A young friend of mine, Mackenzee, recently spent a year at the University of Oklahoma. Her time there, particularly her social media posts from the same dormitory where I lived decades ago, left me reminiscing about my own experiences at OU in the early ‘80s.
My educational experiences as an instructor have reinforced what I have always believed, that education is highly individualized — it depends very much on how motivated the student is to absorb what the instructor is offering.
College, by extension, isn’t as valuable as it could be because many people get through it just to get through it. On the occasions when I taught at the college level, students were all over the place — lazy, excited, cynical, fun, bored, motivated, selfish, ambitious.
I will add that as the years have passed, a college degree seems to be worth less than it once was. For a while, the mantra was, “You need a master’s degree,” and now it is, “You need a doctorate.”
In any event, I learned very little of my actual tradecraft from the classes I took. The overwhelming majority of my skills came from my motivation to be a journalist — shooting, working in the darkroom, getting published in the yearbook and the student newspaper and getting work from various media. I couldn’t wait until a journalism class was over so I could go do some journalism.
The best things journalism classes taught me were ethics, law and the history of journalism.
I had in mind during my college years that the yearbook and magazine represented better quality than the newspaper, so much of the time, I tried to get the sharpest and finest quality from my work, often using very fine-grain films, and preferred to sell it to glossy publications instead of dailies.
Having been a newspaper intern in the summers of 1982 and 1983, I felt that newspaper photography was, as a fellow photographer said to me at the time, “meatball photography.”
Eventually, I discovered I could get into newspapers more often and reach a bigger audience, so I became a newspaper convert.
My film of choice was usually Kodak Tri-X Pan Film, rated at about ISO 250, souped (photographer lingo for “processed”) in Kodak Microdol-X developer, using the 1:3 dilution at 75 degrees for 13 minutes — thought at the time to produce better grain and sharpness. I experimented with all kinds of products but came back to those again and again. It amazes and amuses me that I can remember those numbers, and the actual smell of Microdol-X developer, to this day, even though I haven’t had a roll of film pass through my hands in 15 years.
I had three camera bodies in college: a Nikon FM, which I bought in January 1982; a Nikon FM2, which I got in 1983; and a Nikon FE2, bought in 1984 when a friend suggested it instead of another FM2. All of them had the MD-12 motor drive.
I had four lenses in my basic bag through college: a 28mm f/2.8 Nikkor, a 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor, a 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor and a 200mm f/4 Nikkor. The 105mm was my go-to favorite since it was sharp, light, bright and easy to use. Near the end of my college life, I got a 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor.
I used the darkroom in Copeland Hall, which was shared by newspaper and yearbook students, and which was often quite a mess. Most photographers and dilettantes never understood that the chemicals – developer, fixer, stop bath, wetting agent, toner – were anything other than water and tended to spill them, contaminate them and use them up without replacing them. I became the de facto manager of the darkroom and cleaned it all the time.
I had a crush on at least four of our Sooner Yearbook staffers, but no one on the Oklahoma Daily staff. I never dated any of them, though I certainly tried, and was mostly alone during my time in college.
I used all my own darkroom gear, including tanks, reels and chemicals, since I could almost guarantee the other photographers would compromise the supplies in the darkroom. During finals week in an art class in 1983, I souped some slide film in the chemistry they provided, which had been contaminated, and which ruined my film, forcing an urgent reshoot.
In the fall of 1985, I got a call from The Shawnee News-Star and started my career as a news photographer.
In 1988, I came to The Ada News, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Richard R. Barron has been a photojournalist for more than 30 years. In that time, he has chronicled multiple generations of Adans and documented decades of local history. Contact Richard at email@example.com.