I have been contemplating whether or not to write this letter for a few months, mainly because the incident happened at the end of the Fall 2013 semester. It revolves around the unauthorized misappropriation, or theft, to bluntly state it, of one of the photo- graphs I submitted for the Brookhaven Photography Student Exhibition last semester. Although I may never see it again, I would like to explain why the picture is so important to me and send a few words to Miss “A,” the person who took my image.
The image was shot on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, at the State Fair of Texas. It was the second time I had been to the fair and my first trip with the Instant Film Society, a local group dedicated to promoting the use of instant film photography. After the group left the fairgrounds for the day, I decided to walk around and take some images for my photography class. As I walked around, I spotted the Top o’ Texas Tower gracefully rising into the sky. I quickly decided that I would take a picture of it, but it had to be just right. I sat next to the fence around the ride and waited for the clouds to be just right and the observation deck to be at the exact height I wanted. About an hour later, everything aligned precisely, and I took the shot.
A few weeks later, as I started gathering my best images to receive feed- back on which I should submit for the student exhibition, I was told that this particular image could work if I was able get the clouds to pop out. I contemplated whether or not to print the image because it seemed to me that I was facing a challenge beyond my darkroom printing skills at the time. I went on to printing the frame once to see the results. Then again, using dodging and burning techniques to make the sky a little darker so the clouds would be visible. After that, something came over me, and I kept making prints until I got the results I wanted. With each attempt, I got varying or unacceptable results. Eight attempts later, I had the perfect print.
A few days before the exhibition was taken down, I heard one of my prints had been taken by someone who left a note that read, “I loved this so much, I had to take it! Sorry, not sorry – ♥ A.” I was shocked. I did not know whether to be mad, because someone actually loved my image so much that they just took it. From the note, it became evident that the thief was probably a girl. There was some writing in pink marker along with detail in blue pen. That also led me to think whoever set their eye on the print actually thought about what they were going to do. The print must have invoked some feeling so strong they were compelled to risk getting in trouble for stealing it. So I have a few words for this person if she is reading this:
Miss “A,” It’s obvious that the print of the Top o’ Texas Tower you took off the student exhibition wall means some- thing to you, otherwise you would not have taken it, and I’d still have it. It probably means more to you in some ways than it did to me. There are a few things that might make you appreciate your stolen treasure more.
The print is a real silver gelatin black-and-white print made in a dark- room and was taken with a 35mm film camera. What does that mean? Well, it means that the entire process was done the old-fashioned way: I shot the image, developed the film and made the print myself with no machines or computer assistance. The print itself took several attempts to get just right to submit for the exhibition. Each attempt translates to about half an hour, from planning the image to developing to drying.
Why so long? Because through very careful planning, the background had to be exposed for additional time to make the clouds darker using a process called burning. Variations are done by allowing more or less light to reach the paper, making parts of the image darker or lighter, respectively. Additionally, I was not always able to see minor, but visible, defects in the lighting of the prints until they were brought out into daylight – the prints were made in the darkroom photography lab. The hardest parts were the gaps where the sky peeks through the observation deck.
Besides taking more time and effort to create than the other four entries I submitted combined, the final image had a certain aesthetic and futuristic feel to it that made it my most prized entry to the exhibition. The clouds were perfect, and I was able to create a perfect gradient of the shadow from the bottom side of the observation deck. I do have the other prints. A couple are OK, but none come close to the print you took.
I guess what I want you to under- stand is that the print is one-of-a-kind. I did not just click a few buttons and print it. In fact, I was not able to achieve the same results in Photoshop. I carefully planned the image each time I tried to print it. The results are not easily reproduced. I may not ever be able to make another just like it.
I hope you understand the significance of that print. Although I am no longer upset and realize I may never see it again, I do have a request: I submitted it to the student exhibition so others could see it because I was so proud of what I had created, so give it its rightful place and display it where it can be seen and enjoyed by others.
P.S. I do thank you for leaving a note behind. It was kind of cute. And at least I know what happened to the print. I know you have it and that it was probably not trashed by accident. I will keep your note as a memento of what you did. But it does not in any way make up for just taking my work.
— Jubenal Aguilar