I've never shot a single slide of film in my life.
I, like most, am shamelessly spoiled by technology. The steep learning curve attributed to shooting film coupled with the task of darkroom developing were skills I didn't have to learn. Often I think about how masters of this craft spent their entire careers shooting days, even weeks not seeing a result till they toiled away under the glow of a red light. These were some of the thoughts racing through my mind when, on day one of Burning Man, my go-to camera magnificently malfunctioned.
In the midst of dust proofing my D750 with painters tape (the best method I've found for protecting gear on the playa) the LCD screen went black. This had briefly happened once before, but this round was for good. LCD functionality had been lost. Everything from reviewing images to adjusting menu settings had been voided. My only window to the remaining functions were through the viewfinder or the exposure monitor on the top. Thankfully the camera still fired and recorded images, but I was reduced to only being able to view and adjust exposure settings.
So to summarize- within 24 hours of arrival my favorite piece of gear had been instantly reduced to a 1970's film camera.
My reaction was less than professional, aka I had a meltdown. I'd been on the road for nearly three weeks enduring car troubles and navigatory issues just to get to Black Rock CIty, and then this. The fact that I had a backup/second camera didn't even seem to register as I've become particular about what I use each piece of gear for. In need of perspective, I left all of my gear at camp that first night and enjoyed the company of my friends as we investigated the open playa for the first time that week. The internal battle flared up from time to time as we explored arguably the best art we'd seen in five years at Burning Man. By the end of the night it became clear that I had a choice. Either shoot sparingly with my backup gear and rely on excuses , or quit bitching and challenge myself. The digital world has accelerated many artists while also handicapping them, this was my chance to leave technology behind, check my skills, and find out how much I really knew about the tools that I use to tell stories.
I had a one roll of film to shoot, AKA 400 digital files.
With no playback screen and no safe delete feature, every snap had to stay. The mindset was an instant shift and while cliche, I had to make sure everything in the scene was right before firing the shutter. Every time I raised the camera I clenched it tighter, steadier hopefully. My eye movements frantically quadrupled as I scanned every corner of the viewfinder. Patience was tested over and over while waiting for scenes to develop and unfold. I was cleaning up the slack, taking more care, and triple checking my work before even creating it. This was mentally exhausting, but also how most photographers over time had to work. Exactly why they're the greats.
Maybe it was because I had no clue what my results were or perhaps it was from a week spent stretching my mind, but I felt like this experiment deserved some special treatment. Once I knew this would be a full series and story, I wanted to take it a creative step further. While I hadn't shot film I've always loved film, or at least the way it looks. The richness and color of (mostly motion picture) film is what inspired me as a teenager to begin creating in these visual mediums. Since I was approaching everything from this perspective I decided to process and edit these images as an homage to film stocks of the past.
Trust the experiment.
Far too often we forget to tinker, test, and hopefully fail. Spending a week with a black LCD screen taught me far more about this craft (and myself) than I could have imagined. Perhaps if it didn't happen at Burning Man I wouldn't have taken the leap to experiment, but this experience has me feeling far more apt and ready for new creative challenges. Gear will break, weather will suck, and shit will happen, so hopefully this will stand a a reminder to surrender, release, and making something fucking rad.