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.

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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.

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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.

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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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