Hello! Me again, with the next installment of “Shooting Film in India.” When we last met, I had just moved my family to India and my rolls of 35mm and 120mm film were vying with dosa mix for space in my refrigerator. Frustrated, on the verge of throwing in the towel, and standing outside the door of of my very own make-believe, fantasy darkroom, three small children pounding to get in, I awoke in a cold sweat. My exposed film was backing up. I had to do something with it.
Shortly after my arrival in India, I joined a group called “Film India” on Facebook and Googled the life out of “Film, Chennai, Camera, Help, Someone, Save, Me.” After making acquaintances with some great people in (and out of) the area, I was finally directed to a gentleman who had once owned a popular camera store in Chennai. So I did what any film lover might do…I went straight to that strange man’s apartment across town.
With my driver in tow, we knocked on the apartment door. When the gentleman opened the door, he immediately embraced my driver. Already convinced that Chennai was the friendliest place on earth, I thought nothing of it. I would later learn that as a young man, Sundar, our driver, had driven for the gentleman and his seven brothers and sisters as children. In safe hands, I entered, sat, took tea, juice, water and biscuits, exchanged pleasantries, as well as the names and professions of my husband and father, and received a wedding invitation to his daughter’s wedding, then the film, of course, and a promise to return weeks later.
(You are likely now beginning to see why I wax poetic about Chennai. I wish all business could be done this way. Alas, the world is a fast moving place and film slows me down, for which I am eternally thankful and thus my patience level was perfectly suited to the leisurely ways of many countries we visit, including India.)
My rolls returned from Mumbai via a courier and a little Indian magic several weeks later. I raced home in Chennai’s sweltering mid-day traffic, dodging rickshaws and cattle, and back to my computer with a CD and an envelope of negatives to see the results. They weren’t bad, but at well over $20 a roll, it turned out it wasn’t worth the time saved.
I also sent a few rolls to two local pharmacy-style Konica labs in Chennai. The results were much worse: The first lab sent back negatives that looked to have been scanned by a cat with very sharp claws. And the second? A CD of scans that were embedded within 65 hidden folders like Russian nesting dolls.
I rang my friends at The FIND Lab.
I purchased two Domke lead bags, and the lab arranged to have them sent back upon arrival, thus creating a constant circuit of film from Chennai to Utah and back. I’d save up a gallon zip-lock bag’s worth of film and send it out to be developed every three months or so. FEDEX wasn’t cheap, but there seemed to be a steady stream of friends and colleagues headed to the States that were willing to drop a box at USPS when they touched down. Thus, the cost stayed low and my inbox full of Christmas-like joy when scans arrived.
Next time I’ll be talking about what’s in my bag and a typical day shooting in Chennai. If you have questions please leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to address them in subsequent posts! Get out there and shoot!