16 November 2008

The Lives of Others: Rules of Sitting

The Lives of Others: Rules of Sitting:: An Essay in Three Parts

Weekends would be spent in the Photo room 333 from before nine in the morning until a little before midnight, when the custodians would have to lock up. (Depending on who was closing, the group could have stayed till one, two or maybe even four in the morning.) There was a process. It started with waiting. Waiting for Wallach to skim through your negatives and contact sheets. Waiting hungry possibly for hours, out of fear of losing your chance with him. Everyone would sit around him as he went one by one through student’s work. When one student was finished, another one would immediately inhabit the vacant seat next to him. And after that long wait, it could end in disappointment and tears with criticism and the reality of nothing worthy of exhibiting or contests. If a commendable negative was found, a type of fiber paper was chosen, the better filters were distributed and you would be sent off to print in the darkroom. Printing on fiber paper is much more expensive and lengthy process (considering the dilutions of the chemicals in the majority of high school darkrooms). At the end of the first Saturday, one would be lucky to have an exhibitable print and this wasn’t common. Maybe by Sunday evening, you would have a variety of prints from one negative. Maybe one had the right amount of contrast, maybe one had good tones overall. The best prints would be saved for contests; one would go in your book and the rest to live in a box that is now possibly in storage, in Wallach’s house or missing. It would go on like this for the majority of fall semester every year.

With the change of teachers from Wallach to Molina, in two years, a few scanners and inkjet printers transformed into some of the best digital equipment that’s fathomable in NYC public high school. The analog-to-digital transition was steady but didn’t happen in a day. Some of The Process doesn’t change, even with the change of hand and technology. Come early on the weekends and have your negatives and files searched for any possibility of a hidden gem. During Molina’s first year there weren’t enough scanners and printers to accommodate all that had work. And at that point, it was a small number of students that were digitally proficient. The first weekend, all the negatives were chosen and only three or four people could be working at any time. That actually meant Molina and Wallach (he came in to help during this transition) doing half of the digital work. Caroline and I looked at each other, wondering if we should leave since there was nothing for us to physically do. At some point, Armen approached me and said that even if Wallach and Molina are doing the work, that we should stay. Sit, keep them company, see if they need anything and get them lunch. It hit me hard and it’s a sentiment I still follow. If this guy (who could be a huge asshole sometimes) knew to stay, I knew to I should stay too. I stayed, I sat and I bought them bagels for lunch. This went on until I had become part of the group that helped photoshop and print everyone’s work.

See who Wallach is in the Brooklynites project, 7th one down.

Read the whole essay here.


  1. I really enjoyed the link to Steve Buscemi, I think he's hella talented. It's nice to remember these details from our past, how we felt then and how it affects us today. You make photography sound really competitive and kind of nice but also a little disturbing. I'm not sure i want to be a photographer any more.

  2. Holy Hell, that was powerful. A lot of emotion. Where did all of this come from? Not the substance--I get that--but the compulsion to write? Really well crafted. Straightforward, eloquent, detailed. I want to say keep it up, but given the sensitive subject matter, I feel that would be inconsiderate. Now I don't know what to say. Thanks.

  3. olek - wallach was the 7th person. i hope you did see him and who he was. hes still plays a big role in my life.
    and high school photo is the least of it..

    arv- thanks. i dont know..the compulsion really came from the last paragraph and not being there when he passed. and hell, you really don't know what the hell goes on.. so i jacked the tentative title from rough draft cause it fit really well. i might write more, i had a poem in mind..