Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Forty years later

I bought my first camera in September 1969. A Minolta SRT-101 with a 58mm f1.2 lens, which I still have and use occasionally. I later added a 200mm and an early 1960's 21mm f4 which and with the camera and "normal" lens was my camera gear for the first two decades of my photography. I have never been a prolific photographer, but, as someone noted about themselve in an essay, I'm an observational photographer, except I added ordinary and occasional to the description.

And that pretty much defines my photography, an occasional ordinary observational photographer. Over the forty years I've maybe been a photographer a total of about 7-8 years time. I focus on it for periods and then, mostly because of other interests, needs, and events in life, I put it away. And there have been longer periods where I rarely used the gear because it was too much work and I hated where I lived (Phoenix, Arizona).

But after returning to the northwest (work transfer) I took up photography in earnest after several summers of hiking Mt. Rainier NP and wanted to learn and take better photos. It was then I began working on the Minolta manual focus equpment I now have, minus the stuff I gave away to schools. Sadly with the advent of digital equipment, it's relegated to storage and occasional use in favor of the Canon digital and film equipment.

Since then I greatly expanded the Minolta (manual focus) gear into a collection of every camera model they made, all used occasionally to keep them in working condition, and just over two dozen esoteric and collector lenses along with some personal favorites, and yes, the original 58mm f1.2 lens. It's of little value anymore beyond the collector's market but it's always a reminder of how good Minolta was and how fun the camera and lenses are to use.

It was that time of extensive hiking in Mt. Rainier NP I realized my camera system could not do justice to capture the beauty of the mountain and the place. Again, digital technology has since put that idea to rest, but it didn't deter me from researching and beginning to learn large format photography, namely 4x5. I didn't begin this work until I retired, and have really enjoyed the time and work.

It was also that time, after doing some research, realized there wasn't a photography guide to Mt. Rainier NP. The last one (then) was done in the early 1950's, by way of discovering it in a conversation with a local professional and finding a copy in the library (now gone). In the intervening years (then to my retirement in 2005) three photo guides exclusively for the NP (not part or chaptes of books) have been released.

That's now two which are more pamphlets than anything using commonly available information repackaged. None of the photo guides have offered more than cursory information and often long out of date. Most photographers who were planning work in the NP, from a few days to weeks, were stuck trying to consolidate the array of information from books, magazines, Websites, Internet forums, etc.

That was when I decided to focus my retirement on the Mt. Rainier NP photography guide, and you can always see where the Mt. Rainier photo guide is at which has taken on a life of its own and long periods away from photography. The plans for it will take years, not just researching and keeping it updated but working on the book-format publication.

And add the history projects, and it's easy to see my retirement years are well spoken for until I just can't physically do it anymore. It's a retirement I thoroughly enjoy around everything else, to wake up and know my (home) office is just there whenever I want. And everything is there and more to do anything I want. It's just the matter of learning and working.

But I've also passed 60 years of age when and where the body isn't as agile or capable, so the photography takes more work and time. This is true when I've also noticed my Dysthymia having its effect with age. So it's also a battle within myself to keep focused on life and what I enjoy carrying the constand reminder of depression.

So where am I at 40 years later? Pretty much the same, an occasional observational photographer, but smarter and wiser, and with better equipment to produce better images in film or digital format. And I'm continuing to learn, not just what I was supposed to know already, but large format photography and all it's needs, and the computer side to produce photo cards and medium prints (11x14 or thereabouts).

So what advice can I give young photographers? Well, for one, do everything you want when you're young. The only regrets are the places not visited and the photos not taken. That is our own reality that we can't go everywhere and do everything, but don't make that a heavy weight in your old age. Go, enjoy and photograph. And leave the rest to time.

Second, minimize your equipment. It won't appreciate in value and will be obsolete in just a few years. Classic camera equipment is rare anymore. Leave it to museums and collectors. Buy the best gear you can afford and use it. Only keep what you personally value from your life. The rest just becomes expensive doorstops or paperweights.

And lastly, don't stop learning photography. Real photography as it was learned and practiced for decades. You don't need it with today's camera systems and computer systems, but be an honest photographer and capture the best images while you're standing behind the camera. Don't be one known simply for what you do sitting in front of a computer.

In the end photography is still photography, from the time it was invented and has continued through its development. Be a part of that trend. Know your craft and become a journeyman/woman photographer known for the images you capture. Find your heroes, like Alexandra Boulat, Galen Rowell and Sam Abell among others for me, and do your best to achieve something similar.

We can't all be great photographers. It takes talent, experience, knowledge and understanding. It's take work, lots of hard work. Your camera equipment are just the tools to express that talent and work. Show the world who you are and what you can do. And then enjoy life.

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