I recently was asked to speak to a group of local photographers about “getting to the next level”—more specifically, about my lifelong experience with photography and how I’ve grown and learned as a photographer. The idea was to pass along some wisdom I’ve acquired over the years that other photographers might find useful. It was an interesting challenge, and a fun one.
I won’t subject you to the entire presentation here, but anytime I talk about my photographic roots, one person comes to mind immediately: my dad.
Dad was a photography enthusiast for a very long time. There was a cupboard in the TV room at our house that was stuffed with his various cameras, not only still cameras but movie cameras and projectors as well.
My favorite in the cupboard was a tiny spy-camera-looking-thing called a Minox—it was called a subminiature camera, maybe the size of a pencil case, and its negatives were unbelievably small. I was fascinated by it. At left is a photo I found on Flickr of a 1963 or 1964 Minox that looks identical to the one Dad had. I also remember his Polaroid camera, which would spit out the photo instantly, but you had to give it a certain amount of time to develop before peeling off the paper to reveal the photo. And with the early models, you had to rub the finished print with some sort of smelly fixative to preserve the image.
Dad also took a lot of slide film, mostly during the 1950s. I’m very fortunate to have all of those slides today—countless images of birthday parties, family vacations, and just daily family life. At right, for example, is a 1959 shot of all four Hay kids (I’m the youngest, second from right, strangling the puppy). And below at left is a photo of my brothers and sister playing the Cooties game in our TV room in roughly the same year. Trust me, there are dozens more where these came from. What a gift it is to have them.
I’ve scanned lots of Dad’s slides to turn them into digital files. In case you have old family photos you’ve been thinking of digitizing: I use an Epson Perfection V600 scanner that I bought for under $200; it can scan prints, negatives, or slides, and it does a terrific job. I highly recommend it. I also have a lot of Dad’s movies, and one of these days I really should look into getting them digitized. I have no idea how best to go about doing that—suggestions welcome.
Dad’s slides end with the early 1960s. I’m not 100 percent sure why—one obvious reason might be that he and Mom got divorced in the mid ’60s and he moved out, so the opportunities to photograph his family suddenly dried up. A more simple possibility is that he probably switched to Polaroid around that time. The advent of print film surely caused a lot of people to move away from shooting 35mm slides.
Meanwhile, all four of us kids ended up developing an interest in photography at one point or another. In some of the vintage photos from family vacations, my brother Jeff and my sister, Amy, have cameras around their necks. And my brother Chris ended up making a career of it; he’s a respected professional photographer in our hometown. As for me, I remember having a Brownie camera, I think it was, then a Kodak Instamatic, then some sort of rangefinder that I can picture but can’t remember the name of, and then a Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic—all before the age of 17. And I’ve spent the rest of my life being passionate about photography.
I’m pretty sure I know who I have to thank for that.