alan little’s weblog

smelling the past

8th June 2009 permanent link

They say smell is the most evocative of the senses.

I’ve given up on trying to print my own photos on an inkjet at home. I’m not going down the full Ken Rockwell Luddite road. I don’t doubt for a second that it is possible, by investing large amounts of time, and careful attention to calibrating and profiling everything, to get spectacular prints out of today’s high end inkjets. Michael Reichmann is no fool, and I’ve seen marvelous inkjet prints in exhibitions by world famous photographers like Andreas Gursky and William Eggleston.

But you have to be willing to put in the time and effort, and I have other priorities at the moment. I was getting increasingly unhappy with my Epson R800. It only had one big flaw: murky green-tinged skin tones in shadows. But the vast majority of photos I want to print these days are pictures of grandchildren for grandmothers, so a major flaw in skin tones is a fatal flaw. I downloaded different printer profiles, I spent hours staring at soft proofs in Photoshop. Problem not fixed. I stopped using the printer a year ago and switched to online print services; last month I finally sold the printer.

But last week I wanted something bigger and fancier than a run of the mill online print as a birthday present for my mother. Admittedly still grandchildren. But a big, top notch print of the grandchildren.

Quick googling revealed that the Munich pro lab I used to use back in the days of film is still going, albeit under a new name and at a new location that is less convenient than the old one, but nicer.

I walk through the door, USB stick in hand, and bam! That pro lab chemical smell is still there, just as strong as it ever was. Some professionals are still using film. I knew that anyway, intellectually, but I hadn’t set foot in a real lab for a long time and I wasn’t expecting The Smell to still be there. It took me back to my first few years in Munich. I was single then, working freelance, traveling a lot. I was in my first flush of enthusiasm for both photography and yoga.

My life is very different now – still good, but different. It surprises me that just walking through a door I had never walked through before, and smelling a smell that used to be associated with a major part of my life, can trigger such a big wave of nostalgia.

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