Many things are a challenge when you live and work in a place that doesn’t speak your native tongue. Weirdly though, I find talking about photography loosens me up and I become less stressy and/or self-conscious, and makes it easier to meet people despite my social anxiety. And so the day before yesterday I decided to go to Toulouse and spend the day in the open-access darkrooms there; I spend too much time holed up alone and I need to get more guidance, feedback and bounce my ideas with someone. Also, I have pictures I took recently for the mérens project that were shot on my Holga and I don’t have the equipment here to print from 6×6 negatives. I’ll update soon with the most recent pictures, including some very lovely pinholes but here’s a sneak preview:
Well, I should have guessed something was up when I couldn’t get parking anywhere close to the metro. I deliberated going home again (no!) or driving into the city (ok, crazy but what the hell) but ended up en route finding a car park 15 mins from the metro stop. Cool, but when I saw the heaving masses and gendarmes at the stop it dawned on me; Euro 2016. Hoards of fans draped in Spanish and Czech Republic flags, coloured wigs, face paint, mascots. How very sweet. I did feel a bit nervous because full disclosure here, being an idiot and judged on absolutely nothing factual I thought, “there’s bound to be a shitstorm I’ll get caught up in.” Ignorant, stupid stereotyping, I’m ashamed to say. As for the Czechs and Spanish, not a bit of it. Both sides were laughing together, good-natured, well-behaved and simply having fun. I overheard some joke about the English at one point and shrunk down small, thinking again of Marseille and burnt up with even more shame.
I arrive at the darkroom and I’m overwhelmed. Where do I go? How do I make a start? Who’s in charge? I can feel my stress levels rising rapidly yet again. You really wouldn’t want to be me, I assure you. A woman who had arrived the same time as me looks friendly enough so I pluck up the courage to ask her. She’s lovely, shows me where to get my enlarger lens from, how the timers work (bit more hi-tech than mine) and asks my name and where I’m from. Her name is Freedom. I wonder if that’s her given name or nickname. It’s clearly my day for idiocy as I forgot to bring any paper, but she tells me to go ask Omar the supervisor for some, they have plenty they give out. Omar is huge. I mean really, really huge. Intimidating and kind of grunty too. He gives me a little packet of pretty old 5×7 fibre paper. Oh well, I won’t be doing those Holga prints then. I didn’t need to come then but I’m glad I did. I’ve had a day out, broken through some resistance, realised not all football fans are thugs and made friends with Freedom. There were 5 of us in the darkroom, including Freedom and me. She and I get on like a house on fire and swap phone numbers so we can arrange to meet here again.
My prints are still wet by the time I need to leave so I put them in a ziplock bag with a splash of water. I’ve no idea if this will work but I’ve nothing to lose as the prints aren’t great, to be honest. I decide to take a walk back through the beautiful city some of the way, enjoy the warm evening and absorb some of the energy. I stop to watch a performance in the street; the band are kind of strange – a bit military, a bit mariachi, a bit Balkan with a bit of India thrown in. The lady dancing is gorgeous, a swirling, twirling delight. I love this place!
Back on the train I’m exhausted so I put in my earphones and zone out, listening to the astonishingly beautiful A Moon Shaped Pool and as I walk back down the long road to my car. Ah, the prints! Genius idea alert: I lay them out on the back seat and by the next morning they’re dry as a bone and undamaged.