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Professional photographer Jamie Maldonado reflects on photography assignments, and shares tips and hints on how to improve your photography. 

A box full of negatives, Part 2

For part 1, scroll down the main blog page or click here!

I'm not sure I can help you properly understand exactly what having full-time access to an SLR was like for me in 1997. Even the cheapest SLRs were hopelessly out of reach for me financially. Even casual access was enough to justify any awkwardness or difficulty being a yearbook staff member could have meant. (For what it's worth, it was spectacular.) For me to be handed that Rebel (the FIRST camera labeled Rebel, for the record), a couple of lenses and a cruddy flash was almost akin to winning the lottery.

The pile o' negatives. There's a lot more here than it looks like. Each strip represents a roll of film.

And so I embarked on a year that also saw me using a Rebel Xs before finally settling on a brand new Rebel G and a 540 EZ flash. I spit through dozens of rolls of film and expanded my world with every event and moment I documented. Those photos are technically pretty awful, but they represent so much growth and experience – artistically and personally. And they happen to represent a year of everyone else's lives, too. 

Games, classwork, presentations, concerts, parades, pep rallies, graduation … all the stuff you'd expect from a year of school. (Though I did pass the camera off for prom, and obviously had to give it up for most of graduation.) I photographed awkward freshmen, proud and confident seniors and everyone in between. I attempted to snap a picture of everyone I possibly could at Kilgore High School. Some turned out surprisingly nice, and many are predictably hideous.

After the whirlwind of producing a yearbook with a skeleton staff (that's a whole other story), the negatives wound up in a manilla envelope, which floated around the office for much of the next year, before I managed to rescue it from oblivion on a post-graduation visit. 

I took the negatives home and placed them in an old Nike shoebox that has since followed me around through the years, in storage, in a closet or under a bed. A couple of years ago, I took the box out and realized how curious I had become about its contents, and how much I had forgotten about the things I experienced in my earliest days behind the lens. 

Starting with my Class of 1998, every one of these students have recently come around to their 10-year reunions, concluding with last year's 2000-2001 reunion. Through social networking, so many of us have reconnected, sometimes after years of silence. 

"How cool would it be," I thought, "to scan all of these and put them online for all the people I am reconnecting with."

It was surprisingly fun for me to dig through these images, even if I was not always fond of high school. So I began scanning negatives, and soon realized how overwhelming it would be to ever digitize these in a reasonable amount of time. It was around then I discovered Scan Cafe, via a discount code linked on a website.

I generated a little interest with a Facebook note, which lead to a few kind donations, which encouraged me to eventually take the plunge. I could only afford to scan maybe a third of the box, but it was a neat experience. Copies of the first batch of scans are on their way to the contributors, and I hope they enjoy their historic value as much as I do.

As busy as I've been it's been slow going, not to mention eating nearly $200 scanning them was a bit of a blow to my enthusiasm. But hopefully they will enjoyed, and maybe we can gather some extra funding to help plow through the rest of the box, and to figure out a way to share these images between those interested.

I could embark on a digital vs. film debate here, but the real story is about photography. Photography dragged me out of my high school shell. A camera introduced me to hundreds of classmates (and now countless others). Wanting good photographs lead me to directing people and boldly seeking out pictures I might normally have shied away from. Every frustration over a missed shot – and conversely, ever success – led to a new lesson. And now these almost-discarded negatives are helping me and others relive and even appreciate a part of our shared past.

And trust me, if it helps me appreciate high school, it's pretty profound.