In the late 1960’s, my family took one of those crazy cross-country family road trips, like the kind the Griswold’s took in National Lampoons Vacation movie, which it’s hard to believe now, was first made in 1983. Watching that movie was in some way, a real blast from the past.
Like The Griswold’s, we all jumped into the family station wagon and headed out from our home in Southern California. Our car even resembled the one in the vacation movies! First, we drove north to San Francisco. It was 1967, “The Summer of Love.” I was 10 years old at the time, so when people ask me if I made it to San Francisco for The Summer of Love, I LOVE to tell them, yes! I did! However, I was there as a child with my family. Every corner had hippies selling love beads or some other such thing. I remember my dad driving us up the coast of California and seeing the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. At one point, I saw the silhouette of a pair of lovers with their Harley parked nearby, embracing, and watching the sunset. I thought at the time about what a great picture it would make.
After we left California, we headed east through Salt Lake City. We drove past The Great Salt Lake and then, soon enough found ourselves in Temple Square. It was mid-August and there were people everywhere. I’m surprised we weren’t accosted by missionaries, but I think the tourists had the missionaries outnumbered two to one. They couldn’t reach all of us! We ate a picnic lunch there and then hit the road again for Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons.
Being the oldest kid in my family, I let my siblings fight things out amongst themselves as I quietly stared out the window and listened to the radio. I can’t tell you how many times I heard Nancy Sinatra sing “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” and how many times Billy Joe McCallister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge during our trip, but it must have been a hundred times or more as Dad changed the radio station to whatever was playing in the local market. I didn’t care. I was observing the passing landscape and the radio was my soundtrack. In my mind, I was making a film and observing the passing landscape was like watching National Geographic or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
As the oldest child, my job was to document our trip. I was to send postcards back home to my grandmother every day and let her know what we were doing and seeing along the way. The trip was about two weeks long. As part of my responsibilities before leaving for the trip, I did chores around the house and got a weekly allowance of $5 that I was supposed to be saving for the trip. Of course, I didn’t save it. I spent it as soon as I got it! I bought important things like Beatles albums and white lipstick (that I wasn’t allowed to wear yet). So, by the time the trip actually came along, I had no money to buy any souvenirs. Dad did break down and buy me a turquoise ring I found at the gift shop at Mount Rushmore.
I secretly hated and resented the fact that I had to document our trip each night, when my younger siblings didn’t have to do anything. Now, writing and documenting is what I love to do! So, go figure.
At about the same time, my parents bought a new camera and gave me their old one, a Kodak Brownie camera that was probably as old as I was. I don’t remember using it to take any pictures at all during our trip, but I definitely had it by the time I entered the sixth grade, because I used it to take pictures of my friends and classmates. I have no idea if I still have any of those pictures, but some of them are burned into my brain as permanent memories. I wouldn’t say that all those memories (or pictures) were too great. I had to be careful of what I photographed too, because I could only take 8 pictures with each roll of film. I must have used my allowance to have them developed at the local pharmacy, which had a photo developing lab where they sent the rolls for processing. I remember walking to that pharmacy every week for years to pick up my pictures. One week I would drop off a roll of 8 negatives and the next week I would pick up my pictures. There was nothing memorable about any of them, they were just kid pictures, but I treasured them like Gollum did his precious.
As I got older though, I became aware of the fact that I would need a camera that was a little more robust than a 1950’s era Kodak Brownie camera. There were other kids I knew in high school and shortly thereafter who had 35mm cameras. Boy! Was a jealous of that. Also, my Brownie camera had been dropped or something along the way, and had developed a light leak, so all of my pictures came out with a streak that was over exposed. At some point along the line, my dad bought me a Kodak Instamatic that took 110 film. This film came in a cartridge as I recall. Once again, this camera was an improvement over The Brownie camera, but the images it created still lacked the depth and three dimensionality of a 35mm camera.
It wasn’t until I got my first divorce that I ended up with a 35mm camera. My husband was an electronics freak, and after buying thousands of dollars’ worth of stereo equipment on credit, he decided to purchase this little Nikon on credit as well. As far as I was concerned, it was the only thing we had acquired of value during our marriage (except for my daughter of course!) So, when we split up, he took the stereo equipment, and I kept the camera. Hell of a deal!
It was some time after this that I started to feel even more serious about my photography. I kept that camera and used it for probably close to 30 years. I used it to photograph my kids as they were growing up, and also to play around with some landscape and nature photography. Finally, it just didn’t have any more clicks left in it, and I had to let it go. Besides, photography was transitioning to digital format and that was a film camera. I used that camera through all the photography classes I took at Arapahoe Community College, which I took for a couple of years in the mid- 1990’s.
There were actually a few years there where I didn’t even have a camera. I was busy working in HR, raising my kids, and going to school. I was an adult when I got serious about my education and didn’t get my bachelor’s degree until I was close to 50 years old. When I did it, I went full tilt and did a double major in HR Management and Applied Psychology and did a minor in Religious Studies. It took me five years of hard work to get those degrees, but I’m glad I did it. I was a late bloomer educationally, but it goes to show you’re never too old to do it if you really want to. I didn’t really want to do it when I was younger, but by the time I did it, I was really ready. It was an intense time of working full time and going to school full time. My kids were teenagers by then, my oldest and I were in college together at one point.
And so it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I ended up getting another little Nikon to carry around with me. I now have three of those little cropped-sensor Nikons, and a variety of lenses I can use, but mostly I use the one with the Tamron zoom lens. I don’t like to change lenses while out in the field. In fact, I don’t like to change them at all, so that’s why I have three of them. One has a super wide angle lens, and then I use the Tamron zoom for most shots. The other one has a macro lens I rarely use.
Social Media and the digital era have spawned an incredible surge in people who like photography it seems. As part of the Baby Boom generation, I’m used to everybody doing everything all at once, like an entire generation of Forrest Gump’s. I found out that if I try to compare what I do to what most of the best landscape photographers are doing, I’ll always feel somewhat insecure and inferior. Most of them have cameras that are three times more expensive than mine. They’re easily carrying around $10k to $20k in camera equipment at any given time. And some of them post a LOT on social media. They’re everywhere! After struggling with this reality for a few years, I’m finally coming to a place where I’m comfortable with what I do, and I have a better idea of what that is and photography is only part of it.
The main part of it is being out in nature in a mindful kind of way and allowing my intuition to guide me to what wants to be expressed through me and my camera. My camera is a mindfulness tool that allows me to focus my attention in a very directed way: a way that I might not be able to do without it. Although, over the years, I’ve learned to focus my attention and see things photographically with or without a camera. I started doing this in the back seat of the family station wagon back in 1967 and I continue to try and refine my vision.
The other day I wrote about the difference between holding a vision, or a mental equivalent for what you want in a project, or in your life, and comparing that to the idea of realizing a photographic equivalent. One thing I would add to those ideas, is that holding a mental equivalent is more future-oriented, and seeing a photographic equivalent is much more oriented toward being mindful and in the present moment. It’s also a way to share that moment with others and to allow the images to create photographic equivalents, or meanings, in their lives. Not everyone will see things the same way. That’s OK. Listen to your intuition and allow that to guide you, when you are in the field as well as when you are processing your photos using Lightroom or Photoshop or whatever software you use to process your images. This is what I do in my work. In this way, I consider photography a part of my mindfulness practice.