My First Photograph
Christopher James - 2014


Self Portrait With Popsicle, The Cummington Community, 1968

Let me tell you about the moment of my first photograph. In the late 60's I was living in an arts-centric commune in western Massachusetts, called The Cummington Community, and had constructed a darkroom, with my friend Kevin Burke, in a run-down shed using opaque black silage plastic from a local farm supply to eliminate the light. In the summer it might well have served double-duty as a sweat lodge. There was a hose for running water, hooked up to the main barn where we all lived on a single open floor. My mom had sent me an ancient Russian enlarger that she had found in a flea market that would set any negative on fire if the exposure lasted longer than 9 seconds. My safelight was a caver's headlamp with red cellophane, saved from a caramel apple wrapping.

On a run-away to New York, with Martha and Tony, I had made exposures with my first used camera, the same model Nikon that David Hemmings had photographed Veruschka with in the film Blow Up, and was eager to see if it worked. I also had a book, Enlarging Is Thrilling - Or the Joy of Making Big Ones Out of Little Ones, by Don Herald; a book printed in 1945 by Federal Manufacturing & Engineering Corp to serve as a manual for their model # 269 enlarger in a suitcase for $39.50.


Don Harold, Enlarging Is Thrilling, 1945

After processing my first roll of film in a tall Galliano bottle that I had discovered in the barn, I set up the shed, put the negative in the Russian enlarger's negative carrier, exposed a piece of Agfa paper until I smelled smoke, and immersed my first paper based exposure in a horse's water bucket that held the developer. Twenty seconds later a picture of a man eating alone in a Times Square automat began to emerge. And in that very moment, in the midst of my satori, i knew exactly where the rest of my life would be centered.


Christopher James, Sidewalk Supper, NYC, 1968