All Images, reflections, memories and fabrications ©2011 Tony Hernandez Photography

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's next after processing film and one of the best practical jokes I ever witnessed

The next step after processing your film is making a print. It's actually making a contact sheet but, for the sake of the story, we'll skip that step. After loading the negative in the holder, putting it in the enlarger, focusing the grain and, composing the image on the easel, a "test strip" needs to be made in order to determine how long to expose the photographic paper to make a final print. That's done by taking a strip of photo paper and laying it on the easel. You then take a piece of matte board, or any other light proof material, and cover the photo paper, leaving a small area to be exposed to light. The board is then moved over an inch at a time until the entire strip of paper is exposed. What ends up happening is, you get varying degrees of light to dark exposures on one piece of paper. The exposure that looks the best is the time the entire sheet of paper needs to be exposed to create a full print of the image. Its not a super complicated process but, it does take a little bit of time. Which oddly enough,  reminds me of an "incident" that happened during my second year on the yearbook staff. Well, maybe not so much an "incident". It was much more of  a "practical joke", perpetrated on our new "photography advisor" by some unknown operators who happened to be working their evil in our high school darkroom. On that particular day, our new photography advisor, we will call him "Mr. Ray", had planned on showing the new photographers how to make a test strip so they could begin printing their own shots. The rest of us "seasoned photographers" had been trained in an environment with little to no adult supervision once we left the room to shoot an assignment or, when we walked back into the darkroom to "make prints". The people in charge of the photographers were one year older than us and it seemed to work out ok. While we did make prints, do the shoots, and get the work done that needed to be done, there were also great "Nerf Basketball" games played in that darkroom. It was full contact with no holds barred. I'm surprised the paramedics weren't called in during some of those games. That first year on the photography staff was a blast. We all became good, close friends. We went on camping trips together, hung out together at school, and were just as close to a "gang" as a bunch of nerdy photographers could be. Anyway, getting back to the story, So I guess the "evil perpetrators" working our darkroom got wind of Mr. Ray's demonstration. They then proceeded to put in motion, one of the funniest photography pranks I've seen. It seems as though the perps, had "pre-exposed" a few sheets of scrap photo paper that were commonly used for, well, test strips in our darkroom. It was a small box with five or six pieces of paper in it. They must have just opened the box with all of the lights on in the darkroom, fogging the paper to the point where, once put in the developer, the paper would immediately turn "completely black" in a matter of seconds, as opposed to the image slowly appearing on the paper over the course of say, a minute or two. It was genius! That afternoon, Mr. Ray had all of the newbies surrounding him at the enlarger. He meticulously exposed the scrap piece of paper, which he had pulled from the very same box that was tampered with by the unknown evil-doers. After explaining the process, Mr. Ray then moved to the chemical trays and put the paper into the developer. It turned completely black in about 5 seconds. Stunned at the outcome, he laughed nervously and redid the test strip in order to demonstrate the "proper technique" of making test strips. Once again, he placed the exposed paper into the chemicals and, once again, it turned completely black. Only this time, it took a mere 3 seconds. [ must have been closer to the top of the box when the lights went on ] Completely flabbergasted, he turned to where the "seasoned photographers" were and looked for a reaction. All I can say is .... "good thing that room was so dark". We stood there stone faced like professional poker players, giving him nothing. He turned away in disgust and grabbed a new piece of photo paper from a different box. All went well this time and face was saved. We left the room with our poker faces intact. I vaguely remember a short discussion with Mr. Ray after the session in the darkroom but, without proof, it was hard to lay blame on anyone that day. It's a story I would tell, and laugh about with friends for years, right into my professional photography career 25 years later. On one particular day, I was in the photo store that supplied my film and all of the other things needed to run a photography business telling this story. As I approached the end of the tale, one of the salesmen suddenly interrupted and asked me where I went to high school. I told him and he immediately said "was Mr. Ray your teacher there?" I slowly answered .... "yes, why do you ask?" He then proceeded to tell me he had known "Mr. Ray for years", but had never heard that story from him. To make a long story just a little longer, I saw the interrupting salesman a couple of months later. He had a huge grin on his face as he walked over to me in the store. He had told Mr. Ray the story I had told him. I asked him what he said.

Without hesitation ..... 25 years later ..... Mr. Ray's only reply was ...... "I KNEW IT !!"

We all ended up going back and forth with Mr. Ray the entire year. [ except for Terry ] It was actually kind of fun. It may have looked like I was employing the "teacher torture" used so subtly by my friend Steve in junior high. But the reality was, if Mr. Ray was going to be one of us on the photography staff, he had to pay his dues like everyone else did before him. We had all gone through the "prank-ing thing" our first year so we figured, why shouldn't he?

Acceptance takes on many forms.

Sometimes, even through practical jokes.