Coming of age in the pre-digital era

January 30th, 2015

Back in my day, we had to walk uphill to get to the darkroom.

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When your assignment said, “shoot Color and B&W,” you had to carry two different cameras and shoot the exact same thing twice.

When you spent forever photographing a subject and at the end, they asked you what channel they’d be on.

When the photographer just before you only left three or four inches of film in the bulk loader.

And along those same lines, when you went to develop your film on deadline and there’s barely a splash of D-76 left in the jug (or worse, no fixer after you’ve developed your film).

When you began your shift at 3:00 pm in the middle of winter and had to drive around looking for two random Feature photos to fill blank holes before shooting your 7:00 pm game.

When somebody told you your photo was “wire sharp,” meaning once you transmitted it out to AP or UPI, nobody would know it was originally just a bit too blurry.

The Sports editor wanting color photos on deadline from a dimly lit high school gym out in BFE.

Spawned from the pits of Hell, those evil densitometers that certain newsroom and production people would whip from their belt holsters, plop down on your gorgeous photos, and proclaim, “you need more tone in your highlights or less black in your shadows.”

Rushing out to get a Feature photo of snow because it’s the middle of winter and the readers have apparently never seen snow before, (then getting beaten out by the punk intern who never lets you forget it — cough, cough, Dick Van Nostrand ).

Shooting a deep, layered, compelling photo and getting beaten out in the clip contest by a shot of a cute kid with a puppy.

Shooting a deep, layered, compelling photo and having the Metro editor not “get it,” and instead running a shot of a cute kid with a puppy.

Transmitting your own shot of a cute kid with a puppy over the wire and 29 minutes into the 30 minute color transmission, some yahoo from Dubuque ruins your picture by picking up the dedicated phone line to send his much more meaningful cute kid with a puppy photo.

When you were asked for the tenth time that week, “what do you do with the pictures you don’t use?”

That time when somebody swiped your pica pole or reduction wheel, but you didn’t really mind because you secretly didn’t know how to use them (except for the pica thingy; it made a great letter opener).

Due to the continual fear of staffing cuts, you never knew if you had job security (the more things change …).

(Rodney Curtis is an award-winning photographer and writer based in the Greater Detroit area who sometimes adds tag-endings to his posts purely in hopes that they’ll help his darn SEO analytics. You can see more of his photography at

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