On Becoming a Photographer
By Leo Doucet
There are a number of paths one can follow to become a photographer. The
best, undoubtedly, is by taking a professional photographerís course or
becoming an apprentice to a professional.
When your about twelve however the chances of becoming a photographer by the above methods are pretty slim. We (because there were two of us) didnít even have access to a camera let alone own one.
It all started one June day when our grade 7 class at the Convent School in Dalhousie was being let out and Aurele Firlatte asked me to go with him to Billy Cannonís house. It was only slightly out of our way and after agreeing I asked Aurele why he was going there. He told me that Billy, a classmate had agreed to sell him some developer and fixer from his brotherís darkroom. Aurele had about 20 cents his grandmother had given him and with this we were going to become photographers.
There was a problem however, Billyís older brother was there and Billy made on like he didnít know what Aurele was talking about. We went home with the thought that on the morrow we would have a serious talk with Billy.
Somebody had told Aurele that when Silver Nitrate was painted on an outside wall and let dry and then had a negative placed over it in sunlight a photo would result. True, but it took a while for us to refine that technology. We talked about this on the way home and changing directions went to the Rexall Drug Store downtown to see what the silver nitrate would cost. He had enough money but the Pharmacist told us the chemical was a deadly poison and he couldnít sell us any.
We must have looked pretty sad because as we were walking out he asked us what we wanted it for. We told him and he said that since this was a valid reason he would let us have some. I donít remember if he charged us for it or not but by supper time we had a vague image on the outside door trim of the shed behind Aureleís house.
We had our serious talk with Billy and two or three days later we were walking home with two pickle bottles of used photographic chemicals and about a dozen sheets of Kodak contact paper. Billy had said, In the dark, sandwich a negative between a sheet of contact paper and a piece of plain window glass, turn on a light under the glass and count ten. Turn off the light, put the contact sheet into the developer and in about a minute take it out and put it into the fixer. After about two minutes you can turn on the light and see the picture. Now all of this is true, but......
When we got to Aureleís place there where more problems. Where do we get a light?. Where do we go where its dark?, and more pressing, what do we do with three or four of Aureleís younger brothers who were sure we were doing something secret and mysterious.
Taking a chance we slipped into the older sisters bedroom where we borrowed a table lamp from which we removed the shade, and some negatives from a box in a drawer. We knew we were on dangerous ground because those girls were older and robust. An old chicken coop in the backyard from which we pried loose a small window pane provided us with the glass. A firm grip on the younger brothers arm and a well placed boot in the rear of the older one then cleared the room.
We were now almost ready. The darkroom proved to be easy, we would simply get into Aureleís parents bed and pull all the blankets over our heads. We had no trays to pour the liquids into so we made do with two larger jars into which we could get our hands. All went rather well and we soon had a few pictures that while brownish in colour, had identifiable images.
Confident that we were now successful photographers (We had never heard of the term, photo technician), and were coming to the end of our paper supplies when it happened. Aurele had a slightly younger brother, Edmond, whom we had forgotten about. When he came into the house he was met by the younger ones who told him that Aurele and I were in their parents bed with the blankets pulled over our heads, were doing something funny and that they were not allowed in there.
Edmond, not so easily intimidated, then quietly crept upstairs and after observing the commotion under the blankets leaped like a cat on top of us. The light bulb burst, the glass broke and the jugs spilled all their contents on us and the bed. We yanked the blankets off and a fight started between Aurele and Edmond. The younger brothers started screaming and Mrs. Firlatte with the two older sisters burst in.
Iím not sure what happened next because knowing where I stood in that pecking order I didnít stay around to find out and it was some time before I went back. Silver Nitrate anyone?.
Eventually we both became professional photographers. Aurele opened one of the first, if not the first, studio in Dalhousie when he came out of the Merchant Marine at warís end. I took up photography seriously in 1954, but thatís another story.