Tom’s Alley

My Uncle Tom is a patron of the arts. He has made a point throughout his adult life to step into many galleries in many places. Sometimes he would purchase work, but most of the time he was just taking mental notes of what art is appealing and where. So while he may not paint or photograph or sculpt, I think he actively creates photographs, paintings and sculptures with his imagination; piecing together the world around him in his own, personal masterpiece.

One day, he directed me towards a spot in Salem that has stood out to him over the years. It was an alleyway downtown, maybe 20 feet deep, with stairs and a use-absent door at its end. I brought by K.B. Canham 4×5 view camera there one day with only three sheets of film left in my film holders.

Having only three frames to shoot, I wanted to take three photos of the alley and have them work together, but be compelling on their own. Three photos with the same mood, but telling three different stories. This first photo sets the scene for the other two; a gritty, film noir alley.

In person, this part of the alley really wasn’t much to look at, but I knew if I messed with exposure and development I could bring out a character that wasn’t there in person. That is one of the main reasons I find working in film so appealing is the control you have over your subject’s appearance if you know what you’re doing before you trip the shutter. Lifeless things can be brought to life.

When I saw these weeds while I was standing, I didn’t think anything about them, but when I got down on their level, they started to relate to each other. They looked like two criminals in a lineup, with the lines in the brick being the height markers. I thought about how criminals are usually a product of their place in society, almost predestined to become what they are. At first glance, the weeds seemed to be intruding on the alley, but really the cement and civilization were what were out of place.

During a time in my short photo life where the camera had felt heavy in my hands, this three-frame exercise brought me to a new way of viewing even simple things. It was a big step in my evolution as a photographer and artist, but I probably would never have came there if it wasn’t for the direction of someone who had been taking mental snapshots of the world around them.

Nearly everyone is a photographer. Most people just use their eyes and minds instead of lenses and film or processors, but in this collaboration both were realized.

4 thoughts on “Tom’s Alley

  1. Beautiful images and thoughts to accompany them.

    Interesting to see your film noir style. That’s the project I chose to do with my 4×5 for class – a mixture between film noir urban landscapes and portraits. Once I get a chance to scan my negatives/prints, I’ll have to share them.

    It truly is a blessing to able to see and feel that deeper emotional connectivity to even the most seemingly ordinary objects, like those weeds for instance. But your narrative and imagination about them is so poignant.

    Again, with digital, it’s so easy for anyone to go buy the biggest cameras and claim they know what their doing. That equipment fills their ego with the notion that they’re hot stuff. Their mentality to the art is less desired. But, more power to them.

    Personally, I’ve met plenty of people with a sort of humbleness to them that do have that instinctual ability to see, and those are the people that always surprise and inspire me. I try my best to encourage them to continue to practice and shoot.

    This notion stems from that fact that I was president of photo club my junior and senior year of high school as well as now, in my senior year of college. I mostly taught the basics in high school and gave that nudge of motivation to beginners, especially those I recognized with that innate gift who just needed some encouragement. I remember how timid I was when I was just getting into photography when I was 14, but more seriously when I was 16 and then learning film for the first time at 18. I guess now I look back and can still relate, because I remember and understand how nerve-racking and intimidating taking those first steps can be. Plus, I had incredible teachers and mentors who supported and really encouraged me to keep progressing with my art as well and value them so much for their efforts and belief in me.

    So you know, I’m just incredibly inspired to have stumbled upon someone such as yourself, around my age who knows so much and thinks and talks so philosophically about photography. Talk to you is, well, exactly what I’ve been looking for right now in my life, so I have to thank you for being so personable and willing to talk and share your art and thoughts.

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