In grad school, one of my electives was photography. The head of the photography department taught our class along with a photojournalism ethics class I still consider one of the most thought-provoking classes I’ve ever taken. Our professor was a stalwart, old-school, pentax-manual-camera-obsessive, dark room master who could take any mediocre black and white print you produced, and turn it into a meaningful, professional image. His only caveat was: No pets or models in your semester’s portfolio — and by all accounts, this was the one rule I couldn’t help but repeatedly break, much to his chagrin. Though digital cameras were available those days, our professor discouraged their use in favor of old manual 35 mm to cut our teeth on.
We studied technique and ethics, but mostly, we studied the effect of light and how to best manipulate it out in the field and inside the dark room. I sought the break of dawn, the moments right before dusk, or the light just after a brief sun shower with the stubborn intensity of a frustrated lover.
This torrid love affair was handicapped by my inability to understand shutter speeds and F stops. As such, countless hours were spent toiling away in dark rooms, fiddling with chemicals, trying to get that exposure just right. I used to rent a dark room space in South Beach for $15, and in the quiet solitude of those days, I’d ineptly process my film.
I stubbornly used my Pentax and processed my film until B struck a bargain: a dual mode, manual/automatic Pentax (which automatically loaded film) with a telephoto lens (we could both use!) for our honeymoon. Rightfully, he wanted to be able to use a camera during our vacation –my old lover, the manual Pentax, had become a third wheel in our relationship.
Despite my hardcore beginnings, I now take pictures with my iPhone. As I write this I am compelled to lower my head lest my old professor should find me. Both Pentax cameras have been sold on ebay, and all that remains of that old flame are boxes full of prints circa 1995 – 2001.
Today, I’m addicted to applications such as Hisptamatic and Instagram. These are great tools for people interested in modifying their images by adding sharp contrasts, or softening colors for a retro look.
I still drag my kids out the door when I catch a glimpse of ephemeral light. But, the quest to capture these fleeting moments is now a thousand times easier.