My Adventures In Photography, Movies, Thrift and Life

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sharon and The Camera Bug

Somewhere in the basement, in 1968 or so, I found an old Kodak camera. I picked it up and was instantly mesmerized! I would go around the house, taking pictures of the cat, the canary, and other things, even though there was no film in the camera. I must have gotten to be a nuisance, because eventually my Mom got some black and white film for that camera and let me go crazy.

I know you will find it hard to believe, but I still have those photos that I took in the fall of 1968. Most were artistic views of the blinding sun, evidently. I have one of a neighborhood playmate, Pam, dancing around with her bicycle by my front window. There is a streak of light coming out of Pam that is so bright it looks like her head is exploding with a hundred bolts of lightning.

One of my most cherished photos came out of my first session. Every fall, our family took a trip out to North Ridgeville, Ohio to DEKE’S APPLE FARM. That was way out in the country at that time, … now it’s the suburbs. We would pick apples and enjoy the smell of a fire on a crisp autumn day. We always came home with enough apples to ensure that my Grandma would still be baking pie at Christmas.

I must have convinced my Aunt Anna to pose for me, and that was my very first portrait. Aunt Anna stood in front of the barn door, pleasant smile on her face, hand in pocket. She is wearing a dress and a fall coat, and even a little flowery hat on her head. (In those days, ladies didn’t wear jeans for a Sunday drive with the family.) I still stare at that photo, and Aunt Anna smiles back at me from that sunny day some forty-three years ago. Part of me kind of believes that if I stare at it long enough, I will suddenly be transported back in time for a cherished moment.

Photographs are like that, and that is one of the best things about them. Time stands still, and we are magically able to go back in time, just by visualizing a moment and remembering the precious memories of all the happy days gone by. Just hold it in your hand and really look at that photo, and you will know what I mean.

As The Kinks once sang, “People take pictures of the Summer, Just in case someone thought they had missed it, And to prove that it really existed. Fathers take pictures of the mothers, and the sisters take pictures of brothers, Just to show that they love one another.”

For some reason, that was the end of my picture-taking career until 1969. For my 10th birthday, one of the best gifts I received was a Kodak 104 camera. Presents that are square and kind-of heavy like that are always good, for the usually hold some kind of gift like cameras, tape recorders, tiny TV sets, or other great and fancy enchantments. Way back then, cameras were in a beautiful Kodak yellow presentation box; you actually opened up a hinged box that somehow resembled a treasure chest! Inside was the camera, batteries, flashcubes, and an instruction book. It was a fabulous gift from my parents, and I took photos all the way from Cleveland to Miami on vacation. Unfortunately, back then, things that were very large in person, ended up being very small in those instamatic photos. Not quite as I remembered. Even the great ocean liner, The Queen Elizabeth, looked small in my photos, even though it took three little 126 pictures to make up one Queen Elizabeth ship.

I was a little less enthusiastic for a few years.

Then, in 1976, Paul McCartney and Wings came to the United States on tour. This was HUGE, folks, absolutely huge. Paul McCartney had never toured the States at that time, and coverage of the WINGS concerts all across the country were on daily network newscasts, newspapers, and magazines. Linda McCartney (who at that time, rarely smiled and looked pretty darn snooty about being married to Paul) was always seen with her camera, and people kept writing that she was the Eastman Kodak heiress, and she kept saying she was NOT, she just liked taking pictures. She published “Linda’s Pictures,” and another book whose name escapes me, with photos taken all across the country on the Wings tour. Well, I liked taking pictures too. I was in amazement that one could just take pictures of ordinary things and make them look interesting... and people would like to look at them. Well, you know what’s coming; I thought to myself that anything “Linder” could do, I could do better, and I promptly joined the camera club in high school, even though I did not actually own a “good” camera. Details, details.

They let us use the school cameras, and I took a lot of black and white photos around the campus that we stayed after school to develop and print. I was only semi-interested in the developing part. It seemed like an awful lot of timing, chemicals, and equipment, and I figured someone else could do that part for me in real life. I liked the smell of film, and processing chemicals, though. Maybe that is strange, I dunno, but I still like that smell. It smells like creativity to me. When I am near the photo lab in Wal-Mart or Walgreens, I sniff and smile.

I just daydreamed about a nice 35mm SLR, and just continued to take a few photos with my old Kodak. SLR cameras were, and still are, very expensive. But I asked for one for my high school graduation, anyway. I left photo magazines all over the house, and knew my Mom would ask at the camera store, what might be the best selection. But, I admit I was sorely disappointed with my new Minolta 110 camera that I got for graduation. (my beautiful new luggage saved the day) Well, all Mom heard was a “nice new camera” and that part was correct, but I hated the damn thing for not being a nice, big, heavy SLR. As a matter of fact, I loathed it. I took a lot of photos on my first overseas trip that were X-ray damaged at Kennedy and Heathrow. I blamed it on the camera. I used it for two years, but I hated it. 110 film was so ridiculously small that it bordered on miniscule, and very, very grainy. You practically had to handle the negatives with tweezers so that you could see it through the magnifying glass. But now, all these foggy years later, I absolutely treasure the photos that I took with that despised camera.

Around 1980, Nikon introduced a lower priced beginner’s SLR, The Nikon EM. I later found out it was marketed as a “Lady’s Camera”, which is pretty darn insulting. I guess us ladies were not bright enough to operate both the shutter speed AND the F-stop, because the Nikon EM mainly operated on AUTOMATIC, there were no full manual settings available. Still, I was walking on clouds when I walked out of Halle Brothers Department store with all my electronic goodies, my 35mm SLR finally in hand, and a nice brown leather camera bag to boot. It was literally like PIRATE TREASURE to me. I LOVED it for several years, and took thousands of photographs. I also frequently used a borrowed Canon AE1, which I secretly loved a little more, but alas; it did not truly belong to me.

Back in those days, I was taking a lot of live music photographs, and doing some freelance work for various bands around the Cleveland area. I even parlayed that into a job managing a small photo studio specializing in passport, citizenship, and portrait photos. It wasn’t much of a Big Deal , but it was fun, and I got to play with different kinds of cameras all day, some I had never even seen or heard of. I also became more comfortable photographing people. I had my own style in photographs, and I thought a lot of people could look at a photo and say, “That looks like a Sharon picture.”

Around 1983, I moved up in the Nikon world with a Nikon FM camera, which had full manual capabilities. I went to a LOT of rock concerts and took photos at most of them, and even met quite a few famous musicians. I took nicer photos on all our family outings, photos for several trade magazines and newsletters, … and I am so, so glad that I have all those wonderful memories to look back on. I took photos of some of rock and roll’s giants during that time period, Paul McCartney, Carl Perkins, The Everly Brothers, Dion, Billy Joel… it was a lot of fun. I took some black and white photos of the great Chuck Berry that I still consider to be some of the best photos I have ever taken. Precious Memories.

Around 1990, CANON came out with a camera that featured automatic focusing. Say What? Up until that point, our standard technique had been to have people hold up a finger to enable the friend/photographer to better focus the camera. (People grew weary of that, and sometimes it was the middle finger they held up.) But it worked great. The idea of automatic focus seemed completely foreign to me, but once I tried it, it was like MAGIC. Also, the camera was called THE REBEL, which meant … I had to have it.

I sold my old Nikons and lenses and put the money towards my Rebel.

At that time, The Rebel and other similar cameras were all coming equipped with a moderate zoom lens as standard, instead of the 50mm we were accustomed to. The zoom was magnificent, but also not as much of a quality lens, and not as fast as the 50mm. Shooting in low light situations was impossible without a tripod. It was an even trade; I had taken all the low light photos I needed to. Over the next 17 years or so, I took a gazillion photos and just used a flash if I absolutely had to. I LOVED my Rebel.

The turn of the 21st Century brought with it, the “D” word. Digital. Everyone was talking about digital everything and whatever that was, it was supposed to be better. Digital sound, digital TVs, digital music that you kept in a tiny little box called an Ipod. It was enough to make my Baby Boomer head spin. I did not want to hear about digital, and would block my ears and sing, “La la laaaaaaaaaaaaaa I can’t hear you!” when my husband would try to explain the benefits.

For heaven’s sake!

I didn’t want to be a computer programmer; I just wanted to take photos.
I argued that there was no way on God’s green earth that Digital (said with a sneer) could be better than good old-fashioned FILM. HA! Take That!

But, eventually they got me.

My husband got a little Olympus digital camera (currently still taking photos at over 12,000!), and once I saw the quality, and the editing properties that could be done with a snap of a finger, I was hooked. Lighten, darken, CROP, ... it was nothing short of magic!

I was MORE than disappointed with the FUJI Finepix I started out with. “That Damned Camera”, as it became known, stopped focusing after three months. I returned it to have it fixed three times. Yes, I said three times. Fuji simply refused to acknowledge anything was wrong until the one year warrantee ran out. I HATE FUJI. Then I tried a Kodak, which worked fine, and I was happy with it, but I was still not motivated, or even enjoying photography any longer. I couldn't really see that tiny screen that well, and it just didn't seem comfortable to me. I missed having a heavy SLR in my hands. THAT IS, until I got my Canon Rebel DSLR in fall 2006! I was in love with Photography again!!!

Oh, if only we had this medium 30 years ago. I could have cropped and lightened so many photos that were practically just wasted paper at that time. Now they would be easily fixable! I LOVE my digital camera. I can immediately see if a photograph came out well, and if not, take appropriate measures. I can go through everything I photographed, and decide which photos are better, and print those. Remember rolls and rolls of film, in which there were about 4 really good photos? All gone. No need to develop photos that are only adequate. It really is Magic!

Then a few years ago, a friend of mine in New York introduced me to “Flickr”, a huge online photography sharing site. It has changed my world by meeting other photographers, and other groups of people with like-minded interests. It has become a challenge to post only my better photos, for other to review and comment on. While I have never been one to make many friends online, Flickr has changed that, and I have met many people who have similar hearts. Another nature/animal lover in Massachusetts, another vintage-loving old soul in Nashville, a priest on the Rez in North Dakota…they have all become wonderful facets of my photography and my world. I cannot underestimate the value of the motivation that Flickr has provided. It is a really wonderful community, and I have found my place there.

Camera in hand, I boldly step into my fifth decade, … still snapping away, and ever so glad that Linda had such an attitude that I had to put her in her place.


  1. wonderful essay!! Hey you could have gotten Parts I, II, III and IV out of it!! :)

    Did you know that there are people who think that bright lights that "accidentally" turn up in photos are actually "spirits" or "ghosts".....

  2. Wow!! I love it, Sharon! You're not only a great photographer, you're a really good writer. Publish it girl!! I love your sense of humor and all the adventures you shared with us. Wow and I love that backdrop on your blog. I want you to somehow teach me how to "superimpose" photos over another one, can you do that on Picnic Premium, if not let me know if there is another free software site or lowcost one that I can join. I want to do a Memorial Day tribute photo to my mother and dad who served during WWII, I don't know if I will learn in time for Memorial Day, but Veterans Day I should have learned it by then! lol Keep on writing I LOVE IT!!!
    Much love,

  3. I really enjoyed this, Sharon. It's so wonderful that you were bitten by the camera bug at such an early age. I wish I could say the same for myself. I also resisted digital for quite a while and still prefer the aesthetic of film, but also love my digital cameras. It's also great that you have found some kindred spirits on flickr. Those old photos are so charming. It really does feel like you could step into them and into another era. Thanks for sharing this, Sharon. Mari

  4. Three cheers! I loved reading this photographic journey of yours and got to learn some things that I didn't know about you too! :) I also loved seeing the photos that you took with those early cameras. They're very cool and slightly spooky looking.

    "I didn’t want to be a computer programmer; I just wanted to take photos." - ha! I love it!

    I am SO glad that you joined Flickr and that we could meet. You're truly an asset to Flickr and to the world of photographers (and the world as a whole). Keep on snapping away! xo!