Monday, March 9, 2020

Snapshot of Luck

I'm fair happy tonight.  It was a good day.  I can't say I'm happy, but I'm fair happy.  Should that be hyphenated?  Should I use a backward slash?  Look, as Biden always says, there is much to tell, but I am not sure if I have the time.  It is late, after all, though later or earlier than it was yesterday at this time, I cannot tell.  It is dark, though, and the old clock on the wall says it is time for bed.

Oh, we shall see.

I woke up knowing that there was a photography swap meet that I was going to.  It was early.  Plenty of time.  I would even try to take a run before I went, I thought, just to clear my veins.  But I read the news and texted with friends, and read some more things online.  I fed the cat and drank the coffee and then I decided to eat some sweet breakfast thing and then some more, and suddenly, it was getting late.  A shower.  Some clothes.  And then, knowing I should eat, I had another Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich.  I have only been eating two meals a day, intermittent fasting style, for two months, and it was beginning to show.  But one weekend of eating ice cream and breakfast sweets and Jimmy Dean's and other things undid everything I had accomplished.  The mirror told me so.

Sweet Jesus, forgive me of my sins.

And yet, I thought, I was looking o.k.  I was looking pretty good.  My hair has grown out a bit since the beauty parlor and the new eye and face creams seemed to be working miracles.  Maybe it was that,  or maybe eating and putting weight back on had simply plumped my face and evened out the wrinkles.  Either way. . . .

And then, of a sudden, it was late.  The fucking time change.  I had told the wet plate photographer I would see him at the meet, and now I would be unpunctual.  No worries.  I ate a bit more breakfast sweet roll, drank some milk, and sauntered out the door.

When I got to the meet, people were packing up.  WTF?  Oh, man, it had started early in the morning a vendor told me.  When I walked over to the wet plate area, he said he was doing his last plates.  What a fuck up, I am, I thought.  I felt guilty for not being there to help him in the morning.

Morning?  Who gets out of the house then?

I walked around and talked to a vendor who had large format equipment for sale.  He used to be somebody, as we say, a good large format photographer, but now he was infirm.  He used a walker and his hands shook with a terrible palsy.  Still, he was as chipper as could be and more knowledgeable than most.  I asked him about an 8x10 field camera he had for sale and he told me the price, then said that he wanted to go home and that the price was negotiable.  I said I'd have to think about it.

I walked back over to the wet plate area, and the photographer asked for some advice.  I think I had sold myself as somewhat knowing in this field last time we met.  I proffered my opinion.  His plates were not coming out well.  He seemed frayed.  Exposure?  Contamination of the chemicals?  Hmm.  I looked closely, ruminating awhile before I spoke.  Well. . . he'd try another.

The exposures on this one was perfect, but the emulsion covered only part of the plate.  The family he had photographed had no heads.  I said I thought it was a great photograph and told the family that they had become the idea of family instead of the literal family itself.  Man, I said, this thing rocks. That is what everyone wanted to hear, and everyone agreed.  I may have been late to the party, but it was all good now.

The large format vendor hobbled over to see what was going on.  He wanted to sell me a giant old lens.  I said I'd come over in a minute to look it over.  When I did, I thought it looked to be a wonderful lens, but I don't have great knowledge in this area.  He offered it for what seemed to be a good price.  I was on my way to the car to get a spot meter to help the wet plate photographer determine his exposure on the next photograph, so I told the vendor I'd think about the lens, too.

A man had brought his granddaughter over to have her photo taken.  The wet plate photographer apparently knew the man as he greeted him with hugs.  The granddaughter was wearing a bunny onesei in which she looked fairly ridiculous.  But her face.  Oh my god, her face.

The photographer began to set up a shot with her in the bunny suit facing 1/4 away from the camera looking at an object on a table.  I was getting antsy.  I talked to the grandfather for a bit, and then said to the photographer, "You are going to have to take two plates if you are going to make this one.  Look at her face.  You have to do a close up of that face.  She is beautiful."  I was looking at grandfather as I said this afraid of his reaction, but he was smiling a winsome smile and shaking his head yes.  He knew she had a beautiful face, and, coming to his senses, the photographer agreed.  Two plates it would be.

He fucked up the first one.  He called me over to look under the cloth at the second one, and after some conferencing, he was ready.  But the plate did not hold the silver, and it was fucked, too.

I had brought my camera from the car, however, as I was desirous of getting a picture, too.  Hell, as far as this crowd knew, I was important.  I asked grandfather if I could take a couple of snaps, and he said sure.  I asked him if he was from Cuba, as his Spanish was slow and sure.  He said no, he was from Venezuela.  When had he come over I asked?  Twenty years ago, he said.  Oh, I started, just as the revolution began.  I was there then, I said.  It had just been reported in the papers here as we were boarding the plane.  When we got to Caracas, they were shooting in the streets.  He nodded a slow, South American nod.

"Then you know about her mother.  She was Miss Venuzuela then."

I looked puzzled.  "No," I said.

"She was a big part of it all," he said.

WTF?  I had no idea what he was talking about, but I was very curious.  He spoke in low tones as if he did not want anyone nearby to hear.  I looked at the granddaughter.  She certainly had gotten those genes.

I took another picture, then a couple more.

The fellow from the photo shop who has opened up the gallery downtown showed up.  I said I was hoping to talk to him about shooting in the gallery when no one was around.  Any time, he said.  He was very amenable.  We were standing at the vendor's table who wanted to sell the camera and the lens.  I had the lens in my hand.  I was thinking.

"How much?" asked the gallery owner.

"I'll take $200."

The gallery owner broke out his checkbook right away.  I was sad and I was glad.  I didn't have to struggle with that decision any more.

Our attention turned toward the camera.  The price was coming down dramatically.  I joked that the gallery owner was going to buy that out from under me, too.  He looked at the camera, opened it up, started manipulating the brass knobs and opening the bellows.  He is far superior to me in his technical knowledge, and he began to notice some things that were wrong with the old camera.

"Alright, full disclosure," said the vendor.  "This camera fell off the roof of the Maytag building in. . . ."  He said the name of some town in North Dakota.  He began to show the parts he had fixed to make it work, but I had lost interest in that.  What fascinated me was why he felt it important to name the geographic location.  Did that matter?  Would it have been different if it had happened in Macon, Georgia, for instance?  Maybe I was missing something.  That part of the story, however, didn't seem to have made an impression on anyone else.  I had to ask, but all I got in response were glances and chuckles.

*.  *.  *.  

It is morning now.  I must have had anxiety about the time change.  I didn't sleep well last night, and in fact, I changed all the clocks in the house except the one in the bedroom.  I forgot.  So when I woke in the night and looked, I was miserable at the hour.  And again a bit later.  When I got up to get a drink of water, though, I saw the newly reset clocks in the kitchen and remembered.  It was six, but it was five.  Should I stay up?  I went back to bed, but that didn't work.  And so I sit here at seven without a peep of light outside.  Wet sand runs though my veins.

I was too tired to finish my tale last night even though I stopped myself from having another last glass of scotch, and the rush of the day had already begun to wane in the dark singularity of the night with no one to share my mania.  The party was over.  The sameness had returned.

But I will attempt to finish now without a desultory voice.  Let's see.  Where was I?

O.K.  So we were standing at the table looking at the old 8x10 field camera, and people were chuckling.  Yes, I am able to evoke chuckles often enough.  The gallery owner's presumed girlfriend was chuckling, too.  When I looked over at her, I thought I saw a devilish look in her eye.  She was paying particular attention, I thought.  She was small, her dark hair dyed green, dressed in black. . . you know the type.  She kept her chin lowered so that her eyes had an impish, upward glance.  For the first time, I noticed that she owned a nice, slender figure.  Hmm.  I wonder if I could photograph her, wondered if the gallery owner would mind that?

Neither of us ended up buying the camera just then, but we got the fellow's telephone number in case we changed out mind during the night.  Then, out of nowhere, the vendor asked me if I wanted a set of strobes.  He just wanted me to take them.  He didn't want to have to pack them up.  Sure, I said, not having seen them.  He told his assistant/daughter/wife--I don't know--to get them out of the truck.

Holy shit!  There were a bunch of them.  He gave me five strobe heads, three power units, each with outlets for four strobes, cables, light modifiers, umbrellas. . . .  The gallery owner, who had just spent a bunch of money with the guy, looked kind of stunned.  After I had loaded them all up in the car, I said to him that I could take them to the gallery if he wanted.  He seemed pleased with that idea.

I stopped short of saying that we could use his girlfriend as our test model.  Sometimes I can read the crowd.

Just then, the fellow who owned the camera shop sponsoring the meet came out and asked if anyone owned a Sony mirrorless camera.  I had been very careless about leaving my camera and bag laying around all day, and in a panic said I did thinking he had picked it up somewhere.  I looked in my camera bag, though, and it was still there.

"Can I borrow it," he asked?  "I need to calibrate a lens and don't have the right camera."

"Oh, sure," I said, and he took it back inside.  It looked like I'd be around a bit longer.

I walked back over to where the wet plate photographer was packing up.  I'd kind of avoided helping him, but it looked like he was just about done.

"Big job," I said.  "A lot of work."

"Yes, and I have to unpack it all when I get home."

I was very empathetic.  Just then, the director of the Big Center for the Arts came over and we all began to chat.  He once again asserted that he would like for me to teach photography for him, and we kibitzed about that for a bit.  I talked about some of the alternative process stuff I could do, and we talked about a platinum/palladium print the wet plate photographer had on display.  I spoke of the ease with which I had learned to do that process, of studying with Jon Cone and of using his system, but I hadn't done any here because it was too expensive trying to use the sun to expose them as it was inconsistent.  Turned out, however, that the wet plate photographer had one of the big, expensive exposure units with the mercury lights and vacuum table.

"You are welcome to used it," he said.  "You can come over and get it any time you want."

I almost shit my pants.  Really?!?  I'd looked everywhere trying to find one.  They were rare and they were super expensive.  My mind was really racing now.  Oh, boy, oh boy.  If I taught at the Center for the Arts, I would have access to all sorts of equipment I didn't want to buy including printing presses, and now, I had access to a light table, too!  I believe I was trembling.

A bit later, the camera repair guy brought my camera back.

"Your sensor was really dirty.  It was awful."

I knew that already.  I'd tried to clean it, but it needed a professional, and I had thought about bringing it in to him to do the job.

"I cleaned it," he said.  "I won't charge you anything since you helped me out.  You really  saved me today."

I felt like the slots had come up all cherries.  How could I top a day like this one?

By now, the day had truly slipped away, and everyone was leaving, so I said my goodbyes and headed home.

First things, first.  I poured a celebratory drink.  All I needed to do was get out more, I thought.  Look at what happens.  And I almost hadn't gone.  I had almost stayed home alone once again and "thought."  Had I gone to brunch in Grit City, I'd probably have run into someone I didn't want to see and everything could have been worse.  No. . . I was on a roll.

I unpacked the strobes and plugged them in to see if they really worked.  I tried each head and every outlet.  Everything worked fine.  I texted the gallery owner and told him and said I would bring them over to play with.  Then I called my mother.  I had about an hour before dinner, so I took the card to the computer to see what my six or seven photos looked like.  Hmm.  Maybe I had time to cook an image up.  It had been a long time since I'd worked this way.  Actually, I never had, for five years ago when I had the studio, I never used Lightroom.  I would be learning to work in a different way.  And so, in an amalgam of tools and processes I knew or had imagined, I worked on the image.  As I did, I began to remember some of the things I'd forgotten, and I tried some things I'd seen.  It was exciting. I couldn't come to perfection in the time I had, but I was anxious to show the photos, so I sent one to the girl's grandfather via text.  There was time.  I didn't have to be there in exactly an hour.  I tried another.  I sent that one to the grandfather as well.  I told him that these were just snapshots I took while the wet plate guy was working, but I hoped I could shoot with his granddaughter again in a setting I could control.  He wrote back and said we would certainly do so.  I texted a copy to the wet plate photographer as well, and he confirmed that we would work together soon.

And then it was off to mom's.  I told her and my cousin about the day, said it was the most fun I'd had in months.  That's what my horoscope said for today, my cousin reported.  Really?  Yes, my mother said.  Well, now, maybe there is something to it after all.

After dinner, when I left the house, there was a big old moon shining high up in the sky.

Sometimes, you just get lucky, I guess.  I had my fingers crossed that all the plans that were made that day would pan out.  But having lived awhile, I knew differently.  The moon wasn't always high and shining and the days weren't always crisp and bright, and the way back home wasn't always smooth.  The adrenaline was wearing off.

Still, it had been quite a day.


  1. Wow, sounds like you have turned the corner. Amazing day! Thank you for sharing such a great story and lovely photos.