I’ll dial the Wayback Machine to the mid-1970s. That’s about the time I found my first full-time job which paid enough to allow me to become a true, though modest, American consumer. I came along at the end of eight-track tapes. It was a time when cassette tapes, component receivers and woofers were the leading edge in stereo. It was also near the time I bought my Atari 2600. That was impressive!
I was only mildly interested in photography at the time. I had an old camera that had been in the family. Probably a Kodak Brownie. The first camera I bought on my own was a Kodak 126 (cartridge) “Instamatic”. That was all I needed for what I was doing with photography.
One day I was walking along 12th street and saw some interesting objects in the display window of a family run optician practice. They looked like they might be cameras but I couldn’t tell for sure. I walked inside and spoke with an old guy who probably owned the place. He explained that they were 35mm SLR cameras. To me they seemed to be a type of device sent from another planet.
The guy explained how they worked but I didn’t understand what he was saying or what it had to do with taking pictures. He showed me a Japanese Ricoh and a German Leica. They had a weight to them and a metallic feel. There were orange and white numbers marked on a large lens barrel and a small housing at the top. Looking down through the lens I could see it was amazingly complex with many components hiding down there.
He explained that the lens was actually composed of about 6 to 8 high quality glass elements that were organized into groups which functioned to manipulate light rays of various properties to all come to focus at one place. Impressive!
Then he showed me where the flash would attach, where the camera body attached to a tripod and how the lens could be removed and changed for other lenses with other optical capabilities. Then he showed me the price tags. Being a small business I understand now that they were charging close to full retail. I couldn’t imagine how to justify paying that much for a camera. My Instamatic had cost less than $25.
I began reading magazines (This is long before the Internet.).such as Modern Photography to learn everything I could about those 35mm cameras and about what was happening with photography in general. This all generated within me a great desire to own a modern camera that would help me demonstrate my artistic talent and viewpoint to the world. I also learned about places such as 47th Street Photo and B & H Photo which featured deeply discounted mail order prices and more brand names such as Pentax, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus and Canon.
I settled for a Konica 35mm rangefinder for my first purchase. It bridged the gap fairly well while I taught myself more about photography and saved up for the best SLR I could afford. The results of the multi-element lens did not disappoint. With this basic but good quality camera I learned about lens filters, tripods, flash photography and the properties of 35mm film.
I preferred to shoot transparencies. It was with the film that I could afford to be a true American consumer thanks to Kodak. I tried a lot of other brands but I always came back to good old Kodachrome and Ektachrome for transparencies and Kodak brand print film. The Kodak film products consistently delivered excellent results that rewarded the efforts I had made to take good pictures.
There was a time when I thought I wanted to go pro. I managed to sell a few shots to magazines as well as two photo essays with pictures and narrative about environmental issues. That was about the time I discovered that there is a huge gap between a good hobbyist and a professional. I figured that with an all-out effort I could gross as much as three of four thousand dollars a year. After subtracting a year’s worth of equipment costs, transportation costs and allowing myself $1 an hour as ‘salary’ I could mange to be $5,000 in the red. Fortunately I didn’t quit my day job.
Photography has held an important role as a hobby throughout my life. It’s an essential portal that diverts me to the exotic mind set of creativity. It grants me a clear separation from humdrum daily routines. After all, I can’t draw, paint, sing, keep a drum beat or play hockey.
Returning to the present we find that film is almost history now. For many folks even cameras are history as their cell phones and other devices seem perfectly adequate for taking and sharing pictures. Still, it seems that they very much enjoy taking those pictures regardless of the technology involved.