Friday, August 26, 2011

Photographic Memory

It's been long time since I've seen my little blue camera,
but I remember it looking just like this one.
Hard earned it was, my first camera, the little blue box.  After a rather long series of dental visits when I was young, the camera was my reward for "being good at the dentist."  I slipped my hand through the wrist band, the camera dangling, and danced with joy over my good fortune.  I was one happy girl.  I don't remember ever taking one photo with that camera; I'm sure I must have but I don't remember.  All I know is that my mind came alive that day to the possibility of taking my own pictures.  I was in love.

I graduated to an Instamatic, those fuzzy-picture-poor-color cameras that were popular in the 60s and 70s.  Never mind the quality, it was a camera and I was happy.  I was forever trying to get my camera to take pictures beyond its scope -- close-ups of flowers, clear, sharp portraits.  I remember a morning photo shoot at the Ballard Locks, squatting down  to get a close-up of the roses, working hard to compose shots that would knock your socks off, and the surprise and disappointment of seeing the finished product!

An outing with friends in Japan in 1978, captured on my Instamatic
My uncle's Polaroid fascinated me as we watched the picture develop right before our eyes, but I preferred cameras with film that required processing.  I'd drop off the film cartridge at the photo store and wait out the week, anxious to see what I'd captured.  There was, on occasion, a nice shot or two, but not often.  Undaunted, I kept trying.

When a couple of friends at church offered a film developing class one summer, I signed up.  Now I'd be able to process the film myself!  I trotted into the first session with my Instamatic.  "You'll need to find a different camera," they informed me, "one that can shoot black and white film, a 35mm."  What on earth was that??

Another friend kindly loaned me his lovely, expensive camera.  I wonder now what I must have said for him to turn that beautiful machine over to me.  Certainly I didn't realize the generosity of his gift.

That summer I learned darkroom techniques -- stepping into a completely dark room, wrestling the film out of the camera and into the developing tank, threading it onto the spool and winding it just right, and this all by feel; "washing" the film with chemical concoctions; keeping the photo paper submerged in the trays as the pictures began to appear; hanging the pictures to dry on a line -- everything a mysterious process.
From negative... positive.
(Photo taken near Monroe early one Saturday morning in 1981)

I also learned to handle the camera, to experiment with the aperture and f-stops, to see a picture worth taking.  One day Peach was my model.  She sat in a wooden rocker in front of the window as I clicked away.  As the picture came alive in the dark room, I discovered that when the light source is behind the subject, you get a silhouette!  For years Peach had that lovely, accidental silhouette on the wall of her bedroom.
When class ended I returned the camera.  The next summer I moved to Japan, my Instamatic packed in my carry-on, and attempted to document my new life with my toy camera.  By now I wanted better pictures.  After I'd saved $400, Doug, a missionary friend, took me to the camera store to buy a beautiful Olympus.  It was the best purchase I'd ever made!

The first photo taken on my new camera, January 1979,
with friends in Japan
I never really became proficient with the controls.  Even now, after moving on to a wonderful Pentax camera that Tom gave me for my 50th birthday and finally digital cameras, I still mostly use the manual mode.  I am an emotion-driven photographer, not a cerebral one.  One day I may get serious about the details, but for now I am just thrilled to see the world through the lens.  You can capture expressions, moods, moments with a camera.  I love light, I love color.  I love pictures of people -- candid shots more than posed, close-ups of faces more than head-to-toe.  Sometimes I just shoot willy-nilly, click, click, click, just to see what I get.  That works best if you're the passenger in a moving car.  Great fun!

Put a camera in my hands and I'm still one happy girl!


Joan Husby said...

I relate completely to your feelings about photography!

barefootmommy said...

I'm a girl after your heart!