Redundancy is not a virtue in a writer. I hope I’ve made it clear in these near-daily updates just how much I appreciate the generosity of every single backer who has come forward to help see a project through to the end without knowing full well how important it is to me personally, hence the return to the 1st person singular narrative. I hope to give, here, each backer something extra that is intended to clarify and confirm just how much the support has mattered.
It won’t be so hard for you to imagine what these pictures mean to me, personally. I don’t want to give them up, in the same way that I don’t want to die. And in the same way that I prefer that my remains not decompose in a ditch by the roadside after my lights wink out for the last time, I don’t want these images to grow moldy and dissolve into a jelly mush of celluloid and papier-mache because I’m no longer in a position to handle them with the kind of care that has kept them viable until now.
I’ve enjoyed a special relationship with the photographic image from age nine, when I got my first eyeglasses. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. I was endowed with both the blessing and the curse of being the oldest son of an extraordinary man; it was probably more than was healthy for either of us, I wanted nothing more than to meet his manly standard, a difficult road, when the man who travels it without frequent reflection and readjustment along the way, and instead asserts resistance, reaction and rebelliousness. Friction builds. Where there is friction, there is heat, a global warming that takes place all in one’s own skin.
Photography, though, was always a kind of saving grace between him and me. We both appreciated it from a very young age. I saved up enough Popsicle wrappers before I was ten to get a free “candid camera” in exchange. I had a newspaper route in our small town, Popsicles were a nickel, and every kid in town required one a day for good mental health in summer, children being what they are, I could harvest a dozen or more of the paper confection sleeves they discarded in the town’s ditches every morning, and I did. I encouraged their littering, when I couldn’t covertly obtain the wrappers. I knew that if the other kids got the same idea, I’d have to wait years for my camera.
Dad was pleased with the results of my early safaris into the sagebrush piedmont with gun and camera. His experience helping nurse flak-riddled WWII B-17 bombers back to base gave him an keen eye for inferior equipment. The following Christmas, an old fat guy with a red suit landed on me the newest model “Kodak”, the “Brownie”, for the only color Bakelite plastic came in at the time. It took 127 film, and I could afford about one roll a month, plus mail order black-and-white processing.
In high school, I was the student photographer for the annual yearbook, so I had the use of a medium format twin lens Rolleiflex camera, and the modest darkroom that went with it. Dad showed me how to use it, and I discovered the magic that is watching, under the glow of a dull red light, in the bottom of a plastic tray, the slow emergence of a positive image on the same 8 in. by 10 in. surface that seconds before had been the barely discernible negative image projected by an enlarger.
When I graduated from high school, Dad gave me his camera, a “baby Rolleiflex”. Like so many things he gave me, because it wasn’t what I’d have chosen for myself, I’m sure I greeted his gift with that look of lukewarm sullenness that so endears all teenagers to those who given them the most, and gotten the least back from them. It was a gift I would have to learn to love before I could deserve it, and I did.The Market photos are the evidence.
In reading this, you are participating in the last part of my life with my father, or more accurately, with his memory. He died in 2004. You have helped to not only find a home for many, most, of the images I snapped with that precious instrument he gave me, but to vindicate the confidence he had that I would make proper use of it. Proper use of it has included recognizing the images for what they represent and preserving them as best I could through circumstances not always easy. That’s why it matters that I respect not just the images, but respect also the lives and moments portrayed, especially those in whose memory I can now consign them over to you, the backers who have helped make it possible.
Dad came to Seattle to visit me only weeks before I moved into my Market studio. We walked the tracks along the waterfront from Trader Vic’s to Pier 62, talking and shooting pictures, contesting to see which of us could walk a rail for longer. I’ve had no better days, and you’ve helped to bring it back to me.
Somewhere in the box of his photos that Mom handed over to me only last month (after seeing this video), I expect there is a shot of me, hands in pockets (it’s the rule) smiling for his camera as I struggle to keep my train on the rails. I’m still trying, in case he’s watching.