Black and White

When I was a child we moved into a ‘development.’ It was the 1960’s and these new homes sat of two acre lots carved from an orchard. They featured hardwood floors, solid six-panel doors and wall paper (a modern luxury that seems to have given way to Martha Stewart paint schemes and stenciling just below the ceiling.) We joined 4-H and bought sheep and horses. There was no place at home for them so we boarded at the abandoned barn of the farmer who had sold the orchard.

When I reached high school I discovered the magic of photography. The progressive regional school, recently built near the neighborhood, was staffed by young, teachers who offered classes and after-school activities that were just beginning to be recognized as important in the early 1970s. My class was assigned to pick a current song and do a photo essay based on the words. I chose Neil Young’s “Old Man.”  I took my first SLR camera and set out to do justice to the lyrics. Later, I pasted the photos to a cardboard three-fold frame and painstakingly hand wrote the words next to them.

The first glimpse of those sheets of photo paper floating in the fixing bath had a strange effect on me. I felt time had stopped and I captured  what my eye had seen forever. Though the negatives are long lost, those first grainy images lead me to this point where photography will always be a thread in my life. I will try to show you the images with words…

I photographed the elderly gentleman farmer, from the knees down. His feet were shod in worn but polished and neatly tied, sturdy Oxfords. The rough wool of his pin-striped serge trousers was the perfect texture to sooth his marmalade cat who rubbed against his shins.   His wooden cane was gnarled but straight and mirrored the striped of his thick wool pants. Though his face was never revealed in the grainy print, his persona was clear.

I’ve been first and last
Look at how the time goes past.
But I’m all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.

Old man take a look at my life I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true.

The other shot etched into my memory is of the weathered windmill that stood at the bottom of his field. It ran the pump in the well-house before there was running water from the town. The weathered, gray shingles were curled and the structure tilted slightly. Color would not have improved this shot in any way.

The cover of The Sun magazine this month reminded me of what those photos felt like as I birthed them in chemicals. What I would give to see that sheet of cardboard again…

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14 thoughts on “Black and White

    • Thanks for dropping by, Phil. It was a bit of a disaster since all were new teachers and the principal was fired three months into the first year. Textbooks had been ordered too late, and by the time they arrived, we were all doing “alternative’ studies anyway.

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      • In my experience, sometimes the most learning occurs without textbooks and with new teachers who are just “natural” instructors…and not tired of the school politics – or all the hard work teaching involves. Exhausting for body, soul, and mind sometimes

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  1. My mom was NOT one to save keepsakes and mementos while we were growing up and sadly I failed to do likewise when Wesley was a boy although over the years I’ve begun doing so with a vengeance. Oh, to have – still – some of the trappings of my youth!

    Your description of developing film reinforces my memories as well of junior high science class where we learned to develop black and white film. I recall the eerie red glow, the solutions we used and seeing the image spring to life all while Jackson Browne’s Doctor My Eyes played on a (most likely!) transistor radio in the background.

    Good post Martha — but then, I always enjoy your posts. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Julie! I am a bit of a pack rat. I can honestly say there are strange “trinkets” and scraps of my former lives I have managed to hold on to. I learned long ago, I find comfort in ancient history, especially if it is mine. I have my mother’s teething rattle as well as both my daughter’s.

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  2. I never developed any of my own film, nor did I ever shoot in B&W. Most everything was color by the time I started. I’m glad school started you on a life long love of photography early on! To think how much photography has changed since you took the shot of the farmer and his windmill.

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  3. I wish I’d had a school like that. My son took photography at college and I was so jealous, I would have loved the opportunity. Instead I took art and, like you, there are a few sheets if card I wish I had kept.

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