And so, the journey begins.

5 06 2011

Sometime in the early 1960s. Taken by my Dad, Retina IIIc, Kodahrome, bulb-type flash

For as long as I can remember, there was always something exciting about putting a fresh roll of film in a camera.  No matter how many rolls had come before it, pulling the film from the cartridge, across the shutter, then placing the end of the film in the take up spool and closing the camera back always held promise, hope, new adventure.

Film you say?  Yes, film.  I know it seems very analog to shoot film these days when my iPhone can take a pretty darn good digital image and I can sail it off to my relatives on the opposite coast in seconds, but there is something sublime about film. Something deep and reflective. Something permanent.  Something that seems, for me, at this moment…appropriate.  I’m at a point in my life where it is time to put a fresh roll of film in my camera, take deep breath and a good look around.  And see. Really see.

My first camera was a hand-me-down from my father–a vintage Kodak Retina IIIc.  He bought it in Germany in 1953 and hauled it all over Europe during the Korean War.  That old folding Retina was part of our family.  My father always had it loaded with Kodachrome, recording family vacations, Christmas mornings and all sorts of glorious family firsts.  Every once in a while, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, he would pull out the old Argus slide projector, put up the screen and we’d sit on the floor, smiles on our faces in the glow of projected light through film.

I became interested in photography sometime in junior high school.  It was the early 1970s.  My best friend Mike had an old Argus C-3 and a Yashica twin lens reflex and was always taking pictures, shooting rolls and rolls of Tri-X Pan and Plus-X Pan film and developing them himself in his home darkroom.  I guess today, he’d be a geek, but he was passionate about photography and it was infectious!

My father saw that I was becoming interested in something good and in an effort to keep me out of trouble, gave me his precious Retina camera.  The Retina’s companion light meter had died years ago, so I learned exposure from reading those little instruction sheets that came with every roll of Kodak film.  Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes it didn’t.  Once I’d shot three or four rolls, I’d spend an afternoon at Mike’s house in his basement darkroom, swirling the film around in a developing tank, washing it, then hanging it from a clothesline to dry.  An hour or so later, we’d be printing 8x10s on Mike’s old Federal enlarger.  Most of what we shot was awful.  But we learned a lot.  And some of those old photos are tucked away in an old leather folder in a box in my garage.

Back when I was shooting pictures with my Retina, about all I could afford besides film was a subscription to Modern Photography and Popular Photography magazines.  Remember, these were the glory days of the 35mm single lens reflex and new models were coming out in record numbers. Each month, I’d rush to the mailbox and crack open the latest issue of Pop or Mod to drool over the new SLRs.  Nikon and Canon were the biggies, but Minolta, Pentax and Olympus were out there too!  I visited a camera store sometime in the mid 1970s and held my first Nikon–an F2 for the first time.  It was very impressive…and very expensive.  I wanted one, but couldn’t afford my first Nikon until some 20 years later.

Soon after high school, life grabbed me hard by the hand and pulled me along like a leaf in the wind.  My first job, a girlfriend or two, then I met my future wife.  We got married, got an apartment, had our first child.  A move across country, our first house, a second child, a minivan, a new job.  Life was good and very full.  Sometime in the mid 1990s, I wandered into a camera store and looked at the rows of new Nikons.  I was at a place in my life where an expensive camera was still a luxury, but within reach.  I bought a Nikon N90s and a 24mm-120mm AF zoom while salivating over the Nikon F4s.  In my mind, photography still had all the wonder and excitement of my youth but, unknown to me at the time, I was at the beginning of the darkest, saddest part of my life.

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