Monday, February 02, 2009

In the Beginning

And now, without further ado, another entry republished from the now defunct Untangling Photography.

This is a family snapshot of me when I was 2, intently examining a real camera while my older sister plays with a Preskool Fisher Price toy version. I actually remember doing this.

I was pretending my hand was the popping of the flash. I also used to like those detachable flash cubes that would go all foggy after it fired. (By the way, my only excuse for the outfit I'm wearing is that my grandmother made it.)

When I was 10 or 11, my elementary school principal started a little photo club and taught half a dozen of us to develop black and white film and photographs in the nurse's office. (It was the only room in the school with running water and no windows.) There's something really amazing about tray processing, which is always what you see photographers doing in movies with the red lights. The photographs kind of appear under the developing fluid as you swish it back back and forth with a pair of tongs. It's magical, actually. (It's also very smelly. But in a good way!) I liked riding my bike, a hand-me-down 10-speed, around the neighborhood and taking pictures with a little point-and-shoot film camera.

This was the local park where my mom arranged playdates, where school carnivals were held, where my dad ran the rec league's summer playground. The splotches in the middle of the photo happened when I touched a piece of photo paper with fixer on my fingers before I put it under the enlarger. This was an 8 x 10 print, so you can kind of imagine how small my hands were. Huh.

I took a photo class in high school, which I loved, but mostly I just dabbled. When I was 15, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to New Zealand and Australia with a school trip. I was doing all of these things instinctively, like holding my polarizing sunglasses (shut up, it was 1994) in front of my little point-and-shoot camera's lens. In three weeks, I shot 25 rolls of 36-exposure film, a single-use underwater camera, and two disposable panoramic cameras. I carefully labeled each roll and kept a little log in my journal. I didn't quite realize it at the time, but these were all signs that this would be my career someday.

I would go on to major in photography in college. In 1997, when I was a freshman, they started us all out Old School Style: learning to process black and white film with tray processing. Even though it was dawning of the age of digital photography, and I would eventually learn that too, the core principles of understanding of light and time is the same.

This picture was my pride and joy in my first college photo class.

The first picture I shot for the student newspaper at Syracuse would make it to the front page. Kurt Vonnegut came to Syracuse to speak. He talked about finding your path. His advice boiled down to this: "If you can't figure out what you want to do with your life, do the things you liked best when you were ten."

And the truth is, that's more or less exactly what I do now for my "grown-up job." I don't ride my bike around the neighborhood like I did when I was 10, but I do drive around the communities in my coverage area and take pictures all day. Oh, and I now have a $56 polarizing filter that actually does what I was trying to do by holding my sunglasses in front of the camera.

Also? I just got married. My husband Joel- still not used to calling him "my husband," let's just call him Joel- and I are an eHarmony match. Before we even met in person, before we had even exchanged phone numbers, we talked about our mutual desire to go to Australia. For Joel, Australia is a geologist-turned-nature-photographer's playground. As for me, I wanted to go back to the place that first really help shape my vision.

This time I had the skills and the gear to actually make the picture I had in my head a reailty. It was a homecoming, of sorts, to a city that shaped me, 10,000 miles, 14 years and half a world away from from the place I actually call home.



Kelly said...

Didn't that photo from the park used to hang in the hallway? Maybe by your mom's vanity? I feel homesick now...

Chunky Photojournalist Barbie said...

Yes, it was in the hallway leading back to our bedrooms for a long time. I miss you so, so much. :)

gwen1234 said...

I like that "do the things you liked best when you were 10" advice, because it seems to confirm my librarian decision (if librarians read books all day, which is still my secret wish). Now, if only someone would pay me for making gimp lanyards at the JCC pool, life would be awesome.

I miss you both too.