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I got my first camera when I was 8 years old (“8 and a half, going on 9”), as a Christmas present. I’d spotted a children’s Kodak in the Sears Wish Book some months earlier, and decided that the little brightly-colored, kid-friendly snapshot camera was my heart’s desire. It was really the only thing I hoped for, and I wished for it with all my might. I was afraid it might be too expensive, or that my parents might not think it was a good present for a kid, but when the presents were handed around, I unwrapped my own little Instamatic. It wasn’t the yellow-orange-and-green children’s model, but a black-and-silver snapshot camera which shot 126 cartridge film. Its use was quite straightforward; the cartridges were easy to load, and the flash-stick snapped into the foot on the top of the camera as easily as two Lego bricks snapped together. My first roll of film documented my family’s Christmas break, with pictures of Mom playing with the dog, Dad clowning around with a bottle of “He-Man” bubble-bath, my sister nibbling a candy-cane, and our Siamese cat Mitzi sleeping under the Christmas tree. Subsequent rolls of film captured family pets at home, a photoshoot of Barbie dolls, highlights of school parties, family vacations, and summertime frolics with friends.

I tried to get a little artsy with my Instamatic sometimes, but I ran against some significant limitations in that one couldn’t adjust the focus, and it just couldn’t do macro shots. Also, since it wasn’t an SLR, the image you shot was a bit offset from the image you saw through the viewfinder, so the “extreme closeup” pictures I was trying to shoot of this rose turned out not only blurry, but badly cut off, because I was unable to judge the center of the frame. In fact, I regularly ended up with half a person’s face out of the frame or the front and rear end of a car missing because of the disconnect between what I saw in the viewfinder and what the lens was able to capture. Still, I had a lot of fun with my first camera, and started to get a feel for how to take pictures.

This last one I intended to display at a 45-degree angle – I envisioned a diamond-shaped frame.

In highschool, I used another cheapie camera which shot 110 cartridge film with predictably crappy results. The only thing going for it was durability and convenience. I dropped that little pocketbook camera, dumped it into the morass of my backpack, or crammed it into a coat-pocket with no discernible ill effects. I took it to track-meets, on school trips, and to college. It was at that point that I got my 35mm, as the Photojournalism class I was taking required that each student bring his or her own SLR 35mm camera. I went to a camera dealer in Alliance and bought a secondhand Nikon Nikkormat FT2 which I still have. This camera was such a mechanical behemoth. It was a matter of much concentration to achieve the synchronization of the proper F-stop settings, light conditions, focus adjusting, and just plain serendipity that taking pictures with this camera was largely an act of meditation (and possibly prayer). I never got very good with this camera; having to buy my own film engendered a conservative attitude toward shooting, and I wasn’t brave enough to experiment much with it and take the necessary multiple shots of each image at different settings, angles, etc. Right now it’s sitting in a box, inoperable; one of the mirrors involved in righting the image you get through the viewfinder has slipped out of place, and so you can’t look through the viewfinder at all; the sight is blocked.

I took my highschool pocketbook camera with me when I went overseas for grad-school in 1999-2000. It was during this period of time that I really started lusting after a digital camera. York is such a picturesque city, and I was SO very broke; I couldn’t afford film or photo processing, and if I’d had a digital before I left for the UK, I could have taken all of the pictures my little shutterbug heart desired. I snapped a few unsatisfying pictures with my cheapie camera, and shot some off one of those “one-use” cameras for my sister, but my year abroad was largely un-documented, photographically and otherwise (I wasn’t blogging yet back then, and it’s just as well–grad-school was a time of appalling angst for me). Incidentally (and possibly related) I didn’t have a bicycle during that year, either, and it drove me nuts, the inefficiency of walking everywhere and the unavailability of two of my favorite means of stress-relief, cycling and photography.

I got my digital, a Canon Powershot A70, in December of ’02 and really started using it in 2003. My first shots with it were a set of decorated flowerpots I’d done up for my mom. Since then, I’ve familiarized myself with my camera and have gotten it to do just about everything it could be capable of. For a hobbyist-grade camera, I think it takes phenomenal pictures and it’s been supremely reliable, except for a little phase of problems this past summer. It pretty much goes everywere with me, and while I don’t take pictures daily, I do seem to take a few weekly, some of which end up being decent enough to share, or get shared because I think somebody else might have fun with them.

I’ve been a shutterbug for a lot of years, and I have only gotten worse and worse since I got a digital camera some 5 years ago. I take pictures of pretty much everything when I have my camera with me. Most of the time, I tend to shoot fairly documentary images; I’m just recording what’s going on at a bike race or a party or some other event. Or taking a picture of how a building looks right now or scenery at a certain season. With these pictures, so long as the subject is in focus and everything is lined up correctly top to bottom, and side to side, I consider them good enough. I’m not going for exquisite technical mastery or artistic merit; I am just recording. I try to get a mood out of some scenes; excitement, tension, chaos, but I try not to editorialize too much. I principally take pictures like this as aides de memoir and secondarily to share them with other participants from the event. Party, parade, racing, and other event pictures are fun stuff to share with friends, but that’s about as far as I go with it.

From time to time I read books or websites on photography and try to learn more about camera settings, how to line up or plan out shots, and get ideas for how to create certain effects. I’ve gotten some good ideas as far as how to line up a shot; I think composition is probably one of the things I’ve got the best grasp of. Generally, I do try to be mindful of what’s in the viewfinder (or rather the little LCD screen on the back of my camera, because once again I am dealing with the factor of offset that goes along with not looking directly through the lens you’ll be shooting through).

The thing about reading a lot of dos and don’ts is that I can get myself all paralyzed, especially when I come across article/discussions like this one about clichés. If you read all the way through the discussion, you come to the conclusion that there’s literally nothing left in the world to photograph without offending some world-weary critic. Then again, on the same website, there was an article about not letting others’ opinions sway you unduly, and how to make the most out of a cliché. A line out of that essay which I took to heart was:

Yes, this type of photograph may have been done countless times before, but not by me!
I want to do it for the pleasure that the act of doing so provides. I want to experience the challenge. I want to see if I can do it better than it’s been done before. Even if my effort doesn’t produce an image worthy of anything more than a smile as I view it on the lightbox and then relegate it to a filing cabinet, it’s worthwhile because I did it, and I was there.

I think this is a pretty constructive view to take toward taking pictures; at least for myself and for what I do, it is ideal. I know that a vast many of my pictures are images which could be considered cliché – macros of fat bumblebees poised on flowers, for example, or the ubiquitous pet pictures. So I try to do the best job I can of taking the picture,and even if it is of a genre, generic, in fact, it’s my picture, and if it turned out well, then I’m happy, and that’s that, really.

I should confess that I have the first shots I had ever taken on the Powershot A70, but I have not uploaded them anywhere. I should, just for a laugh. It is a collection of painted flowerpots I had made for my mom.

And while on the topic of cameras, past and present, I might as well toss out the possible future camera in my life:  the Canon Powershot G9.  It’s still coat-pocket-portable, it’s much more powerful, and I think it will be very versatile.  The Powershot A70 has been an awesome camera, and I’m not going to put it up for good, but it’s starting to show its age a little, and after its string of breakdowns this past summer, I am not sure I trust it for the long-haul anymore.  I think I want to get a different camera before we do our cross-country ride, and I’d like to get familiar with it before I am putting it to work, so I may be investing in a new camera sometime in the next 6 months or so.

One Response to “I still have prints from the first roll of film I ever shot.”

  1. Shannon says:

    The other day, I started to write a comment in response to your last post about “clichés”. I must have been interrupted or something. I just wanted you to know that I’ve never seen that bee land on that flower before, so I got enjoyment from looking at that photo. Plus the colors are beautiful, and I like the composition.

    I take photos for basically the same reason that you do. I want to remember something at that moment in time, or I think someone else might enjoy it, or something just interested me about the subject that day. Sometimes I’m a little picky about what I post for the world to see, that’s the art student in me I guess. I started to read the articles about clichés in photography, only to realize that, hey it doesn’t matter if my photographs are clichés or not. My photographs are mostly for my benefit. If people are offended by their lack of originality, then so be it.

    So keep shooting away! Oh, by the way, I think I’m getting a new pocket sized camera present for Christmas too! I want something that I can always have with me when I’m cycling.

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