What's In Your Mexican Suitcase?

From Robert Capa to Ray Charles, a personal search for a lost negative

All of this leads me back to my own personal Mexican Suitcase and the search for my long-lost Ray Charles negatives. (Ray Charles. Robert Capa. Hmmmm.)

A few years back, during the height of the frenzy over the Jamie Foxx biopic Ray, I started looking once more for the one contact sheet of negatives I shot of Ray Charles when I was still in college. Charles had come to SUNY-Binghamton in the early eighties and I photographed the concert for the college paper. (I remember it well: my fellow students were boycotting the show because Charles had performed in South Africa, a misguided protest if ever, I thought.) And even though I only had about thirty seconds to make my pictures in the SUNY-B West Gym, I always had the recollection of making a nice image. One nice image that hasn't seen the light of day ever since.

Like everything else from those early days, the Ray Charles shoot got dumped into a box, then a few years later a different box, then a tub, then perhaps even a puffy envelope, and finally a completely different tub to replace a previously cracked one. Like so many photographers, my tubs of obsolete camera equipment are matched only by my tubs of ancient negs and prints. It all starts to resemble the old game show Concentration: Arafat/Rabin handshake? I believe that's in tub #7, Jack.

In fact, one of the few contact sheets from that time that I could always find was one of Ronald Reagan's trip to Binghamton in 1984, only because it happened to always sit on the top of the pile in its respective tub. So each time I would look for some other lost negative I would see that sheet first. Well, this week, after I heard that Bernie Boston, the man behind the iconic Vietnam flowers-in-the rifle picture had passed away, I went in search of those Reagan negs. Being young and full of dreams, I remember spending way too much time making photographs during Reagan's speech of the traveling White House press corps on the stage, more than I did of Reagan himself, and Boston, in his trademark cowboy hat, was unmistakable. I thought I'd write something about Bernie on my blog and the picture would be a great addition.

(Also on the stage that day, standing next to Boston, was Dirck Halstead, whose own Mexican suitcase would yield, years and years later, the only smoking gun in the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewisnky scandal.)

As I reached into the tub to pull the Reagan negs, what did I come across instead but my long lost Ray Charles frames. There he was, the legend himself, laughing and rocking, arms extended and singing like only he could. After all these years of thinking they were gone, they had finally resurfaced in a flash. And while they may not be as valuable as "the Falling Soldier," to me, they're priceless.

So what's in your Mexican suitcase??

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