Sunday, October 5, 2014

The History of Photography

Minolta AL-F

"There are no rules for good photographs.  There are only good photographs." - Ansel Adams

When Heidi and I were young, she gave me a camera.  She got it used.  I think it cost 50 bucks back in about 1977.  It wasn’t just any old camera.  It was a Minolta Hi-Matic.  The Hi-Matic was a rangefinder.  Instead of focusing directly on your subject, you looked through a viewer and brought two little yellow images together by rotating the lens.  

While it was rather crude, even for its day, it taught me about photography.  There was nothing automatic about it.  You opened the door in back and put the film cartridge in, pulled the film across and made sure that the holes in the edge of the film reached the little sprockets on the other side.  Then you closed the door and advanced the film by snapping a few pictures, rotating a lever each time to pull the film across. 

There was a built in light meter, and you used that to set the shutter speed and aperture.  Heidi and I were self-taught.  We learned that anything slower than 1/60 of a second would likely lead to a blurred image.  Unless you used a tripod and the subject was very still.  We learned about depth of field and backlighting and when to use the flash.  

We learned to bend the rules sometimes and slow down the shutter speed for some cool effects while photographing our friends playing music in bars or while we were camping taking flashlight photos on a quarter of a second.

Canon AE-1 Program

After we were married, Heidi’s folks gave us a Cannon AE-1 (35 mm of course).  That was a sweet camera.  Great glass, single lens reflex so when you looked through the viewer you were seeing the image that was going to the film.  We got a bunch of cool lenses and attachments and filters.  When we printed out our pictures we put them into albums.  We thought we were pretty good at it. 

After a while, 35 mm became obsolete and there was a time when we really didn’t take many pictures except for special occasions.  Then an assortment of low end point-and-shoot digitals, which made taking pictures easy with relatively nice outcomes, but there wasn’t the same ownership as considering available light, setting the shutter speed and aperture, bracketing a few shots with slightly different settings and choosing the one you preferred (and LEARNING along the way). 

Now, of course, with “smart phones” I have become a fairly “dumb photographer”.   Point.  Shoot.  Apply effects (if desired).  Save.  Email or text.  We still have that old Hi-Matic, the one that recorded our early lives together.  I still break it out every once in a while to remind myself of the not-so-bad-amateur photographer I used to be.  And one day, I’ll get a digital SLR.  But for now, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time with my phone in my pocket. 

On a related note, I checked out this series of photographs taken over 40 years of these 4 beautiful sisters.  The idea was totally simple, but the effect sublime.  Four sisters sat for the same photographer every year for 40 years.  They began in 1975 – the year Heidi and I graduated from high school.  They continued the ritual 40 times.  The result is breathtaking.  When I looked at the series again this morning, I teared up a little.  I am not sure why.  Maybe it is because I see myself and my beloved in these pictures.  I know our faces are lined and our hair is graying.  While I weigh about the same, my weight is not distributed the same way it was in 1975, just graduating from Chesterton High School with my life in front of me and my dreams still being formed.  

I remembered the early pictures of my parents when they were young and frisky.  I remember thinking, Were they ever really that young?  When I misted over looking at the faces of these beautiful girls-to-women, I think it was about connecting to the changes and recognizing that beauty isn’t just with the young.  Check it out.    I'd love to know what you think.

"When I look at my old pictures, all I can see is what I used to be but am no longer.  I think:what I can see is what I am not." - Aleksander Hemon


Ruth Anne O'Keefe said...

Thanks for catching me up on the 4 sisters. And quit bragging about your high school weight. The trade-off for digital pics is instant gratification. When I was doing an old photo project I asked the photo shop guy what is the best way to save my favorite digital photos, since I already don't have the equipment to save some of them. He said to print them out. Back to that.

The Dashboard Poet said...

I used to thoroughly enjoy the effort it required to setup the pictures I framed in my viewfinder. This digital age has robbed us of satisfaction acquired by the work we willingly expended. Now I understand what my grandparents meant by missing the "Good Old Days." Hang in there, brother. I doubt it's going to get much better.