Posted by Keith
Written and Published by George Wertman and University of Pittsburgh (1955)
When I bought my first camera and entered into the FAST LIFE, I did not realize the amount of time, effort, and money that I would eventually expend on my new hobby. At that time, photography to me was merely the aiming of the camera, telling the subject to smile, snapping the shutter, and then delivering the exposed roll of film to the local drugstore to be processed and have prints made. For this reason, the first camera I bought was an old one which had received much hard usage. The bellows was patched with bits of black friction tape and the leatherette finish had been peeled from the metal body parts. But despite its poor appearance the main parts were in fine working order. The two speed shutter moved smoothly, the fixed lens mount was solid and true, and the lens itself was free of scratches or distortion. It was easy to find willing subjects for the first two dozen rolls of film. My family and friends would stand patiently, facing and squinting into the bright sun, which I carefully kept to my back, while I adjusted the shutter speed and lens opening, then aimed, and re-aimed the camera before finally snapping the picture. But the time soon came when my willing subjects would make a hurried exit whenever I appeared with my camera in my hands. Due to this lack of co-operation I began taking pictures of inanimate objects, animals, landscapes, and any other thing that could not offer objections nor get up and walk away.
During this phase of my career I became dissatisfied with the results I was receiving from the drugstore photo finisher. Pictures of statues and flowers were returned as blobs of black or white against a muddy gray background and landscapes revealed neither foreground detail nor cloud effects. About this time, I met Wayne, another “camera bug” who had progressed to about this same point, so together we decided we could do at least as well as or better than the commercial photo finisher had been doing with our much prized pictures. So together we set about collecting the equipment necessary to convert a bathroom into a darkroom. On the night of our initiation we took inventory of our gear and found that it consisted of: a tin bread pan to hold our MQ developing solution, a large crock bowl for the acid-hypo fixer, and the bathroom sink for a water bath tray. Also, we had a metal and glass printing frame and several packs of postcard sized contact printing paper. We had been unsuccessful in our search for a ruby safe light for use in the darkroom. This meant that one of us would have to work on the films and papers in a totally darkened room while the other sat in the lighted hallway and called out information for the various processes. We were a pair of very excited boys when we examined that first roll of negatives and boastfully proud when comparison proved them to be equal in quality to those that had been processed by the commercial photo finisher. After this and several other successful experiences in the field of do-it-yourself. photography, I, unlike Wayne, became a firm believer in the processing of films and prints at home.
Each pay day I stopped at the camera store and purchased needed supplies and bits of darkroom equipment. It was not long before I had accumulated the regular developing trays, chemical thermometer, print tongs, and a clock that registered seconds and minutes instead of the usual minutes and hours. Also, I was able to acquire a good ruby light and a contact printer box, both of these, along with the photo lore I picked from pamphlets and the salesmen at the camera shops greatly aided me in improving the quality of my work. I was now spending most of my evenings in the darkroom and all of my days off wondering about with the camera in hand searching for new and different subject matter. As I became more and more engrossed in my hobby, I realized the limitations that I had placed on myself by my choice of camera and printing techniques. After having spent considerable time, effort, and money learning the proper use of my camera and printing equipment I set out in search of better ways to take pictures.
Desiring to improve the quality of my pictures, I experimented with several different types of cameras and widely sampled the varied field of photography. I exchanged my folding camera for a plastic cased thirty-five millimeter candid camera, which I in turn traded-in on a twin—lens reflex model. The latter camera soon became the down payment for a miniature press type camera that took a two by three inch negative. I was well satisfied with this press camera and used it for several years. Seeking wider horizons, I began to explore the various photographic fields. Every “shutter snapper” tries his hand at “cheese-cake” or “pin-up” pictures at one time or another. I was not an exception to the rule. One auburn haired, long legged, aspiring model, whom I photographed, entered the pictures in a contest. Three weeks later she informed me that she had received a notice of a first place win. I was button popping proud about the win, that is, I was until I learned that the contest had selected a beauty queen for an army camp and not a picture for its fine qualities. It was the girl’s “whistle bait” figure that had won the prize and not necessarily my artistic handling of the subject.
I took pictures of everything and anything, even ghosts. Not the classical sheet-robed spook running through deserted hallways rattling chains and moaning, but the type a photographer gets when he makes two or more exposures on a single sheet of film. The first ghost pictures I obtained were the results of times when I accidentally forgot to advance the film after having taken a picture. I discarded the first few such negatives before I realized the possibilities and began to experiment with this technic. My first planned ghost picture depicted a spirit rising from a prone body. I achieved this effect by photographing Wayne, while he was lying on a bench against a dark background. Then I had him sit up erect, being careful not to move the lower part of his body, and I took another exposure on the same negative. In another picture I showed a close—up of a face appearing in the swirling smoke rising from a cigarette lying in an ash tray. I varied this technic to take multiple exposure pictures. For these I also took more than one picture on a single negative but the film was masked in such a way that only a small portion of it was exposed each time I snapped the shutter. One of my multiple exposure pictures showed Wayne pushing a wheelbarrow in which he was sitting. Another one showed Wayne atop a high ladder washing the wall while he stood on the floor and braced the ladder and at the same time he carried two buckets of water toward the ladder. I was able to exercise my imagination and ingenuity to achieve these unusual pictures.
The success I was having in the handling of still photography encouraged me to enter the home movie field. I decided to write, direct, and film a one reel western. I borrowed an eight millimeter camera, flood lights, and stands, then talked three buddies into acting in m saga of the old west. We ran through the script twice, then held a dress rehearsal before actually shooting. I had the story take place in an old time saloon. As the scene opened, my three stars, Wayne, John, and Bill, dressed in flannel shirts, dungarees, and gunbelts, were seated at a green felt topped table. Red, white, and blue poker chips were piled in neat stacks on the table in front of each man. Wayne dealt five cards to each player. John opened and each man ”fed the kitty” with a small stack of chips. The players discarded some cards and drew enough additional cards to fill their hands again. I moved nearer with the camera and filmed a close-up of the cards that each held. John had two pairs, jacks and fours. Bill held three aces and Wayne’s hand contained four kings. I moved the camera back to normal range and photographed the betting that followed. After John bet and was raised three times he dropped out and laid his cards face down on the table. Bill and Wayne continued to bet and raise each others’ bet until a large stack of chips laid the center of the table. Then Bill called. When Wayne showed his four kings and reached for the pot, Bill accused him of crooked dealing. John jumped out of the way as the two men sprang from their chairs and knocked over the table as they drew their guns and blazed away at each other. Through the flour dust smoke that billowed from the guns Wayne was seen falling to the floor. I moved in for a dramatic close-up and focused on his hand, the gun dangling from his inert fingers, against a background of scattered poker chips and cards. I ended the movie with this last shot and sent the exposed film to the processor. The film was returned to me ten days later. I borrowed a projector, gathered m three actors and invited a group of friends to the premiere of my saga of the old west. The movie lasted about five minutes on the screen. The caustic comments and ridicule continued for several weeks. Profiting from this sad experience, I decided to leave the move making to Hollywood and returned to my still equipment. From first hand experience, I learned that good picture material might be found almost anywhere, and so I developed the habit of carrying my camera where ever I went. Once while on a company picnic, I took several pictures which were used in the company newspaper by the editor. Not only did I have the satisfaction of seeing my pictures in print, but also I received a small financial remuneration, I had unintentionally entered into a different phase of the FAST LIFE.
At first “pictures for pay” was a profitable sideline which required little time or effort, but it soon grew and grew and grew, until it dominated my hobby, consumed most of my spare time, and even interfered with my daily work as sign printer for Rosenbaum’s department store. My first commercial assignment was a set of six candid pictures for the “Rosco Salestag,” Rosenbaum’s monthly newspaper. I wondered through the store and took pictures of the employees while they worked at their daily jobs. The pictures were completely uposed and taken in natural situations. With the accepting of my third set of candid pictures, the editor turned all the “Rosco” photography over to me. This consisted of the six candids, one “Personality of the Month,” six “One Minute Biographies,” five to eight pictures of “The Department of the Month,” and whatever other pictures that were necessary to illustrate the news of the preceding month. I entered into this new work with interest, zest, and a feeling of adventure. The extra dollars I earned from this commercial work enabled me to buy new equipment especially designed for news photography. The most important additions were: four by five Speed Graflex press camera equipped with a 4.5 Wollensax one-hundred-twenty-seven millimeter lens, a Hugo Meyer cam coupled range finder, and a multiple outlet Kalart flash gun, and for the darkroom, an Omega D2 projection enlarger fitted with a Ilex Paragon Anastigmat 4.5 eight-and-one- half inch lens. Soon after I had finished re-fitting my darkroom, the advertising director of Rosenbaum’s offered me a position as free lance photographer for the store. He explained that I would be expected to cover all business and social events in which the store had an interest. Because I enjoyed the newspaper work and was spurred by the thought of all the extra gear I would be able to purchase with the money I would be earning in my spare time, I quickly accepted the new assignment. Before I realized it things began to snowball and I found that commercial photography instead of requiring the two or three evenings a month as previously, now occupied four or five evenings each week. A small part of the time was spent at meetings taking pictures and the remainder of the time was spent in the darkroom processing them for delivery at nine-thirty the following morning. In order to meet this dead line I often had to work in the red lighted darkroom until the wee hours of the morning. On these nights, when I finally finished the prints and retired to my darkened bedroom , my eyes stung as if filled with wind driven dust and the welcomed blackness had an eerie red glow about it.
Many of these party assignments were sprung on me without any advance notice. Once I went to work dressed in old dungarees and sweater as I had some spring house cleaning to do in the sign shop. That very day the boss called me to his office at about five-fifteen and told me to go to the Roosevelt Hotel and photograph the meeting of the tri-state shoe salesmen that was scheduled to begin at five-thirty. The short fifteen minutes that remained did not allow me time to return home for a change of clothes, so I had to attend the meeting dressed as I was. While I circulating from table to table at the meeting taking pictures of the shoe salesmen, the head waiter stopped me and demanded to know what I was doing there. Fortunately, the boss was near at hand to explain that I had been invited and that it was alright for me to take pictures. If he had not been there, probably would have been tossed out on my ear because I certainly looked like a bum. As I handled more and more assignments, my interest in the waned. Also despite improvements in my photographic habits which drastically reduced the amount of waste, the steadily rising costs of supplies caused a continually decreasing percentage of profit. During the three years I was engaged as a part time freelance photographer, my pictures appeared in publications other than the “Rosco.” I had pictures appear in the three Pittsburgh papers, “Press,” “Sun—Telegraph,” and “Post Gazette,” and also the “Bell Telephone News,” the ”Pick-up,”a delivery man’s newspaper and several booklets that were designed for the use of people employed in the advertising field. I received a great deal of pleasure each time one of my pictures appeared in a publication which would be seen by many people, but the poor working conditions and the small profit caused me to lose all interest in commercial photography.
When I quit doing commercial photography, I entered into the stage of the FAST LIFE in which I am now living. Now, the camera lies idle for many weeks. Each time I take it from the storage chest I must give each part, the lens, the leather bellows, and each accessory a thorough cleaning to free them from the layer of dust that has accumulated on them. When I enter the darkroom to spend a pleasant evening at my hobby, I must scrub each developing tray, each tank, and the enlarger with its double condensers and lens. Although this is a considerable waste of time and greatly reduces the number of pictures I can handle, I am now more fully enjoying photography I than ever before, for I have acquired, thanks to commercial photography, all the necessary apparatus and some measure of skill. I now use this apparatus and skill strictly in the processing of pictures for my own entertainment, no longer do I take pictures that are intended for the use of others or for the benefit of my own pocketbook. I realize, that as time goes by, photography will continue to play a part in my spare time activities, but I will never again let it gain the position where it controls all my free time or interest. One of the greatest pleasures I experience is helping a novice to select the right camera for the type of work he wants to do or give a few darkroom tips to they fellow who is now at the stage of the FAST LIFE where he is using tin bread pans and crock bowls for developing trays. But each time I talk to amateurs who are considering entering the free lance game, I advise them to carefully consider all the many angles. I warn them that the competition is stiff and the profits small for the part time photographer. I have more than eight years experience in the field of part time photography. First as a beginner using makeshift equipment and trial and error methods. Then as a serious amateur experimenting with various cameras and printing technics. I worked as a part time free lance commercial photographer for three years.
Now, I am back where I started, a man who looks at photography as a hobby, a spare time activity, a field to be explored at my leisure and choosing.
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