A taste of the beginning

I spent most of yesterday going through my files and boxes of pictures – a walk through my own personal photographic memory lane. I found a few old negatives. Just a few. I have a little book of negatives somewhere that I started saving after I ‘caught the bug’.  Didn’t find those.  I did find two that were interesting – and pretty bad when it comes right down to it.

I got my first camera for Christmas when I was 8 years old. A Kodak Instamatic.


My first photo memory – I took a couple of pictures and wondered how it all worked. So I popped the back open to see what was going on in there. I was disappointed. Just this grey film stuff – no picture or anything. I think I only ruined at most 3 of the shots. The film for the Instamatic came in a cartridge so only a single frame of film was exposed at a time. 

I left the almost 40 years of accumulated dust on the camera for effect.

The first image I found doesn’t have any artistic merit – just a picture of my brother and sisters watching TV in the basement. Cement walls, old worn out couch. My brother’s knees sticking out of his jeans. I remember I used to hate jeans that didn’t have the knees ripped out.


Notice the multi-colored floor scheme. My uncle owned a furniture store.  He gave us a bunch of carpet samples and we duct taped them to the floor. That was our carpet. We didn’t think of ourselves as poor – we were a middle class family. A very different middle class than today.

The other picture provides an early hint of my obsession/fascination with textures and old items with character.  The image is pretty bad, but it kind of feeds the theme.


No special talent visible from these images. Just your basic kid with a camera. Most of the other negs weren’t even printable. But it was a beginning.

A few years later I was a boy scout working on my photography merit badge. To this day I vividly remember watching that image appear in the developer. It tickled my fancy for something magic. A magic I could do. It sparked the possibility of a future creating, not just working.  Something that I could do with my ‘limited’ creative abilities. Abilities which I doubted before I ever gave them a chance to develop.  But my self doubt was as effective as a true lack of abilities. But this photography thing, I could do that.

In 8th and 9th grade we had a school program. Half a day every Friday for 9 weeks we had courses in ‘fun’ things. Skiing, ice fishing, among other things – and photography. I found my dad’s old 35mm camera and started learning.

Right about that time 3 of us got together and started a camera club. I think we had one meeting. One of the guys gave a lesson on composition using the rule-of-thirds. It just clicked – seemed so simple.

I bought my first camera – a Nikon FM. I remember deciding between that and an Olympus OM. I picked the Nikon because I liked the view finder meter lights. I still have that camera. I still love that camera. I eventually got another FM, but that first one was always my favorite. I still love its feel in my hand.

My Sophomore year I was appointed the FFA Reporter. I spent the summer riding around taking pictures of all the FFA ‘projects’, cows, pigs, sheep, grain fields. The next two years I spent on the school annual staff, my second year as head photographer. I went to more dances with that camera than I did with girls.  I shot basketball, football, year book ads and thousands of candid shots.

Then off to college to learn the art and business of being a photographer.

My design courses were exhilarating, fun, disturbing. While I was learning the how, I was struggling with the why. I grew up in a working class family. My father worked every day, hard. Farming, driving truck, fixing cars, digging holes. Always something practical, something physically constructive. I worked my way through high school as a stock boy and farm hand. Always something that ‘meant’ something. Now I was looking at a life-time focusing on creativity, on an activity that I didn’t understand. What value did it have? I was really struggling with that. We were a family that did things – not a family that appreciated things. It seemed pointless.

A friend loaned me a book, ‘The Shape of Content’ by Ben Shahn. My first taste of philosophy and exposure to the value of art and design in our lives. I can’t remember any specifics, but I remember that after reading it I had a feeling for what I was trying to achieve. And it’s value.

In future posts I’ll hit a few more highlights of my trek. It won’t be comprehensive or even in order. But it will help define how I got to where I am now. So I can start again. I’ll also start dropping in technical bits that I’m re-learning, learning and polishing.

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