Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pick an Object ~ clear a spot

The man, who taught me photography, was the father of a dear friend. After months of building my courage to say 'I want to be a photographer like you' he just grinned and led me to his camera collection.

Photographers build camera collections. For some it’s their way of remembering where their journey has taken them, and for some others it’s about touching as much of the history of photography as they can.

My teacher’s collection focused on cameras that had proved themselves under the hardest of conditions; a titanium body that had withstood Viet Nam, or an Old Standard Rolleiflex that had survived both WWII and Korea.

I watched as he picked up a road and weather beaten Nikon F with a 1:1 ratio lens, saying that it still worked. We then made a trip to the darkroom fridge for 10 rolls of ASA 100/200 BW 24 Exposures film. After the e equipment and supplies came the 30 minute class on how to load, focus and shoot, under several light conditions a 35 mm camera.

Finally he gave me the first and only learning assignment I ever received from him.

“Take an object, put it down somewhere and using the available light, take 100 different shots of it. You can’t move it once you’ve found a place for it and taken the first picture. And if you decide to change the object you’ve chosen; you can only do so once. Come back every two rolls of film and we’ll develop them and we’ll see what ya got.”

Here’s what my lesson taught me: 1) Never choose fruit or something eatable; it just won’t last long enough, 2) It’s surprising how few shots are really “different” from each other in the first four rolls of film, 3) A grease pencil isn’t your friend, and 4) “…That’s cute ~ but no cigar”; as phrases go, can drive you crazy.

In the end it took me 15 months of spitting, kicking, walking away and calling names to get it done. But at the end of that time, my friend’s father didn’t have to tell me what I accomplished; I had figured that out all by myself. I think that was his plan all along.

I learned to adapt my ‘One lesson only’ as I went on. Whenever I wanted to explore another form of photography, I just chose another subject.

There’s a lamp in the corner of a room that I photograph now and then, just to remind myself how it’s done.

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