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