I recently started cleaning out a rather overstuffed closet that was in desperate need of reorganization when I came across a plain brown box addressed to me. From the yellowed return address and postage, I could make out that it was sent to me from my brother in January 2000. Upon opening this box that had undoubtedly been sitting in this closet for over 12 years, I found it contained old black & white photos, negatives, and a letter from my brother. Needless to say, I had to pause my cleaning activities to go through the box.
I first read the hand written letter dated 22 Jan 2000 in which my brother described how the photos had been included in a box sent to him that had contained some of his old things. He couldn’t recall how the box had come into his possession but that in addition to the photos, it contained some old photographic developing and printing supplies. He then went on to describe how seeing the photos had brought back wonderful memories of the two of us taking photos together and then developing and printing them in the darkroom we had set up inside the metal shed behind our parents’ house.
I then turned my attention to the photos. These 5” X 8” photos, all with curled edges showing their nearly 40-year old age, were from 1977, my junior year in college when I had bought my first nice camera—a Cannon FTb SLR—for a photography class I took. Some of these black & white photos captured one of my assignments for that class which was to take a photo that had depth…
… and one that was “flat.”
This last photo was a test development where progressively longer exposures during the printing process helped determine the best exposure time for printing. This technique also can allow the photographer, in this case me, to correct for over- or under-exposure of the film in the darkroom.
Also enclosed in the box were “contact sheets”, full size pieces of 8” X 10” photo paper where the negatives were simply lined up on the paper and exposed by the enlarger so that miniatures positives of the photos could be easily previewed before selecting the best shots for printing. I felt a bit sad when I recognized among the frames a thumbnail image of my mom, gone from us since her death in 1999.
Another of these contact sheets included images we had captured in 1977 on a family vacation to Montreat, NC, a vacation spot we went to almost every year growing up. As I scanned over these small shots, I felt more sadness as I relived the disappointment we all had experienced that summer when upon arrival in Montreat, we gazed out over what should have been Lake Susan only to find no crisp lake, but rather a construction zone along the dam that formed the lake from the cold mountain stream that fed it.
And included was this near silhouette shot of our dad, from the tower on top of Mt. Mitchell, a shot my brother had professionally enlarged for all of us.
There were also shots of that cold mountain stream that could be heard as a calming symphony almost everywhere in Montreat and where we always “rock-hopped” every visit there.
I have to say to my brother thanks for this break from my task and helping me take this stroll down memory lane. I have recently written how important old photos are to me and this newly discovered box just adds to those treasures. So again thanks bro, for not just throwing those old photos away when you found them but rather taking the time to box them up, write a letter, and mail them to me all those years ago.
As I return to cleaning out that closet, I do so without dread of an overwhelming task but with a happy heart filled with anticipatory wonder of what other treasures I may discover hidden away for all these years.