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Free Range: Black and white

By Felicia Morgan

AW and his wife were friends of my husband and me back when we lived a regular life about a billion years ago. We had jobs and children and lives that included PTA meetings and kiddie parties in between hard living and wild times. We all spent a lot of time riding with a particular motorcycle club while holding down good jobs and paying mortgages. Life was good.

One day AW and his wife had a garage sale going on so we poked around the tables of stuff when suddenly AW said, “Hey, Flea; here. You need this.” He shoved an odd-looking apparatus my way, “and you need this stuff too. It all goes together but I have no idea what it is.” He added a box of plastic trays and gadgets I couldn’t identify and insisted I put it in the truck. I was perplexed but if AW said you needed something, you just didn’t argue. We loaded the crap up and I set about trying to figure what the heck it was.

I’d always been interested in photography, particularly the developing process, and after a bit of research discovered the pile of stuff that cluttered up my spare room for a time was everything I needed to set up a darkroom, which thrilled the hell out of me. I immediately enrolled for classes at the local junior college. I became obsessed with learning how to turn a roll of Kodak 200 ISO black-and-white film, and the world as I saw it, into something resembling art.

I continued with classes for the next few years mostly because the school allowed full use of their facility, which included a professional studio as well as a developing lab and enlarging equipment, though I eventually turned my master bath into a perfectly functioning darkroom thanks to the equipment AW had gifted me. My husband grumbled that I’d completely ruined his favorite room of the house since I had no sensitivity to his basic needs for a “reading room.” He eventually granted me squatter’s rights, relocating his personal items to the main bath since I’d spend days on end with the door locked in ours. There were trays of fixers and developers on the counter and boxes of printing paper stacked on the back of the toilet. He worried the neighbors would think we were tweakers since the bathroom window was covered in tin foil. An eerie red glow radiated from under the bathroom door all hours of the day and night as I obsessively mastered the print and develop process.

Word got around quickly when I had studio time at school and friends would show up with props in hand for portrait shoots. Parents would dress little darlings in their best duds and hike across campus to patiently sit under the hot lights as I practiced with slave and master settings on the remote flashes. Other acquaintances messed around the hallways trying to figure out how to get chopped Panheads with long front ends into the elevator so their darlings could also be preserved on film. Professors never told me no, though I have to admit there were very few requests for permission. Instead I employed the attitude that it was better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, so mostly I made appointments during the quiet times on campus and held my breath as we pushed the boundaries of school policy.

Eventually a friend in a motorcycle club asked if I’d shoot a party for his club. Then it turned into shooting runs. And then there was a murdered prospect’s funeral. The responsibility of capturing the reality of that one event was gripping. I stood along the roadsides, friends’ sides and graveside while shooting frame after frame of grief-stricken riders as they mourned the needless loss of a very loved member of the riding community. The local paper asked for my photos and the club gave their blessings, but developing 26 rolls took too long and I refused to hand the film over to their processors, so they made other arrangements. Instead I used the images in the photo essay required for the journalism class that semester and I got an A+. The professor took me aside and warned about the dangers of becoming involved in the lifestyle I was shooting, maintaining journalistic integrity, and learning how to disassociate. He shared some legal advice as well.

Recently AW tracked me down. He’s relocated, remarried and reconnecting with riding friends from back in the day. I shared the story about the path that’s led me to this place in time, but he didn’t recall the gift. Still, I’m glad to thank him for his contribution to the amazing life I live, and love, today—all due to a box of crap at a garage sale.

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