Photographer Jerry Wolford once worked as a photojournalist for the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. In the early days, the paper’s photographers shot black-and-white film, developing it themselves before anything went to print. Of course, with time comes change, and eventually, the paper ceased using black-and-white film in favor of color. Eventually, after switching to digital, the darkroom shut down. Wolford remembers those early times with fondness. He no longer shoots for the paper, instead working as a commercial photographer. However, the roots from those days are still firmly planted in Wolford, and not too long ago, he embarked on a project that would resuscitate the joy he had then.
Wolford rescued an old Nikon F2S Photomic film camera from his friend’s attic, grabbed a roll of Ilford HP5 black-and-white film and went on an adventure to Greensboro’s Glenwood neighborhood, which he described to In Sight as a “historic, working-class community, richly interwoven with a diverse mix of people.”
When Wolford worked as a photojournalist, he says, “Glenwood had always been my mecca, my favorite place for documenting city life. To me, this small, century-old community was both pure and authentic to what Greensboro was. ” Going back to Glenwood, Wolford felt as though he was traveling back in time.
Here’s how Wolford described the feeling:
“On this journey, I was the guide; the Nikon was my solace. My camera and I, we traveled back in time together.
“It reminded me of the movie ‘Back To The Future.’ We time-traveled to 1983 when I was this skinny kid at Randleman High with big dreams of owning a pro camera instead of the school’s Pentax. Back then, I felt that a specific camera was more important than how to ‘see’ with it.
“We also time-traveled to 2014, when I was a staff photojournalist for the News & Record, scouring Glenwood looking for life-in-a-moment photos. That life of daily photojournalism in some ways seems so distant now.”
He found Glenwood still had the magnetism it used to have for him. It was still the special place he remembered from his time working as a photojournalist. He said, “Glenwood is special. Some struggle, some don’t, but they all know how to look after one another. The moments I discovered during those two days back that up. But they revealed themselves to me slowly. Still, I had faith. I knew I’d find moments like these in Glenwood. The neighborhood has never failed me.”
Over the course of two days, Wolford limited himself to one roll of film, just 36 exposures, to document the moments unfolding before his eyes. In the process, he not only revisited one of the places most special to him, but he also regained the pleasure film photography gave him back when he first discovered it.
As Wolford says: “One of photography’s real joys comes at the light table with your loupe in your hand. Nothing is quite as exhilarating as having a light shine through 36 frames of silver as you soak in your triumphs and failures. It all comes crashing in on you at once — nine hours of work all condensed into one roll of film.
“I had forgotten this joy. I found nine nice images on the roll. Nine out of 36. My old Nikon reminded me to embrace the discipline that one roll of film forces upon you. That challenge was both frustrating and exhilarating at the same time.
“I felt a real sense of discovery. I had [returned] to my roots where skill always involved faith, where looking back was a sin, where the next image was all that mattered in anything you did.
“I had once again become a photo troubadour rambling through a neighborhood looking for those fascinating moments of life.
“After two days, cradling my trusty hunk of gears and glass, I had captured nine keepers on a roll of 36, and those keepers told a story through photos about a neighborhood I had come to love.”
Wolford had one more realization, though: He needed more film because he felt the pull to get back out and make even more photographs.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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