on a small island just offshore San Carlos, Mexico on the Sea of Cortez toasting the day with a Negro Modelo. Dr. Jake Kuttothara photo

LUND--I recently bought a negative scanner from my friend Jesse Ewing, a Nikon Coolscan V ED. I had wanted one for a long time, having thousands of rolls of processed film waiting for some attention. I had, for the last years, been making do with a good Canon flatbed with film inserts my father had given me a long time ago, but the process was very slow and the results not quite satisfactory as the inserts never held the film quite flat (among other technical issues). Over the past six years or so on my Central American and Mexican expeditions I shot enough film to fill two five-inch binders. Much of it, since I only had the film processed and not printed, has never seen the light of day as finished images, either digital or as prints. Much of it, undoubtedly, never will.

Before I moved to Sweden in October one of the tasks I had to finish was the filing of those negatives, those and many others. I succeeded in collecting together all of the Latin American negatives (most I had already sleeved) and arranged them in binders by trip (Honduras February 2000, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico September 2001-May 2002, Mexico January-February 2004, Honduras, Guatemala, February-March 2005, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, February-May 2006 and El Salvador, June-July 2007). I thought the negative filing would take perhaps six or seven hours. In fact it took me about 36 hours of work and not long after I was done I remembered an aluminum case under my bed. I pulled it out and it was full of unfiled negatives though, luckily, not from Latin America. Rather than enduring a nervous breakdown I gently closed the case and slid it back under the bed. Due mostly to limited luggage space I brought with me only the Latin American negatives and the ones I shot in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But I also could have mailed the rest or found some way and there is a reason I did not. Those who know me well know how grimly tired I had become of Central America. While on my last trip to El Salvador I think I did some of my best photo work. I still, however, felt I had become dull to it. I was sick of the smells and the language and the everyday trials and my eyes were bored. I needed new lands to photograph, new sights, unfamiliar situations before I could re-approach that area which I do love so much. Within that, however, I needed to, need to, finish so much of the work I have accumulated over these past seven or eight years--to evaluate, catalog, print, publish and finally, at least to some degree, put aside those negatives and files and films and tapes so I can move on to new ones. Even if, or when, I hope, I go back to Central America I need to have a handle on what I have missed, what I have done and where to go with a new and fresh eye.

So, since the scanner arrived I have been sitting for hours listening to its whining grind and then watching as fractions of a second from years gone by appear on the screen. It is strange seeing these images here in wintery Scandinavia. It is strange to actually be "overseas." One often bandies the word "overseas" about whenever one leaves the United States (at least to go anywhere other than Mexico or Canada). In conversation people would often refer to my trips as "overseas" and I admit at times to falling into that trap myself. At the risk of stating the obvious, however, Central, and for that matter South America are not in any way overseas. They are "The Americas," and you can walk there, take the bus, get in your car and drive. So, while it was often strange being in an Ohio winter and looking at my more southern photos it never was as odd as this. There, if I needed another look I could hop on the bus and go look. Catch a plane early in the morning and be there by lunchtime. Once more, being obvious, everywhere is close to somewhere. Central America is relatively close to The United States but far from Sweden. In Sweden you could go to Poland for the weekend on a ferry. Hop on a plane and Afghanistan isn't all that far away.

The photos come up on screen, digitized ghosts of silver halide grains, cold scanner light and 0s and 1s illuminating the little squares that were altered years before by sun and lamplight in countries that are, at present, far overseas. I plan, now, on this blog, to regularly post some of these photos along with short stories of how they were taken. So keep coming back. As well, my readers, let me know what you would like to hear about Sweden, what images you would like to see. All too quickly, the strange and foreign becomes mundane.


Anonymous That Girl said...

It is a shame you managed to come to hate it there, but that was your own fault. Just wait until you miss it (a lot) again.
If it is stories you are seeking from your readers, than I want to read how Central America (you know, that part of the world that is apparently just a skip away from where you grew up) made the world seem beautiful and or make sense... the good things!

4:08 PM  

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