Goodbye to an Old Friend / by Bill Frakes

It's that time. Finishing projects. Culling through the million or two images produced through the year.

Our office is tech heavy.  Raids and computers. Printers. Devices of all stripes everywhere.

Last night an old friend moved out. Replaced by innovation and technology.

When I arrived in Florida, fresh out of the University of Kansas School of Journalism, things worked a little different in the photo world.  I shot film, actual strips of celluloid. I processed it in wet chemicals, examined it with a loupe, and made prints.

One of the great presents of my life showed up just before Christmas my first winter in Miami.  A giant blue industrial light table with a three foot by three viewing surface. Magnificent.

The elf that left it on my porch didn't try to get it through the front door.  I'm still not entirely sure how we managed to get it inside unscathed, but where there's a will there's a way.

Millions of images crossed that viewing platform, carrying with them my vision, my life's work.  Tri-X and Kodachrome, those stalwart staples of photojournalism.

Images bound for the front pages of the world’s newspapers and magazines -- ah yes print, that ancient medium which served so many for so well for so long, and which contrary to apparent popular belief is going strong all over the planet.

No piece of furniture, save the ancient family rocking chair, held my attention for so long or for so well.

A decade ago digital photography took over completely in my office. Scanners, card readers and computer screens replaced the old loupes and light boxes.

I still have millions of negatives and transparencies stored neatly in huge black filing cabinets, but as I have transferred the most important of them digitally, I have pulled open those creaking drawers less and less often.

Finally this year, I decided painfully I needed the space for yet another bank of hard drives. Even though I seldom hunched over the piles of film evaluating for the first cogent time their value, and by fiat my success or failure at communicating the moment or story through them, it was still very tough to say goodbye. So much emotion and work tied to that surface.

Editing then was different.  It was more solitary.  I looked at the film.  Thinking strictly about what it said or didn't.  It was a tactile process. And the light box didn't talk, not like my computer screen does, always beckoning and seducing with sounds, and lights, and distractions.

But it's gone, those who work with me celebrating the freed up space.

Silly as it sounds, I'm glad it's found a new home with young artists, working in an older medium who will enjoy the virtues of a slower pace of visualization and a sturdy place to support their creations.

Time to get back to the computers and the edit.  Now, where to put my coffee cup?