A few years ago I stumbled upon what I felt was a goldmine: a small, weathered box full of old negatives from the 1920s thru the 1940s. What made those negatives so special was the fact that the majority of them were of my father and his family when he was a child. They once belonged to my great aunt Kathryn Shute Pearson, who was a photographer for the Charlotte Observer from the 1930s up until the 1950s. I don’t remember much about her, as she died in 1968 when I was only 4 years old. I only remember that she lived at the beach in her later years and I had to wear baggies on my shoes when I walked in the sand. But she was an accomplished photographer and now I had her negatives.
The first negative I printed of hers was a photo of my grandparents taken in 1920. They were young and in love and I had never seen the photograph before, nor any photo of them before they had children. I put the negatives away and have not done anything with them until last week when I went back into the darkroom and started printing again.
I printed a photo of my father circa 1935, when he was a young, plucky little fella in a lop-sided hat and suspenders. His grin was the same one I had seen many times before: sly smile, dimpled cheeks, and twinkling eyes. The other guy in the photograph was a neighbor, and it looks as if my dad was trying to convince him that having his photo taken was OK, but the other kid wasn’t buying it!
It’s hard to describe the feeling I had as I developed the print. My father died in 2008, and he and I were very close. I miss him in so many ways and always will. Mostly I miss his expressive face. So to see that face emerging in the chemicals in the quiet of the darkroom, slowly coming to life again, was very powerful. Like the photo of my grandparents that I had previously printed, I had never seen this photo before. It was a gift I was giving to myself, left to me unintentionally but surely appreciated by my great aunt.
And this would have never happened if Sawtooth didn’t have a darkroom.
So my love of the darkroom is re-affirmed (though it never really left) and I will continue to develop prints from these 80-year-old negatives.
In case you are interested, we will have more darkroom classes starting in August: http://www.sawtooth.org/classes/photo-1/an-introduction-to-darkroom-photography
Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for your camera!