Constable: With 6,000 photos on slide film, old-school Des Plaines photographer masters time
We live in an age when ubiquitous cellphones photograph everything from sunsets and lunches to selfies and puppies.
"That doesn't seem like it's fair," says Jim Stube, an 85-year-old retired airline pilot and amateur photographer. Stube has every one of the 6,000 images he has photographed on slide film during his life. Piles of transparencies framed in their distinctive white cardboard are spread across several tables in his Des Plaines home. His adult kids and grandkids are in the midst of a massive project to organize seven decades of memories from 1954 to 2019, using masking tape to form a massive grid organized by months and years. They all have their favorites.
A note reading "1970. Best Year Ever!" was affixed to a row because that was the birth year of daughter Patty Jett, who lives nearby and wrote the labels.
"I didn't start taking pictures until I went into the service," says Stube, the only son of three children born to Leo, a cabinet maker, and Helen Stube. After graduating from Lane Tech High School on the Northwest Side of Chicago, he enrolled in the University of Illinois campus at Navy Pier.
"I was in chemical engineering, and I liked everything except chemical engineering," Stube says. So he enlisted in the Navy in 1954. His dad took him to a local camera shop to pick out a present before he left for duty. Stube chose the Kodak 35, a 35 mm camera that came in a brown leather case with a strap to hang it around his neck. He didn't wait to use it.
"This is 'Alabama Countryside,'" Stube says, popping the first photograph he shot into a hand-held slide viewer, which also hails from a different era. "It was a picture of the Alabama countryside, which wasn't very impressive."
All during his Navy training, he would mail slides home. "It was a way of communicating with my mom and dad," Stube says. He learned how to fly in the Navy, piloted for the Marine Corps and made a 34-year career as a pilot with United Airlines. He logged 22,000 hours as a pilot, starting with a DC6 and its four propellers and ending with a massive Boeing 747 jet with a spiral staircase and an upper deck.
By the time he and Joan were married in 1958, Stube had perfected his photography habit and kept a handwritten log of every slide he shot. He captured wonderful images of their five kids, who grew up to be Jane Schulien of North Richland Hills, Texas; Anne Masini of Prospect Heights; Carol Hammersley of Arlington Heights; Patty Jett of Mount Prospect; and Chris Stube of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
"One of the things he was so good at doing was getting kids in their natural state and their natural habitat," Jett says. "He would get us kids being kids."
Cradling his old Kodak camera with a familiar grace, Stube tells about the time he ventured out on the roof of the Des Plaines home where he's lived since 1963 to photograph neighborhood kids pedaling their Big Wheels.
"Next thing I knew, they were running around and getting married," says Stube, whose photos show newly planted saplings on a street now adorned with mature trees. "Time goes so fast, it's hard to remember. The nice thing about pictures is it brings time back to you. You can stop the motion and have a good time looking them over again and again."
His favorite photo of his wife of 58 years, who died in 2016, was made from a slide he shot of her before they were married. He framed the shot of his son and a friend riding bicycles in the foggy forest during a vacation to Saugatuck, Michigan.
"I just had the camera with me all the time," Stube says, noting that he sometimes shot photographs of clouds, mountains, sunrises and sunsets from the cockpit of whatever jet he was flying. He'd also take shots from layovers in Hawaii, Japan, China, Singapore or European destinations, while Joan was home with five kids.
One time, the couple were arguing, but he had to get to the airport. His wife followed in secret and took a seat on his plane. When they landed in San Antonio, she told him, "I'm not done with you yet."
They continued the disagreement, and "we patched it up," Stube says. When he was promoted to captain, Joan painted four stripes on his beat-up Ford Falcon to celebrate.
The images he captured tell the story of their family, their street, their era, their lives. Yet, the photographer doesn't have many pictures of himself. "I don't have one of those sticks to put the camera on," he says, shaking his head at the very notion of snapping multiple digital shots.
"You develop an eye for what you are shooting when you're shooting film. A lot of thought and time goes into that," says Chuck Miller, owner of Alpine Camera, which started in 1945 and recently moved to a new location on Golf Road in Des Plaines. "There's nothing better than having a photo in your hand."
The slide film Stube remembers buying for $3 a roll and having processed for $5 in the 1960s at Alpine now costs $15.95 a roll and $13.95 for processing. Stube is looking to get his slides converted to digital, but Alpine still processes plenty of color and black-and-white film for people in the cult who appreciate the vintage craft of photography.
"Everything I have is vintage now," Stube says, "including me."
His daughters tease him about the only photograph of his that earned a spot in his wallet -- a color shot of the 1947 Stinson single-engine plane in bright red he owned for years.
"I had to have a picture of the airplane," he says, explaining how he'd forget about it without the photographic reminder while he doesn't need to carry photos of his kids, "because I remember you guys."
Each image brings back a moment he might have forgotten without the visual aid. Stube has no interest in taking photographs with his cellphone.
"It just doesn't seem like a camera. Who knows what it is? It's so much easier and your work is faster and better and cheaper," Stube says, noting that isn't always a good thing. He relishes those times when he altered f-stops and shutter speeds to get the perfect light. Before each snap of his camera, he had to compose the shot in his mind and work out the proper exposure. The thought that went into the planning made the finished show that much sweeter.
"The whole world has cameras now," Stube says, "so I got pushed out of the way."