I know for me, my love of photography began with an infatuation with a camera. Way before photography was anything to me other than a way to record life’s events, I loved the camera and its promise to hold time in place. In fact, I still remember my first camera though I was very young when I obtained it.
It was a warm Saturday morning in the summer, maybe 1980. Families had converged on the asphalt parking lot outside our neighborhood pool and set up tables and blankets in a big community yard sale. I can’t remember if my parents were selling anything or not but I was on my own, walking from spot to spot, attracted to the bright plastics of old toys or the high tech stuff like transistor radios.
On seeing a Kodak 120 instamatic at one old man’s booth, I immediately began to think about how great it would be to have my own camera. My dad was the family photographer, and he spent a lot of time shooting slides and negatives of us with his Pentax Spotmatic and its quality prime lenses. I suppose the notion that I too could make pictures halfway shocked me, and the fact that I was looking at a cheap plastic box that made miniature negatives on low quality film didn’t matter. It was the chance to make pictures – out of nothing! The old man who’s instamatic it was woke me from my day dream as I turned it this way and that in my hand by telling me with a grin, “I’ll take a quarter for it.”
Of course I didn’t have a quarter but wasted no time in sprinting to find my parents. They were able to help me out and the instamatic was mine. The next day I went with my parents, sister and grandmother down to Gravelly Point as we sometimes did in the summer. I was armed and ready with my new camera and shot pictures of the jets as they roared low and slow just over our heads into what was then National Airport. I think I still have the pictures – lots of little square prints of these tiny little jets, mostly off center and isolated in what amounted to a picture of the sky. I guess I didn’t realize anything about wide angle lenses like the one on my instamatic, or that even though the jet seemed to fill the little plastic window that served as a viewfinder, that my photograph wouldn’t be quite as breathtaking as the experience of making the photo had been. And of course since this was 1980 I wouldn’t realize these things until I got the prints back from the drugstore the following week. However something happened - while shooting planes I had made a couple snaps of the family too. Somehow, I knew intuitively that this little device was going to define me and had sentimental worth. I had wasted no time in realizing that life deserved to captured in pictures.
This love of the camera itself – of the tool – it seems ingrained in most photographers I know. I guess it's a sort of sacred object to us because it is the physical link to the intagibles that captivate and move us. Of course most of us realize that a camera can only take you so far in picture-making. So much more goes into the making of a good photograph and yet – I still waste (yes, present tense) plenty of time looking longingly at cameras in online auctions or stores, or perusing pawn shops and yard sales for the next hidden jewel. Despite knowing rationally that I need to find answers to the questions that arise in my art work via other avenues, I find myself continually having to pry myself away from the “gear” as the answer. But no matter how I try to moderate this attraction to the beautiful precision of the cameras I use, I imagine I will always love the sound of a shutter at 1/60, and if you sneak up on me some time, you might just find me sitting alone with the camera to my ear and a satisfied look on my face.