Nikki in the Bubble

Talk about the meaning of any photograph.

As I watched my first black and white print slowly emerge from nothingness, the methodical ticking of the timer behind me, I smiled as a wave of excitement passed through me. Without thinking, I began to dance to the rhythm of the clock. From the moment I developed my first print, I have been captivated by photography: the smell of darkroom chemicals, the feel of a slippery print between my fingertips, and the way that the safelight makes everything look black and white, transporting me back in time to an old movie. After two years and hundreds of prints, I still do a little dance every time I watch a print materialize in the developer. For me, manipulative photography is a unique and effective means of communication, a way to express my ideas and opinions about the world. I use “trick” photography techniques – including double-printing, superimposing negatives, dodging, and burning – as tools with which to transform my intangible ideas into concrete images. I approach my photography by first deciding upon a thought or feeling I want to express, or a statement that I want to make. I visualize the final picture, and work backwards to figure out how to create it. I chose this picture of my six-year-old sister, Nikki, for two reasons. First, it demonstrates how much time and energy I devote to photography. More significantly, it exemplifies how I use photography to express abstract concepts visually. With this photograph, I am conveying my thoughts and feelings about the changing nature of growing up. Like most kids, I hear stories from my parents about the “good old days,” where life was easy and kids were carefree. When I compare these stories to my life and other teenagers around me, it seems that we are growing up and maturing much faster. I see this already in my sister, who is only six. Living in a house with two teenage brothers, she has already started to move away from childhood. But she seems conflicted about this, desperately trying to balance her desire to be more “grown up” with a competing desire to retain her childlike nature. I, too, have a cautionary voice inside of my head. It reminds me, as I take on more and more academic and community responsibilities, to keep things in perspective, to remember to have fun, and to enjoy the lighter side of life. It is this tension, this balance between maturity and childhood, seriousness and fun, that I was trying to capture with this photograph. I had a vision of my sister, Nikki, blowing bubbles, with an image of herself inside one of the rising bubbles. As she blows the bubbles upwards, symbolically pushing herself away from childhood into a more adult world, another part of her is reluctant to grow up. The juxtaposition of her concerned expression as she blows bubbles with her look of anxiety as she attempts to break out of the rising bubble serves to suggest this inner struggle. The image of her trapped in the bubble, frantically trying to escape, symbolizes the subconscious voice inside her head urging her not to grow up too fast, not to give up her innocent, playful side. The technical process of transforming this idea into an actual photograph was a real challenge. I needed a picture of my sister blowing the perfect-sized bubble in a very specific position, with a facial expression that would indicate a feeling of angst and uncertainty. Not surprisingly, given that she is only six years old, it took almost a hundred pictures and the promise of chocolate chip cookies to get it just right. I also needed an image of Nikki crouching down, pretending to be stuck inside of a bubble, this time with an expression of panic. Another twenty-five pictures; more cookies. I then had to figure out how to print the two negatives taken under different lighting conditions on the same piece of paper, sized and aligned correctly, without losing print quality. I spent days attempting to create on paper exactly what was in my head. I made over thirty prints, but not one was quite right. One Friday, after basketball practice, I asked my photography teacher for the darkroom key. After experimenting with a few new techniques and creating ten or so more failed prints, I still could not get it right. With the school now closed and all of the students and teachers gone, I decided that I would not leave the darkroom until I had perfected the photograph. On the twenty-first try, I slipped the still blank paper into the developer with anticipation and turned the timer to two minutes. As the rhythmic ticking of the clock echoed like a drum through the vast emptiness of the deserted school, I, alone in the darkroom, watched as the exact vision inside my head materialized on the paper. With a smile of relief and a sigh of accomplishment, I began my dance.

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