JACKSONVILLE — After 33 years teaching at Jacksonville Elementary, Larry Smith was caught in the middle of a dilemma: how to share 22,000 slides and negatives with his former pupils?
"They've been sitting for over 40 years in my vault, well — drawers," Smith said with a laugh. "My old darkroom drawers were just stuffed. I've never believed in throwing away negatives if I didn't have to."
After deciding to try Facebook as a way for him to find students and his students to find him, Smith was surprised at how quickly he made contact. "I have a young girl, a former student over in Jerusalem studying Hebrew, and she got so excited when she saw this, she's been pulling down pictures of her classmates and dropping them on her Facebook. Others are doing it, too."
Smith was convinced that also posting his photographs to the Web would have an even greater impact.
For years, as executive director of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association, he had been posting photographs of Boy Scouts and other volunteers on the association's website. He thought adding links to his student photographs seemed to be the next logical step, but he also knew that scanning that many images would take a long time.
He turned to his twin brother, a professional photographer who lives in Washington state. "He has all this wonderful, top-of-the-line scanning equipment," Smith said.
"For about six months, mostly last winter, I would go up to Washington and stay for a week or two at a time, and while I was there I'd set up the scanner with 12 to 15 items at a time, get it going and go about other chores and activities."
The scanner automatically scans the images, separates them and saves them as individual images on the computer.
"With just a little bit of editing, it's all over with," Smith said. "From there I organize them and put them up on the site."
In six months, he managed to scan almost every image.
From his first days of teaching in 1966, Smith always wanted his students to share in his love of photography and, in 1967, he got permission from his principal to set up a darkroom.
"He let me use a broom closet at the old Bigham Knoll school, and I turned it into a real classic darkroom that we used for 16 years."
Smith's fifth-grade students had to qualify to use the darkroom by attending free after-school photography classes he taught.
"They had to take tests and demonstrate they had a level of expertise in order to work in the darkroom," he said.
Once students proved they knew what they were doing, they were allowed to develop their photographs during recess, lunch periods, or, during class, once they had completed their assignments.
"Everyone had to sign up and I had an intercom directly into the darkroom so I always knew what was going on." Smith said.
When Jacksonville Elementary School was getting ready to build a new school, Smith didn't have much trouble convincing the principal, "an old Army photographer," to put in a darkroom. The principal even told Smith to work with the architect and help with the design.
Smith said his only regret is he didn't get copies of the thousands of photographs his students developed.
"I sent their negatives home with them at the end of the year," he said. "I have a few of their pictures, and I've put them up, but other than that, I only wish I had more."
Smith believes that once students begin finding their photographs on his site, many of them will share some of those lost photographs.
Although the student images have been up only for a few weeks, Smith said he was amazed at how quickly they had an effect on his students' lives.
"One of my students is now in Japan, and he was so happy and excited to find photographs of his brother, who was also a student, but had died 10 years ago. That was so meaningful to him."
Another girl, who went through rebellious teenage years and now lives out of state, told Smith because of his website she is reconnecting with her friends and family.
"She said she had gone her own separate way and now she's back, reconnecting, and having a great time doing it."
"This all just started out as sharing," Smith said. "I just wanted the kids to see their pictures, but now — now it's all about the connections."
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.