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Mom in darkroom 1949

[Self-portrait and narrative by my mother]


My darkroom quickly evolved from a temporary enamel-topped table setup to a real counter 10 feet long with black inlaid-linoleum top. Black-lined drawers held photo paper. Cupboards above kept chemicals neat. The counter was built at desk height so that I could sit while printing. Jerry did it all. A stenographer's chair allowed me to scoot from printer or enlarger to tray to tray to tray. Jerry was teaching himself woodworking as I was learning photography. Since I didn't notice anyone teaching him, maybe he was holding a book in one hand while sawing with the other! However he did it, he became an expert and the doctor didn't mind having nice cupboards built into his back room.


I painted the room a dark rosy red and made traverse draperies of black to cover the one window. It was a warm womb for long Saturday afternoons with the Met playing softly on the radio. I totally lost track of time with the birthing of amazing black-and-white photos. Each was a miracle, over and over again. I'm as fascinated with them today as I was 56 years ago.


There was a small downside. As relatives and friends learned of my hobby they would press exposed rolls upon me to develop. I did a few. Oh, it was agony! Drudgery! Dreary, repetitive, unartful, bland photos. (Long before automatic cameras made even dumb photos at least in focus and properly exposed!)


Not all of the requests were refused. Jerry, smirking a little, produced a roll given him by his young brother Tony, who worked in a neighborhood beer store. Tony asked that I pul-eeze develop a roll for him. He'd been my booster since I met him as the 14-year-old son of my landlady, and he carefully kept track of telephone calls for me. His roll had been shot in the back room of the beer store of ladies of questionable reputation and groping young men, who were not exactly Ivy League! There wasn't any nudity, but a lot of hormones flowed! The props and background were strictly cases of beer. It would be pretty tame stuff by today's standards. But the photos were quite funny actually. If I can locate a negative later, I will share.


On another occasion Jerry produced a roll given him in strictest confidence by a handsome and successful young businessman in Grand Rapids, his customer. He implored Jerry to be absolutely discreet with the photos and negatives. I took it seriously and developed and printed the roll, all full of admiration for the beautiful photos and didn't keep a single one. Jerry then yielded the tasteful prints to his customer.


They were of a gorgeous young woman totally in the buff, posed 16 different ways. For many years, when seeing the handsome man on billboards touting his business, I would get a secret tickle. He married the girl and they raised a large Catholic family.


The 4x5 I am pulling out of the fixer in the photo above showing a gal in her black bra, was Rose Bottegal, the wife of Jerry's Army buddy Aldo. He and Rose visited us in 1949, and while on the water in a rowboat on a steaming day, Rose shed her blouse. Wearing just her bra, she said "Just make believe this is a swimming suit top."


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Taken on October 9, 2005