My father wasn’t very happy about the supply list that I brought home for a class called Photo/Visual Communication. As I wandered around the camera shop in downtown Davis, it was pretty obvious that photography was an expensive hobby. It would be years before I owned a single lens reflex (SLR) camera or an enlarger. There was no way my parents could afford any of the 35mm cameras in the glass case. If I was going to be taking photos, it would be with my mother’s Kodak Hawkeye 126 Instamatic.
The resin coated (RC) paper was on sale and they had black and white instamatic cartridges, so that I could learn how to develop film. I would have to come back another time to buy chemicals, measuring devices, a thermometer, and the thick brown gallon jugs for storing photo chemicals. Over time, I would collect film developing tanks, film clips, paper developing trays, a contact printer, and a special red light that allowed me to monitor the images that magically appeared when I put the RC paper into Dektol Developer.
Like most teenagers interested in photography, my very first darkroom was the bathroom. After developing my 126 black and white film, I would hang it in the shower to dry, and then make contact prints called proof sheets by turning the bathroom light on and off. While other kids used the school darkroom, I preferred to work at home or go to Terence’s house on the weekend. Besides having access to his father’s 8mm movie camera and editing gear, there was an enlarger in the laundry room that we could use to print still images.
Mr. Berger, the photography teacher, opened our eyes to the many aspects of the visual arts. The class was like a laboratory where the student’s imaginations could run wild. I knew what Mr. Berger meant when he assigned us the task of expressing time in a still photograph. He was looking for a visual metaphor. Instead of accepting the challenge, which would have been so much easier to achieve with a more sophisticated camera capable of multiple exposures on one frame or a lens aperture that would stay open while time elapsed, I ended up taking the assignment literally, photographing my alarm clock in incongruous outdoor locations.
I think my success in the class came from my early attempts at filmmaking more so than my early attempts at still photography. There was also my willingness to play on screen host in a video project called The Get-a-Job Jamboree. I believe it happened on Career Day. I started the show as a Dick Clark type host. Giving the show the feel of a dance marathon, possibly influenced by a recent viewing of They Shoot Horses Don’t They, I ended the program in my pajama’s holding a teddy bear.
What I remember most about the final tape presentation was that the camera person had started a shot on teenagers slow dancing head to shoulder, then tilting slowly down to reveal some of the clumsiest footwork ever seen. The lesson I learned from this random moment of video would bode well in future endeavors. It taught me to look beyond the obvious activity and explore the details. It also established a credo for future video projects: Feet are funny.