I have recently returned to an old hobby: photography. I’d let it slide for a number of years because, quite simply, I didn’t have a camera. I had a few little point-and-shoot cameras (“phd” for “push here, dummy”), but they’re not really good for much. I’d learned how to use a camera back in the pre-digital photography age of the 1980’s and even learned how to process black and white film and make prints.
It was photography, in a way, that saved my life. Maybe that’s more hyperbole than anything else, but it certainly feels that way sometimes. I was miserable as a freshman in high school. My parents had uprooted me from the town where I grew up and moved me to a new town and a new school. I only made that one move, but I’m sure people who moved a lot as kids will agree that, unless you’re extremely gregarious and extremely friendly (being attractive helps), one of the hardest things for an awkward teenager to do is make new friends among a group of people who have known each other since they were in kindergarten.
After failing to fit in with the football team, and getting cut from the basketball team for academic ineligability, I was feeling pretty hopeless and alone. For some reason, I took Ms. Maglaughlin’s pre-journalism class in the spring semester. I don’t think I had any inkling of becoming a journalist, I think I was just looking for someplace to hide out. Like most disaffected teenagers, I was a lump through the early stages of Ms. Maglaughlin’s class. Then the section on photojournalism came up and something sparked. Maybe it was the potential to get out of the classroom, to wander about with the camera, and pretty much go anywhere I wanted if it was for the school paper, that appealed to me. Being able to close myself off in the darkroom and produce a photograph, something tangible, also had something to do with it. Being a student photographer meant it was my job to stand outside of the school’s groups and cliques and to observe them. A few of them may have pushed me around and taunted me when I was walking the halls between classes, but with a press pass and a camera in my hands, for some reason, they left me alone. I suppose they didn’t want to ruin their chances of being in the school paper.
By the second semester of my sophomore year, writing had overtaken photography as my primary function on the school newspaper (I wrote a column called “The Burning Question”). However, I still got to travel with the marching band to the state fair every year, and I took pictures of events the regular photographer was a part of.
When I left high school, unfortunately, I no longer had access to a good 35mm SLR. I briefly had a camera after college when I worked for a weekly newspaper, but the shutter mechanism broke and I never bothered to get it repaired. Finally, about a year ago, my sister asked for a DSLR for her birthday and my mother and I went in together to purchase her one. Standing there in the camera shop, I saw that old 35mm SLRs were going for less than a hundred dollars while the DLSRs were crawling around the $500 range.
So, I bought an old Pentax Superprogram, which was the same kind of camera I’d used back in high school. Granted, in the last year or so I’ve probably spent as much on the camera, lenses, and film processing as I would have if I’d simply bought a DSLR, but so what. I like the ritual of loading film into a camera, and the anticipation that comes from not know what shots will turn out until I get the negatives back and scan them.
The pictures above are some of the ones I took recently at my girlfriend’s parent’s anniversary party and croquet tournament. Some of the shots reminded me of what I was good at as a photographer. I never really learned to take portraits, or how make art prints. I learned how to take pictures at events: football games, basketball games, pep rallies, and parades – at places where I was an outsider, peeking in on others. Oddly, it’s the same kind of posture a writer takes when writing a novel or a short story.