Friday, June 17, 2016

The Camera and Me

Friends always ask me, "Why do you take so many pictures and what are you going to do with them all?"

My first response thought is, "I don't know.", but I always come up with something that sounds good at the moment. They seem appeased so I let it drop. I guess the truth is, I'm driven to do it.

My first camera. We joined the film club and got it for free.
Some have heard me tell this story before, but here it is again, anyway. It all started within me back in my early high school times. We were gathered around the Thanksgiving Day table, altogether as a family - Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad, brothers Bill and David and I - enjoying a feast fit for a king. Grandma was a great cook and my mom learned from her. Afterward, we cleared the dishes and the rest of the guys went in to watch NFL Football on TV. Grandma's house was smallish and the sofa was full of dad and my two brothers, grandpa had his upholstered rocking chair, so if I wanted to watch the game, I would have to bring in a chair from the dining room or watch from the floor. I chose Option C - sit in the dining room with mom and grandma.

Grandma asked me to go upstairs and get the photo albums and shoe box from the old wooden trunk in the attic and bring it down. I brought them down and placed them on the table between mom and grandma. Mom reached for her photo album. Inside she showed me some cool pictures of her wearing pigtails holding her little dog, "Toto". She was a big fan of the 1939 film, "Wizard of Oz". Being born in 1933, this was a new film and at that time, she was six or seven years old.

Also inside her album was a newspaper clipping of her much younger dressed in a Shirley Temple dress advertised from L.S. Ayers - a local, upscale department store in Indianapolis. Here was mom in her dress as the winner of the Shirley Temple Look-alike Contest. She won $50 and there was the check stub to prove it taped on the other page. Of course, she was proud of her school report cards and had them pasted there, too. Lots of other photos of her younger life - a life I never knew. Not that it was a secret, but I just wasn't there at the time. I came along much later.

There were loose photos in the shoe box that grandma said she would organize for us someday. That day never came and as it turned out, this was the last and only day we had this photo memory session. I never knew why. Maybe it stirred old and painful memories. Maybe it brought up things better left alone and dusty in an old box. Photos of relatives with their names and locations written on the back of the image with pencil .. in grandma's handwriting. In retrospect, she wanted to finish that project someday, but just not today.

There was a photo of her brother, Edgar. I never knew she had a brother. Unknown at the time, there was a conflict between grandma and grandpa's DNA concerning the RH factor. The baby passed away at a year and a half. I also didn't know that my grandpa was actually my mom's second father, since her genetic father passed away at age 33 of Tuberculosis. He died before my mom was fully aware and she never really knew him, but .. grandma saved the photo of him. Life throws curve balls at all of us.

Grandma's photo album was very similar. There she was with her 16-year old girlfriends on the steps of her high school. It's hard to imaging one's grandmother as a 16-year old girl during the late 1920s, but there she was ... pretty. Her report cards looked just like mom's - straight A's except for Physical Education. She had a friend who later became an artist in Brown County. They were friends their entire lives.

Here was a photo of grandpa holding a little baby in his arms in the big metal chairs on the front porch of their house. I asked grandma, "Is that little Edgar, before he passed away?"

Grandma couldn't speak. Mom jumped-in and said, "No, Jimmy. That baby is you. That's why I took the picture. You see, after little Edgar passed away, grandpa wouldn't ever hold another baby for fear he would break it or cause it harm. He couldn't get passed the fact that his own baby son had died. Since you were my firstborn, this is an important picture."

I never forgot those words.

About a month went by and I asked mom if I could have a camera. Of course, I only equated pictures with cameras, not with the cost of film, film processing, postage and handling, photo albums and all the rest of the costs involved. My allowance was only $1.00/day for school lunches. I could easily eat 50-cents worth.

So, mom cut out a coupon from a page in a magazine offering a free Kodak camera with free film for life if you only had your film processed with their labs. Seemed like the best deal going. So, I had to "share" the camera with mom and dad, but they never used it. It wasn't until after I was back from Marine Corps Recruit Training that I bought my first 35mm camera. Up until that time, I used the revised and updated model of Kodak Instamatic camera and shot lots of film during Marine Corps training exercises wherever we went. Being noticed, I was offered the job as the Public Affairs NCO for our Reserve Unit in Indianapolis. I used their camera with a 50mm lens and all the black and white film I could shoot which remained the property of the Unit, of course.

Through the years, I've had pretty good jobs in photography, traveled a lot at the expense of my employers, shot interesting and various subjects including dancers, glamour shots, families, sports teams, church directories, weddings and high school seniors. I even had a real photojournalism job at a medium market newspaper in West Virginia - my first day was 9-11-01.

Now I shoot with a Nikon D2x .. love this thing.

Today, I shoot what I want to shoot and as often as I want. It's all digital now. If I don't like it, I delete it and shoot again. Its all very convenient. I never print anything. I don't produce "art". I shoot snapshots, but I try to do it the best that I know how.

I also have a ballpoint pen camera, another Kodak digital, two Kodak video cameras and a Drift Ghost HD waterproof video camera. I even have a camera hidden in a pair of sunglasses. I don't hold the moniker "CameraJim" for nothing. Throughout the course of this weblog, I will probably be uploading photos/videos from either of these cameras.

Thousands of words can be written in description of people, places, things and events, but photos and videos can take you there. I remember history classes in high school, but I couldn't imagine or picture in my head they way things might have looked. Today, we have re-enactors to show us by their highly researched apparel and performances almost exactly the conditions that our forefathers endured to bring their heirs into the the world. I believe, it is up to us to honor that and in so doing, honor them. We have photos today taken of environmental conditions depicting the hardships of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl days. Photojournalism took us back to those days.

Photographs give us hope and inspiration to do great things. One photo in particular galvanized our nation during a time of great sacrifice and potential peril. We've all seen it. A few still understand.

Second flag raising by Marines on Mt. Suribachi by Joe Rosenthal.
I still don't know why I do it, but maybe someday, somewhere, someone will want to know, "Who I was? and What was I thinking."

Take care, be cool.


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