Saturday, May 02, 2009

Moving on sometimes requires looking back

To those of you who have followed this blog I apologize for the lack of a new post. Frankly, I've been unable to find a subject that excited me. However, I have been actively continuing my project to convert many of my photographs from film to digital, a tedious yet quite rewarding effort.

Some of the negatives are 35+ years old and are as clean as the day I processed the film while other strips of film have serious degradation. I think back to the days of hand processing and know that often the film wasn't left in the hypo clearing solution or washed long enough. Archival processing was usually trumped by newspaper deadlines. Fortunately, most of the issues of pinholes, dust and scratches can be remedied in Photoshop but the process often takes hours for each image.

The reward is to see the photographs again and always better than I could have ever printed them in a darkroom. It has also been a chance to assess how my style of shooting changed and matured over the years. The most pleasant surprise in this endeavor has been the opportunity to reconnect with some of the people I photographed through internet people search engines.

I've noticed that the years 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, and 2009 are benchmarks, connected by images I made during major projects or in special moments in my life.

1969 was the year I entered the Peace Corps and was sent to Malaysia. It was also the year I began taking photography seriously.

Ten years later, 1979, I returned to Southeast Asia to photograph Cambodian refugees coming to Thailand as the Khmer Rouge regime was collapsing and revealing the genocide of nearly 2 million citizens. (the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting).

In 1989 I was half-way through the Yosemite Centennial project to document the human experience in the park. (a Pulitzer finalist in 1991).

1999 was the third year of my volunteer work with the Sacramento Ballet that gave me the opportunity to establish a 13-year body of work culminating in a trip to China with the company on their first foreign performing tour in 2007.

2009 finds me retired from newspaper work but certainly not from documentary photography. I chose this image of North Sister to say my photographic life has wide open possibilities.

Now, one of the greatest opportunities I've ever had is about to happen. I will be returning to Cambodia with my friend and fellow journalist Joel Brinkley, who I worked with on the "Living the Cambodian Nightmare" project thirty years ago. We will be visiting mostly in rural areas of the country to show that life for the average citizen has not seen a lot of improvement despite a resurgence of the national economy. Joel is writing a book which I will illustrate and we also hope to publish our words and pictures in print and/or online when we return.

The perspective I have now after "looking back" certainly helps inspire me to understand what "moving on" is all about.


Jennie said...

Hi Jay!

I just recently found your web page from my Mom and Chris' site and have really enjoyed looking through all of your photos! And i absolutely LOVE your most recent post. What a wonderful way to reflect on moving on. And how special that you get to return to Cambodia! I can't wait to see the pictures and hear the stories. Please keep us posted if the book/pictures go in print at some point!

My Father actually gave me his old camera that he used to use to take pictures of me when I was a little girl. He was quite into photography as well. I never took a photography class but I love taking pictures and think they can tell amazing stories. I was wondering if you might have a suggestion for books, etc. to learn about the basics of photography? Of if you might have any other suggestions or hints. I'm basically starting from scratch! :)

Feel free to email me at: if you get a chance and perhaps we can chat more about photography. If it isn't too late for you to stop photographing, I guess it isn't too late for me to start right? :)

Take care,

George Waldman said...

How interesting to go back to Cambodia. I remember your calling me in Detroit just after you returned from that trip long ago. It was Thanksgiving day, and our table overflowed with food, more than we could eat. I felt very, very fat in my privileged world. I look forward to seeing the new work. Peace, George