Goodbye to an Old Friend

It’s that time.

Finishing projects. Culling through the million or two images produced through the year.

Our office is tech heavy.  Raids and computers. Printers. Devices of all stripes everywhere.

Last night an old friend moved out. Replaced by innovation and technology.

When I arrived in Florida, fresh out of the University of Kansas School of Journalism, things worked a little different in the photo world.  I shot film, actual strips of celluloid. I processed it in wet chemicals, examined it with a loupe, and made prints.

One of the great presents of my life showed up just before Christmas my first winter in Miami.  A giant blue industrial light table with a three foot by three viewing surface. Magnificent.

The elf that left it on my porch didn’t try to get it through the front door.  I’m still not entirely sure how we managed to get it inside unscathed, but where there’s a will there’s a way.

Millions of images crossed that viewing platform, carrying with them my vision, my life’s work.  Tri-X and Kodachrome, those stalwart staples of photojournalism.

Images bound for the front pages of the world’s newspapers and magazines — ah yes print, that ancient medium which served so many for so well for so long, and which contrary to apparent popular belief is going strong all over the planet.

No piece of furniture, save the ancient family rocking chair, held my attention for so long or for so well.

A decade ago digital photography took over completely in my office. Scanners, card readers and computer screens replaced the old loupes and light boxes.

I still have millions of negatives and transparencies stored neatly in huge black filing cabinets, but as I have transferred the most important of them digitally, I have pulled open those creaking drawers less and less often.

Finally this year, I decided painfully I needed the space for yet another bank of hard drives. Even though I seldom hunched over the piles of film evaluating for the first cogent time their value, and by fiat my success or failure at communicating the moment or story through them, it was still very tough to say goodbye. So much emotion and work tied to that surface.

Editing then was different.  It was more solitary.  I looked at the film.  Thinking strictly about what it said or didn’t.  It was a tactile process. And the light box didn’t talk, not like my computer screen does, always beckoning and seducing with sounds, and lights, and distractions.

But it’s gone, those who work with me celebrating the freed up space.

Silly as it sounds, I’m glad it’s found a new home with young artists, working in an older medium who will enjoy the virtues of a slower pace of visualization and a sturdy place to support their creations.

Time to get back to the computers and the edit.  Now, where to put my coffee cup?

3 Responses to “Goodbye to an Old Friend”

  1. Mike Williams says:

    Nice thoughts Bill.

    Who says we can’t use words?

    I think I have an old Mac Pro with a CD/DVD drive built in. As I recall, that tray popping out looked like a great cup holder. I could send it to you as a coffee cup holder if you like.

    Happy holidays.

  2. John Freeman says:

    After I worked a faculty fellowship at the Bergen Co. Record in 2002 (think Tom Franklin and the Three Firemen photo), I knew it was time to really close down the UF journalism school’s darkroom. I offered everything to the art department. What a surprise to come in one day and find the print wash sinks removed from the wall and the copper water pipes cut! I hope they used the stuff well….

  3. Kevin Allen says:

    Bill….WoW you’ve stirred up so many emotions and memories. Good and Bad. Funny moving this past weekend…..grabbing all my notebooks of transparencies and negatives….one of the 1st things my Ex Girlfriend (Yes EX) placed into the car instead of the moving truck…..was my 3×5 Light Table thinking it was very important for me never to be separated from. To have with me not storage. Yeah….I trained her well. She’s quite a Gal and still a Great Friend! The Girl and the table….now that I have to scan all those damm little nuggets that I hope will turn into some gold for me.

    Merry Christmas and Love Ya Brother!

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