Image courtesy of Darrin Behm
My photographic journey started at age nine when I received my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 104 for Christmas. I probably shot four rolls of film over the next week. I would have shot more, but my parents told me to slow down, “You’ll run out of film.” What were those images? Just the usual crap that kids with cameras shoot, their belongings, the floor (oops), peoples butts (misfire, there), family, the chair, etc.. You get the idea. I wish I could say that I showed awesome photographic talent at an early age, but I can’t. Hell, I wish I could show awesome photographic talent today.
My sister registers outrage at my existence (© David Hidding 1967)
After those initial rolls of film, I doubt that I shot another ten rolls of film with that camera. I was dependent upon mom and dad, or a relative, to gift me with film. And then, mom and dad to pay for development of the exposed film. What a racket! In the 1960’s, I suspect parents around the country cringed when their kids opened a gift containing a camera in the same manner as parents cringe when their children receive a drum kit for Christmas. It’s a gift that keeps on giving…to Kodak. Later on, in the 1970’s, Kodak was replaced in parent’s hatred by Polaroid with their Onestep cameras. It was easier to spend money on a Polaroid because you only had to go to the store once (the film contained its own processing), not three times (buy the film, return to the store for processing, return to the store to pick up prints). I do recall occasionally saving up my own money and paying for processing, but with a quarter a week of allowance, processing took three months of allowance. Needless to say, I did not use the Instamatic often.
Somewhere around age 13, I truly got interested in photography. My father purchased a Nikon F and I became the recipient of his old camera, a Kodak Retina IIIC. The Retina had actually been my grandfather’s camera. My dad ended up with it when granddad died. The Retina was not particularly difficult to work with, but it was not easy either. Metering was done separately and exposures were frequently off if you were not careful with the light. This may explain why there were very few photos of my childhood. Once my dad got the Nikon, with it’s thru the lens metering and thru the lens focusing, photos of our family became more abundant.
Kodak Retina IIIC (image by Jeff Dean at English Wikipedia)
I learned everything I could about the Retina. No manual had survived the multi generational ownership and there was no internet, I did a lot of experimenting. I hung out at the local camera store when I could and asked questions. And I read photography books, a lot of photography books. I may have borrowed every book our tiny public library had on photography. I learned to develop my own black and white film, setting up a darkroom in the bathroom. I started buying Tri-X and Plus-X in 100 foot rolls and filling my own canisters because that was cheaper then purchasing 36 exposure rolls from the camera store.
At some point prior to my birth, my dad had been more involved in photography. I found his old Omega B enlarger in the basement and set it up. I learned to make my own black and white prints. The bathroom got more crowded, and my fingers took on the odor of developer and stop bath.
I became well acquainted with the reciprocal exposure rule (Sunny 16 rule) and used it almost exclusively with the Retina, since the meter on the Retina was horribly inaccurate. I found, going through some old photographic gear at garage sales, add on lenses for the Retina that provided wide angle and telephoto views. These lenses screwed to the front of the Retina’s lens. I learned about parallax and other rangefinder weaknesses.
The family took a vacation to Mexico and I brought the Retina. I took pictures of the Pyramids and the game courts where the Aztecs played ball games with the head of their enemies. We toured Mexico City, Taxco, and Acapulco. I took photos in all of those locations. Sadly for me, all those images are lost, the negatives tossed during one move or another.
The Retina IIIC was a folding camera, the lens was hidden by a door on the front of the camera. Opening the door caused the lens and shutter to cam forward into shooting position. It was German built and precision engineered. To my young mind, it was the nicest thing I owned. Diligent use of the camera rewarded me with sharp, well exposed, somewhat boring images.