It's possible the Twilight series ruined Debussy's Clair de Lune forever.
But when "Waste of Film" opens with those first few piano notes, delicate and sparing, we remember what made it beautiful. It casts the images that follow with quiet poetry, setting the tone for the rest of the piece.
You will need that sense of calm. When Travis Young begins to narrate, his voice is gentle, but the story he tells is not. This is three years after his second suicide attempt. His past is punctuated by an abject brutality—a kid left helpless against the warped power of those whose job was to nurture him.
Thus, he attempted suicide not once but twice … and the second time came as a surprise, even to himself.
How is that even possible?
Young describes how, to survive his childhood, he simply learned not to feel. The repercussions of shutting off emotion are strange. Alongside the loss of one's sense of love, injustice or sorrow, it also becomes unclear whether we're happy, tired or even hungry. The result is an almost mechanized sense of existing.
When that second suicide attempt occurred, Young was a successful commercial photographer in Kansas City. But he also admits, "The task at hand was much more alive than I was at that point."
Traditional point-and-shoot photography became a way to explore the interior world he could no longer feel. When he suspected he felt something, he took a photo, surrendering to the process: He couldn't see the image, could do little more to improve it than care for the roll itself. This became a way of externalizing his battle.
But as the photos flick by, revealing as much to himself as to us a vast scale of breathtaking sensitivity, they reveal a truth that can only be found when "work"—the useful thing we're rewarded for—is understood as separate from "creation"—which can be work, but which is better defined as the soul-nourishing thing that stems from something deeper.
You can lose yourself in work without ever addressing your demons … but creation requires all of you. It requires investigation and an openness to the response.
"These photographs serve as a translation. What it's trying to translate is the process of being human," Young muses.
Directed by Josh Dubois of Barkley in Kansas City, "Waste of Film" is part of "KC Loves," a film series led by Dubois and produced by Barkley. Its goal is to celebrate Kansas City creativity.
Its release is also timed to National Suicide Prevention Month, and is an expression of how we sometimes don't recognize the value we bring to the picture … at least not until it's been developed.
The National Suicide Prevention hotline can be found at the end of the film.
"I think most photographers consider 90 percent of what they shoot to be a waste of film and 10 percent to be where a simple image becomes something powerful," says Dubois. "It's in that margin where Travis lives daily and why he encourages all photographers to keep wasting film."
Aptly, the composer Debussy was himself haunted by thoughts of suicide throughout his life. The gentle chords of Clair de Lune, completed the year his daughter was born and as tranquil as a still pond, is—like Young's life up to now—also a powerful example of creation as catharsis from a past littered with violence and volatility. When it concludes the film over those last flickering images, we're left with a calm conviction about what is possible when we truly learn to approach ourselves with the tenderness we were denied.
In January, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline worked with Logic to create a hit song whose title was its phone number. The track, also a personal meditation on an artist's battle with suicide, was a Grammy nominee for Song of the Year.
Agency - Barkley
Chief Idea Officer - Tim Galles
Executive Creative Director - Katy Hornaday
Group Creative Director - Berk Wasserman
Chief Idea Officer - Tim Galles
Trauma Consultant - Valerie Dubois
Production Company - Barkley Films
Director - Joshua Dubois
Production Company Producer - Lauren Alexander
Director of Photography - Nick Stout & Joshua Dubois
Photography - Travis Young
Editorial Company - Barkley Films
Editorial Company Producer - Lauren Alexander
Editor - Joshua Dubois
Music - Primary Color