In his elegaic book The Disappearance of Darkness, Photography At the End of the Analog Era, Robert Burley writes, "Photography as an art form has always been dependent for its existence on the availability of film itself, as surely as painters have depended on the availability of canvas and tubes of paint...It is ironic to think that just as film has finally been freed from its mundane applications in the everyday world to be explored as an artist's material, it could very easily disappear altogether..."
I thought of this quote yesterday as I rummaged through the glove box in my car. Underneath the tissues, cassette tape adapter for my stereo, and granola bars, I found two rolls of 120 film. I like to "cook" a roll of two in there just to add a bit more unpredictability to photographic endeavors. One roll was GP3 100 and this roll of Bergger BRF-200. It's been in there for three years. I immediately regretted cooking the Bergger because it is my last roll of this now-discontinued film. I didn't know when I put it in the glove box. When I first began working with Holga cameras, Bergger was one of the first films I purchased, in part because the description spoke of its blocky, old-fashioned grain.
I'm a sucker for that kind of grain. And I made what I consider some damn good photos using this French film. But this last roll made me melancholic, nostalgic even. Across the Internet are rosters of film that is no longer manufactured. Film is not dead, but the choices are dwindling. RIP is a common refrain.
Like someone who finds an expired roll of something at a tag sale, I am faced with what to do with my last roll of Bergger (I am hopeful of scoring at least a few more on eBay, but have been unsuccessful thus far (this film just fell off the face of the Earth)).
I want to honor this roll of film in some way. I suppose I could keep it, but I feel about it the same way I feel about my vintage cameras. They are meant to be used, not ogled. Film was meant to be exposed, processed, and developed into photographs. To do otherwise would be to disrupt its destiny.
This leads to the next question: What to photograph? This is a sublime ache. I once wrote a poem called "That Last Apple." It was based on an essay titled "A Multiplicity of Apples" by Edward Behr in his recently reissued book The Artful Eater. I won't bore you with my poem, but it was inspired by the first sentence, "Possibly, the best apple I ever ate was a Wealthy that I picked one cool, sunny September day some years ago from the last living branch of an old tree in an abandoned farm orchard."
Behr savored that apple the way I now contemplate savoring this roll of Bergger film - from the tactile to the emotional. The term "cage relic" from the title has been appropriated by the video gaming world, but its original meaning was to give a name to the last living example of an almost extinct species. The last-of-its-kind animal, sitting in a cage, was the last gasp before the end of the line.
My roll of Bergger film may not truly be a cage relic. Who knows when the last roll of this brand of film will be shot. But it is my cage relic. I look at it through the bars of is obsolescence and ponder its fate. What light will I ask it to render?
As Behr writes, "Yet the deep roots of the dying tree may have concentrated an exceptional store of energy into the final display of fruit (the tree was dead the next year)...so often one is distracted and doesn't really taste things. And, of course, things remembered are almost always better."
Not to put too fine a point on this, but I insist on really tasting (remembering, honoring) this roll of film. I want to be able to point at twelve images made with a Holga or one of my other cameras, and say, "This was my last roll of Bergger."
As my indecision remains, so does this roll of film. A cage relic in my film drawer.