JACC No. 10: The swimming race and the photo darkroom

April 18, 2017

A series of my most memorable moments with the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

My early days with JACC the organization held its annual conventions at the old Hacienda Inn in Fresno. The hotel, which has since been razed, was inexpensive and the theory was to have our conventions in the center of the state so as many community colleges as possible could drive the distance there.

The conventions feature a variety of workshops and deadline-based contests for students. We call the contests on-the-spot contests because they are presented with deadline pressure and were judged and awarded that same weekend. Another kind of contest, called mail-in contests featured competition among the works created throughout the school year in student publications. Those are judged before the convention and awards are announced during the convention.

Much of the work is done by faculty advisers on a volunteer basis. One year I was in charge of organizing the event for sports writing and sports photo on-the-spot competitions. Of course, we are all at a hotel near nowhere. In fact, the only business I can remember being anywhere close was a liquor store that made money only two weekends a year: New Year’s Eve and the JACC convention when under-aged students illegally purchased liquor.

So, I had planned to bus students to an all-Fresno high school track meet being held the weekend we were there. The only problem is that the bus company we had contracted with screwed up dates and at the last minute we learned that there were no buses coming. What to do?

There were some non-competing students fooling around in the small hotel swimming pool, so we staged a friendly swimming completion as photographers surrounded the kind-shaped pool. There was some grumbling, but, hey, we had SOMETHING for the writers and photographers.

One thing I learned early was that when things do not work out the way you plan –and they will—adjust and be creative.

Another thing I remember about those early conferences was how we handled darkrooms for 50 or 60 photographers, who had three contests (news, sports, and feature) they could compete in.

In those days, some of us had Kodak Ektamatic processers to develop photos. You fed an exposed piece of photo paper into one end of the machine and it roller-coasted through a series of developers and fixers and came out fully developed in a little over 30 seconds. The paper was damp and it would slowly continue to develop over days until it was unusable, especially if exposed to light for extended periods, but it was good enough for the weekend and for judging.

We took over a regular conference meeting room, lined the windows with black plastic to block any light, covered the floor with more black plastic to protect the carpets, lined the room with tables with enlargers, and placed four for five Ektamatic processers in the middle of the room. Bring in a few red lights so you could sort of see your way around and you had a darkroom. The place would soon stink of developer and fixer, but that was the hotel’s problem.

The photographers would take their black and white photos and develop negatives in their own rooms –at some regional conferences entire bathrooms were appropriated—and then showed up at the appointed hour waiting to get into the darkroom to print their entries. We could accommodate about 10-15 students at a time and the darkroom was always just outside the pool area. They would swim until their turn came up, run into the darkroom for 10 minutes and run as many exposed sheets of paper they could through the machines in the time allotted, pick their best and turn it in and jump back into the pool until it was time for the next contest/darkroom time.

I still remember this one year when this particularly sexy young coed wore the skimpiest white bikini while awaiting her turn in the darkroom, but that is another story best not told here.

Next up: No. 9: Getting a thesis topic

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