Wednesday, 13 June 2012

My love affair with photography

When I was nine years old I put a lot of thought into what I wanted as a gift for my tenth birthday. I settled on a camera.  I wanted a camera more than anything in the world.  My wish was granted and I received a Kodak Instamatic camera with its cartridge of 126 film (no tricky winding of the film with the potential of ruin before anything had even started).  I would just open up the back and put the cartridge in, close the back, wind the film on using the lever and then point and shoot.  Simple.

Even though it was easy to take a photo, a lot of consideration had to be given to composition.  Film was a finite resource which cost money to buy and process.  With only twenty-four photos available on a cartridge of film and every photo costing money to see, I seriously considered what I wanted to photograph.  With a point and shoot camera though, I had no ability to manipulate things like light and depth of field with the camera itself.  It really was a case of WYSIWYG*, except smaller.  I remember the thrill of visiting the Coffs Harbour dolphin world with my newly acquired camera thinking of the wonderful photographic opportunities it presented.  I remember the disappointing reality of a series of seemingly identical photographs of a pool with dolphins.  The pictures required close study to discern the details of the glint in the dolphin's eye as it jumped for fish.

The addition of a flash cube was a blunt instrument, adding a uniform wash of light and red devil eyes to all human and animal subjects.  Again, these were a finite resource.  Flash cubes had to be bought and provided flash for four photographs.  A cube physically attached to the top of the camera and rotated when the film was wound on.  Someone tried to tell me once that they were filled with gunpowder.  It seemed possible but unlikely.

The photos were taken to the pharmacy for processing or sent away to a lab somewhere.  There was always anticipation as I opened the envelope to see the result of my work.  Sometimes there was disappointment but there was always something to laugh about.

At primary school in Moree, photography was offered as an extra curricular activity.  I don't remember anything about the cameras we used, but I do remember that we had a fully equipped dark room for processing black and white film.  I remember the smell of the chemicals; the red light outside; the art of working blind and then the magic of seeing images appear; newly developing photos pegged to a line to dry. We didn't do much to manipulate the images, but at the age of about eight having the opportunity to develop pictures seemed wondrous.

When my brother chased me with an axe once (he only did it once) my response was to take a photo of him.  I can see that photograph vividly and it makes me laugh.  When he reads this he may be inspired to chase me with an axe again.  My documentary instincts were developing early.  If he succeeded in doing anything more than threatening me with the axe at least the court would have something to consider.  (A highly developed imagination was overfed on novels from the moment I could read!)

During my journalism studies I briefly flirted with the idea of photo-journalism.  With my visual take on the world and interest in people it seemed like an obvious thing to do.  There didn't seem to be much support or guidance for a young woman wanting to learn the craft and I lacked access to decent camera equipment.  (I may still have been using the Kodak Instamatic.) I focussed on writing and radio production instead (using tape, chinagraph pencils, scalpels and tape).

This idea had another airing when I was working for the media unit in a Commonwealth Government department.  I was editor of the staff newsletter and often required to photographically document events.  At my disposal was a Nikon and a Minolta. The Nikon was a proper camera requiring some know-how, while the Minolta could be set to automatic for a point and shoot ability which was more sophisticated than the Kodak Instamatic.

I loved the Nikon.  It came with lenses, flashes, tripod in a big silver case.  It felt serious.  I started to feel the challenge of combining the art with the mechanics.  It was exciting!  Often I was shooting in black and white film which provided all kinds of artistic opportunities.  It was time to learn more about the magnificent tool I had been given to use.

I enrolled in a TAFE photography course and was interested to discover the teacher's day job was police forensic photographer.  There wasn't much art in what he produced, but there was the sense of documentary and the need to truthfully capture a scene.  He had to know everything about his equipment, if only to ensure he didn't unwittingly distort the details of a scene.  He was charismatic and fascinating and I looked forward to my evening classes. We learnt lots of tricks, including how to photograph "ghosts".  Some of the best photos I have ever taken are a product of these classes.

For the final class we had the run of the darkrooms at police headquarters.  We learnt about manipulating the image in the process of development.  Suddenly it seemed like madness to hand the development of photographs to someone else - usually a complete stranger!

Today I carry my iphone everywhere and take photos of anything and everything.  I can experiment with angles and perspectives and see the result instantly.  If something doesn't work, I can trash it without a care. And I don't have to settle for what I get after I press the button.  I can head over to an app like Instagram to change the shape, focus, light, contrast and colours of a shot.  It's like having a dark room in your handbag.  I love it!

My participation in the photo a day challenge from fat mum slim is something I really enjoy.  I find myself being hyper observant of the world as I look for an opportunity to meet the day's challenge.  It fuels my inspiration and creativity and I've been surprised and delighted by some of the shots I've managed to take on my iphone!

Shadow girl.
(c) divacultura 2012

*What you see is what you get.

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