I’m a Photographer, I Make Photographs

A couple of weeks ago I was down in a town south of Denver named Castle Rock. I stumbled on the town, as I never knew that there was an actual downtown area beyond the outlet malls seen from the interstate. While there, I was walking with my tuxedo-grey Rollieflex T, and meeting people with it, as always happens.

I ended up walking into a coffeeshop, a candy shop and a bookshop and in each of them photographing the people working there after they commented on the beautiful old camera. But something was odd, I wasn’t able to hear the shutter while I was shooting. Now, the Rolleiflex has a quite quiet leaf shutter and I was photographing in places with noise, but still, something felt wrong.

When I finished the roll on some town shots, including the rock on a bluff that is castle-shaped, for which it’s named, I pulled the film out, checked the shutter and sure enough it wasn’t opening when I pressed the shutter release. Which means none of those portraits were going to be on the film–it would be blank.

I was able to work it and get the shutter to open, which means I could use it now. But those exposures were non-existent.

So, what’s a pro to do?

You go back! I revisited each of those places and explained it was time for a reshoot. “You know how I felt there was something amiss with the shutter, well there was.” And then I proceeded to re-photograph each of them.

The pro gets the shot. Ego doesn’t get in the way. There’s no such thing as “too embarrassed” to get the shot.

Years ago, on an assignment at the Jersey Shore to photograph a child and his family for a health page feature story, I arrived at the home, reached into my backseat, grabbed film, a lens but there was no camera body. I had taken my cameras up to the newsroom for a studio portrait and never brought the bag back down to my car before leaving for this shoot which was an hour and a quarter away from the newsroom.

What to do? I could go rent a camera–camera shops still existed in the 1990s, and there was surely one nearby somewhere. This is pre-internet, so I would probably have to dial 411 for directory assistance or find a pay phone and look in the Yellow Pages.

I could drive back and get my cameras from the studio, but it was a 75-minute drive each way to this beach town.

I know, I could ask if they had a camera, and that’s exactly what I did. After sizing up the location for light, meeting the family, I suggested where we would work and asked if they had a camera. Off their puzzled look, I explained I usually bring one but something happened today. I had plenty of film. I told them I could make anything work. They said they had a Pentax with a zoom and 50mm. I said, bring that 50mm and we’ll do the shoot. And it was perfectly fine. The negatives looked no different than if they were made with my Nikons–cameras don’t make the photos, photographers do.

Back to Castle Rock. Realizing that last roll would be blank, I went back and re-shot each of the portraits, except the candy shop owner, she had already left for the day. Instead, I made a photo of her 100-year-old display case which is what drew me the first time to photograph her.

Cut to two weeks later. I just drove back down to the town today to deliver framed prints of those hand-printed black and white silver darkroom photographs on classic Ilford FB fiber paper, the kind of paper that is used in museum shows. Since the negatives are square, I printed them about 6.5″ x 6.5″ on a sheet of 8×10 paper, with a nice white border, slightly above center. In a frame, the border takes on the look of a mat.

And the people receiving them? Well, when I made them, they had each asked for a copy, and to me that means making a photograph. A real photograph. I’m sure they were expecting an email or text with the photo, but that’s not delivering anything. To me, that’s not a photograph.

I don’t shoot for likes and swipes. So a real darkroom print, framed, ready for display, it was.

Want to see them? I would share what those portraits look like here, but I never scanned those photographs. I never input the negatives into my computer. Lightroom has never met those files. They came out of the developer, were hung up to dry, then printed in my darkroom and the final prints were hung on a clothesline to dry before placing in 8×10 frames I picked up at a yard sale.

I developed the film and hand-printed in Kodak Dektol and Kodak Rapid Fixer, real photographs–actual prints. I know that sounds odd and foreign, but that’s the way photographers delivered prints for 170 years.

And if you would like to see them, well, I guess you’d have to visit the folks in the portraits and ask them to show them to you.

Because they don’t exist as any other format other than a real photograph, printed for their wall, to be part of their home gallery.

I get such joy photographing people, documenting a little bit of their world and then delivering photographs in this way, surprising the portrait subjects with a real print. In a world where everything is so fast, I would bet they expected to never hear from me again, nor to ever see the photo.

The last thing they expected was me to walk in with a finished print and hand to them.

A gift of photography.

If you do want to see them, ask them for them: Gina at the Sudden Fiction Bookstore. Jacob at the Lost Coffeeshop. And the candy shop that’s located inside The Emporium. All three are places worthy of a visit.

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