You know those parents who took pictures of their kids and then never got the film developed? Or the parents who got the film developed and then just stuck the prints in shoebox in a closet? Or the ones who never really got around to taking pictures in the first place?
Those were not my parents. My mom and dad always had the camera with them—every trip to the zoo, every Christmas morning and every birthday, every family vacation—all the important things were documented. And the ordinary moments were documented, too. Me, about 2 years old, wearing sunglasses and riding a tricycle in the house. My brother napping with his rear end in the air after he fell asleep halfway through making his bed. My sister dressed up in some plastic armor which was way too big for her.
As I grew up, photos were all around me. I was a kid in the 90’s, when people like my mom and dad took their snapshots on film and had to take the finished rolls to a 1-hour photo to be developed. I remember having my picture taken in costumes for school pageants and being excited to see what they looked like when we finally got the prints back. I loved the idea that my mom could use her camera to preserve a moment so we could see it all over again once it was printed.
I began to want the privelige of taking pictures with the camera. I was fascinated by the way a camera could turn the scene in front of me into a photograph I could hold. And I think I also just wanted to use the cool gadget I saw my parents using so often. But, alas, film was precious, and my mom and dad weren’t often willing to risk wasting a shot by letting my inexperienced (and likely trigger-happy) little fingers press the shutter release button for myself.
Then, when I was about 10, my parents bought a digital camera. It wasn’t anything fancy. I remember that it was blue, it was called the “JamCam,” and that the little jpegs it produced showed up in a folder called “My Jams” when they were uploaded to the computer. But they were digital. There was no film to waste. Finally, I was able to take as many pictures as I wanted of my first subjects: trees, flowers, and our family pets (a cockatiel and three hermit crabs.) The photos were grainy and of even lower quality than today’s smartphone cameras, but they were mine.
We soon upgraded to a better point-and-shoot camera, a Canon PowerShot that accompanied us on all our family trips in place of the bulky film camera. That little silver camera was my friend throughout middle school and high school, when I really started to focus on developing my photography skills. I looked for interesting subjects and unique angles. I photographed my brother’s soccer games, trying to catch the moment his foot touched the ball when he went for a kick. I took pictures on my 8th grade class trip to Washington, D.C., and all but lay on the ground trying to fit as much of the Washington Monument into the frame as I could. I framed sunsets between branches of trees. I documented every single hibiscus flower at Niagara Falls.
My high school had a darkroom, and I borrowed one of my mom’s old cameras to take my first official photography classes. I learned about black and white film, about shutters and apertures, about developer chemicals and stop baths, about test strips and dodging and burning. I vividly remember developing my first photo—a picture of the flower bushes outside the school. It was way overexposed and I had to burn it for about 30 seconds, but when I slid my photo paper into the chemical bath and watched the white surface slowly dissolve into an image I had created, I knew I was doing something I loved.
For the first time, I saw my own photography as more than just “taking pictures.” I saw it as something truly beautiful. Not just the finished image—the whole process, from choosing a subject and setting up my camera, to composing the shot and capturing the image, to post-processing what I had captured into a finished product I was proud of.
I call myself a photographer now, not just because I graduated from college with a minor in digital photography, and not just because I now have my very own DSLR (a graduation present from my parents—a Nikon D7100 who I have affectionately named Henrietta), but because I’m a picture-taker. The ability to take pictures, good pictures, great pictures, is something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember. And now that I have this skill, I’m excited about it.
I’m excited to make it better, to find new ways to use it, and to always keep it with me.