December 3, 2016
I think I’ve told this story before. It didn’t mean near the same thing then, and in retelling it, I may accentuate certain facts. Not that much though, he was really that special.
When I was a senior in high school, I was in yearbook class and photography class. I was at home in the darkroom, and stayed in there as much as possible. If I ventured out of the darkroom, I risked being given a job or assignment that was totally unrelated to my aim of not doing anything.
There were four little bathroom stall-sized film developing rooms inside the printing darkroom with the big sink and the enlargers. Each had sinks. There were, I think, four 35mm enlargers. And one Chromega 4x5” enlarger with a color diffusion head. This was exactly the enlarger I trained on in the dark room at my father’s studio. I knew all about it. It had cyan, yellow, and magenta filters that you could dial in. The cyan filter didn’t do anything for black and white, but the yellow and magenta acted as contrast filters…that you could dial in how much you wanted. It became my enlarger. And it was moved into one of the developing rooms. I don’t know, maybe the teacher was going to try some color printing or something. Anyway, that became my little darkroom.
I had spent the entire summer in Harborview Brain and Spinal Injury Rehab Unit, and was ready to give normalcy a try. That’s a completely different story that I’m already telling on Facebook twice a year, so stay tuned. But I just want it known that this was not an average year. I was very slow, really clumsy, and overly cautious.
One day, I was avoiding work, as I always did. A friend of mine, Ron, and I were in the darkroom, going through the negative dryer. If the teacher became suspicious, he might check what we were doing. We weren’t looking for anything that was ours, or anything good, we were just looking for something to put in my enlarger to look like we were printing. Towards the back of the dryer I found a roll that was of particular interest to me. It was poorly exposed, underdeveloped, but the subject matter was what fascinated me.
I was very good at reading negatives. And this was a roll of nudes. Not very interesting nudes, but naked ladies in a high school darkroom are naked ladies in a high school darkroom. We did what any 16 or 17 year old, heterosexual, high school boys in a photography class would do, we printed the living shit out of these awful photographs.
They were of no one we knew, and the photographer wasn’t apparent. It looked to be a girl in her mid twenties. They were poorly lit, unimaginative photographs of a girl sitting on a bed. Some reading a Playboy magazine, a few with a cat, but all had an amateurish, “not supposed to do this” look to them.
At the end of class we had like 20 to 25 prints. I had a stack of about 18 aluminum bulk film containers sitting behind the enlarger on a shelf. I hid the negatives in the sixth one from the bottom. Ron hid the prints in the locker next to his, because he thought that the girl was absent. She wasn’t absent. She found the prints, and threw them away. Then, the custodian found them in the trash and brought them to the principal. The principal noticed they were on photographic paper, and brought them to the photography teacher. He searched my darkroom and found the negatives.
I was sick the next day, and honestly had forgotten about the whole thing. Remember, I had barely recovered from a coma inducing brain injury. While I was watching All My Children, the phone rang.
It was the photography teacher. He said I should come to school right now, and he would meet me in the principal’s office.
I said, “I’m sick.”
He said, “We found the negatives!”
I asked, “What negatives?”
“The NUDE negatives!!”
BING!! I remembered.
“Okay, I’ll be right there.”
So, I called my friend Brett, who I knew was also skipping school, and he gave me a ride in.
I walked into the principal’s office. The principal was leaning back in his chair, looking angry and menacing. The photography teacher met me at the door.
He said, “Mr. Whitmire, you shouldn’t be doing this kind of photography, and you CAN'T do it at school!! Do you realize we could expel you for this?? This is truly an expellable offense!!”
I said, “They aren’t my photographs. I just found them in the negative dryer. The reason we were printing them is to try and find out who took them.”
“Are you kidding me? We know you are the only one in that class with the connections to do this type of photography!”
“Well, thank you for your confidence in my contacts, but if I had taken them, they would be art. I wouldn't use bulk 35mm film, I would use 4x5” Tri-X. And I wouldn’t process them at school, I would use the studio darkroom where they have thermometers!”
Just then, in walked my father. I said under my breath…but a little too loud…”Oh f***.”
The principal perked up at that, as the photography teacher said to my dad, “Mr. Whitmire, we’ve found some nude negatives in your son’s possession, and we think he took them.”
Now, I knew my father was a damn good photographer, a great teacher, a pretty good speaker, and quite a nice guy, but I never ever thought of him as a comic genius. He kind of had that “Dad” sense of humor. But in the absolute perfect comic timing, he asked with some importance, “Well, are they good?”
The principal started to laugh. I told my dad, that no, they were horrible. And the photography teacher stood there, I think kind of stunned.
I was kicked out of the school darkroom for a quarter, but since I was using the studio darkroom, my grade improved.
I will share more memories of my father in the next couple of weeks.