I BEGAN AS A KID
It was in a form-fitting leather case, with a long, thin, black strap attached.
My mom had dug her old Pentax SP1000 out of her closet, and told me I could give it a try. I found myself fascinated with what looked like a machine. I pushed all the knobs and buttons, most enthralled with the way moving the aperture dial on the lens (though I didn’t know it was called that) made the opening wider and smaller with a satisfying click.
I had watched my mother pick up her photos from the latest family gathering at the counter down at the pharmacy. I had seen the one-hour photo machines at Walgreens. I don’t remember exactly how the camera ended up in my hands, but it was my turn to get cracking with my first roll of film.
My dad showed me how to load it. He showed me the light meter on the inside of the camera, and told me to take a picture when it pointed in the exact middle—when there was neither too much, nor too little light for a photograph. I gave it a go, wandering around my mother’s garden, taking photos of the flowers, my brothers, and then finally getting my whole family to pose on the front stoop.
Filling out the strange and new order form on the envelope for my first exposed roll was absolutely thrilling. I dropped the envelope in the slot. Then, I waited.
One week later (because one-hour processing was too expensive for a twelve-year-old), I rapturously opened the envelope, flipping through the 3.5” x 5” prints with curiosity, and disappointment.
My pictures were terrible.
But of course they were terrible! I was twelve! I had never taken photographs before! This was a complicated process that required some mechanical and scientific understanding of measurement, as well as abstract thinking.
THEN I ACTUALLY STUDIED SOME STUFF
I kept taking pictures—over and over and over again I squandered my allowance money at the local Walgreens, developing film as cheaply as I could, as well as discovering Tri-X—often buying a dusty roll or two that I was lucky to find (although it was a wee bit more expensive than the color rolls they carried).
By the time I reached college, I hadn’t really thought of doing much with photography, except that I knew how to use a camera and thought, “Hey, I’ll take a photography class.” It was one of the many classes they offered in the Art department at my school, and as I wasn’t sure what I would choose to concentrate in, I dove in with both feet and really enjoyed the process.
SUDDENLY I HAD A BUSINESS
At some point during my college years, someone saw me with a camera, and then asked me to do something with it for them. Sometimes it was portraits, sometimes events, sometimes even still life. It hadn’t really occurred to me that what I had on my hands was an actual business—not until I had enough variety under my belt to start putting a system or two into place.
What came my way, mostly, were weddings. I enjoyed them immensely. I like big, complicated projects with lots of moving parts. Weddings have a lot of external restrictions and demand that require a great variety of techniques and on the spot problem-solving. With a love story and family at the center, it helps to enjoy people among their own people--and I do! So for a long while my primary emphasis has been weddings and families.
And here was the crucible in which I learned what making art in the service of other people felt like, and what that did to my own personal art practice. Spending so much time creating designs and capturing moments for other people gave me a sense of what I was good at, but also made me yearn for other mediums.
So on the side, I kept a sketchbook. I wrote. I read lots of literature. I learned to sew. I picked up block printing and created little side projects that turned into shows. Some of them used photography, and others didn’t. In the middle of all this, I found cyanotype again (after learning it in college) and sort of riffed all over with it.
100,000 PHOTOGRAPHS AND BEYOND
Ten years later, I’m still using photography as a medium. I’ve collected a number of different kinds of cameras and experimented with different levels of technological sophistication. It’s easy to see where I’ve meandered through looking at my camera collection.
Photographing so long—both for myself and for clients who hire me—has given me the chance to reflect on photography’s history & how broadly it has participated in changing our landscape and influences thinking. Throughout photography's history, it's been heralded as both a truth-teller AND--with clever editing and manipulation--as the ultimate deceiver. Either way, it's trying to tell a story.
It’s this aspect of photography (and art) that dovetails very nicely with philosophy, and is part of what keeps things interesting for me. Technical accomplishments can create beautiful photographs, but I’m always more interested in the why behind the photograph or the story being told.
And I’ve told my share of stories with photography. Over the years I’ve grown a large catalog through which I can see the themes that keep circling around for me. Aside from the client work, I care for visual abstraction and large shapes, for “found” scenes and finding interesting or unusual objects. I care for creating constructed scenes that allow me to play with light, color, and texture.
MY BIGGEST GIG: CAPTURING THOSE I LOVE
But I’m very preoccupied with photographing the people I care about. Because photography is a frozen moment in time, it has the unique ability to capture the changes in the people I love, and for its uses in playing with visual elements. You are always older than your photograph. Photography looks back and reflects.
So often we forget that we are living history right now. We don’t know what is going to become significant later; the challenge is how to curate what we have on hand. But photographing my domestic scenes makes visible the invisible work of motherhood (albeit a privileged view).
Everyday domestic scenes can tell historians so very much about the people who lived during a time period; the shape of everyday life is often more of a curiosity than the strange, otherworldly life of a rich leader.
And so I photograph. Whoever finds my family albums later on will hopefully see bits of how we lived as well as a bit of how we felt about it. They will see what we choose to include. They will wonder about what was left out. They will marvel at the changes in technology.
Meanwhile, I marvel at how fast everything goes by, and I’m grateful for something that makes me practice gratitude for what I have and lets me extend my memory. I'm so very happy that I learned how to use a camera.