Friday, May 13, 2005

My Amateur Photographer Dad

When we were small children, my dad loved to take pictures of my younger brother and me. He was an amateur photographer with one of those old cameras that had the changeable flash bulb. When he took the picture, it popped loudly and we were temporarily blinded.

As the years passed, Dad's cameras evolved with technology. He studied and studied cameras before ever purchasing one, and when he did ultimately buy one, it was the best. And that was when the torture began. Dad used to take us around town to any number of scenic locations; this wasn't difficult, as we lived on the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, making for a beautiful photograph wherever we decided to stop.

In front of an exceptionally beautiful view of the mountains, on the banks of a tumbling mountain stream, in the foreground of a grove of shimmering aspen trees, or next to a still trout pond; he would drive and we were forced to get out and stand still while he focused.

Focusing was an art and we all know that beautiful artwork takes time. That was what my dad said, anyway, while we waited, stock still with plastered smiles on our faces. We smiled into the sun until tears formed in our eyes. "Ready," he would say, and we updated our smiles, thinking this would be it. Moments ticked by and nothing happened. He was still looking toward us through the camera viewing lens, I was sure of it, but there was no click. No snap of the shutter.

Often we complained. "C'mon Dad, hurry up!" But he was infinitely patient. Not only did he not hurry, he seemed to slow down and he never got the least bit agitated at our whining and complaining. He just smiled and said, "Ok, just a second, this should be it." But it rarely was. We watched the grass grow and the flowers bloom and wilt, and still Dad tinkered with his camera, waiting for just the right turn of the dial.

Looking back, my brother and I have found many pictures from over the years. They are all very clear, crisp, and with perfect perspective. The people in the photos (mainly my brother and me) are perfectly centered. But we look pained. Many times our eyes are closed with big, fake smiles on our faces. Other times one of us has tear stained cheeks from being chastised for whining by our mother. Christmas and other holiday photos abound, with all the right props and beautiful settings, but it all looks so staged. Where are the candid shots? Where is the movement? Where is real life?

Today I have a digital camera that will take a million pictures, all of which we can happily delete on a whim if we so choose. The tiny camera takes video clips and conveniently plugs right into our computer so we can view our photography immediately. Instant gratification photography is a pleasant thing in my life after growing up with my amateur photographer father. I snap photo after photo of my kids at a soccer game or the family at Christmas and just delete the ones that are blurred or where no one is looking.

In the past couple of years I've tried to convince my dad that he should get a digital camera. He has the newest, state-of-the-art camera, as usual, that takes amazing photos with perfect clarity; but he won't try digital. He likes his traditional camera and he likes his traditional developing methods. The computer age is not for him.

My brother and I used to joke about my dad and his picture-taking slowness. Now my children joke about their grandpa and his amateur photography antics. They know about the wait, the squinting, the fake smiles. They often groan to me when he stands his precious grandchildren in front of some beautiful scenery where we live, having them smile while he focuses, and focuses, and focuses. I just have to laugh. The pictures he takes still are really good.

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