Darkroom treasures shared

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February 16, 2018 - 12:00 AM

HUMBOLDT — Memories of yesteryear are as popular on social media these days as that of political discourse or stories of junior’s latest antics.
A couple of Facebook pages with a local flavor include “Allen County Memories” and “Remember in Iola…” The Register’s “Chronicles of Allen County” Facebook page that regularly posts pictures from old negatives has drawn hundreds of followers over the past year.
One of the newest Facebook entries, courtesy of Joshua Works, draws on Humboldt High School’s rich history of journalistic excellence.
Works, HHS Class of 1999, has attracted an avid group of followers with his page, “From the Humboldt HS Darkroom.”
The name is a natural fit. The photos are from more than 45 years of negatives accumulated since the school’s darkroom was installed in 1972.
Works has access to more than 50 boxes of negatives, and he intends to go through them all.
“I’m slowly working my way through them, checking every frame of every contact sheet and scanning those I think have some value,” Works said. “I have a couple years of scanning ahead of me.”
As a student photographer and newspaper editor, Works already was familiar with the HHS negative archives.
“I’ve thought a lot about those photos over the years — just selfishly wanting to dig through and see what’s there — but it was the Allen County Chronicles Facebook page that really helped me understand how to give those photos a new life,” he said. “That just clicked for me. It made sense that the best thing would be to share them on Facebook where there’s already the social network built in to discover and discuss them.
“It would be difficult to find a high school photo archive as complete and consistently high-quality than the one at HHS,” he continued. “We were tremendously lucky to have Allen Wilhite at the helm of the journalism department for those 30 years.”

THE PHOTOS are much like one would expect from a student journalism department, complete with images in and out of the classroom, as well as various locations around Humboldt. Most are posed, although “candid” shots are apparent in many of the settings.
“My criteria for choosing a ‘good’ photo is very different than the newspaper or yearbook editor,” he said. “I’m often looking for those shots towards the end of a roll when a photographer just needed to finish the roll. That’s when we see those fun ‘selfie’ type pictures, or groups of friends.
“I’ll have a contact sheet from a football game and there’ll be 30 pictures of blurry football players, but the good ones — the usable ones for my purpose — are those last four or five where the photographer shoots the crowd, or the sidelines.”
“Those aren’t the shots that would have accompanied the story in the newspaper, but they’re great for recognizing people and reminiscing.”
Student assignment rolls are fun to follow as well. Works noted the student photographers would be tasked with taking photos that fit into certain categories — panning shots, still life, etc.
“So you’d get all these interesting shots from around the town,” he said. “It’s a great resource for seeing what Humboldt was like each fall.”
The exercise has given Works a greater appreciation for the creativity his predecessors showed decades earlier.
“There is such an amazing creativity in the early ’70s that I definitely don’t see in the ’90s,” he noted. “It could just be a sign of the times, but even the club group photos in the ’70s were super interesting. They’d take field trips to interesting places around town.”
One memorable pose has a group of students lined up along the Marsh Arch bridge on the west edge of town, and the photographer standing below. Another featured the Cub football team posed among pieces of heavy machinery, or hanging from the end zone uprights.
“In the 90s we got boring and everything is up against the wall in the hallway,” Works noted.

“MY ABSOLUTE favorite photos are a bit of a wild story,” Works said, recounting finding a particular set of prints that were over-exposed, nearly to the point of being unusable.
“Normally I might just skip over it and move on, but I checked the negatives anyway, a bit of a lark,” he said. “I could tell there were some shots of the high school principal, an old man in a recliner, and a little girl’s birthday party.”
The subject was Works’s grandfather, George Works, taken in what’s now Josh’s house, just a room over from where he was scanning the photos decades later.
The young girl was his older sister celebrating her fifth birthday party.
“I assume the photographer was my Uncle Fred, from his senior year of high school, but it was such a treat to discover,” he said.

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