I talked about past lives in a previous post, available here.
1997 was the summer before my senior year of high school. My junior year was the only year of high school where I felt like I fit in, and that I had real friends. I was comfortable with myself, and who I was turning into. I had basically no prospects for post-high school education, I was disinterested in academia, and just wanted to be left with my cameras in peace.
I worked at a Camera Shop (now owned by Ritz… I think they eventually just dismantled the Camera Shop Inc brand…) and for that particular summer, I had the pleasure of working with my brother at the Painter’s Crossing store on many, many occasions. He was the manager, so he was sort of also my ride to work. This was the summer that I “woke up” and realized that photography was awesome and it was something I wanted to do all the time. It captured my imagination, since after all it was equal parts craft, science and art – three things that have basically always appealed to me. All rolled into one hobby! One extremely expensive hobby.
Also during this summer, I took on a full time role at the Longwood Camera Shop. See, my brother had left the Longwood store to go work at the Painter’s Crossing store as the manager. I sort of… “filled in” for him after he left, though I was often reminded that I had big shoes to fill. And while I never broke the record of 13,500 prints in a single day, I *was* able to get the best Noritsu Paper Cartridge Changing time: 29 seconds from when the darkroom door closed to when I emerged with the changed drum. I was badass, what can I say?
Anyway, I also got to work with some other awesome people. I learned an awful lot about light, chemicals, film, glass and technique. From a lot of people. A lot of people. It was this summer that made me eventually decide that I wanted to pursue learning photography after high school in a more official capacity.
I met my first girlfriend this summer. Actually, I met her mom. Her mom, while picking up her prints one day, got my number “because her daughter needed some help with her portfolio” or something. What can I say? Moms have a thing for me? It must have been the vintage plaid suit jacket that didn’t fit me properly.
(Well, that’s not true. I had met the girl in question before, but for about 5 minutes. In her giant station wagon. With her brother. She played Milli Vanilli via cassette tape. This was 1997, like, 8 years after Girl You Know It’s True came out, and definitely well after their careers had been totally destroyed. Thinking about it now, I think they took all their stuff out of print because of the lip-synching scandal. I wonder if she still has that tape.)
So 1997. I think back on it as one of those ‘endless summers’ that people tend to get misty about. Staying up until 4AM doing my first oil painting. Going on photographic expeditions with my brother. We got pics of Hale-Bopp using his 500mm reflex lens on his Minolta X700. I think he used a 2X teleconverter, too. And like, Tri-X pushed to 6400. It was the year I reclaimed his old darkroom from entropy.
I would spend my whole paycheck on chemicals and paper and sink whole days at a time in the darkroom that summer. I fell in love with latent silver images, rapidly revealing themselves in the tray.
It was this year that I stopped hating pictures of myself. I met some new friends and said goodbye to others. It was the first year after many without, that I had hope. Hope that the world out there would be easier, and for a long time it turned out to really be much easier.
I’ve been thinking about 1997 a lot lately. In the past couple years, I’ve had existential crises, been depressed, lost some hair, changed careers, grew the missing hair back, stressed myself the fuck out, and a handful of other terrible things for my body and psyche. I remember 1997 as the year when I knew myself. When the worst kind of stress I could have revolved around whether I could afford some RC paper and maybe some Rodinal to play around with.
Is it weird to ask yourself regularly: what would my 17 year old self do in this situation? Because that thought crosses my mind two or three times a week.