Negatives bring history to life for photography student


Pete Higgins on board a Navy ship.

Seventeen-year-old Mackenzie Guenther, a junior in Christine Obeid’s photography class at Tecumseh High School, was given a glimpse into history when her foster grandfather, Dan Higgins, showed her the contents of small metal tins that once belonged to his father. Inside those cylinders were rolls of black and white film taken by Pete Higgins in the 1950s during the Korean War, when he served in the U.S. Navy.

Guenther lives with Dan Higgins and his wife, Rita, in Tecumseh. She said he shared the negatives when he heard Mackenzie was taking the photography class, and he asked her if she wanted to print them. He hadn’t yet seen what the negatives would reveal in print, only what could be viewed in miniature. “We put them up to some light,” she said.

She brought the rolls of negatives to class, and as she followed the steps of processing them in the darkroom, the images of more than 70 years ago came to life. Photographs of sailors on the ship, of the cramped sleeping quarters, and an island scene jumped out of the past and into the present.

In the darkroom Guenther put each negative into a frame so she could enlarge and expose the image on photographic paper, then processed the paper in developer, stop bath, fixer, and a water rinse before hanging each photograph to dry.

“It was very exciting because I could see them on paper,” she said. The experience has sparked in her a deeper interest in history. “I talk to my grandpa about it all the time. I think it was kind of a bonding thing for us,” she said. He was excited, as well, as the photographs gave Higgins some insight into his father’s service and his life on a Navy ship.

Obeid said the class did a unit on war photography, starting with the Civil War and continuing to the war in Ukraine. “I believe it is important for our high school kids to see these war photos to understand our history. The work we do in photography class at Tecumseh High School is comprehensive and very meaningful,” she said. The Korean War took place from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953.

The process gave Guenther a new perspective. “I definitely respect photography and art in itself a lot more, because when you take the picture, you don’t know what it looks like. You hope that it works out and doesn’t fail,” she said of film photography. “That people were able to take these photos so well, it’s just great.”

The teen has enjoyed photography since she was quite young. “My parents got me an orange digital camera when I was ten,” she said. “I used to take pictures anywhere and everywhere. I was the photographer in my household.” She also plays basketball and volleyball and participates in track, and enjoys gardening. She plans to go to college to become an electrical engineer.

“We’ve done old negatives that I’ve found at antique stores before, but I’ve never had someone bring family photos that have such meaning,” said Obeid. “I was particularly interested because my grandfathers were in the Navy and veterans of wars. My grandfathers were both in World War II, and so when she said she had these military photos I was really intrigued and I was so impressed with her motivation. She got right to work in the darkroom immediately and started working on these.”

Obeid said part of her lessons involve learning about the history of photography, especially photography in war. “I love when art tells stories, and so I feel these photos sort of tell a story,” she said. She is hopeful that others will share their old negatives of historic significance so that other students may experience the connection to the past. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be wartime, but something about history,” she said.

“They have to be black and white, 35-millimeter film. We will print them and get them back to them,” said Obeid. Those sharing negatives would receive printed photographs, as well.

Guenther’s work will be on display, along with the art of other students, at the spring art show that will grace the halls of the high school May 15-18 from 5-7 p.m. each day. “I’d love for people in the community to come and see them,” her teacher said.

To contact Obeid about sharing negatives for students to print, email her at


Tecumseh Herald


110 E. Logan St.
P.O. Box 218
Tecumseh, MI 49286

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