I recently updated and re-edited a post on our travel blog from a photography trip I made to New Mexico in 1999, Villanueva. Named after the tiny village on the Pecos River where I borrowed a summer house, the original purpose of the expedition was to shoot black-and-white, mostly medium format, film.
The re-edited trip report reflects that spirit of photography at its roots: careful, ponderous black-and-white compositions that spoke to the history of photography and the elegance of the desert.
After publishing the re-edit, and being very happy with it, I revisited my negatives and my journal comments from the trip. It turns out that the reality isn’t nearly as romantic as the trip report indicates. For starters, I wasn’t just shooting medium format, and I wasn’t just shooting black-and-white. The truth is that I was shooting whatever extra, unusual, experimental, and expired film I had sitting on my shelves.
Those films include…
- Kodak Professional 400 35mm color negative film. The company that sold us film in 1999 accidentally send us five 100-foot rolls of this film. When I tried to send it back, they sent me the correct film (36-exposure Fuji film), and told me I could keep the 100-foot rolls, no charge. I never saw this film in any Kodak catalogs, and it yielded fairly terrible results, so it might have been some kind of repackaged grey market fraud.
- One roll of Kodak Plus-X 35mm film that had expired in 1990. I never bought Plus-X and didn’t like it, so I have no idea where I got it.
- Kodak T-Max 400 medium format. This was another film that was gathering dust on the shelves at my office, because even though I wanted to shoot medium format at work, I almost never did.
- Fuji Super G 100 medium format color film. I’m sure I had some of this stockpiled at the office as well, and just never used it. I seem to recall that it was past its expiration date.
- Fuji Super G 400 35mm film. I only shot one roll of this, exclusively “snapshots.”
- Kodak T-Max 400 35mm. I shot about two rolls of this, which was my go-to film at work. These, too, were expired rolls.
- Kodak Verichrome Pan medium format black-and-white. This film gave the best results of the trip, thanks to its wide latitude, excellent tonal quality, and ideal response to filtration. Kodak stopped making Verichrome just three years later.
Travel Journal, July 1999:
The air here is so clear, just like I remembered. Nature is far more the master on a daily basis, far sturdier, far less caring than at home.
Mountains are so much more significant than we are. Then again, a mountain can’t reach out and kill me.
Ansel and Georgia saw this same desert light. It still has an excellence.
Over the years I have attempted to reduce the number and weight of cameras I carry when I travel, both because it is more fun to travel light, and to prevent the kind of hybridization of imaging that occurred in travels such as Villanueva. The problem with too many cameras and too many films is that it requires too much attention, attention that should be on spent on composition, light, the moment.
I’ve done a pretty good job learning this lesson, though it took a while. Lately I usually travel with just one camera and a superzoom lens, and a tiny point-and-shoot in my pocket. My energy, hopefully, is spent on the genuinely important things in photography, including the most important one, having fun.