It’s been over a decade since I made my last salt print, but recently I recommitted myself to processing old sheet film exposures and returning to the photographic processes that I fell in love with while in graduate school.
I’m getting my feet wet with this first sheets of film. There’s a lot I have forgotten, but I am hoping to turn this effort into some creative projects so I’m determined to stay with it.
The one shown in this post is of a wedding I photographed for friends in 2005. There’s plenty of density on the negative which can be a good thing, but it’s going to take more than the 20 minute exposure I allowed to get a solid print. I’ll have to give it another try with a much longer exposure.
The idea for this portrait session came to Grandma in a dream. She had plans to get her hair permed and for me to take photographs of her. And intentional or not it would all happen on my dad’s birthday. The day before I learned about our appointment from others with whom she had spoken and shared her plans for the week. The beautician she expected to have perm her hair didn’t get the same kind of forewarning and was surprised when she walked through the door only to learn that no appointment had been made.
My parents scrambled to make a photo session happen anyway. It was not part of what they had planned for the day; nor was it what I expected to be doing, but we all love grandma and decided to just go with it. We needed some good photos of her so we worked it out and decided that grandma would arrive at my parent’s house at 11:30 where I would take her photos and then my parents would continue on to their birthday lunch.
It was a beautiful August day. Grandma’s hair was perfect. Her floral patterned shirt matched the setting nicely and she was more aware that she had made some mistakes than we all wanted to openly acknowledge. Her first remarks to me (with a chuckle) were, “I guess I have been telling a lot of stories today, but people keep letting me do it!” She also offered that it’s best for her to talk about things that happened long ago because nobody is around to tell her that she is wrong!
When I suggested that we should also take some photos of her with my dad since it’s his birthday, she responded with wit, “I know it’s his birthday! I WAS there you know!” I mentioned that it had been a while since our last portrait session. Recounting the time when I photographed both her and grandpa in the living room of our first house. Magnus, our oldest son was less than a year old at the time and he was tossed into a couple of photos with them. Magnus’s 10th birthday is tomorrow. She didn’t seem to remember that session or Magnus really, but with 5 children of her own, 12 grandkids and many more great grandkids it’s understandable.
During the last session grandma was bothered by how her lips looked. I couldn’t see it, but she didn’t like how part of her lip appeared swollen and she fretted over it quite a bit. I get it though. I don’t like my photo taken either. The scrutiny of the lens can be uncomfortable. This time she didn’t like the crease under her cheeks. She didn’t want to smile big because it would make the crease bigger. So I took photos of her as she wished. And discretely grabbed moments that were special to me. I wanted photos that could remind me of how she sat in the chair and the little twinkle in her eye when she was pleased. She even gave me moments of spunkiness when I asked for a smile to which she responded with a very exaggerated adolescent kind of expression – part fun, part rebellious – followed by a laugh and lots of grandma smiles.
Near the end of the session grandma said, “These photos are for history.” I agreed and thanked her for allowing me to take them. It’s an honor as I realize that our family is quietly turning a corner from one generation to another.
I’m grateful for grandma’s dream. She brought us together in her own way. It wasn’t how I planned to spend the day, but it was perfect and I will always treasure it.