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Thursday, October 28th, 2004
4:27p - Reminiscences


I was just typing in a quote from one of the junior high student's reading books about a young girl away from home for the first time at a boarding school who wanted to become a professional photographer. She got in trouble (with her roommates) when she used chemicals someone had messed up, ruining what she'd printed, and was quite late as a result. (She stayed and finished the job... of course!)

Flashback to being a staff photographer MY first time away from home, at college, and going out with an unfamiliar camera to shoot a foreign dignitary who was lecturing. After shooting two from the back of the room that I was very dissatisfied with, I climbed around as quietly as possible to a good spot, snapped a shot in mid word, world globe worked into it (he was from the far side of the world, so I thought a nice touch like the globe would be a shoo in for printing.)

As soon as the flash went off, he admonished me not to do that again (right in the middle of his lecture, wagging a pointing finger at me. I could have died of embarrassment!). Now, no newspaper in the world treasures POSED shots done in a photo shoot... the best stuff is all done LIVE.

I left, too shy to demand a photo shoot afterward, and sort of knowing from his attitude that he was not ever going to take direction from a young GIRL.

Printed out the roll... and the one shot was SUPER. Everything was right.

The advisor pulled it off the line in front of the whole staff, and instead of the praise I expected, bawled me out for not "bracketing" my exposures to ensure a good one, especially since I was shooting a black man.

No way was I going to ask him what "bracketing" exposures meant! I couldn't even say, "What do you want, anyway? What fault can you possibly find with the exposure of THAT photo?" in my defense. After all, I WAS using a type of camera I'd never shot before. Maybe it did more than focus awkwardly.

One of the camera bugs took me aside and told me it probably irked him that I turned in a 12 shot roll with BLANK negatives on it.

"But, we were on deadline. What ELSE was I supposed to shoot?"

"One too light, one too dark, one out of focus, one missing a body part or two..."

"Never!" I railed. "I won't do bad work just to fit someone's prejudices!"

Still not realizing that the "one too dark and one too light" was the technique for bracketing, just carried to an extreme, I went out on my next shoot, to get rainy day shots. I did shots of a flock of colorful umbrellas open in the hallway, drying off. As I hit the shutter, someone opened the outside door, where a brief ray of sunlight splashed indoors, washing out the color. I had a friend guard the door and reshot. I moved outside and took shots of the statue of the mascot bird, paint streaked, chipped, and wearing a smattering of wet leaves stuck at random throughout the upper parts of his body. He looked sad and depressed, uncared for. I shot him from every angle except from a tree looking DOWN. I did some wet sneakers splatting into a puddle, catching the drops up out of the water, crystal clear, not a dab of fuzz. I shot all 12 photos, but NONE were of people... not whole ones, anyway.

"Well, I see we're into still life now," he drawled in front of the entire staff again, looking casually through the entire string of 12.

"No, not all -- the foot is running."

"Oh," he said, eyeballing me for any evidence of back-talk, snideness, or guile. "And might I be so bold as to inquire WHOSE foot is running?"

I was stumped. I didn't even know if it were a male or female foot. Publishing an IDENTIFIED sock encased sneaker with pant cuff never occurred to me.

"Our proud bird seems to have seen better days. Did you work up an editorial about raising money to refurbish him, or are you making an editorial comment on the number of winning games we've had?"

I gulped, but said nothing.

"Well, from all these tremendous shots of our students and faculty bravely withstanding the effects of a week's worth of rain, I guess we'll go with the umbrellas. I see you at least did half of a bracket this time, but don't use such a wide range next time. That must be three or four f stops away. One each side will be sufficient. Dare I send you on an away game for night shots with the team? J's sick..."

Too artsy by half... but at least I now knew what "bracket" the shots meant.

Funny, I was there for two years, and for the life of me, I can't remember any other shots that did or didn't make it into the paper... until I did the sunset shot out of my third floor dorm window with the screen removed. I used my own camera, so it was shot in color, and I entered it in the IBM employee's photo contest (as a child of an employee), winning the category "sunsets and night shots". That one went on the upper half of the front page of the COLLEGE TOWN's paper, covering the first fold, but nearly got me in trouble, as the cut line announced that I had shot it from a window in the New Girls' Dorm... and removing the screens was NOT legal...

The advisor was pretty cavalier about it. "Nobody will notice the screen isn't there. Besides, it doesn't say WHICH window. It might not have been yours." That discussion took place in private. I also found out that he routinely sent whatever shots of the students we published, or that were good, but did not make it, in PR releases to student's home towns, most of which were small enough to make it into the local papers. I didn't know it because Rochester was TOO BIG to be interested in running folksy little snippets like that. But where I live now would have done it in a heart-beat, and the person so recognized would hear about it endlessly.

"Anyone looking out the windows can easily match the angle, the trees' shape, the elevation, and figure out whose room it HAS to be." I don't know if he interceded, or if he was right, that a whole town did not notice... or chose to overlook it, but I never did get in trouble for it (the cat in the closet with its kitty litter that purred when the dorm mother did room inspection came closer to that... but she never did find out about the dog I had for over a week...) Animal people don't separate well from animals! What can I say? And how do you potty a full grown chocolate lab? You go down the fire escape, put a string in the crack of the door handle on the inside, then lay the cord in the crack of the door, leaving just enough outside to pull it back out and carefully depress the door handle enough to pull the door open... (no alarms back then to warn when someone was using it.)

Forty years later, the college is closed, after having been sold to the Japanese for a while. The depressed bird came home to roost after all.

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