Discovering Photography

Late in my eighth grade year at Hinsdale Junior High I discovered the wonder of making photographs in the light and developing pictures in the dark. Thanks to my childhood friend and early mentor, Jay Kusler.

Jay was a very bright kid. Good student and very popular with everyone. He was the class clown but also the teacher’s favorite. I enjoyed his friendship.

One day he brought home made photographs of pictures he’d taken of our classmates. The prints were 2.5” X 3.5” wallet size black and whites. I was amazed to learn that he made the prints himself and asked if he would come to my house to photograph my collection of old radios and telephones. I was actually far more interested in seeing the photographic process first hand than I was in having my collection photographed.

That afternoon Jay came to my house with his photo lights, camera, and tripod. He set up his camera and lights in my basement and took several photographs. Later that evening he called me to say the pictures were ready.

I quickly rode my bike to his house several blocks away. Jay had a makeshift darkroom in the laundry room using his grandfather’s old enlarger. Three 5” X 7” Kodak developing trays sat atop the washer and dryer. On a wire suspended over the washer and dryer, wooden close pins held several 2.5” X 3.5” black and white prints of my collection.

That was the very moment the photo bug bit me. I was amazed by Jay’s knowledge of the photographic process and became desperate to learn everything I could from him. The next day Jay took me to Hinsdale Camera Center where I bought a Yankee developing tank and the necessary chemicals so I could also develop film. He taught me how to mix the chemicals and to develop film.

My father gave me a simple 35mm camera that one of his patients had given him. I was soon taking pictures of anything and everything just so I could retreat to the darkroom and experience the magical process of developing the film and seeing the results.

The Summer between eight grade and freshman year, Jay’s family moved to Clarendon Hills a few miles away. In addition to his photographic skills, Jay was also a gifted athlete. He was making photographs of the gymnastics and swim team for the school coaches. Because of the move from Hinsdale to Clarendon Hills, Jay’s darkroom would be temporarily unavailable so we set up his equipment in my basement bathroom. That summer Jay and I spend countless hours developing film and making little prints.

When Jay’s family was all settled into their new home, Jay took his darkroom equipment back. I was now totally hooked on photography with no enlarger of my own. My dad bought me a used Omega D2 enlarger and all of the developing trays and assorted accessories necessary to produce prints on my own. I now had my own darkroom in the little basement bathroom!

Go to the Archie Lieberman Story to see what happened next.

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