When you’re developing film by hand, you always print a contact sheet — a single print of all of the negatives on your roll of film. Every shot is laid out in neat rows, side by side for comparison. You can see which photos are correctly exposed, composed and lit and which ones you should throw away.
When I look back on the year 2012, it’s as if I’m looking at the contact sheet from a roll of 35mm film. Some of the memories are crisp and clear, like the week I spent in Guatemala in March or my work on the Gathering in New Orleans this past July. Some are blurry, like my last semester of college. Some are long exposures that leave long trails of light in their wake where so many images overlap and crowd into the same small space, like the time I’ve spent with my girlfriend, Stephanie.
Like a roll of film tucked into the dark recesses of a camera, you don’t know how a year will turn out until it’s over. Only in retrospect can we see the obvious — that we ignored an opportunity we should’ve lept at, that we lingered too long, that we didn’t wait long enough. And occasionally (but so rarely), that we were at the exact right angle with exactly the right aperture and exactly the right shutter speed to capture exactly the right shot.
You never know how things will develop until you’re in the darkroom, long after the moment is captured on tiny grains of silver halide crystal…or after the moment has slipped through your fingers. The exposures on a roll of film are finite, you only get 12 or 24 shots and once you’ve pressed the shutter button, there is no changing them.
Life is the same way. But that doesn’t mean that you should hoard undeveloped film. You have to risk taking the shot. Maybe it won’t be in focus. That’s okay. You can learn from that. But if you never load the film into the camera, if you never risk a bad photograph or an unpleasant memory, you’ll never have a chance at a beautiful memory.
I took risks this year and now it’s all coming into focus. I hope you did, too.
Happy New Year!
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Thanks for reading this year! I’ll be back in 2013 with more of my signature wit and feats of linguistic prowess. Until then, please comment, share and follow me on Twitter: @jonnyeberle.