My fascination with photography began when I discovered a roll of black-and-white film rinsing in the bathroom sink. I was five, and I was supposed to be washing my hands or brushing my teeth, but there was this magical twist of images in my way. What could it be?
It was overflow from my brother’s darkroom. He took pictures for his high school yearbook and developed them in a closet-like space my dad had built off the carport. I remember that mysterious room, the sawdust on the cement floor while my dad was building it, the chemical smells that emanated from it when my brother was working.
I started composing photographs of my own with a Kodak Instamatic when I was eleven or twelve. I didn’t have a darkroom, but I loved snapping pictures and taking my film to the drugstore to be processed. At fourteen or fifteen, I visited my brother and his new wife in a faraway state, and he turned me loose with a real camera. He even set up a darkroom in the bathroom of their tiny apartment and showed me how to print my own pictures. I remember seeing images emerge in the chemical bath, and learning to pull the photo paper out of the tray at just the right moment so the picture wouldn’t be too dark.
Photography became a favorite hobby. I worked two jobs one summer during college and saved enough money to buy my first 35-millimeter SLR. I learned the ins and outs of apertures and shutter speeds, and photographed everything that caught my eye.
My first job after college was in public relations. I was looking for work as a writer (I hadn’t yet allowed myself to dream of an acting career), and a job opened up for a P.R. person who could both write and take pictures. Darkroom skills were required. I hadn’t been in a darkroom since that teenage vacation, but I hustled to relearn the process and applied for the job. Lo and behold, for the next three years I had a professional darkroom of my own.
Fast forward to the digital age. I’ve been acting for more than twenty years. Over the course of many birthdays and holidays, my husband has gradually replaced my old camera equipment with new digital gear. But my hobby lies dormant; parenthood, career, marriage, and the needs of an aging mother take precedence. The camera spends most of its time on the shelf.
One day I’m cast in a play about a photojournalist (Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies, at Horizon Theatre, fall 2012). Before rehearsals begin, I pull out my camera and begin to explore what it might feel like to see the world through its lens. I take it along on a trip to Haiti and find I cannot put it down. The camera frames my world, shapes my experience, makes me slow down and see things I might have missed.
I’ve been taking pictures for a couple of years now, and I have no intention of stopping. So here I am: newly in love with an art I discovered in the bathroom sink. Grateful for the technology that turns my laptop into a darkroom.
And fascinated, still, by the images all around me.