For reasons to be revealed at a later date, I’ve been scanning through old video tapes lately. When I write “old” here, I’m referring to something in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty years “old” — not ancient by any standard, but also not recent history. Some of the footage was shot by me, however much more of it was not. Some of the footage is of places I’ve never seen, and some of it has my fourteen or fifteen-year-old self (Who was *that* guy?) in, if not a starring role, as part of the supporting cast. These are documentaries, of a sort, and I’ve noticed something of a familiar trend. If I was not the videographer at these fragments of the past, I was more often than not the photographer. Photographer — in the loosest sense of the word, in that I had a camera strapped to my wrist and I was the one constantly snapping photos.
My recent acquisition of a high-end digital full-feature flash (and seeming snowballing of equipment acquisition, much to Karin’s chagrin) has caused me to do a little bit of reflecting on the baby-stepped path that led me from that fourteen-year-old kid with a point-and-shoot film camera using a two dollar magnifying glass as a macro lens (yes it works) and spending my allowance on developing film, to the thirty-year-old guy with a twenty-five hundred dollar digital SLR rig, thirty-some-thousand pictures inventoried on a dedicated photo hard disk, and seventy-thousand-odd hits to my online gallery in the last year.
It has not been a straight line path.
For starters, my earliest memory of photography was standing in the empty lot of our old house, me about eight years old and the camera my mom’s old-even-at-the-time 110 model, the thin kind with the odd telephone receiver-shaped cartridge of film. I pointed into the field across the way, snapped a couple of grainy and shaky shots of the road far in the distance, and an expensive habit was born.
I don’t remember exactly when I received that first camera of my own, though I think it may have been a birthday present from my parents at some early point. As I recall it was a ‘stylish’ point-and-shoot 35mm pocket-sized model with only two features: you could use a little button to swap between 200 ISO and 400 ISO depending on the type of film you bought, and you could add a softened border around the fringe of the picture using the built-in, semi-frosted lens cover. Unfortunately, it also had a sticky shutter button (an un-feature) that forced me to comprehend film speed for the first time. This was because using 100 or 200 ISO film resulted in crappy, blurry pictures from the residual movement while pressing the shutter — while those with 400 ISO film were a little more crisp, if still not worth the paper they were printed on.
Sometime between that first camera and my eventual graduation to a more featured camera there was the incident with the disposable camera. I don’t think photo labs are (or ever were) supposed to let you have the bodies back when you developed a disposable camera, but somehow I acquired one. And my evil plan was this: I was going to disassemble and re-engineer the thing to take long exposure shots. I know — it sounds unlikely, but really, the components were all there: a mechanism to hold and wind the film, a light-less, black box, and a shutter controlled by a single exposed spring and other miscellaneous parts. I hacked something functional together and went into the backyard eager to take photos of the stars. Dreams of grandeur and visions of photographic genius in my head, I took that single roll to Black’s to be developed. Looking back, they must have been something of photo enthusiasts themselves, because they very patiently let me explain what I’d done and even developed the roll (all completely black/blank, in case you’re wondering) for free. That camera went in a box somewhere and was never seen again.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I did eventually graduate to a more full-featured point-and-shoot. If I looked through my albums I could easily pick out where this acquisition (a Christmas present, again from the parents, if I recall) occurred. This is because the most notable (and apparently annoying) feature of the camera was that it had an IR remote control. So, not only are there a lot of bad shots of my family and friends in stunned, candid poses, but I tend to appear in my own photography for a while. Usually, I’m holding a little black control in my hand (if you look close) and usually the composition all but sucks. But things really went on hold for a while at this point. I tried a few more disposable cameras, usually to get the novelty features for vacations: underwater pictures, panoramas, APS high definition. But for seven or eight years it was slow and steady with the point-and-shoot, occasionally coveting a fancier SLR or APS, but always back to the rusty, trusty student-value model.
Inevitably, things changed: for one there was Vancouver. This was my own little digital revolution. The second day at my new job, fresh off of three months of post-graduation unemployment, my boss drops a beautiful box on my desk, sealed, with a brand-new, top-of-the-line (at the time) Canon S200 and says something like: “You’re technical right? Learn how to use this so you can be the photographer at events. Take it home for the weekend and figure it out.” Who needs good pay or dental benefits when you’ve got perks like that? Weekend turned quickly into weekends, and I began to make a point of wandering Vancouver and it’s streets, making trips to Stanley Park, or sometimes taking my lunch breaks on walking tours of Granville Island with the sole purpose of snapping pictures and working to enhance my ability to take shots for when that real duty called for some publishable work-related images. I studied that camera and I learned it’s every feature for eighteen whole months — before I finally figured I should get my own. This, of course, began the progression of ever-better digital point-and-shoots that would lead to my slow and gradual education on the nuances of light and color, composition and careful experimentation with tolerable imaging. This is where the katamari picked up a cow.
To be continued in Part Two…