The Camera Eye On Junior High


In March 1978 I was a 13-year old kid on the Cordell Hull Junior High Annual Staff, working as a photographer.

I don’t recall asking to be a photographer; instead I think it was a vacant position that I filled earlier in the school year. The staff adviser – an attractive twenty-something social studies teacher – gave me one assignment: “Take pictures of everything.” She loaded me up with as much film as I could shoot, mainly Kodak Tri-X Pan 400 black & white (still sold today as Kodak 400TX).

Occasionally I would get a roll of Kodachrome color slide film.

The camera I used was a Kodak Signet 35 from the early 1950s, owned by my Mom. It had a 44mm lens, focused through the viewfinder, and took great pictures if it was set correctly. My parents gave me some pointers on how to load and unload film, plus setting the shutter and aperture.

The first few rolls were disasters while I was figuring out the camera.

But eventually I took hundreds of photos. Everything I could think of eyeballing at school was a photo target. Basketball games, track events, classmates, benches, phone booths, hallways, ducks across the street, cribbage competitions in the Band Room, and kids hanging out in the wood shop. Sometimes I would just sit or stand in the center area between class wings and snap away. With no flash for the camera, my abilities were limited. But I shot anyhow, doing the best I could with what I had.

I would turn in about two rolls of film per week, which would be almost 300 photos a month. The staff adviser and I would then review proof sheets made from the negatives, and she would tell me which ones were getting used and why. Her feedback was valuable, and it strengthened my photographic eye by helping me see what people wanted to see. But that was only half of it. From the sheer act of taking picture after picture, I learned three important things: I loved natural light, capturing people “in the moment,” and shooting from unusual angles. These are guidelines I still follow today.

My junior high experience with photography may also be the reason I love the intimate and unplanned feeling of Street Photography so much.

At times when I’ve gone back through my photo archives from those years, I always wondered if there were any photos from junior high still around; but I never held out much hope because most of them stayed with the school staff. Now with that school closed, I was pretty sure the photos from those days were long gone.

In 2011 my Mom handed me a stack of slides and said, “I think you took these.”

She was right. After going through their slide collection at home over the weekend, she and my Dad had found several that were not theirs. They quickly identified them as photos I had shot. It was stunning; there, in the glory of color, the lost year of 1978 reappeared on my flatbed scanner. Here was an 8th-grader’s view of the world and of other 8th-graders, portraying people I hadn’t thought of in years. Seeing them brought back all the memories of those days – both good and bad. The best reminder for me was that something good did come from going to 7th and 8th grades, because my recollection was that Junior High distinguished itself as the worst two years of my school career.

It’s nice to know now that it wasn’t all that bad.

These slides appear to be color “out-takes” that were not used by the annual, and then given back to me; they were developed and picked up at a Fotomat kiosk. There were only about 12 slides in the collection my Mom gave me, and the roll I shot would have been worth 36 photos; this leads me to believe that some of the slides were kept and used. My junior high annuals are buried in the archives (aka cardboard box in the garage), so when I find them I’ll check for pictures that are similar.

Each photo in this collection has a brief back story, written below the photo. Enjoy this time capsule!