Photography: A Love-Hate Relationship

My first camera was, I believe, a Kodak Instamatic that I bought in Las Vegas as our high school band was enroute by bus from Great Falls, Montana, to the 1969 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. It wasn’t a very expensive camera but buying it did use up most of the little spending money I had for the trip. Still, I was glad to have it, especially after seeing many of the flower-covered floats as they (and we) were being readied for the parade. Once the parade was over, I was able to take some up-close-and-personal photos of a few of the floats (though I’m sure my film supply was a limiting factor). I have no idea what happened to those photos—but I do know I got into B-I-G trouble with my mother for spending money on what she considered an unnecessary extravagance, so it’s entirely possible that film was never developed.

 

I joined the Navy after high school graduation (only because I had to wait until I was 18). One of the most interesting aspects of bootcamp was orientation to the many job (rating) possibilities in the Navy. I don’t remember much about those sessions except that the instructor mentioned aviation ratings (including Navy photography) and “glamorous” in the same sentence. Though I was possibly the least glamorous 18-year-old ever, that combination captured my imagination. Once we finished the jobs familiarization, each woman (yes, we had separate bootcamps back then) completed a “dream sheet” indicating which three Navy ratings she would be most interested in. Of course, each job had its own particular requirements, and I was lucky enough to qualify as a Navy photographer.

 

Before long, I found myself at Photographer’s Mate “A” School in Pensacola, Florida. During that 10- or 12-week course, we learned about view cameras and speed graphics (both 4×5″ formats), medium format 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ cameras (i.e., Mamiya C330), motion picture photography, and aerial film processing. We also learned how to hand process both sheet and roll film and how to make both contact and enlarged prints. It was, for me, a very demanding curriculum especially considering my nearly non-existent prior photographic experience and extremely limited mechanical and conceptual ability. I never did quite “get” the exposure triangle and was honestly terrified at the thought of having to manage the intricacies of taking a photo.

 

After “A” school, I was first assigned to printroom and later to quality control assignments and developed enough expertise in these that my subsequent assignments were in those same areas. The truth is that even though I earned several promotions during my Navy years, I never really developed any camera expertise and, for years afterward, gladly left photo-taking to others.

 

Flash forward more than 35 years to our 2006 family reunion where I was, once again, impressed by how the several generations of our family pored over the photo albums that one of our aunts put together. These albums have been the centerpiece of our reunions for years and are usually the catalyst for lots of sharing between generations. I’ve always been amazed to see how interested the youngest of our family are to see images of their ancestors and, more importantly, to hear stories about them and the lives they led. This time, however, it occurred to me to wonder whether our daughter would be able to make sense of the many images (prints, negatives of many sizes, slides) DH and I had taken over the years if we didn’t do something to organize and document them.

 

Shortly after that reunion I decided to start scrapbooking our many photos…because to me a photo is almost not worth having unless the viewer can know the story that goes along with it. It took me almost four years to work my way through what I thought were scrap-worthy photos in our collection and then, suddenly, I found I had nothing left to scrap (camera-shy adult family & no grandchildren). Along the way, I also realized that too many of our photos were “snapshot”-type images that lacked most of the characteristics of a quality image.

 

One thing led to another, and I eventually purchased a DSLR for our family and, guess what? I’m still intimidated by the exposure triangle and, from my perspective, a DSLR’s complicated, nested menus. So, I’ve joined up with this summer’s version of the Find Your Eye class hoping that it will be the starting place for me to:

  • once and for all de-mystify my camera’s many settings and
  • more importantly, develop an eye for what makes a treasured photo
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8 thoughts on “Photography: A Love-Hate Relationship

  1. Great post Wanda…I always think I should be trying to DO more with my camera, but I don’t get hung up on technical perfection either…as long as a photograph shows what I intended it to, it makes it into my scrapbooks! Thanks for stopping by my blog…’THE HELP’ is another of my favourite books-it will be interesting to see how they have adapted into film
    Alison xx

  2. What a wonderful story, and I hope that this class helps build your confidence! I agree with you, that a photo without a story is not worth much. How many boxes of old photos do you think there are, with unidentified people and lost stories? I’m glad you are writing yours down, and also learning to capture the stories in the future. So glad you shared this.

  3. I loved reading this post. How interesting that you chose photographer in the Navy and sad that it didn’t reveal itself to your creative side-just the technical one. I applaud you for actually completing scrapbooks of past images-my family’s images are in a large box-totally mismatched-images from 1967 besdie those from 1994 and those from last year’s Easter dinner.
    Glad to see someone else posting a little late, and also using the blog format. Looking forward to more and finding those eyes!!

  4. Hi Wanda,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I know exactly what you mean about the technical side of it, I really struggle with that too. I have found the book recommended above (Understanding Exposure) really helpful too but to kickstart it I went on a local photography workshop. It was only 3 hours but sometimes I just need to someone to SHOW me how to do something. Obviously at 3 hours we didn’t cover that much but it was a place to start and has given me the confidence to start experimenting (thank goodness for digital, there are a lot of fails in my photography too!). For me, a photograph doesn’t have to be technically perfect to make it to my treasured list and I have found that quite liberating too!
    Look forward to catching up again in class. Becsx

  5. Wanda – thanks for sharing your story. I too avoided photography for many years because of my fear of the technical side of things. Luckily, I had a great teacher in my digital photography course who was able to explain the exposure triangle so that it made sense to me. One book that I can highly recommend is Bryan Peterson’s book “Understanding Exposure” which does a great job explaining reciprocity and the relationship between shutter speed, aperature and ISO.

  6. The advent of digital did mean more and more people could explore the joys of photography…though I’m finding that with lenses and software it can still be too expensive 🙂 Given your experience, this may be stuff you already know, but I had never heard of the exposure triangle before last Feb. and went through this series of blog posts and have shot in manual ever since http://my3boybarians.com/31-days-series/ and loved it. I hope this class (FYE) and demystifying your camera can take your love-hate relationship to a love only 🙂

    What makes an image treasured? I too hope to discover some of that in this class!

  7. Hi Wanda,
    I really enjoyed your very interesting post. I grew up in Las Vegas and was living there in 1969 when you passed through. I probably watched your band in that parade on TV, as that was an annual tradition in my family.
    I agree with you about the complicated nested menus of digital photography. Sometimes I think nostalgically about the good ol’ days when all I had to do was read the light meter, adjust the camera shutter speed and lens opening to match, focus on my subject, and press the button. Not just photo-taking, but Life seemed so much simpler then.
    But I truly do love digital, especially the ability to just keep shooting until I (hopefully) get what I want.
    Looking forward to sharing the class with you.
    ~Lee

  8. My mum believed that film was an unnecessary extravagance, so that meant after my dad died we had no family pictures until I saved up and bought a cheap camera as a teenager. Those snaps I took are a very poor quality, but they are treasured by us all now. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know the treasured ones until years after they are taken? Great post! I enjoyed reading it very much.

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