Joel Riggs teaches Aikido, plays piano, enjoyed California for 22 years ('86 - '08), now enjoys Georgia, and reads voraciously.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Joel North

As my senior year in college began, I was dating the arts editor of "The Dartmouth," the college daily newspaper.  As an amateur photographer who had gotten his first camera the year before for my term in France, I was keen to learn black and white darkroom techniques.  So, when Pamela said there was no one available to print photos needed for the next day's paper, I volunteered to apprentice with an outgoing photo editor that Sunday evening.

He gave me, literally, a 15-minute lesson, and walked out.  Our 'hit list' was maybe three prints; I taped a list with their sizes and contact prints is images circled to the wall next to the lamp, and dove in.  I think those first prints came out a little underexposed and with too little contrast, but I was hooked.

The next day I got my first assignment:  the traffic light on main street was off for repairs for a few hours, and the paper wanted a photo of the traffic cop keeping order from his post in the middle of the intersection.  Fifteen minutes later I had shot a roll of Plus-X and was fumbling to load the development reel in a tiny closet with the lights off.

I managed to print a contact sheet, showed the editor and got a photo pick, then went back to the darkroom to enlarge the best image to fit the space allotted.  It was a light news day, I suppose, for that photo ended up on the front page above the fold in the paper the next morning.

But wait!  There, under the photo sat the credit:  "Photo:  Joel North."

Who the hell was Joel North?  I rushed the editors' office where these people I barely knew had written the caption.  "Isn't that your name?" one of them asked me.  I thought about it a moment...  "It is now," I said, "we might as well keep it, since if it's wrong already, we will probably never get it wrong again."  "Fine," the editor said.

That is how, for all of my senior year, the entire staff of The Dartmouth came to know me as Joel North instead of as Joel Riggs.  I enjoyed having this nom de film, so much so that when it came time to write my name on the application for my Dartmouth College diploma, I wrote 'Joel North Riggs,' much to my mother's chagrin.

So, if you are ever in the morgue of The Dartmouth looking at editions from 1985–86, know that Joel Riggs is the real identity of the photographer whose pictures decorated the paper that year.

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