Black and White Photograpy: Returning

It was a very windy day. Cold. I think we were in Chicago — the windy city. My father turned abruptly to me and said, “Judy, come with me.” Mom, with my two little sisters, each holding her hand, went elsewhere.

Admiring the trees’ fall colors.

I didn’t know what this was about. The wind whipped my hair into my eyes and suddenly dad was on the move. He always walked fast. I had to run to keep up. We turned a corner around those tall downtown buildings and a freezy gust took my breath. He went into a camera store. I assumed to buy film for his camera.

While he talked with the man behind the counter, I didn’t really listen. I looked at all the cameras in the glass case. So many. My dad turned to me and said, “Hold this.” It was a small, manual, 35mm camera. It was metal and, to me at that age, heavy. But it had a nice grip on it. It would become mine.

It was the summer that I passed into grade 6. I was 10 years old. Ultimately, the camera was for me although I didn’t know it at the time. I was and am intrigued with all that the camera brought into my life, but I have always wondered why he never told me that we were going to a store to buy me a camera.

My father taught me quite a bit on how to shoot black and white photography. He rolled his own film. He taught me to load the film and wind it to the first frame and set the ISO. Then he challenged me to go out and shoot a roll. Which I excitedly did.

My younger sisters were always willing to be models. And somehow back then, they waited while I dialed all the parts in correctly. Whether we were at Sunken Gardens in Florida or in Springbank Park to see the fall trees, I had stars to be in my black and white photos.

Neighborhood kids lined up with bicycles one summer afternoon for me to practice my photography skills.

I remember lining up the neighborhood kids on their bicycles in the driveway. They grew impatient as I recall, but years later I am glad to have found the print.

Highlighted in green, the darkroom in a corner of the basement.

My father would invite me into the dark room he’d built in the basement and taught me how to develop my film and then to develop my prints.

We weren’t supposed to put our hands in the chemicals but we did because neither of us could keep up with the tongs.

We could print photos whatever size would fit into the developing trays. And with the previously mentioned bicycle parade, I remember the delight of having a long narrow print of the event. Today it would be called a panorama.

I took photos whenever I could and carried that camera with me a lot.

My special camera went on our grade 6 science field trip to Pond Mills.

I remember how I tried to hurry and get the right aperture and shutter speed so my classmates would not grow impatient as they posed on the roots of a large tree that had fallen (photo below). From the looks of the photo years later, the teacher looks the one to have grown impatient.

I don’t know what brand of camera I had. I no longer have it. Eventually I was given a lighter, more portable, color camera which was the cool thing to have in grade 8.

Snow scene taken on the way home from work one evening 1990.

But that camera and my dad were the start of a real love of black and white photography. I’ve taken photos ever since that first camera.

Once past university and out working, dad helped me build a darkroom in my own basement. My mother was upset that I’d bought a Minolta x-370 before the needed washing machine.

Certainly I never stopped taking photos or experimenting — whether with pinhole cameras, infrared film or hand tinting printed photographs (the analog way) like my grandmother. But I did stop taking black and white photos for a while and shot mostly nature and birds — which is best in color.

You may have noticed that public darkrooms were phased out a few decades ago. In graduate school I used the darkrooms as long as I could to develop prints for “English Journal.” But the remaining two darkrooms on campus were replaced with computer labs.

While I was enthusiastic with the early versions of Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom and scanning software, I have somewhat had my fill of screens. Not that I can’t sit and type a blog post, but I have no desire to sit for too many hours to enhance my photos. I want them to be good out of the camera.

But photography is digital these days (which involves some screen time) and I am excited to return once again to shooting in black and white. It is a way of seeing. You see differently when you shoot black and white.

And to that I am returning.