Ryan Schram Yawahigu ana amwahao Ol rot bilong laip bilong mi (or, Curriculum vitae)

Fieldwork photos from Normanby Island, eleven years later

Opa Haimanu, a member and lay preacher in the Sowala United Church, leaves the church building after the Sunday tapwalolo (worship) service on November 12, 2006.

My first trip to Papua New Guinea was in 2004. On that trip, I ended up in Kurada on Normanby Island in Milne Bay Province and stayed for seven months. Two years later, in 2006, I returned and stayed for a year. On both trips, I took a Pentax K1000, the famous “student’s camera” for those learning to take pictures and develop film in a photography class. It was entirely mechanical except for a through-the-lens light meter powered by a watch battery. In the end, I shot 26 rolls, or about 624 exposures. While I did develop all of them upon my return to the US, only this week did I select a few of the negatives for scanning and look again at places and people I have not seen in a long time.

While I did keep a log of the rolls I shot (and was able to find it today), I really find myself wishing for automatic geotagging and other JPEG metadata. The places feel so familiar, but so much what happened in these scenes is now only known to me through my fieldnotes. It’s probably not surprising that I could have used a bit more practice with my Pentax too. A few seem to be well-composed, in-focus and without much evident grain. (I mostly used basic 400 ISO color film, and–randomly–some higher speed B/W film left over from my class.)

While my K1000 was certainly fun to use, the pictures on the last several rolls from 2006 suddenly decline in quality. It seems that mold was growing inside the lens the whole time and by the end of my stay it had sprouted into full bloom. It can be seen in every one of these later shots, first in subtle streaks and then crooked veins that cover the whole frame. Of course I packed the camera up in several layers of plastic and with about a dozen silica gel packs when I wasn’t using it, but it was not enough to withstand the humid and rainy weather of Kurada. So the last few rolls have a pre-Instagram antique filter already applied. The irony of course is that even in 2006 most people took digital pictures, and on my latest trip nearly every person had some kind of camera of their own on their phones.