When photos were first taken there were only a few people that were really considered capable of this daunting task of photography. Over time this has changed. At this moment I am willing to bet that each of us has access to a camera on our phone. I am sure the frontiers of photography would be baffled to fall into the present day and see how amazing we’ve all become at taking photos in a matter of seconds and seeing the product of our work immediately. It really is quite amazing when you stop to think about it.
Where it started for me
I grew up with a dad that took photographs professionally and along with my mom, operated a very successful business for over 30 years. I can vividly recall the intricate details that were involved in touching up photos my dad had taken as well as the process of developing the film into photos. On a few occasions, as long as I sat still, my dad would allow me to accompany him in his dark room. I wasn’t sure what it was that I was watching, but it seemed like magic. My dad would wear a digital stopwatch around his neck to track the time between different steps to the photo developing process. He would move the sheets of photo paper from one tub of chemicals to another and slowly a photo would appear. He would then delicately take it out of the tubs and hang them to dry. All of this took place in the dark with only the tiniest of light for my dad to see what he was doing.
Over time my dad shut his darkroom down and sent the film to another location to be developed. I distinctly recall visiting places that my dad was doing business with for his photo development. There was a strong peanut butter smell to these operations and I’m not sure what it was that gave it that smell, but I could always count on it flooding my nostrils when we walked in. I can actually close my eyes right now and bring it back.
My first camera
I received my first camera when I was in the 2nd grade and was ecstatic to take pictures of everything from my stuffed animals, other inanimate objects in my surroundings, and of course my younger siblings. I remember looking at the dial on the top of my camera that would inform me of how many pictures I had taken. After each photo shot I’d have to crank this little knob and it would move the film over a frame. Sometimes a 24 photo film would give me an extra one or two frames which felt like a secret bonus to my photo taking delight. I learned the hard way to wind the film back after it was filled, before popping off the back of the camera and releasing the film. I can hear my mom’s voice warning me that if I didn’t crank the film into the canister and instead anxiously opened the back side, the film exposed to the light would ruin the photos. All of that hard work would be lost in an instant of thoughtlessness.
An ode to film
Once the film had been used, I would put it in the mail in a special envelope to be sent away to get developed. A week would pass, and I’d receive the photos in the mail. Later on, there were local places that would develop the film and eventually even in an hours’ time! Undoubtedly there were always those photos that were blurry or didn’t turn out for one reason or another. It always seemed that from a film of 24 opportune shots, I’d get half of them done decently. Time and practice were great teachers.
Over the past 30 years that I’ve operated a camera, I have filled millions 😉 of photo albums. Some are left at my parents’ house, some are small and only hold about 20 photos, and some are large and hold over 100. They collect dust and are rarely looked at anymore. I now try to force myself to make at least one photo book every year to dump my best photos into that I’ve taken of my kids, family, and places we’ve visited or things we’ve done, but even that can be a forgotten chore. I believe it’s because photos are taken so often now and shared so readily, that we don’t slow down to go through any additional steps to solidify those memories. Google even takes it upon itself to create photo books for me with the photos I’ve taken on my phone and entice me to purchase it – so easy! Yet, when I look at it with my critical eye, I see ways that I would improve the photo book myself, if I’d just sit down to do it.
As my dad says now, “everyone is a photographer”. There use to be a time when this was a title that only a few could honorably hold and now we’ve all found ways to be creative with filters, apps, and photo editing software that makes us all a bit more talented than if we were left to our own devices, as was once the case.
Pass it on
Take a photo or two today. Share it with someone or post it on your social media and give thanks for the evolution that has provided us this privilege of all being photographers.