A long time ago, I became very interested in photography. But I didn’t really get involved with it very much until college.

Boring and irrelevant backstory: During my senior year in high school, I had so many credits toward graduation that I only needed to take two or three classes. I asked my guidance counselor if I could attend the local tech center for half a day to study photography. I thought this was just a grand idea. She didn’t. “You’re in a college-prep curriculum,” she said. “You can’t go to the tech center.” Of course, I could go—there were no rules against it. What she meant was that “I don’t want a college-prep student like you mingling with students who are going to become farmers, blue-collar workers, and other assorted low-lifes.” Is there just a little bit of class prejudice there? You decide. I don’t recall this woman being particularly prejudiced in any other way. She just believed that there were these students and there were those students, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Oh well. Fortunately, we don’t do this sort of thing in education anymore.

In college I later ended up working for a friend’s father who also had an interest in photography, and he taught me how to put together a darkroom in my basement. He still had some connections in the local photography scene, and helped my buy my first (and only) enlarger for only ten dollars. I learned how to process both black and white film and color film, how to make prints from them, and develop transparencies (which is what photographers call “slides”).

Photography was then a much more expensive hobby than it is now. Film and paper were always in short supply, and their use had to be coordinated with mixing new chemicals, because once mixed they have a limited shelf life. It was always a struggle to have enough exposed film ready to develop that would use exactly the amount of chemicals I had mixed up. These days, if you’ve filled every SD card you have, you just download the pictures to your computer, erase the cards, and start all over. The only limit is the size of your hard drive.

Most importantly there was a sense of expectation. It took time to get from snapping a picture to getting the negatives developed (which then had to dry for at least a day), and then to developing prints (which also had to dry for nearly a day). You had to be patient.

Still, because it was just as much work to process 100 prints as it was ten—the hard part isn’t the actual processing, but the set-up and clean-up—and because I wanted to use up all the chemicals I had mixed, I tended to work in long bursts of frenetic energy, followed by days or even weeks of just taking pictures. This is pretty much how I tend to work anyway: bursts of long, active days, followed by long periods when I do little or nothing (although I am always working on other projects, if only in my mind).

Now, of course, I use a digital camera. This hasn’t really changed my approach to photography. I will take tons of photographs, and then, instead of spending a weekend sequestered in the basement, I’ll spend hours at the computer, cropping, enhancing, and (unlike before) adding a copyright notice, before posting them on the internet.

 

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