In 2010 some black and white pictures appeared in my email.
They arrived after asking my sisters if they had any Halloween photos of me as a child. When Janice sent these, it was like finding treasure; I don’t recall ever seeing them before.
In 1979 my oldest sister was attending Bethel College in St. Paul MN. She lived in an older single-story apartment with another woman. In the Spring of that year, she asked if I would come out from Seattle and teach an art class to her elementary-age students.
I was 14 years old.
Although I was only in high school, I had been drawing for ten years. Doodling and artwork is something I have enjoyed for as long as I can remember. In 1979 I was drawing a lot of airplanes, spaceships, and the like. Friends Ned and Bill would hang out and draw with me through many rainy Saturdays back then. My sister’s lesson plan: teach her kids to draw spaceships from Star Wars.
So I flew out to the Twin Cities during my Spring Break. On the flight out, I sat next to a very talkative person who was happy to engage in any sort of conversation – even with a 14-year old. I stayed with my sister in her apartment and met her roommate plus several of her friends. That year she was student-teaching kindergartners. In the art lesson, I used photocopies of simple drawings I had already done, and showed the students how to draw X-Wing and TIE Fighters. The core of the lesson was breaking each one down into simple shapes and then having them duplicate from the shapes they knew. It worked well. I recall being very surprised that these 5 year olds were quite good at drawing already. Each one would run up to me: “How does this look Mister Clark?” To be honest, I loved every drawing they showed me.
Some of the time in St. Paul was spent just hanging out or walking around. Thankfully it didn’t snow while I was there; the sun came out most of the time, bringing the temperature into the 50s. I bought a case of my favorite Minnesota soft drink Rondo – a citrus-flavored soda – to take back with me to Seattle. I also picked up a Wayzata letterman’s jacket at a thrift store while I was there (it was stolen in Ravensdale WA the next year).
On the weekend before I went home, we drove a classic Ford Mustang owned by one of Jan’s friends, out to visit our Grandparents in Grove City MN. Somewhere between Cokato and Grove City we drove past a car that had been driven out onto a lake. The Spring thaw had begun, and the car was starting to list sideways on the ice as the lake melted underneath its weight. Grandma Martha – ever the kind soul – allowed Janice to take her picture wearing my cowboy hat; as I look at these pictures, I’d say it looked better on her than it did on me.
The camera used for these photos has a story all its own.
My sister bought her Canon 35mm not long before these photos were taken, in preparation for a summer trip to Bolivia. It had all the features of a Canon SLR of the time, with the exception of a swappable lens. It was almost stolen in La Paz Bolivia, when a thief used a knife to cut through her purse while she was in a crowd; the blade mark is still visible across the camera’s leather case.
These pictures, taken with that simple camera and probably some Kodak Tri-X Pan Film, have so much feeling. I can tell that the aperture of the lens was wide open, because the ‘depth of field’ is very shallow and focused only on the subject. She also didn’t use a flash for any of these shots, based on what I can see, and only used natural light. The more I look at them, the more I realize that my photography style nearly mimics hers: natural light and situations, capturing life as it happens.
She retired the film camera in 2009, getting a full 30 years of service before replacing it with a digital.
It’s funny how a photo can flood a person with memories. When I see the five shots above, I think of the feelings of being a 14-year old and how confusing that time can be. I haven’t thought of this trip to St. Paul in a long time, but as I think back over it now I recall that it was a lot of fun and a highlight to an otherwise dull year.
Long-lost photos will do that.