I recently found myself in another quandary of sorts. Having just returned from six weeks on the road, I was feeling rather traveled out and more than a bit hesitant about getting on a plane for a two day trip to the east coast. Our swimming excursion to Arizona back in April had somewhat more than served as my once a year (or less) tussle with airlines and the TSA. I have grown un-fond of flying, although I will do it if I have to. I do not like the idea of being high up in the air in a metal tube like some message in a pneumatic delivery system- locked in, whisked through some vacuum and spit out at the other end to wander through some maze of escalators and food courts whilst you collect your thoughts and try and figure out what time it is. I resent ever so much more the whole process of being vetted for terrorist tendencies that is required of most flyers. Since I do not fly on any kind of regular basis, getting the TSA precheck certification seems ridiculous. And I determined a while ago, when first confronted with getting a full body scan, that enough was enough, and from the start I have always refused to comply with their request that I simply step inside, hold up my hands and surrender to the electronic probe.
I believe what the TSA calls this is opting out- I would like to think of it as not giving in. In truth though, one is simply not given much of a choice here. You can either get scanned or get patted down. Either way one is being demeaned and diminished. But I would like to think that if enough people opted out, the whole system would be mired and bogged down in its own misdirected paranoia. As it was this time through, they shut down an entire check through line to deal with my option. For some unexplained reason, the little cloth pad that that had been wiped on the patter’s latex gloves after passing over my clothes and then inserted into the magic checking machine had indicated that some foreign substance not to its liking had been detected and I got to be rubbed down again. For some reason the second time through did not turn up the same (or any) adverse result. Fortunately, I had plenty of time to spare till my flight was leaving, so I was neither panicked about that, nor worried about the possibility that they might find something approaching what D.B. Cooper or the underwear bomber had in mind when they purchased their tickets to ride. I was, after all, going to see friends I hadn’t seen in forty years, and surprisingly enough I was actually really looking forward to getting there.
The there I was heading to was actually a place that I had just been to as a side trip on my recent six week driving odyssey. The serendipity of the focus of that journey did not carry over to this particular detour, and what I saw there was a bunch of new buildings and a place without the people who had made the Penland School of Crafts a special locale and memory for me. Having just returned home from the big trip barely two weeks before, I got a call from one of my classmates that the new photography building at Penland was being dedicated this past weekend and named after our teacher, Evon Streetman, who had founded the photography program there back in the sixties. Evon is one of a handful of teachers I’ve had through the years who has remained in my thoughts as the decades have rolled on. The thought of getting to see her as well as the gang from the spring 1977 session was really tempting- when one of my classmates offered his air miles to get me there I didn’t have to give it a second thought.
What I did have to do before flight time was go into Seattle to get some photo supplies and to get back home and start scanning and printing the negatives I’d unearthed from my year at the school. For the next three days I flew back two score years and taxed and tested my memory of the people and events I was now wading through visions and images of. Some names came back like they had been learned only yesterday- others refused to surface no matter what mnemonic trick I threw at it. There were a few pictured events that I had forgotten about and one that I had no recollection of at all. What I did see in all that I scanned and printed though was a strong sense of documentation that I had not recognized before. I also began to see a storytelling aspect to my photography that I had not recognized back then. As I used the basic elements of scanning at a higher resolution and the primary photoshop filters of shadow and highlight and contrast and brightness as well as a sharpening feature, along with a little bit of cleaning to remove dust and scratches, I was starting to see some of these images as I had not seen them before, and some images that I had previously ignored were now getting printed for the very first time.
And then it was time to go, and time to arrive, and time for the reminiscences to begin. What have you been doing and where have you been and why does it seem as though we had only parted ways a few days ago instead the long and diverse 40 years that have since passed? There had been six people in our spring class- four met and rode up together in one van. We were meeting the fifth at the school. I was the last to see our sixth classmate back in 1980 and have not been able to track her down since. We had plenty to talk about on the two and a half hour trip up and plenty to say as we arrived at the school and marveled at and discussed how things had changed there. And then our fifth classmate arrived and we had to recreate a class photo we had taken on a couch on the front porch of what had back then been the photography building and a dorm. Then it was lunch at the dining hall, which had not changed much, and then up to the new photography building which had been trees and a hillside back in the time of our photo-schooling.
And then we walked in on the luncheon for the board and the donors who had made these new spaces possible. And then it was that it came to Evon’s attention that this gaggle of riff raff from the past had arrived to share this day and time with her again. And then there was the dedication, and more reminiscences, and the sharing and gifting to Evon of the big book of photos I had dragged along. And then we were heading back to Charlotte with another big bag of Penland memories to tote back with us. And yes, I wouldn’t have missed it all for the world.