"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Sometimes I get a song stuck in my head. It's on "replay" for days, and I keep singing it to myself.

Lately it’s been Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” I don’t know the verses by heart; I pretty much hum those, but when I get to the last line of each verse I’m fully present with: “for the times they are a-changin’.”

Eddie and I are in the process of downsizing. That involves getting rid of a lot of stuff so we can move into a smaller place. We’ll still have stuff, just not as much of it.

One of the rooms in our home that’s currently being dismantled is my darkroom. I have spent many, many special moments in that hallowed space. Blasting Bonnie Raitt or The Indigo Girls, rockin’ the trays, feeling the magic under the red glow of the safe lights. I lost myself for hours in there, working with one negative over and over again until I got the dodge and burn just right. Until the exposure was perfect. Until the toning was as luscious as possible. Until my back got tired from standing and my head started swimming from the smell of the chemicals.

My darkroom was built 14 years ago by Richard Loftis. He and I designed it. I used to call it my favorite room in the house. Oh man, when I think about the tears I shed over some of the work I made down there. Or the goose bumps I got when I lifted a gorgeous print up out of the developer. All those times I was down there alone with my thoughts, my ideas, my fears, my triumphs, my hesitations. All those risks taken, questions asked, doubts expressed.

I spent some time this morning taking down the notes and postcards I’d tacked up on the walls. Among these many items were my favorite Arbus images torn out of magazines, show cards from exhibitions, newspaper reviews and quotes from mentors I'd scribbled onto scraps of paper.

I’m sad about coming to the end of this chapter. Not just sad for me, but for all the kids from the next generation of photographers who probably won’t ever experience the wonder of the wet darkroom. Some will, of course, because of teachers who still insist their photo students cut their teeth in there. Some of those teachers are here in Kansas City.

In fact, I just loaded my enlarger, trays, chemicals, easels and safelights into the back of Adam Finkleston’s Subaru. Adam teaches photo at a local high school. It’s good to know my trays will keep on rockin’.

I threw away most of the tacked-up notes and drawings kids have sent me over the years. These were kids I’d photographed or who had come by to get a lesson or two in the darkroom. I couldn’t part with the missive I got from Mary, though. She was a classmate of my son’s. I’d gone to school to take a portrait of each kid when they were in 4th grade. For her thank-you note, Mary drew a picture of a red dog and above it, in her best cursive, wrote:

“Dear Mrs. Feinstein,

Thank you for taking my picture. I loved it. Everyone laughed at it. It was my bad hair day, but you are a good photographer anyway.


Mary, 4-B”

(It's funny. I do remember Mary trying to tame her unruly locks that day. And me telling her it didn't matter. That she looked lovely just the way she was.)

Mary's 23 years old now, and I'm using terms like "raw capture" and "levels" and "megapixels."

"As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'."

No comments: