Sunday, June 14, 2009

My first photography job!

What a wonderful surprise I had the other night while photographing a multiple-reunion party for Lakeside School. Lakeside does it right and every year invites every class that has ever graduated from the school, in 5 year increments, back for a reunion party. There were quite a few classmates from 1959 and about 15 or so from the Class of '49. One of those was Richard Wheeler. I noticed him and he looked very familiar to me. I glanced at his name tag and realized who it was. I took the photo and then told everyone, "By the way, this was the man who gave me my first job as a photographer in 1977!" They all smiled and I shook Richard's hand, told him who I was and he broke into a broad grin. I had grown up with his daughter Wendy; in fact I was madly in love with her in first grade when I was 6 years old! He asked how my mom was doing and I said very well. He remarked what a beauty she used to be with her striking red hair. I told him her hair was a little softer tone of red these days but she was still very beautiful. It was so great to see him and it was also kind of weird to call him by his first name instead of "Mr. Wheeler". My parents only had about 3 friends that I ever called by their first names.

The day after I graduated from Bellevue High School in 1977, Richard Wheeler called me up. He ran Wallace & Wheeler Real Estate in downtown Bellevue. He told me that he loved my photography in the yearbook. I appreciated his compliment because as editor of the yearbook I had put 500 more photos in the book than had ever been in a BHS yearbook before (I actually had enough free time in those days to check up on stuff like that!). To me, photographs are windows for time and the more of those you have, the more clearly you can see a moment and remember it more distinctly.

Richard wanted me to come work for him as a photographer. Really? Me? A budding portrait photographer working for a well known local business owner? What did he need me to do I wondered, portraits of agents or owners perhaps? Nope. Houses. Pictures of houses. He said he'd pay me $5 a picture for photographs of homes for their "Homemaker's Showcase" monthly magazine. I was psyched. They gave me addresses of brand new homes all over the Eastside and I would drive around in my brother's 1970 Ford (piece of junk) Maverick, take pictures, then go home, process the film and then print the black & white photos in my darkroom. How classic is that? I got to the point where I could really crank out a lot of photos. So much so that he wanted to give me a pay cut later on! College though came along before that little photo recession was about to hit.

I still have the camera and the enlarger that I used that summer. Neither have been used for years but are a nice part of my miniature "Paul Dudley- The Photographer" museum, which also includes a number of other photographic enlargers and various cameras that you actually had to open up an put something in and take something out of occasionally. Strange technology that I still make use of for some work. Film is still beautiful. As long as it still looks cool on paper and they still make it, I'll shoot it even if it's just for personal projects.

So meanwhile, back at the reunion after my exhaustingly long sidebar, Richard pulled his cell phone out and said, "Let's call Wendy." I haven't talked to Wendy in 25 years and so I took Richard's phone and listened to it ringing. Wendy of course recognized her dad's phone number but not my strange voice. I said, "I was in love with you in 1st grade." She sort of have half gasped and then I said, "This is Paul Dudley" and she screamed. Not a blood-curdling-roller coster scream but one of those, "Oh my God!" screams that are quite pleasant actually. We exchanged contact information and I encouraged her to join Facebook so it would easy to share photographs of each other's families. This morning I noticed she had her page up and soon there I was...her first friend. Her first friend...from first grade!

I'm not sure what changed about my feelings for Wendy when I was 6. Perhaps I just got preoccupied all the things that 1st graders get preoccupied with like playing football, soccer, and baseball. We would have played basketball at school but the hoop was way to high! We also played boys-chase-girls or girls-chase-boys. If we caught them we were supposed to kiss them but most boys were too frightened to catch them. And when they chased us? Only a few of us smart ones stumbled on purpose.

Most boys ran like they were trying to escape a flood.


  1. What a great story. It's always nice to hear stories from the old days - and from others who graduated from Bellevue High ...