Where I grew up, we always talked about “June Gloom.” It’s when the heat on land sucks in the fog from far out on the water, friends dissipate as obligations become null, and my general apathy about summer is at its strongest. But May? Never.
My mom would always quip around this time of year about the “100 Days of May,” the seemingly endless rush at the end of the school year, celebration and bloom dragging the sun into longer days. May is always packed with color and filled with importance, the saturation extending each hour with value. But what happens when the flowers don’t bloom in May?
It wasn’t until I moved to Santa Barbara that I had ever heard the term “May Gray.” In Southern California, the haze of June creeps up the calendar, and my understanding of spring as I know it has been cast aside. As the years are passing while living down here, the sprint of May has become less of a game and more of a trance, swimming through the monochromatic mist. It has been hard to see the finish line.
The one consistency of May is the work. No matter where I am, the month has always been a grind. Luckily for me, I get to work on the things that I love: write, make films, shoot photography. I’ve been keeping up with my articles, finishing shorts for class, and taking a ton of pictures. Lately, I have really been focusing on my photo work, which has been a fun development.
I’ve been interested in photography for as long as I can remember, especially curious about shooting on film. For a long time, I would take some film photos here or there, but it was nothing that I stuck with. Back in Santa Barbara, I started developing and scanning people’s film photos, partially as a side hustle, but to also get a better understanding of how film works. I started shooting film consistently, but only color, because that was the type of developing chemical I owned.
My love of film photography very likely comes from my dad, who is a photographer himself. After learning that I had picked up the habit, last Christmas he gifted me rolls of film to shoot with. The only catch — my dad swears by black and white.
I have nothing against black and white photography. As someone with no formal training in photo, I have never been forced to shoot monochrome, say, in a classroom setting. That, coupled with learning about film through C41 chemicals, means I’ve shot perhaps as many rolls of black and white as I can count on one hand.
So I asked my dad what he loves about black and white.
“A black and white image is simple and pure and piercing, not tainted by the tacky opinions and cheap takes of the application of color, fudged in the lighting, by the lens or the processing chemicals. Black and white film grabs the subject of the photographer’s vision in the moment, strips off the extraneous and frivolous and presents the viewer with the pure, simple and dense concentration of all life in a moment in a picture.” Charlie, to me, 2023.
So I loaded one of the rolls into my camera. New Year’s, 2022, just days after my dad had given it to me. It sat in my camera as spring came. I moved out of Santa Barbara. I transferred to a new school. I made new friends, others faded. The leaves grayed and fell. I came home for the holidays and got the roll developed, January 2023.
The roll came back with me to LA, but it has been sitting on my shelf patiently. It wasn’t until this May that I found the gasp of time to mix this roll in with my other photos-to-scan.
Last week, I opened the strips to find pieces of a life I no longer have, and these moments feel so, so long ago. Yet, it’s as if bringing the color away from these situations makes them feel three-dimensional again; by forcing me to see them differently than what I recall, I fill in the memory where color would be. Seeing my memories reappear in black and white changes their depth. The lack of saturation doesn’t take away their meaning, rather it forces me to remember this time by its values. Maybe my dad is on to something. Maybe gray isn’t so bad after all.
A dense concentration of life. 100 days in one month. A year on one gray scale.
Blackberry Winter: a brief period of cold weather in spring.