Paper calibrations, filters, and memories: The subject and the photographer

June 13, 2007

Paper Calibrations with JuniusHis name is Junius, and I have hundreds of photographs of him. Not different photographs, but the same one printed over and over, each about 3.25″ x 2.25″ and each with handwritten notes on the back.

I found this photo cache in large pocket folder full of negatives and contact sheets from the summer I began learning how to use my new 35 mm camera — a Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic with 50mm/f 1.4 that cost more than several months of rent. I was also learning how to develop my own negatives and print my own black and white photos.

The photos of Junius were in a manila envelope marked “paper calibrations” because he was the subject for one of my darkroom projects, which involved printing the same photo on four different grades of paper, using different exposures and developing times. The notes on the back of the photos recorded this data.

Many things came easily to me back then, but darkroom work required a kind of discipline and attention to detail that, at first, made it seem monotonous and boring. Eventually, however, I mastered the routines and the skills and could lose myself in my work – spend hours in the darkroom, unaware of how much time had passed.

Photography confronted me with a different kind of challenge, one that demanded courage and alertness. I often had to get physically close to people I didn’t know in order to take a well-composed photo, and I found this discomforting. Candid shots also required me to be alert and prepared; taking one was very different from lining up family members and telling everyone to say “cheese.”

FiltersJunius was a photographer and aspiring filmmaker; he was one of those familiar campus figures everyone seemed to know, perhaps because he spent so much time hanging out on the Wisconsin Union Terrace and in the Rathskellar. Amiable, dashing, more than a bit of a ladies man, and someone who often seemed to have no visible means of support, he was an odd sort of friend for an uptight, aspiring photographer who still wore pleated skirts and penny loafers.

I can’t remember how we met, but he became not only a friend, but a bit of a mentor. That summer he’d take me out on two-person photo shoots, pointing out subjects and insisting I take a photo “now” and that I get “closer” the next time. That’s why I have a pocket folder full of contact sheets with photos of memorable campus characters from a bygone era, some of whom are still around, and some of whom, like Snowball the window washer, left the party long ago.

Although he seemed to live off the generosity of a series of girlfriends, with one exception, Junius never demanded anything from me but attention and hard work. Once, when he was between girlfriends, he asked my roommate and me if he could stay at our apartment for a few days. We acquiesced, even though we worried about rumors he might rip us off. He didn’t abscond with anything, but he did teach us how to make popovers. And he quickly found a new girlfriend and stopped spending his nights on our living room floor and washing out his underwear by hand in our bathroom sink.

After that summer, I didn’t see Junius very often. I had a steady boyfriend (someone I met when I was taking photos on the Memorial Union Terrace) and was spending more time learning darkroom techniques than taking photographs on the street. Whenever I did see him, Junius was accompanied by his camera. I still have some copies of photographs he took of armed National Guardsmen lining State Street.

After the Sterling Hall bombing in August 1970, I lost my access to the darkrooms in the Humanities Building. Desolate, I abandoned photography for a while. When I resumed, I started shooting in color and letting someone else process my film. Things change.

Over the years, I’ve seen Junius a few times, but he no longer lives in Madison. I don’t know if he’s gone digital, or if he even still takes photographs. All I know is that every time I’ve seen him since that summer, he’s talked about making a documentary about Otis Redding. Last year, a mutual acquaintance told me Junius was living in another state, gave me an address for him, and told me Junius was still trying to raise funds to make his film. Some things never change.

Note: For details about the two photographs accompanying this post, please check out my Flickr photostream where I’ve posted the photos of the subject and the photographer.

Update (November 10, 2013): Junius died in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 16, 2007. An obituary in the Star Tribune, refers to him as DeJunius. Long ago, Junius told me his real first name was Donald. That’s the way it’s listed on the records of his marriage and in the SSDI (Social Security Death Index). The obituary lists many accomplishments, but a documentary about Otis Redding is not one of them.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

waxing america July 16, 2007 at 6:39 pm

Junius T. Hughes to be percise

Innourish body & soul September 20, 2011 at 11:52 am

Don’t know why but this name just popped into my head yesterday as I am driving down Great North Road In Auckland, New Zealand, where I live. I knew Junius. He brought Taj Mahal to my apartment in Madison. I was the only white face in the room. Taj was in his back to Africa period. I worked at Discount Records and just loved Taj Mahal and here he was playing music in my lounge!

I ran into Taj Mahal at The Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa about 5 years back. He had mellowed. I heard he loves New Zealand but had no idea I’d be living here in “God’s Zone.” I reminded him of the night Junius brought him over with the rest of his crew. Taj said yes, I was in Madison in 1970 and I have no doubt I was at your house. Come and give me a hug pretty lady!” I remember a lot about Madison at that time. And Junius if you read this well, I have a bone to chew with you!

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