Photography in Retrospect

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I became interested in photography, and what it was that drew me to it.

For me, photography was a way to express myself – a way for me to communicate with others. I love to create, and photography gave me an outlet that I wasn’t able to find or experience any other way.

I started photographing in the 60’s with my dad’s Kodak Brownie box camera. I remember the rolls of 620 film, and how I pulled the film over the focal plane, and threaded it onto a spool on the other side, then put the cover back on. It was so cool at the time to be able to capture images – although they were pretty primitive, and you had to wait a week to see them. Here’s a photo of me, circa 1965, taken with the Brownie box camera. Notice the fuzzy finger covering the bottom of this photo – I can’t remember who took this, but they need to learn to keep their finger away from the lens!

Over the years, I’ve collected several relics of my past – old cameras that show how things progressed through time. I have always loved figuring out how things work. I recall disassembling my Minolta SRT-101, only to find that it was way harder to put back together. It was extremely interesting though, to learn how a precision, totally mechanical, instrument was built. I couldn’t believe the number of gears and pulleys, and the amount of wire and string that was in the body of that camera! Needless to say, it never worked quite right again.

I studied Fine Arts at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and the University of New Mexico. I loved photographing nature, and I loved to document things. I think that’s why I gravitated toward journalism. In college I did freelance work for the Associated Press. One of my early photos (shown to the left) was in Pittsburgh’s Market Square of Coretta Scott King. I don’t think this was ever published, and the quality is poor because it’s a scan of the laser photo print out, not the original photo. AP sent photos from their offices to affiliated newspapers via a kind of high resolution fax machine. I remember taking this photo and rushing up to the AP office to show the photo editor what I had. I was just learning how photojournalism worked. I wasn’t too interested in getting stories, but I was interested in documenting events. If I got published, and got $20, I was happy.

Photographers today have the same goals as photographers 100 years ago, but the tools we use are faster and electronic, and because of that we work differently. Autofocus itself, and how far we’ve come with it is just amazing! I remember one of the early auto focus lenses, the Olympus 35-70 f4 Auto Focus. This was an interesting lens, which I still own because I just think it’s cool. Cool because it was different – but the autofocus is extremely slow, and not at all as accurate as today’s autofocus lenses.

Over the years, I eventually converted to using digital cameras. Today, I shoot mainly with my Canon 5D Mark III or IV. Today’s modern, digital cameras, are so different from what I started with in the 60’s and 70’s, and yet, the art of photography is the same.

In high school, I was on the year book staff and loved to take sports photos. I remember photographing a football game, and trying to focus ahead of the runner. You might get a couple good images in a game – if you were in the right place at the right time, and if you were able to focus. There were a lot of “ifs”. Today’s autofocus cameras and lenses make it so much easier – you can keep your mind on the game and let the camera do the tech work for you. With modern equipment, if you have the opportunity to get a good shot, the camera does its job of keeping the subject in focus as you capture multiple images – sometimes it does its job better than others.

Hardware plays a huge role in something like sports photography. So, if you have good (and when I say good, I also mean expensive) equipment, your chances of capturing good images is way improved. Don’t get me wrong though, without skills, talent, and experience, even the best equipment won’t help you capture good images. It takes practice, and lots of hard work to be good. Some photographers are blessed with talent, too. Some have a gift that no amount of hard work can replace. I’m working, and I continue to learn, but I’m not sure I really have the giftedness to photograph at the same level as some photographers – that’s just the way it is. But, I keep trying and learning, and practicing.

As I progress on my never-ending path toward (but never really reaching) photographic excellence, I’d love to hear your thoughts, your ideas, and your struggles with photography.