E.E. McCollum’s portfolio At Seventy was selected by Rfotofolio for the 2020 Rfotofolio Selections.He was the 2020 Lensbaby Award winner. We are pleased to share his work. Please click on images to to see a different view.
On the heels of a project shot entirely in the studio using digital equipment, I wanted something different, something to stretch another set of creative muscles.And so I began to make self-portraits on expired film.
As I talked with a few friends about my new project, they all asked the same question. Why was I using expired film?
“It just seems right for someone who’s coming up on his own sell-by date,” I joked.
But there was something more beneath the humor. At nearly 70, the inevitability of aging had not escaped my notice. I had left behind a satisfying career for the unknown world of retirement. My knees didn’t work like they used to. My mother died at age 98, leaving me without living parents. I found my daydreams wandering into the past as often as they imagined the future. And I began writing notes to myself — reminders of the simplest things. What, I wondered, is my life now all about? And what can making photographs about it teach me?
My project has been ongoing for a few months now. Like any inquiry, terms change as the work progresses. I am, it seems, still photographing my way into this project — making photographs not just to express something but to discover something. My use of expired film has had unanticipated consequences. For one thing, it frees me to take risks. The film is already spoiled in some sense; I never know what will appear when I take a roll out of the developing tank. Adding the element of chance to the mix of making images relieves me of the pressure to make a successful photo. It also opens doors to experimentation. I looked for something satisfying in the often grainy, sometimes obscured images. As I let go of my expectations of the image quality that digital provides, I found that satisfaction. Suddenly, there was mystery, an intriguing lack of clarity, and room to imagine in my photographs. I let go of other expectations, too. Some rolls of film came out of the developer completely blank. One roll had only a single usable image. All these experiences were lessons all along the way. Work slowly, be patient, accept that you don’t have control over the process.
I started this project with an eye toward exploring aging. Growing older unsettles the delicate balance of knowing we will die while living with that awareness in such a way that we avoid despair. As I made more images, however, my inquiry widened. I wondered what portraits — and especially self-portraits — captured and didn’t capture about the subject. I am experimenting with images that don’t include me at all, where my absence alludes to my presence. I place photos of myself in some images, making photographs of photographs. Each image, it seems, both reveals and obscures. E.E. McCollum
To learn more about the work of E.E. McCollum please visit his page by clicking on his name.
Thank you for sharing EE’s work. I know of few photographers who so honestly portray the process of aging. Using expired film and accepting whatever image appears is a perfect metaphor for the time period that we all hope to inhabit.
Thank you for such a lovely comment, Fran.
Somehow, the use of expired film seems to be an example of a means of looking at the present, and perhaps the future, through the perspective of our experience. A couple of weeks ago I awaked with a hook from an old popular song from Steve Miller in my head: “…time keeps on slippin’…slippin’…slippin’…into the future.” Thanks to Rfotofolio and to EE for sharing this vision.
What powerful work and so appropriate now, as life becomes increasingly ephemeral. Perhaps this work as well as what society is going through right now will help people understand and respect the process of aging. Love the expired film and the way time is portrayed in these images.
Thanks to both Norm and Lynne. It is so nice to know that others respond to my work!
The light and out of focus is wonderful as is the absence suggesting presence. The use of expired film requires a surrender to the unknown and letting go of control, both creating a fertile ground for the mystery. Aging is much about surrender and letting go too. Thanks for these great images, love the meditative figure by the window with a tree – life – in the distance.
I am never surprised by the different directions Eric goes in his life, his work, his art, his relationships with the world. He is never satisfied to sit on the surface, but delves for more experience and more meaning. And then, bless him, he shares!! At Seventy means a lot to me. Thanks, Eric! Linda Holvik