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SPOTLIGHT
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Take a picture -- it'll last longer

Published on -8/6/2012, 9:37 AM

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Apparently, the venerable Kodak corporation is on its last legs. The iconic yellow film boxes are disappearing from store shelves, victims of digital technology.

Some professional photographers still use Kodachrome slide film; it can yield a depth of color and contrast which are hard to replicate by manipulating digital images on a computer.

I bought my first digital camera four years ago, but it stayed in the box for the next six months. I was intimidated by the non-intuitive bells and whistles. When our grandson was born that July 4, I took the box to Lori's place, where I finally opened it up and read enough of the manual to get started. I still don't understand or utilize all the features, but I can take pretty decent pictures under most circumstances. I still have some trouble adjusting exposure and focus at night.

My dad was an avocational photographer. After he took a photography class at K-State, he constructed his own darkroom. He saved up to buy a high-end German camera -- the old kind with a view chamber that opens at the top. One stares down into the dim screen, which displays the image upside down. In experienced hands, the resulting focus can be razor sharp.

Local schools sometimes paid him to shoot group pictures for the yearbook -- all in black-and-white back then. His services came cheap, but yielded good results. He just thought it was fun.

He also made photos of church members' new babies, and once a year mounted them together in a large frame, which he hung in the church basement as a "Cradle Roll" display. The parents received free prints for their trouble.

Dad gave me my first camera when I was about 9 -- an antique Kodak box camera that unfolded like an accordion. Film had to be loaded in the dark. He bought B&W print film in bulk, and cut off segments which could be rolled tightly and placed in the film chamber.

Once the film had been exposed, we took it back to his basement darkroom, extracted the roll, and placed it in a light-tight canister. Then we twirled a knob to rotate the film through a developing solution. This process was timed, after which (still in total darkness) it was transferred to another chamber to "fix" the film -- stop the developing.

After the negative strips had been hung and dried, we could perform the fairly tedious process of mounting the negative in the "enlarger," an apparatus that shone a light through the film onto a piece of photo paper. After timing the exposure, we placed the blank white paper into a series of trays with appropriate solutions. When images emerged, prints were placed face down on a "ferrotype" plate, a mirror-like steel sheet, to dry.

My own first effort focused on the most impressive object in sight -- the sun. Not really a good photo-op. Dad chuckled at the whited-out blur that resulted.

Dad told me about "composition" and "framing," the art of including elements that improve the overall image's appeal -- perhaps positioning the subject near the side, instead of square in the middle of the frame, to show context and surroundings. "Perspective" involved aiming the camera from various positions and distances to generate aesthetic diversity.

But Dad was pretty literal in his approach. He wanted to represent discrete subjects accurately, but had little interest in photographic metaphors or abstractions.

After we moved to Stockton, I started using an old Argus C3 35mm camera. I had to use a separate hand-held light meter, or just guess, to determine proper shutter speeds and aperture settings.

A naked light bulb, topped by a shallow white reflecting dish, dangled from a single line over the croquet court behind the church. It struck me as somehow stark and evocative, full of intersecting lines, curves, and contrasts, so I took a daylight picture of it.

When we developed it, Dad said "Why did you take a picture of that? It's just a light bulb."

Dad did some "trick" photography too. He cut out and glued prints piecemeal on a sheet of cardboard to portray a story, then re-photographed the whole thing.

The resultant images provided posters for the Lions' Club annual pancake-and-sausage breakfast. One featured prominent local Lions standing knee-deep in an enormous pancake, carrying axes and saws. Another showed a huge hand-operated cast-iron meat grinder, cranked by local luminaries as whole hogs were fed into the top, emerging as link sausages at the bottom.

I borrowed his approach at the close of my med school sophomore year, the junction between "basic science" and "clinical" studies. Our grinder was turned by the intimidating chiefs of our pharmacology and pathology departments. Recognizable classmates were being dropped into the top, some making frantic last-minute escape attempts, while at the bottom emerged people dressed in clinical "whites," their faces averted.

The conceit was that in the process of developing into professional clinicians, we were sacrificing our uniqueness, becoming faceless "providers," more-or-less identical.

I learned later that this picture, the face page of our class' section in the KUMC yearbook, won some award. The designer was not identified at publication, so they didn't try to give me a frame-worthy certificate of appreciation.

I was too poor to buy my own yearbook copy. Thirty years later, as a KU med student himself, my son found it in their library.

Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton and now lives outside Hays.

hauxwell@ruraltel.net

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