I buy film impulsively with some project in mind. Then I never get to the project and eventually forget why I bought the film. I’ve done it enough that I now have about 15 rolls of film I need to shoot up. I’m working my way through this stock while I refine my home developing technique.
I own two rolls of 120 Kodak Tri-X that expired in June of 1981. I had a day off a couple weeks ago, and it was a warm spring day. So I spooled one roll of the Tri-X into my Yashica-12 and took it for a drive in the country. It was lovely to smell all the rural-Indiana spring smells. Along one country road the fields were awash in fragrant golden flowers. Another road smelled strongly of swine. That’s Indiana!
I stopped when I came upon the small town of Sheridan, and blew through the whole roll there.
In small town Indiana, everybody knows everybody and everybody’s lived there for ages. Even though the streets were largely deserted, a stranger like me stands out. These little towns are seldom popular destinations. The locals are sure to wonder why I’m making photographs there.
As I wrapped up the roll, I noticed one fellow stick his head out his door and give me a sidelong look. Several minutes later a woman pulled up to me in her car to ask what I was doing. Two minutes later, another car bearing two women pulled up to ask the same thing. They put on friendly faces, but that they asked at all told me I had worn out my welcome.
I’ve experienced this many times as I’ve photographed small Midwestern towns. I have a window of time before people let me know, at first subtly and then directly, that I’m noticed.
I’m a middle-aged, well-groomed white man. While I stand out because I am not known there, at least I look more or less like everyone else.
When I was in my 20s, with hair halfway down my back and wearing rock-concert T-shirts, I feel sure I would have received a distinctly unfriendly reception.
If my skin were brown but all else about me were the same as it is now, I’ll bet someone in Sheridan (or in any small, rural Midwestern town I’ve ever visited) would have called the sheriff.
It’s safe to be a middle-aged white man.
I developed the film that afternoon in L110, Dilution B, and scanned it the next day. This film was so fogged that the images were barely visible on the negatives. Yet my scanner cut through it and brought out usable, though very grainy, images. Here are the best of them.
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