Signs of life

Allston and quarantine and pandemic life a year later.

Last summer, you might recall, I put out a photo zine collecting the past several months’ worth of 35mm work I’d been shooting around Allston. The images inside – mysterious and lonesome and a little bleak – were a journal of the first months of pandemic life for me. Retrospectively, that time period was a permanent seismic shift. It quite literally turned me into a different person in some ways. At the time though, it mostly just felt confusing; somehow temporary and boundless at once. As we approached the one-year anniversary of quarantine life in March, I, like every other conscious person on Earth, was doing some reflecting about that.

To mark the grim occasion, I thought it’d be fitting to revisit the process I used for the zine and see what I could see. I set off on the same walking route I documented last year, from Royal Street in Lower Allston to the top of the hill on Brighton’s Summit Ave, using the same equipment: my Kodak Pony 135 and a roll of workhorse Fuji Superia 400 (miraculously still available at a CVS near you). Framing these familiar streets and storefronts again, I was struck by something resembling optimism. Things are still not great, pandemic-wise, but with vaccines rolling out and a year of adjustment to a new version of public life, Allston felt a little bit more like itself. The former Great Scott still sat empty and unused, but the marquee of its neighbor club at Brighton Music Hall read more cheerfully. The Sil finally lifted up its aluminum gates, sporting a dubious-looking pizza menu that I’m very excited to experience once my vaccination process is done.

Like me and everyone else I know, my camera was wearily bearing the weight of the past year in the resulting images. The 60- or 70-year-old shutter seemed to have taken a turn for the worse, overexposing in unpredictable fashion as I worked. Again, like all of us, it’s seen better days. I tried not to fixate on technical shortcomings here though, since embracing them was part of the point of last year’s endeavor in the first place. Film rejects the instant feedback and limitless do-overs of digital, demanding patience and a willingness to accept your failures, and those of your equipment, and maybe find something to like about them.

The zine was the most significant creative project I undertook in 2020, and one of a handful of accomplishments I’m actually really proud of since the pandemic began, so I suppose this post-script is reflection on “”what I learned”” creatively after my main creative outlet of concert shooting simply evaporated. I shoot a lot more film now, and I’m better at it; more knowledgeable of the mechanics, closer in guessing my exposures. I’m continuing to find inspiration in the intensely familiar subject matter of my still-very-small pandemic life. I imagine I’ll be a better and more prolific photographer of daily life (concerts included) as it slowly morphs into its next phase. I’m still ready to throw my gear off an overpass when I screw something up sometimes, but I’m pushing through it.

I’ll stop short of continuing to pile on the platitudes, but it does bear repeating that taking a second to think about the ways in which one has adapted or grown or whatever while the big incomprehensible storm of Bad Things raged is worthwhile. Anyway, here are some pictures about it.