“Kodachrome, Kodachrome, They give us those nice bright colors. They give us the greens of summers. Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.” …Paul Simon
There’s a crisp new leather camera bag front and center with the toddler that’s me in this fifty plus year old snapshot. It was omnipresent during my childhood, sometimes in the foreground therefore unintentionally starring in the recorded history of our family. Over time, the shiny saddlebag took on the character and texture of a Pony Express rider’s satchel after a couple of trips cross country. The camera bag was a signal that Something was going to be Remembered. Does anyone outside of professional photography even own a camera bag anymore? I do. Current incarnation is a compact little LowePro just the right size for a DSLR, battery charger and two lenses. Or…my wallet and two lenses, if, as is my wont, I hang my camera around my neck for easy access.
To be quite honest, if you count the uber-rugged, heavy-duty, closest-thing-to-Kevlar, tips-the-scale-at-twenty-pounds Tenba bag I now carry, I am never without a camera bag. I bought it to replace the super convenient little Swiss Army backpack I treated as combination gear and hand bag. When the zipper broke two years into use, I was crushed and disappointed. Firstly, because I replaced it sight unseen with an overweight over engineered monster that may never wear out…and secondly, because Swiss Army gear should last more than two years even when thrown carelessly on the floorboard every day and stuffed mercilessly into crannies in cars and overhead bins in airplanes. I guess that’s why they don’t make them anymore. Brass and tanned cowhide like my mother and father’s heirloom beats a two way zipper any day. The Tenba will hold not just a camera, but a Kindle and an iPad too. It’s more like a steamer trunk than a briefcase.
At this point in my diatribe, you may be asking, “Your iPhone 6 is always at hand…can be shared instantaneously…edited on the spot…why on earth are you whining about cameras?”
It’s a sad truth. Consider the contents of one drawer of my cupboard: a whole array of outmoded superseded camera equipment. Heavy metal, not plastic, precisely machined, created to capture a moment unique in time and bring it back to life. Now, as discarded as the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys, blind eyes turned upwards. Generations of German and Japanese engineering gone by the wayside.
My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic. I bought it in high school and carried it right through college and into marriage, recording school trips to New Orleans, a summer spent in Washington, D.C., our first home in Columbia, a weekend getaway to Kentucky, our first summer on the farm, and ultimately, the first year of Lee’s life. The Instamatic shot a cartridge of 24 pictures and used a flash cube for low light shots. The ultimate in point and shoot. It was a big deal to finish a roll of film and take it to the drug store to be sent off for developing in Omaha, and a little bit like Christmas to open the packet of prints when it returned after a couple of days.
These prints look older than I feel! The colors have deter­iorated and faded; to an eye accustomed to the wonders of auto focus and HD, most are either under or overexposed and fuzzy. But I try to salvage what I can digitally, preserving a snapshot, so to speak, of when we were very young. I have but a few Polaroids of Blake’s folks in their youth, even fewer photographs of our grandparents when compared to the black and white albums and carousels of color slides (Kodachrome or Ektachrome…I don’t remember which) of my Zeiss and Canon toting parents.
I had a Fujica SLR for almost twenty years, a birthday present in 1982. It was completely manual…the photographer chose the shutter speed and the aperture based on the ISO of the film loaded. No auto focus and no built in flash. But it did sport a metering system, a big step forward from the hand held light meter my folks used for difficult shots. I always shot 200 film, walking the line between detail, what tech calls pixels, and a lack of sharpness caused by movement. Life was recorded 24 shots at a time, except for vacations, when I would load up on film, buying 8 or 12 rolls at a time, even a couple of rolls of 36, just to be safe. Finding film in some of the places we wound up was not a sure thing and I was paranoid about running out. Even so, the number of pictures I took from 1982 to the first digital camera Blake bought me in 2008 averaged one album a year, not counting weddings, graduations, and the births of grandchildren. One night the Fujica shutter locked wide open and moved no more, almost as if it sensed the end of the film era. It’s last picture was taken through Ben’s telescope: the moon.
Don’t misunderstand me. To have a camera in my pocket for the sun behind a cloud, dew hanging of a flower, or even a classic car at Casey’s adds to the sum of my happiness. Taking four shots at blowing out birthday candles and keeping just one wasn’t an option with film. Digital is a license to be silly…not just historic. Pixels encourage creativity…visual jokes, panoramas, way out close ups, in a spontaneous outpouring that amateurs would never have attempted before this freedom of expression was…well, free.
What’s to be done with this voluminous recording of minutiae and the mundane? What will our grandchildren do with it all? In my case, there will be physical books and albums, not just files and .jpgs. I am in the minority; I still print. All these artifacts will wind up, I suppose, where people’s great-great-great-aunt’s gravy bowls and wedding dresses reside. In the meantime, I remember the old ways, paying homage to the blind lenses and camera bodies good for naught but paperweights. Long live Kodachrome.