One of my goals, during my inspirational and intentional change journey, is to reconnect with my passions. Passions that I have either neglected for too many years, or passions I have yet to discover. On the neglected list was photography. As a young person, I loved capturing a moment in time through a camera lens – stories told without words, transferred to the viewer through a single still image. I have been reconnecting with that early love. Five weeks ago, I signed up for a photography class through our local Parks and Recreation department and have been relearning a hobby that once inspired me and gave me purpose.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I asked my dad if he would buy me a camera for a photography class I wanted to sign up for. I don’t recall the cost of the camera back then, but it was enough to warrant a conversation between my dad and (former) stepmom. I had passionately pleaded my case. My photography fate rested in the outcome of a conversation that took place behind a closed bedroom door. I sat in the hallway, waiting and hoping, while they deliberated on this potentially, life-altering decision. Much to my surprise, they agreed. I was ecstatic. Of course, my future camera purchase came with a caveat: I had to listen to the obligatory, “This is an expensive purchase, so it is important that you see it through,” directive from my stepmom.
My first “real” camera was a pre-digital Minolta; 35 mm film was required. What followed my parents’ purchase was a love affair with my photography class and the picture-taking process. I loved learning about f-stops, the shutter speed, exposure, and film developing. The darkroom was a secret chamber. A place where faces magically appeared on blank paper. I remember the smell of the processing chemicals and the feel of the closed-off chamber that sealed out light and fresh air. But inside that black room, the energy was anything but stagnant. I remember standing over the tub of chemicals, gently moving the photograph paper back and forth with tongs, breathing wafts of pungent odors, and watching as the image came to life. Often the exposed image revealed a lesson to be learned regarding my photography skills, but sometimes I captured something that made me gasp. In joy. In surprise. In wonder. The photograph, whether one to share or one to toss, was then clasped to a long thin wire for drying.
My emerging love affair with photography gave me a sense of purpose. I felt purposeful and directed when I could take pictures at events or gatherings, versus engaging in awkward small talk, or worse, confronting boredom. Looking through the lens also allowed me to see things I might not otherwise see and in doing so, my perspectives began to evolve – not only about the material world around me, but about my future. I daydreamed about becoming a photojournalist, which would allow me to marry my new love, photography, with my first creative love, writing. I continued taking pictures, learning, and progressing through high school until the unthinkable happened. My sophomore year was cut short when my stepmom decided I should live with my mom three weeks shy of summer vacation. Once again, the details of my destiny were sorted behind a closed door, in a hushed conversation. I was surprised by the decision, only this time I was not ecstatic. I was devastated. Moving to Colorado the last three weeks of my sophomore year was a difficult transition and one for another story. I had to say goodbye to my childhood friends, but I did not have to say goodbye to my camera. My camera came with me when I abruptly left my high school and moved to Colorado to live with my mom and stepdad.
Moving to Englewood, Colorado and starting a new high school was a difficult experience, but I did have a few memorable photography moments while there. I remember taking pictures of a lake in the early evening. My perfectly selected settings captured trees, the moon, stars and their glowing reflections in the still water below. The developed image made me gasp. In awe. I also captured several urban shots in Denver that I incorporated into a Social Studies project during my junior year. I was allowed to complete an extra credit project because I was earning an excelling grade in the course. I chose to research and share pictures and details of several historical downtown Denver buildings. My stepfather drove me downtown and waited while I walked several streets looking for just the right architectural picture. Once again, my camera gave me a sense of purpose and it also allowed me to see my new city with a different perspective.
I moved back to Mesa, Arizona to graduate from my original high school, with my childhood friends. Once again, my camera came with me.
I kept my first camera for a few more years, but my photographs went dark. Photography was an expensive hobby that I could not afford to maintain as a young trying-to-survive-person. The point, click, and save world of today, had replaced the buy and develop film of an earlier era. Each of those steps required a monetary investment – one that I simply could not make. I remember the day I sold my camera. I sold it to a stranger who would never know the purpose it had given me and how grateful I was when my parents agreed to buy it. Although that camera had represented a highly coveted path to creative expression just a few years before, it had turned into pieces of metal, plastic, and glass that served as another reminder of what I could not afford to indulge in. I sold it, paid some bills, and moved on.
I would pick up a camera again when my daughter was born, and like most new parents, I documented every month, if not every day of her young life. Those photographs are my most cherished possessions; they document every stage of her life. They also document a time of delayed photographic gratification. When my daughter was a toddler, we bought our first digital camera. The cost was exorbitant and one that should have made the young parents we were pause, but we were fascinated by the technology and wanted to experience it as quickly as possible. What we didn’t realize, as we were caught up in a must have this newest gadget frenzy, is that the technology that would transform our picture taking would also take away the tangible result of taking a picture. The cost of the camera (somewhat) balanced not having to buy film anymore, except for a few select photographs, but the new technology could not replace the simple pleasure of sitting side-by-side and looking through photo albums. Nor could it replace the experience of developing my own images in that darkroom, or the feel of a photograph in my young daughter’s hands and the intimate connection made by looking closely into a loved one’s eyes, versus clicking hurriedly through dozens of pixelated images staring back from a computer screen.
I appreciate my files of digital photographs that document our lives together. Digital photography is extraordinary and allows for smoother sorting, easier sharing of images, and of course, digital manipulation. My need to know different camera settings to achieve the results I visualized had been replaced with the ease of point and click. I have continued to take pictures, but the act of capturing an image had lost the creative allure I experienced as a high school student. Yet, I have harbored the desire to reconnect with that young love and once again learn how to use my camera in a manner that goes behind the simple point, click, and save process. So, after several years of saying, “Someday I would like to take a photography class again,” I finally followed through with my desires; I signed up for a photography class and have been learning how to use my 2017 Canon camera Christmas present, beyond the automatic setting, and relearning the technical and the artistic aspects of visual storytelling.
Inherited camera that I am learning to use.
It was during week two of my photography class, that my (current) stepmom gave me my dad’s camera. I was surprised. I thought he had sold his camera to my brother. He actually had sold a camera several years ago; this was a different camera. She thought I should have his camera, given my interest in photography. His camera, a Sony, represents so much more than the metal, plastic, and glass materials that house the 21st century picture-taking technology. It represents a connection to a side of my father that emerged during his retirement years. A side to him that may have been there for many decades, but it was when his active work life slowed that he began to share his sensitive reflective nature, that was delivered through dozens of emails, sent to family, containing photographs of his picture du jour. His emails often included humorous and thoughtful messages.
Here is an example of an image and message my dad sent to family:
I can recall several memories of my father, the man behind the lens, as he documented important life events. I remember waving to him, as he stood in the orchestra pit, camera ready, during my first dance recital. He also captured pictures of me walking across the stage, both as a high school graduate and when I received my first college degree. My father would once again be the man standing, camera ready, taking pictures of his dancing daughter, when I participated in several community holiday performances. I appreciate having tangible reminders of special life moments, made more meaningful by knowing the photographer, but it wasn’t until life forced my dad to slow down, that he began to explore the creative side of photography, and through that exploration, an attention to nature’s special moments.
Nature’s force and fragility, captured by my dad.
My dad was thrilled to capture the Salt River Wild Horses on the move. A “decisive moment in photography,” as my photography instructor would say.
I have been told many times that I have my dad’s green eyes. As a young person, I heard this frequently when meeting one of my dad’s coworkers, friends, or Iowa family members for the first time. I appreciated sharing this physical feature with him. His eyes were a light green that contrasted dramatically with his dark hair (in his younger years). It occurred to me recently, that we shared both similar eyes and the love of extending our vision beyond what is obvious and capturing what a focused camera lens reveals. It took me slowing down and reconnecting with this early passion to fully appreciate the joy my father was experiencing as he worked on finding just the right setting to capture a bee buzzing around a flower in his backyard.
My Green Eye
My “Eye” picture was taken at the Arizona Science Center, in Phoenix, which has a telescope that projects the viewer’s supersized eye onto the ceiling above.
I have some unfinished business with an early creative passion, and now that my fate rests in my hands, I plan on seeing it through – through green eyes that observe behind a shared lens.
I hope you enjoyed reading the puns as much as I enjoyed writing them. 😊
Are you interested in learning more about photography? Community colleges and local Parks and Recreation departments are a great place to start your photographic adventure.
My class takes place in the City of Peoria, Arizona, at the Rio Vista Recreation Center, with professional photographer, John Keedy.
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