After the Flood

A flood destroyed the great majority of artwork and photography that I made from the 1970s to the mid-1980s. My ex-wife belittled my photography as a waste of time and space. She put nearly everything I had done in the damp basement of our rented house in Albany, Oregon. I was unaware that she had moved my numerous boxes of slides. A sudden torrential Oregon rain caused the water table to rise about five feet filling the basement with sewage and destroying all but a few boxes of my images that sat on a high shelf. I waded through chest-high mud to retrieve them. I was so discouraged and upset by the loss that I abandoned photography for almost 19 years. I continued to take snapshots of my children.

Wading through the flood was a grossly disgusting experience. I saved about 400 slides, three-fourths of which are now on my website. About 50 of them were pictures of my first child, David, who passed away from a brain tumor when he was three years old. Only about a dozen slides from my pilgrimage were salvageable. The rest numbering about 1500 were buried in mud and lost. Following the flood, I was preoccupied with my high-pressure jobs at Intel and Microsoft for a period of 15 years. I barely had time for anything else besides work and my two children. I was their sole custodial parent beginning when they were ages eight and ten respectively.

Nine years ago, I acquired a pro-level film scanner. The scanner had built-in capability to remove small defects and scratches from film transparencies. It took anywhere between ten to 40 hours per image to restore what survived from that period. That represented about 400 images out of many thousands. The scanner can’t do anything about large gunk stuck to a slide or negative. I learned how to restore and retouch images mostly by trial and error. The effort took almost a year.I was self-taught in both photography and computers. I never took any classes in either one preferring to learn from books and simple explorations of the medium itself. When it became a necessity to learn how to restore damaged film I obtained the software and hardware tools and read books on how to use them. I scanned and rescanned many slides repeatedly until my skill level improved and I was able to make better quality scans.

I had to let go of hurt and grief in order to move forward. I began to think of every image as if it was a completely new creation. I was using new tools and no longer relying on a camera, slide copier, or darkroom. I disdain computerized effects and don’t use them. They’re too easy and look fake. When I paint digitally, I use a pressure sensitive pen tablet as nearly all artists who work with computers also do. You can make it work exactly like a real pen or brush so it feels very natural.

Because of a personal tragedy, I acquired certain skills that enabled me to perform a service. These pages are examples of what I’ve done recently: Pilgrimage to the House of the Báb, a faded and restored filmstrip, and Views of Akká, a website that presents a book of historical interest. Those web pages get 1000s of visitors.

The prizes of our society are reserved for outer, not inner, achievements. Scant are the trophies given for reconciling all the forces that compete to direct our development, although working toward such a reconciliation hour by demanding hour, day by triumphant day, year by exciting year is what underlies all growth of the personality. The proper artistic response to digital technology is to embrace it as a new window on everything that’s eternally human, and to use it with passion, wisdom, fearlessness and joy. – Ralph Lombreglia, in Atlantic Unbound

Bestow upon me a heart which, like unto glass, may be illumined with the light of Thy love, and confer upon me thoughts which may change this world into a rose garden through the outpourings of heavenly grace.
Compilation: Baha’i Prayers, p. 71