This is part of a diary series format that I'm using to collect my thoughts after 5 years of travel for The Blue Skies Project. For an overview of all my diary entries, start here. - anton
I'm a month in, etching the victim numbers onto my blue sky polaroids with an old 1951 typewriter. Every mark on the image is permanent, and I was dreading the fact of making any mistake along the way. I did several hundred successfully, and then the first one popped up. A simple case of accidentally switching around two digits. The only way to correct is like you would imagine the good old days: repeatedly backspace with the typewriter and make sure the correct digit is impressed even deeper over the incorrect digit. It reminded me from when I was a kid, playing with an old typewriter found in the attic and writing pages of probably meaningless text, the act of writing meaning more to me than the content at the time. I remember wondering how people could estimate the last word to fit on a line without having to hyphenate. Or how they could hyphenate at the last possible moment without losing or leaving too much space. That eager anxiety popping up again and again at the end of every line was fantastic.
And then came the kind of "automatic" typewriters (yes I sound really old now but I promise I still feel 18. No wait, make that 25) that would have a crude single line LED screen right above the keys fitting approximately 2-3 lines of text, automatically printing a line as soon as the proper length and hyphenation was determined. Or god knows which algorithm was used; probably nothing too fancy, but I was curious nonetheless. And what a miracle that was at the time, it allowed you to backspace and correct on that tiny screen without having to literally use white-out or cross out. Literally a "word processor" in the purest sense.
Fast forward to today and here, anno 2018 I'm going back to those days making a completely analog project again, in the most "dangerous" way possible. Dangerous as in that I have no possible backups for the originals, because they are polaroid images. There is simply no way to go back into a darkroom and make a new print. There is no negative that can be re-used. Gone is gone, any damage is permanent, images are irreplaceable. It's REALLY scary. To put in terms of today: imagine that you have your original RAW files on one hard disk only, no backup whatsoever, and that every time you would make an edit in Affinity or Photoshop, you would not be able to undo and you would have to save the work at every step.
I think the invention of "Undo" and "Save As" is vastly underrated.
Yet at the same time I feel eerily familiar working this way. Boxes and boxes of carefully protected polaroids, all labeled and in order, like a librarian with index cards to organise something much larger looming behind. Every time I take out a polaroid, I need to exercise a certain caution, a way of handling to minimise the possibility of any damage or degradation. I really like it that having a certain touch is required again. It's so much more than working digitally, it has so much more to it and kind of sets your mind free in ways I can only now appreciate after a decade of digital-based work where I would disappear into my screen. Really love that type of work too, but it's a different thing.
Now I appear to be growing calluses on my fingertips because I have to hit the keys to the Olympia really hard so the letters etch into the emulsion layer. Yesterday I broke a steel rod and had to do an emergency MacGyver repair. It made me realise how hard I'm actually striking those keys. Poor typewriter. At 874 polaroids numbered and 204 waiting, I'm almost there.
At the same time, I'm engaging in an attempt to keep the polaroids safe by scanning every single one along the way. A high res scan of 1,87GB, comparable to a 350 Megapixel image. I'm almost at 2TB now, and working right at the edge of what my RAW editor can handle.
This mix of working digitally and analog is really a nice place to be, I've always felt more in control in my digital darkroom than my analog one, yet I loved the latter so much more. Ahh the days inside making prints. Since I stopped with my darkroom I've always missed the analog-ness and the uniqueness of the original. It's something I feared I had lost, but now regained with Blue Skies. Actually doubly so, because I have no negative, only one original print.
For the book – I'm working with Teun van der Heijden – we're following the same thought process of marrying digital with analog. As we all know, no book leaves Teun's hands without also being a worthy physical object and having a well defined position in his mind of what that book should be. And the Blue Skies book has a set of unique hurdles to overcome, the simplicity of a blue sky polaroid being so abstract and unforgiving. The step of going from digital to analog in reverse and all over again. My publisher (who I'll reveal soon) is a wonderful man who's completely on the same page. His approach is equally unique and extremely thoughtful. I'll be in good company in his catalog, knowing that he deeply understands the work.
Today is break day. I tend to go deep and disregard my body along the way and I know I shouldn't be doing that. No stress in my mind though. But then again, who knows what dragons lurk in the subconscious depths of the soul?
Have a great weekend,