The actual photograph you see began a month earlier when 4 longtime friends met at City Hall using my access permit, there are certain insurance regulations and paper work I must comply with to gain access to City Hall as a photographer. During an October visit we were eagerly awaiting the return of a good friend and great photographer, James Monteiro, who had moved to Santa Fe 20 years earlier. We all had a good reunion and a day of photography in City Hall, large sheet film for me while the others used small digital recording devices.
There is an incredible 2-story staircase to access the 2nd and 3rd floors. In the middle high above the staircase is an alcove with a huge arched window, the alcove is barely big enough for a person, nevertheless, my friend Peter Bosco decided to traverse a ledge less than 12” wide to gain access to this alcove, he did and shot a gorgeous wide angle composition which upon his safe return showed all of us immediately on his LED screen. I went home that day envious of the shot from the alcove, nevertheless, happy to see an old friend I hadn’t seen in near 20 years. I continued to wonder if I would ever have the nerve to walk the ledge over to the alcove, one day in the future I rationalized!
I applied for another permit before my friend was to return to New Mexico and I was told due to the City of Hartford’s dire financial state a $50.00 per hourly charge for any photographer was now in place, I was granted one last free access waiver for Nov. 20th. Three of the four of us returned for a last visit, knowing this visit could well be my last hurrah I had thought all week long about getting enough courage to walk the ledge and climb over the alcove enclosure to safety and have someone pass my 5×7 Deardorff up to me to make what was sure to be an incredible image!
With the others off in other parts of the building and no security guard in sight I setup the 5×7 camera with a 90mm Schneider lens, cable release attached to lens, film holder in back of camera, level in my pocket, meter holstered on my belt but left the camera and tripod behind this time. Determined to get the shot I began a practice walk out onto the ledge and got all the way to the last bump out where the ledge narrows to about 7” wide with the stairwell now a good 10’ ft drop off the ledge. Couldn’t do it, I stopped and turned back, wondering if I would ever make it out there, just then my friend Peter Dylag came by, knowing how much I wanted this shot he said, Stop! when you get to the bump out turn and face the wall and pull yourself around the bump out while holding onto each side of the bump out, I did and it worked perfectly, a few more feet and I was to the alcove enclosure, I hoisted myself up over the thigh high marble railing to safety inside of the enclosure. With tripod fully extended Peter was able to hoist my camera up to me now safely inside the alcove. The dark cloth was quick to follow and I was ready to go. I was now working against time worrying the security guard would come by and throw us all out for doing something so clearly dangerous and stupid.
I leveled the camera; composed the image with a 90mm lens, I chose to leave part of the floor below to give some sense of dimension and scale. I metered the scene and inserted the Delta 100 film holder. I placed the underneath of the staircase on Zone 5, which pushed the opposing light colored Granite walls onto Zone 12, figured for an N – 4 development. Stopped down to f 32 and exposed for 2 minutes. I always expose one film holder exactly the same, two sheets of film, the first to zero in on the exact development and the second as backup to make minor adjustments in negative densities via development if necessary. While getting the camera ready Peter was video taping me and asking me for some feedback on the experience. I was hurrying, I wanted to get back to avoid security catching me and also to get the hell back to safety ! As I walked back to safety and met Peter near the area where I had to squeeze by the brass railing we each high fived and let out some primal exaltation about my triumph and prized shot recorded !!
A Video clip is included in this post.
Because it may well have been my last time there I had both camera systems with the 5×7, the 7×17 and with all respective lens for each, a lot of equipment. As the three of us gathered up the equipment and made plans for lunch I hoisted up the 7×17 back pack, carried the 5×7 backpack, grabbed the tripod and small collapsible step stood and headed to the ground floor. Said good-bye to the Security Guard Oscar and headed to the car. Had lunch, rushed home, dropped equipment off and ran out to my granddaughter’s basketball game and dinner at my daughter’s house. Returned home after dark and began putting away equipment and retrieving film holders to transfer development information from the cell phone. Damn !! I couldn’t find my small backpack that carries only 5×7 film holders anywhere. Looked everywhere, sent a message to Peter, he did not have the pack and didn’t have any idea where it might be!
Knowing at my age I have sometimes forgotten where I’ve put things it started to sink in that I may have left the exposed film backpack at City Hall. I knew the Security Guard works 16 hour shifts so I jumped in the car for the 15 minute ride to Hartford, now long after dark I get to the entrance and of course the gate which was unlocked @ 7 am is now locked and I am in near total darkness. There are two other doors which I tried twice, both locked, as I returned to the center door I began to think, do I turn the car around, shine the headlights in the doorway and lean on the horn in the hopes the Security Guard comes to the doors, I decide that was not the right approach. I began to think I’ll be back here first thing the next morning when City Hall first opens, wait, my boss is away and I am in charge and have to be in early for a Production meeting. I say to myself, the hell with the meeting I am not leaving the backpack to be hopefully turned in by someone in City Hall during the workday, worst yet, an unidentified strange backpack could spell panic ! As I shake the gate in disgust one last time to see if somehow it has magically become unlocked I begin to turn towards the car and out of the corner of my eye in near darkness I see a discolored brass doorbell, I press hard on the button and hear the noise from inside, low and behold, I see the Security Guard get up and move towards the doorway. As he is making the 75ft. walk towards me I wonder if he will actually come to confront someone standing in darkness or just motion me away before he recognizes me. Fortunately, he opens the inside door and makes his way to the gate and recognizes me, I explain I have left a small backpack with the precious film of the day behind, I need to come and in and retrieve it. Fortunately, for me it was left on the second floor where the three of us were last making plans for lunch ! The image you see here was left in the small backpack, had I not retrieved the pack that night I wonder if this story would ever have been told.
The only positive spin I can conjure up is forgetful and absentmindedness are signs of the Creative mind !! I am also confident there has never been Large Format film exposed from the vantage point.
Please subscribe with your email address if you would like to continue to see short videos segments and Tips on my Process or more the Story Behind the Photograph segments. If not please consider passing this blog link onto someone you may know who would have interest.
Happy and Creative New Year!