I blew it...again

Morale is low. I left my apartment late in the afternoon yesterday and walked downtown. I wanted to take photos of yesterday’s marches. I didn’t look online to see where the marchers were. There are bread crumbs everywhere. People walking with signs, police on bikes riding by, and the protest tracker in the sky – the inevitable helicopters.

I went with my Canon FTb loaded with TriX 400. It was risky, but I knew that going in. I ruined my last roll of film at home. I hadn’t changed the overall formula since then, except for maybe a change in film from a Cinestill black and white to TriX. What’s that they say about doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results?

The light meter on the Canon FTb doesn’t work. It’s an old camera, so the batteries they used for it aren’t made anymore. I think it’s Mad Hatter kind of stuff. People swear by some newer batteries combined with some mental gymnastics. I try to avoid gymnastics of any sort. Ever watch those sports highlights where the gymnast comes off the vault horse thingmajig, takes one twirl (technical term) too many and faceplants into the floor? That’s what I think of when I think of doing gymnastics, literally or figuratively.

Besides, I’ll rely on crutches if I have them. I shot film photography throughout the 90s (poorly) and have been shooting digitally for years now. It’s embarrassing how bad I am at reading and seeing light. Want to get marginally proficient with the Sunny 16 rule. Seems easy enough Sunny day? Start at f/16, set the ISO, and then the shutter speed at 1/(ISO). I was at f/16, 1/500th shutter, and 400 ISO.

Enough of that. Walked downtown through Westlake Park. I missed the march there. Followed the flow. There were cars out, but not a lot. I heard some people yelling angrily behind me as I was walking south on…2nd or 3rd. I turned around to see the people behind me yelling at a man in construction clothes across the street. I was too far away to hear the exchange. The people may have been reacting to an “all lives matter” comment. A few of them ran across the street and surrounded the man. The people knocked off the man’s hard hat and shoved him to the ground. Scary. I started walking back that way. The only thing I was going to be able to do was appeal for calm. I was hoping that it would defuse on its own, and it did.

Kept walking south. A column of National Guard soldiers was marching north. There were some police with them. I was fumbling with my camera so didn’t look too closely at identifying patches or insignia. I haven’t tried to manually focus on a group of people walking towards me in a long time. I think I took three photos, but they would have been lousy. (Ooops, foreshadowing.)

With police forces having become excessively militarized following 9/11, it’s increasingly difficult to tell the difference between police and military. In general, militarized police still have an air of paramilitary about them, so I’m pretty sure these folks were National Guard. Wouldn’t stake my obscure blogger reputation on it, though. I don’t want to risk that Laughing Cow sponsorship.

I mentioned earlier that you can usually find protests by following the breadcrumbs. Some people were continuing south on 2nd, but I noticed several people turn left to walk up the hill to 3rd. I followed them. And there was the tail end of the protest at 3rd and James. It was tense – a group of protesters was north of 3rd, staring down and challenging the police line, which had blocked three sides of the intersection, armed with their long wooden sticks. I took some photos.

Which of those police officers was hoping the day would end peacefully? Which were just hoping for an excuse to swing those clubs at someone? If you’re still denying to yourself that a lot of police are enjoying the opportunity to bash some heads, you’re in denial or unbelievably naive.

Most of the police at the intersection were in their dark blues. But there were 2 or 3 in gray uniforms. They were carrying the tear gas launchers. Large, frightening weapons. They weren’t exactly hiding, but I got the sense that they were trying to stay out of view between the vehicles in the center of the intersection.

About 30 minutes later I got the sense, incorrectly, that the tear gas commandos were a little closer towards possibly using the gas. I got my ski goggles out of my backpack and put them on, up over my hat. Have you ever been gassed? It is not fun. That shit is definitely a weapon, a disorienting, frightening weapon. The army makes everyone run through the CS gas tents, for a few of reasons: familiarize troops with the effects, show troops that they can and must function even in those circumstances, and to instill confidence in protective equipment and a soldier’s ability to put that equipment on while being gassed.

It’s a minor rite of passage in the military. It’s done under controlled circumstances, you know the people administering the exercise are on your team, there are medics around, and it’s still nerve-wracking as hell that first time. Am I going to lose my shit in that tent? If I recall correctly, you walk in masked up. Ok cool, I can handle this. It’s cloudy, smoky, hot, like an apocalyptic sauna. The NCOs have you remove your mask. Tingling, burning, discomfort. You walk out of that tent blowing streams of snot out of your nose, everything burning. The NCOs are coaching you to walk and flap your arms.

It’s been about 30 years, so I might have some of the steps wrong. The point is that that shit is scary even under controlled circumstances. When you fire that stuff into a crowd of people who haven’t experienced that and don’t have the right equipment, and who are jam packed into a tight street, you’re using a weapon.

My intuition proved incorrect, though. The police manning the line in the intersection didn’t put on their gas masks. I walked up James towards City Hall and linked up with the main protest. There were speakers on the steps of City Hall. It was a powerful scene. James and 4th were packed with people. People are going to describe these protests in lots of different ways, but that protest was peaceful and powerful.

I snapped photos, a few that I was looking forward to see. The speakers wrapped up and the march continued. I peeled off and walked home. I wasn’t out long, but I could tell that I hadn’t drank enough water. Finished that roll of film on the walk home. My last happy moment with that roll of film was taking a long distance shot of the protesters marching in front of a distant Pike Place Market sign, the marchers flanked by police. With a 50mm lens from a distance, it was going to be a terrible photo.

I waited until late at night to process it. Stays light so long right now. I should have waited another day. Botched. Fail. Ruined.

A comedy of small errors. I’m not experienced enough with home developing to know which errors can be ignored and which are catastrophic. Is light getting into the camera? I doubt it. Was it a ridiculously bad application of Sunny 16? I doubt it. Is light somehow getting into my bathroom? I doubt it. Am I using the Cinestill monobath entirely wrong? Maybe. The confusing thing is that I have developed film with Cinestill’s monobath – I shoudn’t be going from “needs improvement” to “pitch black”.

There weren’t any award winning shots on that roll. But I’m bummed. I wish I had some of those shots from 1 June. It’s not the loss of the imagery or documentation – there were probably a million photos uploaded yesterday from that march. But that film had images of things that caught my attention. All gone. Easy come, easy go. Maybe go dig up my copy of Aurelius’s Meditations…