July 01, 2013

John Rahill's Magic Lantern

John Rahill's Magic Lantern
Soldiers Outside Omsk Railway Station John Rahill, courtesy Anton Orlov

I have been passionate about photography since, as a boy of 12 in Russia, I learned the magic of creating black and white prints by hand. Armed only with my grandfather’s vintage cameras and an enlarger, I quickly became enthralled by the history of the medium and its traditions. By the time I was in college, those traditions were being steamrolled by digital photography. I was determined to remain loyal to traditional film.

Fast forward to 2005. I was attending San Jose State University, seeking my BFA degree in Visual Art, with a concentration in photography. I was also dating a lovely girl, Rachel, from the rolling hills of Northern California’s Sonoma County. One day Rachel asked me to help a pottery artist, Barbara Hoffman, translate some text on the back of photographs that her grandfather had taken in Russia.

When I arrived at Barbara’s modest but lovely home I found multiple boxes filled with hand-colored images on glass, stacks of tiny monochromatic prints, and bundles of note cards filled with typewritten text. There was also a very large, black metal projector in its original purple felt-lined case. It looked as if the projector had barely been used.

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