Day One Hundred Forty Six: May 25
I learned to take pictures from my dad. First, in my childhood, I remember he would get out his camera, a Minolta 35mm SLR, that he bought in college. No doubt it was worth a small fortune at that time. I have childhood picture books filled with pictures he took; birthdays and holidays, but also everydays…playing in the back yard, jumping on the bed, swimming in the pool, and so many more. One of the first lessons I learned was that a camera was for your everydays as much as it was for your holidays.
In summer 1992, when I was ten years old, we went on a family vacation to Washington State. It was then that I got to hold the camera and shoot for the first time myself. Everything was manual then. Manual aperture, manual focus, manual exposure. It was a lot to keep in mind all at once, not to mention the fact that the ISO, the light sensitivity of the film, was a property of the film, not of the sensor. So changing ISO sensitivity between shutter clicks was unthinkable. You were stuck with whatever you put in the camera from beginning to end.
I was inspired enough by that experience to ask for my first camera for my eleventh birthday, an auto-focus, auto-exposure, fixed-zoom 35mm camera. It was perfect for an 11 year-old. Nevertheless, I remember the thrill of dropping the film cartridges in the drop box at Eckerd’s Drug Store and waiting two long days for them to come back, and then the feeling of eagerly tearing through the pictures I had taken. Most were a disappointment, and Dad taught me that the camera doesn’t “see” the same way that the eye does. Consider, for example, that to our eyes a white sheet looks white no matter the circumstances; we’d say it’s white under the golden hour of sunset or the green glow of flourescent lights. That’s the miracle of our brain, deciding what is white and coloring our perceptions accordingly. The camera has no such intelligence, so a golden sunset looks very different in the film or on the sensor than it does in our own eyes.
When I was in middle school, I joined the yearbook staff. It was then that Dad loaned me his Minolta camera to use for taking pictures for the yearbook staff. It was a bold move, considering I know I didn’t take care of his equipment like it deserved. But it taught me the fundamentals in my own hands, with my own experience as a guide, and made me appreciate the digital age when so much is automatic and you can focus more on art.
Dad gave me the camera I have now and the one I use to make The Life In a Day, a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi. I learned the basics from him, honed them on his camera he loaned me, and now am off to the races with the start he gave me. I hope that M will have the same, or a similar love as what I had. For her third birthday, Mommy and I gave M a Fisher-Price digital camera. It’s powered by AAA batteries and stores “real” low-resolution pictures on a memory card that can be downloaded to a grownup’s computer.
And, let me tell you, M has just gone nuts with it. When we took it out of the box, she took more than two hundred pictures the first night, so much so that she completely drained the battery in the first twenty four hours. Just as M is the frequent (and often unwilling) subject of my own photos, M’s favorite subject is her brother. On this life in a day, here she is caught in the act of checking her LCD screen for the load of pictures she just took of her brother.
To raise children is an exercise in hope. Among my hopes for my children is that each will always have his or her own creative spark, to make a daily commitment to pursue that creative passion, and to find something beautiful in every day.