In 1969 I was a VISTA Volunteer in rural California, and had a few friends dabbling in photography who shared their interest with me.
One of them lent me a 35mm Petri Rangefinder camera and a few rolls of black and white film for my visit home to Brooklyn. I took the camera everywhere I went in New York City and really enjoyed “taking pictures.”
Back in California, my friends showed me how to process the film and make prints. I liked the results, and my casual interest in photography morphed into a passion, and later a career.
I recently found an envelope with some of these 1969 negatives. Not knowing any better back then, I cut out individual negative of the images I liked and threw the rest away.
Last month I began scanning these negatives and making prints. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of them are pretty decent, and a few eerily similar to the work I went on to do.
I began with my family and neighbors in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
One day I borrowed my father’s car and drove out to Bay Ridge to photograph the Verrazano Bridge. I continued on to Plum Beach, a few miles farther east.
Another day I took the subway to Manhattan, and photographed people randomly as I walked around.
As I waited on a corner for the traffic light to change, I occasionally photographed the person standing right next to me.
I went to Central Park.
And to the Bronx Botanical Garden.
And to an arcade near Times Square
Out of these early photographs this portrait of a maintenance worker is my favorite. He was one of the few people I asked directly if I could take his picture. When he said OK, I made two exposures.
“Collaborating” with my subjects by asking permission to photograph them, and then taking several exposures while engaging directly with them became my standard way of working.
While scanning these cut up negatives, I remembered that, after properly processing my first two rolls of film, I made a mistake with the third and last NYC roll. Instead of opening the small cap on the top of the developing tank to pour in the developer, I removed the top itself – exposing and ruining my film.
Thinking of all the places and people I photographed as I rushed around the city with my borrowed camera, I wonder what was on that roll…
Other Articles by Larry Racioppo
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