The other day I made long exposures for retina prints. I parked my car at the local seacoast park and propped my camera up on dashboard. I had to stick 2 film holders under the box camera so it wouldn’t slide off the dash and the shutter button was almost right against the windshield.
Stabilized I looked from the back of the camera across the body out the windshield and saw what might be in the photograph. It was dim after 6 New England evening light I didn’t really care if the image worked or not. it was the sea grass and weeds and the bay off in the distance. not a lot of blue light, the stuff photo paper is sensitive to, again I didn’t really care, it was a little time away from life.
The locals in their pick up truck who were parked next to me glanced over a few times as they sucked on their cigarettes and blew smoke out the window, they muttered things to themselves and smiled as we sort-of traded glances. I did the half smile and nod too. The wind wasn’t to blustery, and it was humid and hot still from the day, the windows down there was a nice breeze.
I jammed my finger against the windshield and pressed the shutter button. I heard it click but no clue if it actually opened so I stuck my head closer to the camera and turned the camera towards me, and put it back. If I was taking regular photos this would have mattered a lot but these weren’t really regular photos, they were done by brute force.
I looked at my car radio, and timed about 15 minutes. Sometimes I could get these to work on a bright day in just a few minutes but seeing there wasn’t a lot of light, I figure it needed more time. Like Niepce had done in the 1820s I just left the shutter open. He sometimes used salted paper to make his prints. He soaked his paper in salt and smeared silver nitrate on the paper, other times he polished a pewter plate and coated it with a type of asphalt, it took days to register an image, modern photo paper is lightening fast by comparison.
I listened to a random assortment of music as I watched out the window. I thought about the bay and the immovable world that would register on the photo paper. After the 15minutes were up, I closed the shutter and pulled out the naked photo paper to see if there was an image on it, and there was. I put the dark slide back on the film holder, flipped it and exposed the 2nd side the same way. I gave it more time because it was getting later. I listened to the radio and noticed the time.
People walked infront of my car with their dogs or by themselves, sometimes they noticed me, most of the time they were in their own world. The pick up truck next to me with my companions glanced over again and nodded before they backed up and left. They had a loud exhaust and were having a good time. Another car quickly took their spot and parked. they noticed me but like most people, they did their best to ignore me.
This time I tried to expose the paper for about 23 minutes. The breeze died down on this hot August day and I listened to more music and stared out the window and daydreamed. It was close to 23 minutes and I closed the shutter and took the camera off the dashboard. I didn’t bother to see if the image registered on the paper, I just left.