Jurassic Park had just been released in Pakistan, and Dino-frenzy ensued. The Chip-Kidd designed logo covered every inanimate thing in red, yellow and bone. Wrapped up in the frenzy, I begged my parents to fill my life with dinosaurs. They bought me a T‑Rex, a velociraptor, and a triceratops. Once I had the toys, I decided to go a step further; I convinced myself that *I* was a dinosaur, and so in every picture, for almost a year, I would ferociously open my jaws tall and wide, ready to bite with vicious animosity. It never worked out how I imagined though because my teeth hadn’t come out yet.
One day, during our lunch break at school, one of the kids who had just come back from a summer vacation in America yelled: “I saw the dinosaurs!” All the kids huddle around him. “I went to a place called the redwoods, where they have the tallest and oldest trees in the world. The trees are so tall, that they extend beyond the sky! Its the only place in the world dinosaurs are alive! Look at this,” he said showing us pictures of him with a brontosaurus.
When I came home and told my parents and my brothers, they wouldn’t believe me! “That’s it,” I thought. “I have to go to America, and I have to go to the redwoods, and I have to see the dinosaurs for myself.” Alas, years went by. I grew up and realized that the pictures my friend took were really at Universal studios and that dinosaurs were supposedly extinct.
But the dream to see the Redwoods was still alive, so Maggie and I decided to drive 8hrs from Seattle to Crescent City CA. Of course, the first thing I did when we booked our trip was getting a 3ft Jurassic Park decal, and stick it to the tire cover of our big red jeep whom we affectionately call Jhule Laal. Going to California was a shock to all my expectations. Growing up on Coke, movies, and pop-culture, I always imagined California to be a magical place with beautiful and liberal people who cared about making art and adding beauty to the world. The sunlight baked everything in California gold.
To my surprise, the reality was a lot more conservative than what I had imagined. We stopped by at a Starbucks located in a strip mall in Grants Pass, just outside of Crescent City. Maggie took this picture of me with Jhule Laal. As soon as we entered California, the grandeur of the trees overwhelmed all other feelings. The trees were unlike anything else I have ever seen before. Surprisingly, it was not their immense size that I was drawn to the most but their texture–red-brown, the bark stood tall and straight like crackling fire soaring towards the pastel sky.
Their beauty betrayed the secret to their long lives—the ruddy color of the trees comes from the presence of tannin, a chemical that protects the trees from attacking insects and fungi. If a tree falls and breaks, the tannin soon covers the broken ends of the tree, giving it the appearance of having been burned or creosoted, and this natural treatment protects the wood from decay.
The redwoods contain neither pitch nor resin, a flammable substance found in many other trees like pines. Instead, the sap found in redwoods primarily consists of water; combine that with the asbestos-like bark that is often more than sixty centimeters in thickness, and you have a tree that is virtually indestructible by fire. When a fire does catch, it burns its way through the cracks in the bark and essentially hollows out parts of the tree, leaving the majority of the structure intact. Neither disease nor fire could kill these giants. They can and have existed for more about 2000 years. The only real threat to the forest came in the 1800s when the European invaders started making their way west and kept chopping them down in the good name of industry. The national park website states:
“By the 1960s, logging had consumed nearly 90 percent of all the original redwoods. It wasn’t until 1968 that Redwood National Park was established, which secured some of the few remaining stands of uncut redwoods. In 1978, Congress added more land that included logged-over portions of Redwood Creek. Today, these lands are undergoing large-scale restoration by the parks’ resource managers. Logging continues on privately-held lands nearby and throughout the redwood region.” 1
That’s unfortunate because looking at the redwoods is truly a magical experience, it is like staring right into the length and breadth of history. A world without the redwoods would be a world without imagination. The next day, as we were driving down to the redwood forest, we encountered a gigantic Paul Bunyan towering as tall as the redwoods with an ax in his hands and an admirably hairy chest. “The Trees of Mystery,” the sign read. There was also a gigantic cow next to Paul; American kitsch at it’s finest, and I loved it! The main attraction of the trees of mysteries was a long ride towards the top of a mountain in a gondola. Lazy and exhausted from travel, we decided to take a golf cart towards the Skytrain, where we had to wait in a long time till it was our turn. We shared our Gondola with a couple that spoke in German.
More than the trees and the ocean, I loved the way the light was falling on Maggie, and how expressive and happy her face had become when she saw the ocean. Promptly, I took her picture. We were to be greeted with a breathtaking view as we reached the top. The tall treeline formed a natural “v” shape, leading the eye to the brilliant blue of the ocean.
On the way down, we decided to follow a trail that took us through a section where the trees were organized in a circular formation and stood tall together. We learned that “the trees that have grown up from the living remains of the stump of a fallen redwood, and since they grew out of the perimeter, they are organized in a circle. If you looked at the genetic information in a cell of each of these trees, you would find that they were identical to each other and the stump, they sprang from. They are clones!”
Because of their circular formation, the trees were labeled as “cathedrals.” We saw a lot of people on their knees, praying as if in a sacred site. It felt a little intrusive to be in that space so we ventured onwards without spending too much time to look at and admire the trees.
We left the Redwoods for the ocean. The ocean was, as always, spectacular. Something was reassuring about watching the waves hypnotically rising like rolling hills, spreading, then dying on the shore; comforting to know that acts of beauty and grace will continue to repeat like musical notes, pounding endlessly across the shore. With each passing wave, the pacific seemed to be murmur a secret, and I felt I could spend my entire life trying to decipher it.
We started walking along the shoreline as Maggie wanted to explore the tide pools and observe everything that washed up to the shore. We made a friend named George who seemed to be running away from us. The closer we came the faster he ran. It started getting unusually hot so we walked closer to where the waves were breaking. Looking at the waves lapping our feet, I noticed small tadpole-like creatures floating in the water before receding into the ocean. They wriggled and wreathed. Naturally, I squealed with fright because I didn’t want to accidentally stomp on them; Maggie, however, started laughing at me even though I didn’t think there was anything funny about the situation.
Soon, Maggie’s laugh was to turn into terror, as we discovered where all these creatures were coming from: It was a small organism engulfed in a tender shell; the tadpole-like creatures seemed to be emanating from it. We couldn’t tell if the organism in the shell was their mother, or if they were eating it. Or both? It was terrifying to look at, so terrifying that we immediately walked farther back into the safety of the sand.
We talked about our dreams and our future. We dreamed about how we would like to own a large house where our loved ones could live around us. About having a real Dhaba one day, where we could spend each moment in each other’s presence. About making art and adding creativity into the world.
I love these long, tender walks with Maggie. I love holding her hand and walking alongside infinity, dreaming about what is and what can be. It is a feeling as complete as sunlight under a palm tree swaying with the breeze. Later on that night, we returned to the beach because I wanted to experiment with gelled flash and ocean water at nighttime. The mood at the beach had dramatically changed from the afternoon. There were a lot more families, and the waves meshed and mixed with the sound of laughter and happy moments.
Maggie helped me set up my camera and made sure my bag and equipment didn’t get flooded by the incoming waves. At that moment, I felt a deep appreciation for Maggie. To have somebody that supports your dreams and goes out of their way to support you in making them happen, support you even when you fail…looking at the ocean and then at Maggie, I thanked the stars for how lucky I am to have her in my life. It’s as if she is my eyes, without her all the dreams would wither away like ashes in the wind. On our last day, we decided to do a quick hike around Enderts Beach, eat an early breakfast and head back to Seattle so that we could reach home before nightfall.
It was a very atmospheric morning. Fog shrouded everything in a mystery, revealing the world one movement at a time. The trees seemed larger than ever; the fog engulfing the treetops and creating the impression that the bark extended for infinity. The shore was perhaps the highlight of the trip. There were tide pools everywhere; Maggie started face-timing her mom and left me to my devices; I promptly started snapping away. My film was nearing its end so I had to rewind it just a little bit to snap the last frame which led to an interesting, almost panoramic multiple-exposure:
After changing the reel I went onwards to explore the rocks and all the little crabs and fishes hiding in the crevices. As we were driving back, I noticed this beautiful opening by the side of the road, and instantly knew I had to get a picture, much to Maggie’s dismay. To make matters worse, I insisted on taking the picture using my large format camera, so it would take some time setting up the picture. She decided to wait in the car as I walked towards the picture with my dark cloth, tripod and film backs.
Just as I had finished setting up, I saw Maggie running towards me. Even from a distance, I could tell she had a petrified look on her face. Terror combined with anger. So I did what any sensible person would do–hid under the dark cloth and started focusing the lens as quickly as possible. With the focus adjusted, I was about ready to put the film back in, when I felt my dark cloth go off.
“Come on, we gotta go. We haven’t seen a single cop throughout this trip and I just saw three go by us. You look strange hiding under your dark cloth with that Giant camera, and I don’t want anyone to bother us. Let’s go.”
“But but!!!” I protested “I am almost done with my picture”
“Ok hurry up!”
I quickly inserted the film back and pressed the shutter. “Ok, just one more.”
By this time I had completely exhausted Maggie’s patience. She grabbed my bags and started walking towards the car.
“But it’s all set up! Let me take just one more.”
Alas, she wouldn’t have any of it. My bag and film were gone. At least I got the picture: We drove onwards to the breakfast diner. There was a long line and we had to wait for about 30 mins before we got a seat at the table. It was very uncomfortable to be there because we didn’t feel very welcome. There weren’t a lot of other restaurants in the vicintiy, so we didn’t have much choice.
As we were leaving the restaurant, an older woman hissed at me. A curse would have seemed intimidating, perhaps even dramatic…but a hiss? I wonder what she was thinking.
We were ready to be home.
The films I used throughout the trip were the 35mm variants of Kodak Color Plus 200 and Kodak Portra 400 and I used Kodak Portra 160 for the 4×5 film. I developed the 35mm negatives using reclaimed chemicals after developing my 4×5 negatives. In retrospect, it was a poor decision, because a lot of these negatives seem to have come out underexposed. The images are unusually grainy and noisy. But I can’t be 100% sure. There are so many X factors that could have caused the negatives to come out like this:
1) Poor exposure
2) Exhausted Chemicals
3) Scanner quality
4) When I was developing the 4×5 negatives, I didn’t do a rinse bath between the developer and Blix. The Blix might have been contaminated and caused problems
5) I developed the 35mm film using the reclaimed chemicals from the 4×5 developing without increasing developing time. Negatives might be underdeveloped
I believe in film. But when I see my images come out looking like crap, images that could have been good, I begin to have serious doubts about all the time, effort and money I have poured into exploring analog photography. It makes me feel guilty, hopeless and makes me want to give up photography altogether.
While I still love the way my medium and large format negatives look, I have become increasingly dismayed by the negatives that come out of 35mm camera, which is a shame because I enjoy shooting 35mm the most. Maybe it’s not even the medium, maybe the problem is happening with my scanner…Either way, I am at a point where I have invested so much time, money and resources that my patient to invest any more time exploring this is running thin.
As a next step, I am going to try and eliminate some of the X‑factors when I develop my color film next. I will:
1) Expose all films at the proper setting
2) Use fresh chemicals
3) DO a rinse cycle between developer and Blix
4) Scan the same negatives at the PCNW using fluid mounting techniques.
If I keep getting results like this, I might just stop trying to develop negatives at home and just send them out to the lab. If that doesn’t work either, I am switching back to digital.