Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Black and White I ends this week. I've cleared the calendar every night this week for darkroom time. Last night was sink time, and contact sheets from the last rolls of film we were supposed to take for class. I've been a terrible student this quarter. No, really. Haven't spent nearly the darkroom time prescribed, didn't study for the final and as a result missed some of the easiest questions, and I think I had nearly every film/camera accident combination possible. Failure to load film so that it advances? Check! Film stuck in camera? Check! Warped film due to forceful unloading? Incorrect exposure due to dead battery making light meter deceptively balanced, broken film for god knows what reason, light leaks, film exposed to light before processing, underdeveloped film, etc. 

It's fine. The one thing I can say is that I was always learning. I was certainly learning what I'm not good at, but also learning how much I love the mix-ups and the accidents and I was learning to let go of the heartache of those mistakes, not cling so much to each of those little moments I had captured on film, since they might not be there later. Any image I try to make might desert me. It might emerge before my eyes in the shallow tray of developer and then vanish just as quickly, as the paper goes dark and swallows whatever showed itself to me for a moment. What I tried to keep might be ripped in half or warped or ruined in some other way I haven't even thought of yet. 

The darkroom slowed me down this quarter. In a good way. When I was there, I could only be there. I had to say no to things, stand and wait, try my own patience on for a change. It's always meditative to be in there, gentle slosh of the trays of developer, stop, fix, the running water of the wash, the little sound the enlarger makes as it goes on and off, everything punctuated by the cheery sound of people calling "corner!" as they enter the room. There's always someone nice in there. I have been outrageously gregarious, talking to whoever is in the darkroom or at the sink next to me. No one seems to mind. Last night the darkroom monitor was generous to me, answered more questions than needed, took her time with me. Towards the end of the night, she looked at the contact sheet from my first self-developed Diana shots and said "film probably needed to be developed a bit longer." The shots of my favorite barn fared better, in her estimation. I thought the images looked light on the contact sheet, was lamenting that, but no, she said, they were probably better than the images that looked darker, with a little more development time they'll yield more detail, might be lovely. 

The final project is due next Monday, three images, something you love, whatever drove you to photography. That's the only guidance, other than of course, the best print possible. I love the Diana shots, but it's the barn that has the most potential for technical success, so that will go in the enlarger first,  shots I took last weekend before anyone else was up. 

Kate was in the master suite at the Lucky D, sleeping away her long night of dancing and kitty petting and skort wearing. The light coming in the front window woke me, so I put my cowboy boots and grandpa sweater on over my red union suit and took Mo out Farm to Market road to spend a roll of film on that barn I return to over and over, and never tire of. It was beautiful, a rare moment of clarity in a rainy weekend, and there were no cars in the road so I stood on the lane divider and took a photo looking down to the road to Allen West before I got back in the car to head back to Edison. When I parked next to the store, James opened the little kitchen curtain and grinned at me. He and Champ were doing their morning routine. He makes her breakfast, holds it while she eats, years of love and companionship coming tenderly to an end. James is resigned to losing her some time this summer, and talks about these days as some of their last. He'll drive her the few blocks to the good walk, and chops and mixes her meals by hand for her, holds the messy slop in his palm if he has to, to get her to finish it before she gets the bone that she'll spend the morning on, laid out on the shop floor while James works. They sleep with the light on now so they can see if Champ needs him up in the night, and his devotion to her is so willingly given, without resentment or compromise. Love as a practice, meditative, habitual. James understands tenderness as tending, tea for me, fires for Jessica before she wakes in the morning, all his care for Champ. When Jess and I go into the city we bring him back more loose tea, his favorite kind, and dinner, tending back, tending towards more love, all hot meals and warm beverages and wood stove heat. He looks at Jess and says "I like your style" and back in NYC, Robert comments on the photo of the two of them, saying it could be a portrait for that song "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and he can't imagine how very right he is.

After I parked my car, I came and stood in the kitchen with James and Champ. James made me tea and we talked about the party the night before, and I was so content with the way it all hung together. The happy parts as well as what grieves us, all the people and creatures and places we love or try to. Kate sleeping in the master suite, Jessica in the little room like a nest off the shop, Tom and Emmy in the trailer, guarding the yard. The yard, with its I Love You banner in the window of the door, the little piece of wood with the word "love" painted on it by Tom's friend Tofe, sitting on the trim on the back wall, the bench James made that curves around the fire pit, the geese decoys, the little piece of wood in the shape of a house that sits on the shelf under the giant roof with it's moss and light leaks and faded old wood. Things falling apart and clinging together, all of us holding on. Things coming into focus and things fading away. Images and projects and music and every single thing a treasure, transient or not. 


Barb said...

THIS is the writer I love. Wow. I sure hope you don't ever abandon writing. Wow.

(And by the way, the private blog post I posted around the same time as this has the word "contact" in the title too.) Jinx.

jessica bonin said...

goddammit woman. where's my hankie? you tear at my heart like a hungry fox. re-defining eloquence.

Anonymous said...

Don't know why it's been so long since I've visited your pages.

Thanks for this--made me cry.

I grew up with a father who always had a darkroom in our basement--it was his hobby, and he was an awesome B & W photographer--probably his first love, but it didn't pay the bills. He introduced me to New Mexico--my second favorite place in the world--by schlepping the family across the winter-frozen desert to snap shots of the Penitentes.
One of my most memorable experiences: I was whittling a stick with my brand new pocket knife, in Wichita, Kansas, when the sharp blade slipped and sliced my thumb. The knife also sliced THE ARTERY that supplied blood to my thumb. Blood was spurting everywhere. My mom wasn't home; my dad was in the darkroom. Needless to say, a few photos were ruined that day.
Stick with it!!
Your work is beautiful!


P.Shaw said...

sweetly perfect.

Kate said...

There it is. The people and place we love, in focus. Thank you!

Katherine said...

I love the way you make me stop and slow down and appreciate each and every word.