I was five, may be six years old when photographs became magic to me. It all started one day when my dad took me the two or so hours north to Alexandria, Minnesota to visit my grandma. I begged my mum to let me take the camera. After lots of pleading, puppy dog eyes and promising to keep it extra safe — my mom sent us on our way with an old Kodak Star already loaded with a 24 exposure roll of film. Filled with excitement to take photos of my grandma, I held that camera on my lap the all the way there and later, all the way back.
Two hours is a really, really, really long time for a child of that age to sit still. As time went on, I examined the camera. I looked at all the buttons and latches and counters. I turned it on. I turned it off. I turned it back on. Hours of entertainment listening to the buzz as the flash fully charged. My dad, most likely annoyed by the same buzz I loved, told me not to waste the batteries. I would need them to take pictures of my grandma. Back to just looking at it, admiring it. It did not take me long to find the best thing ever! There was this latch on the side! If you pushed up the latch there was a door that would just pop open! It was so much fun. Open. Close. Open. Close. I looked at my dad, this new found entertainment didn’t seem to be wasting batteries or bothering him. Open. Close. Open. Close. All the way to grandmas. All the way back. Open. Close. Open. Close.
My mum came out to meet us as we pulled into the driveway. I told her about all the great pictures I took of my grandma — even though she was camera shy. I hadn’t finished the roll, but we could fix that with a few pictures of her garden and of course, the adorableness that was me. Then I showed her the fun trick I found out about the camera. Open. Close. The smile on her face dropped. That super fun latch that popped open that door? It exposed the film. My mum calmly explained to me that the film was ruined — that film is light sensitive. Confusion rained. A fit was thrown. In the end she agreed to still take the film to get developed to show me the empty frames. I knew this would prove her wrong. The film could not be ruined.
A few days later we picked up the prints. She was right. Brown 4x6 after brown 4x6. All 24 images were just a brown muddy mess. For the second time that week, I heard the explanation of photos being a moment of light captured on the film through the lens. MAGIC. It had to be magic. At least that’s how a five, may be six-year-old me rationalized it. Simple, easy, MAGIC.
This is one of my favorite memories. One I remember every time I depress the shutter release on one of my film cameras. It is the reason I still shoot film. I feel that magic as the film is exposed to light for a moment in time. For reasons unknown, that feeling of magic does not translate when I depress the shutter release on my digital cameras. Perhaps it is the fact there is nothing to hold in my hands afterwards — no film, rarely any prints — just a memory card and an image on a computer screen. Or perhaps it is the constant use motor drive that lessens the magic as I take up to ten frames a second. Whatever the reason, I am glad that that magic I found at a very young age, still influences my work today.