50 Years of Photos

I love photographs, I love negatives and I love contact sheets. And today, I began to sort through 50 years of envelopes and folders filled with this stuff. I took my first photography course the spring semester of my senior year in college. It must have been something I really wanted to do because the class was on Saturday mornings from 8 - noon. My roommate signed up too. We were probably the only seniors at Cornell who scheduled a class that began this early on a Saturday morning. But working in a darkroom for the first time was wonderful. I never missed a class.
The year my former husband and I lived in Chicago, I took another photography course at the Art Institute. When we moved to Houston in 1967, I bought a small enlarger and used a bathroom in our apartment as a darkroom. Later, I took more courses in Rice's Continuing Studies program and outfitted a real darkoom in a studio apartment with a ten foot fiberglass sink, a 'big' Omega enlarger, lots of lenses and lots of trays and drying racks.
I love taking photographs, making photographs, editing photographs and looking at photographs. My daughters tell me they'll know just what to do if I develop dementia as an old lady. Every day, they will offer me boxes of photos. I can sort them, over and over. It's not a bad idea.
So today, after years of simply letting negatives and contact sheets pile up on the shelves in the guest room, I began to sort through big stuffed envelopes and folders. There are hundreds of them.
I'm loving it, but it's mind boggling when I come across stacks of negatives and contact sheets that were never filed properly in any folder at all. It is easy to see that I'd print from widely divergent rolls of negatives, then stack them in a pile at the end of day, put them on the shelf and just leave them that way for years and years.
I found one folder labelled 'Assorted - all decades.' Inside the envelope were negatives from a 1983 book club weekend in Weimar, TX; a stray contact sheet with images taken in Sian during a trip to China in 1979; a roll from a 1982 Visual Studies Workshop  in Rochester, NY; negatives from Caroline's 2000 wedding; photos of Stonehenge circa 1984 and a contact sheet and negatives from a Poe School Carnival. I think I labelled that folder corrrectly.
In June 1981, we took the girls to London and Paris. In each city we had friends from Houston with kids their ages. While in Paris we took day trips to Versailles and Giverny. Every few years I'd take a look at the contact sheets from that Paris trip and wonder why I hadn't taken a photo of the girls standing on one of the green bridges that cross over Monet's lilypond. I couldn't fathom why I'd failed to take such a photo. I wondered again when I went to Giverny with Aggie last July.
Well, this afternoon I found a large envelope labelled Paris and London, 1981. And the first image on the first contact sheet I pulled from the envelope was of the girls on Monet's bridge. I was stunned.
I'd taken that picture. Of course. I was even more stunned to see two images of four children sitting on those needlepoint stools in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. In 1981, those seats weren't roped off. Kids could lounge on them.
Imagine if I'd been able to photograph Lulu's pink glitter shoes directly under those stools instead of yards away. And little did Caroline know that I'd be photographing her daughter Lulu's shoes there 31 years later. The wonder of photography.
I found a photo I'd taken of my brother John and Trish at their wedding and another of them with their daughters Tanner and Carrie. That one I took for a Christmas card.
These stacks of negatives and contact sheets document much of 50 years of my life. They are a trove, a visual journal and rich indeed. If Kodak still made Polycontrast paper, I'd set up a darkroom in my bathroom tomorrow. As it is, I'll take myself to a photo lab with that Paris 1981 envelope and have a photograph made of my girls on Monet's bridge at Giverny. I've wanted that image for a long, long time.

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