When I opened the old leatherette camera bag, two small aluminum canisters with bright orange lids spilled out, each about the size of a spool of thread. Their weight felt familiar in my hands; the knock of the 35 millimeter film inside was like an echo from the past. Each roll of Kodachrome had been exposed, waiting to be developed for many years.
In the old days, I knew how to mix the chemicals and make a print on paper from a negative in a darkroom. But those chemicals and enlargers are long gone. You can still get film developed. A drug store in our little town does a lively business at it, because as a clerk explained to me, “A lot of our older customers just don’t like digital cameras.”
Even though I use and love my digital cameras, I understand their feelings. Unlike today’s digital cameras, which divide the world into microscopic dots, each with a number assigned by a computer, film captures light through a chemical process. It has almost physical contact with a moment in time. But now these rolls of film have sat for years inside the old bag. I don’t know if it is possible to develop them or if I should even try.
The old man who owned and shot this film is long gone, and I never knew him. If he had family, I don’t know why they didn’t want his cameras or discover this undeveloped film. What bit of light left on the film is mystery: Perhaps there are moments in which someone he knew and perhaps loved paused and smiled into the lens; a sunset sparkling off the Gulf waters; people gathered for an event no longer in anyone’s living memory but for the curious mixture of light and not-light settling on the film’s surface for just a fraction of a second. Just enough time to create an indelible image, if only in the imagination.
The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.