01 02 03 I'm My Favorite: Developing the Film 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Developing the Film

I was a photojournalism major for about five minutes. This was back in the 90s when we used film and developed our photos in the lab.

You've all seen movies before with darkrooms and let me tell you it is just as cool as it looks on the screen. There is definitely something thrilling about putting the photo paper in all those trays of chemicals and watching the image come to life. It was exciting every single time.

But there is a very non-glamorous side to developing your own photos that you don't see on the big screen and that is developing your film.

I took my first photography class the second semester of my first year of college. I had no formal training and had never processed my own film.

Our professor showed us how to pry open the the film canister with this big can opener thingy. Next you take the film out and hook it onto a reel. The next step is to wind the film around and around the reel, but it's really tricky. You have to hold the film just right to get it to fit properly. Once you finally have the film wound correctly you put the reel in a tank and you're ready to fill it will developer and let it work its magic.

Sounds pretty easy right? Well, since you can't expose film to light you have to do all of this in complete darkness. And for me I had to do this in a tiny broom closet just to make it extra painful.

My first attempt at processing my film ended in disaster. I opened the door that led to a long hallway of closets. I went into one that was available and shut the door. I'm a little claustrophobic to begin with and being in that tiny space in complete darkness already had me panicking. I felt around for the wooden shelf with the canister opener and pried open the film canister. I took the film out and hooked it to reel as best I could. Then I tried to spin the film around like the instructor showed the class.

My nemesis, the 35mm film reel
photo courtesy B & H Foto & Electronics Corp.

I couldn't get it. I could feel that it wasn't on right. I started to panic. I couldn't do it. "No," I would tell myself - "you've got this Stephanie" and I would try again.

Crap, I messed it up again. Tears were starting to fill my eyes which didn't matter anyway because it's not like I could use my eyes. I felt like I had been in there forever. What were my classmates thinking? I gave it one last shot and shoved the thing into the tank.

I came back out into the light feeling very tense. Why couldn't I do it? My other classmates didn't have any problems. What was wrong with me that I couldn't do this?

I put the solution in the tank and set the timer. Once the time was up and the film had been dried, I took it out. My film was ruined. I hadn't gotten the film on correctly and the chemicals had ruined the film. All those photos I took were gone. There would be no dark room for me that day. No magical images to come to life on the photo paper.

I was defeated, depressed and ready to quit. I obviously couldn't do it.

But I'm not a quitter so I kept trying. The next time I stayed in the little room until I got the film on right. I was in there a long time. I didn't care if anyone noticed how long it took. I was going to do this. And I did.

It was always hard for me to process my film. It never came easy to me; I did get a little better at it each time and most importantly, I never ruined my film again.

This is the part where I tie this story into weight loss.

Weight loss is a lot like my experience with photography. Remember what I was saying about how glamorous it is to see the image appear on the paper? How thrilling it is? Well, that all happens at the very end. After the hard, sweaty work. We've all heard people's weight loss success stories. Seen their before photos and then see their magical new bodies appear before us. Heard them say "if I can do it, so can you." That's the fun part. That's the thrilling part.

But the work it takes to lose the weight can be very much like developing the film. Trapped in a dark room. Consumed with the end result. Having instructions from others but it ultimately being up to you to do it. All your hard work ruined in one day of mistakes. Feeling like a failure. Wondering why others can do it but you can't. They make it look so easy! Feeling judged, like people are wondering why it's taking you so long.

And the good parts too. Not giving up. Getting back up and trying again. Getting a little better at it every time you try. Looking how far you've come. Knowing you'll never be as bad at it as that very first day. And that you'll never ruin your body (film) again.

P.S. Although I loved photography and did conquer film processing, I really struggled with my classes and decided to switch my major/minor to newspaper and PR. Funny, both of my internships were for photography and both of my jobs since graduating were primarily for graphic design. So much for my major.

Here's a photo of my college newsroom. Look how tiny those Macs are!

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