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Matinee: 'Photos In The Rain' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

26 January 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 186th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Photos in the Rain.

A couple of years ago, Thomas F. O'Brien, a Virginia Beach writer, director and actor, was walking down the street one day when he noticed a pile of things left on the curb for the garbage man.

One box caught his eye because its lid, he realized, was a matted photograph.

He took a look inside and found the box full of matted photographs. As it was about to rain, he realized if he didn't rescue these prints, they would be destroyed.

O'Brien liked the images. So much so that he felt they deserved better than the sidewalk or even his garage shelving.

So he took them home.

What he had saved was the work of James Belsanti, a Chicago photographer active in the 1960s through the 1980s, who had moved to Virginia Beach with his wife Alice in 2000. Alice passed away in 2011 and Belsanti in 2013.

O'Brien liked the images. So much so that he felt they deserved better than the sidewalk or even his garage shelving.

He found obituaries for James and his wife and noticed on the back of some of the prints the name Alicia. The little girl appeared in several of the 1970s prints.

He found her, gave her a call and discovered she was the daughter of the photographer. They talked for two hours.

She appears in this video, talking about her father and his last years suffering Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

She used to help him -- "or disrupted him," she adds -- in the darkroom where he taught her how to develop film and print photos.

He was the president of the Blue Island Camera Club "for quite a while," according to Al Alvis, vice-president of the Chicago-area club. He remembers Belsanti as generous with his help. He tells a funny story about a Belsanti color photography tip.

O'Brien decided to honor Belsanti's work with an exhibition and the second half of the video is about that show. We hear a formal appreciation of the work, citing his composition and black-and-white mastery. A number of young visitors to the show also share the impressions of Belsanti's work.

At the end of the video, we see the images again. They are certainly worth another look, as O'Brien realized years ago.

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