Monday, August 21, 2017

Buried Treasure

At first, I had every intention of building a darkroom in my basement.

In high school, my best friend, Stu, and I would take photos for our school yearbook. We had a small darkroom in what was little more than a glorified closet in the science wing of our school. But Stu's dad was a photo buff, from which hobby he earned the nickname, Buff, and he had a darkroom in their basement, and he would allow Stu and I to develop our own black-and-white film and print our own photos.

I learned a lot in that darkroom, learned from mostly Stu, who learned from Buff, but Buff would always critique our work, giving us positive reinforcement for what we did well with our shots and our processing, as well as offer advice on how we could improve our skills.

I learned a lot from Buff, for which I am forever grateful.

As the decades of friendship grew, I felt more and more a part of the family. Indeed, when I went to the hospital, to meet with Stu and his sister, who still lets me call her Suzie, to be with their dying mother, I was stopped by a nurse who warned that only family members were allowed to go in.

Without hesitation, I said, "I am family," my voice showing the nurse that there was no doubt.

But before then, after Buff had passed away, I was offered his darkroom equipment. Stu and Suzie hadn't wanted to keep it, and because it brought fond memories of my early days of photography, I accepted the boxes and stored them in a corner of my basement, where one day, I hoped to create my own place to develop my negatives and prints.

Buff has been gone for a long time. My basement, for which I've had so many plans, still remains unfinished. I have eked out a space for my gym equipment, have opened a corner in which DD14 can play her drums. There's an entertainment cabinet with a sofa and chair for watching TV or playing video games. There is a cool area where I stock my wine and beer. I even have a secondary spot, with a desk and monitor, where I can set up my computer to work, when I need to get away from the rest of the household or another family member is using our primary workspace.

(It's at this secondary station where I wrote this blog post.)

There is no darkroom in my basement and I've come to the realization that there never will be. And so, I came to the decision to let Buff's darkroom equipment go.

I reached out to Stu, let him know that I was going to find a good home for his dad's equipment, and asked him if he or Suzie wanted anything. When Stu got back to me, he said that he was sure that the lens from the enlarger could be adapted to a camera, and could I keep that for him. Everything else could go.

This weekend, I finally brought the boxes upstairs, finally peeled away the packing tape, finally sat down to take an inventory of the contents. I opened the box that contained the enlarger, first, and retrieved the lens. I repacked that box and went to the second one.

The boxes were well-organized and each piece of equipment was packaged in their original boxes, complete with any instructions. There was the film developing tank, the closeup scope, the timer. All perfectly boxed up.

As I dug through the box, I came across a soft case and strap, the word Ricoh emblazoned upon it. It was a camera. I opened the case and pulled out the old viewfinder camera, remarking on how it looked almost like new.

I unscrewed the battery cap, hoping to find it empty, dreading I'd discover a long-ago-corroded cell. While there was a button-cell battery inside, it was intact and there was no corrosion on the contact points. But it was absolutely dead.

I contacted Stu, let him know that I found this little treasure, assured him that I wouldn't ever get rid of it, would send it to him if he wanted it, would keep it safe if he couldn't decide.

I added that I would love to run a roll of film through it.

I packed up the second box after making a list of the items inside and opened the third and final box.

I found some flood lamps and several bulbs, plus a super-8 movie lamp. And then, I saw something that piqued my curiosity.

A small metal box with the word Minolta on the side.

The box was solid and didn't really offer what its contents were, except for a covered lens that stuck out on one side. It looked like it could be a projector, but I couldn't see how to operate it.

There were tiny, silver buttons on bottom corners, on opposite sides from each other, and so I tried pushing them both while pulling up on what seemed to be an outer shell. It gave no resistance. It was a miniature, single-slide projector. Performing a search on Google, it seems to be from the 1950s.

I plugged it in and the lamp shone brightly, directing the beam through the lens. I didn't see a spare bulb in the box, but there were a lot to sort through and if there was one, the chances are that it would be no good if it was outside of a box. Any fingerprints on a projection bulb would cause it to blow in moments.

Everything else has been accounted for and now listed on Kijiji. I can only hope that someone who remembers the great days of producing photos from film takes an interest and gives Buff's equipment a good home.

I found some treasures in these boxes. I hope someone else does, too.


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