By Caroline Mills
I’m often quite impatient as a photographer. Not impatient in the sense that I can’t linger almost indefinitely, waiting for the exact synchronicity of a street scene that I see in my mind to manifest in reality. But impatient when it comes to the last three or four shots of a roll of film. With one shot remaining on a roll of Kosmo Foto Mono, I decided to double expose it – I was using a Lomo LC-Wide, after all, and it has some fun quirks to explore for double exposures.
A quick snap of London’s Picturehouse Central’s neon café sign superimposed over an out-of-action escalator at Piccadilly Circus Tube station seemed an adequate, throwaway final shot. It would probably be a mess, but that’s OK: it was just the final shot of a roll I needed to use up.
Once the roll was developed and scanned, I found myself returning to the final shot, the throwaway, impatient, use-the-film-up frame. To me, there was something about the concept of a neon sign, superimposed over something else, possibly something mundane, that I found quite compelling. It ended up being my favourite shot of the roll. I decided to do more of this exact thing. And to do it consciously. And to do so in monochrome, defying the current trend of Cinestilling the hell out of neon.
Staying with the Lomo LC-Wide, I loaded and marked up a roll of Film Photography Project’s Wolfman; marked it up, as it seemed vital to me to ensure the central placement of the neon in the frame. The best laid plans…
On a photowalk in Soho (perfect!!) I shot the first ‘round’ – the neon signs. I rewound and removed the film in my ‘darkroom’ (also known as ‘bathroom’) and reloaded it, dutifully lined up according to the marking I’d photographed for reference. It probably then took me a further month or so to shoot the second round, a delay and careless attitude that I suspected had ruined the entire project.
One of the ‘fun quirks’ of the LC-Wide is that you can shoot half-frame. One of the less ‘fun quirks’ is that the switch from full- to half-frame is easily switched when you have a careless attitude to the camera in your bag. Before you know it, you are shooting half-frame. You realise it’s set to half-frame. You panic as you realise your frames are no longer carefully aligned. You set about doing what you can to realign by shooting a blank half-frame. But you are pretty certain it’s fubar’d. You impatiently shoot the film to its conclusion.
My lightbox and Negative Me app-produced contact sheet reaffirmed my assessment: I’d screwed up. The neon was only centrally placed in maybe the first few frames, at least confirming that my original marked-up film loading technique was valid, but overall the roll was a failure.
I set about scanning it with a degree of resignation, mentally calculating when and if I could be bothered to redo the experiment. Then some of the shots really started to stand out and almost seemed to carry a narrative. I posted one or two on some well-known social media platforms. The response from photog followers was surprisingly positive.
What I saw as a failure in composition, the neon not sitting centrally, in many cases was turning out to be a plus point. A central focus on neon may have been more of a distraction, in fact. I found in the end BBQ pork over a tube platform, Edgar Wright’s ‘Last Night in Soho’ logo incongruously placed over the melding of a train platform and Roehampton University, and, almost as some kind of social commentary, ‘live nudes’ on Albert Bridge in Battersea.
As a failed experiment, I’ll take that.