Old yearbook inspires Turners Falls photographer

  • Turners Falls resident Terri Cappucci with her high school yearbook and other items damaged by water. She was inspired when she found a yearbook that had been owned by one of her high school teachers that contained clippings of her photography. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Terri Cappucci’s senior portrait in her high school yearbook. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Terri Cappucci’s high school social studies teacher, Janet Jones, whose yearbook she found in a second-hand bookstore in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Turners Falls resident Terri Cappucci with some of the art she has produced from the damaged negatives. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Terri Cappucci’s original high school yearbook and other items were damaged by water. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/6/2020 10:22:47 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Terri Cappucci got doubly lucky at a used bookstore in Florence last week.

While waiting to meet a friend, Cappucci went into Bookends. Cappucci, who has worked in different capacities as a photographer her whole life, gravitated to the photography section as lately she’s been especially interested in alternative processes for film development.

But what stood out to her was the tall black spine of a Pioneer Valley Regional School Class of 1984 yearbook — her own high school class.

In 2009, Cappucci’s yearbook was damaged at a 25th anniversary party she had hosted for her classmates at her house. She forgot she had left the book outside after the party, and it happened to rain that night. It’s not totally ruined, but the pages are crinkled with water damage, and many of the messages friends had written into her book are smudged.

“I was kind of bummed because I liked having that yearbook,” she said.

Fast forward to Bookends last week: Cappucci, flipping through the yearbook she just found, in much better condition than her own, realized that it belonged to her social studies teacher at Pioneer, Janet Jones.

In high school, Cappucci said, “I was a handful and I had a lot of energy and I was goofy.” But, she added, Mrs. Jones “saw the best in me.”

What was in the yearbook was especially interesting for Cappucci. Jones had saved newspaper cutouts of Cappucci’s photojournalism in South Africa.

Every year from 1993 to 2014, Cappucci visited South Africa for a long-term documentary project, where she focused on social changes in rural areas of the country during the period after apartheid ended. She still sees it as the major project of her career.

“Out of all the things to be in a yearbook, it was only my stuff, and I was the one buying it,” Cappucci said.

It also renewed her interest in her South Africa work. In April 2015, Cappucci’s basement photo studio — where she develops photos and stores equipment, prints and her film negatives — was flooded in an accident involving the water supply hose on her washing machine. She didn’t realize there was a problem until she went to use the studio that day, and there was water coming up the stairs.

“When you see your work floating on the floor, I can’t tell you what it feels like,” she said.

The film negatives of her work in South Africa weren’t totally ruined, but all of them have at least some noticeable water damage, spots where the image was eaten away by the hot water. This happened when the major project of her career had just reached the 20-year mark.

“I wasn’t really sure that the project had much of a point anymore,” she said. “A lot of people have said, ‘You’ve just got to move on, let it go and move on.’ But it’s been so hard, because my whole life was wrapped up in it; that was my lifetime project.”

Finding that yearbook, packed with tangible proof that the work meant something to someone, turned around her thinking.

“When I saw that, it moved me, and I was like, ‘It matters,’” she said.

Coincidentally, Cappucci had recently started experimenting with the South Africa negatives again. Through the alternative film processing techniques she has been studying, she’s been making prints that use the water damage intentionally, integrating it into the story that the photos tell. So far, she has about five or six that have turned out well, she said.

“Some of them are completely gone, I can’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. But there are some that I can definitely do something with,” she said.

Her goal is to eventually publicize the work somehow, probably in a gallery show.

“This is me trying to figure out what I can do with what’s left,” she said. “It’s not what I had originally planned. But maybe this is going to be better.”

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.


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