My late teens and early twenties were a blur of travels and my blurry film photography thereof. In 1998 I found myself visiting Beijing, China. I flipped through the photo album last week, searching for some previously unpublished image to upload, and found this photo tucked away, almost forgotten.
It comes from a time when I did not -invariably could not– simply dial up the ISO sensitivity for low light evening photography. If I wanted a black and white photo of a moment, I shot black and white film. I have both color and black & white images of these dancers. I carefully rewound my last roll of color negative film, marked the canister to remind me how many frames I had used, and loaded a roll of higher sensitivity black & white film, advancing beyond the frame last shot used before composing and adjusting settings for a new image. It was an undertaking.
Now a decade and a half later I had to stop and think where I saw these dancers when I paused and decided to shoot the moment both in color then reload for this monochrome image. No metadata, no GPS tag accompanies the image. Unless I noted in my journal that I had observed this performance the handful of frames I photographed is all the detail and memory of it left.
That, perhaps, is what draws me to share this image most from my first travels in Beijing – the faintness of my own recollection. I had the determination to spend some of my limited 35mm film supply to record the moment, persistence to unload one type and reload a different film, yet today remember nothing aside from the prints in the album.
My photos show it was a hazy, late summer evening when this was taken outdoors. Adults in modern dress danced under the incandescent glow of the bulbs outlining the rooftop behind them. Some of the dancers are blurs of movement, rapid steps and turns caught mid-stride.
It haunts me. A mix of dreamy haze and already nostalgic black and white travel scenery only adds to my minuscule mystery trying to recall the moment I took this photograph. Perhaps it’s good fortune to have forgotten so much surrounding the minutes of my late teens when this view crossed my camera’s viewfinder, if just to see it years later and spark my curiosity. -eB