Tag Archives: passion

My many loves: my well-travelled cameras

Taking photos on vehicle roof

Once upon a time it was a birthday present. All shiny black and mine to take control of. Back in the days when you had to really decide what you wanted to capture because those twenty-four or thirty-six shots were so precious.

Learning the action of loading film by hand, getting the hang of catching the end of the film on the little black notches that it was designed to slot into and trying not to let too much light in the back while you were changing films. Those round plastic canisters that you’d carry around, these days I still have a few that I store pins in. They were so much larger than memory cards. I remember the slightly sick whirring noise as I pulled the lever to wind the film on after each precious shot I took on my Pentax. It was a real, mechanical noise – not just an imitation sound.

My first photos are small and square. Some are of a holiday in QLD when I was twelve or so. They show blurry barrier reef studies – bleary fish and smeared coral – an outcome achieved by the combination of taking photos of underwater life through the glass bottom of a boat, a rainy day and a very amateur young photographer. All my early shots are ordinary and badly composed. There are some of a parade in the city – it might have been for the Commonwealth Games – on a hallucinatory diagonal I caught parts of colourful floats flanked by a motorcycle police escort. My memories of this event are long gone or buried, but the proof remains. This camera and I grew up together.

But much as I loved my first one, there hasn’t been just one treasured camera, there has been a line of them marching beside me through life and the evolution of technology. My second camera was an old Nikon – it was my grandfather’s and he gave it to me – perhaps when he upgraded, or stopped travelling. This was a manual camera from the 1970’s – my first introduction to the world of aperture, exposure and focal length. This camera had travelled more than I had – it was a veteran of overseas trips. While in my possession it saw more of Australia than overseas. Eventually the mechanism started to stick and become unreliable and I had to move on from my sentimental bond.

When I went to Europe ten years ago, I borrowed my mother’s Nikon Koolpix and this was the first digital camera I’d really had the opportunity to experiment with.  It was love at first shutter-press. After that I determined to buy my own digital camera and my silver Canon became my companion on a three-month European trip. I had it a while, but then I remember running around Seoul camera shops trying desperately to buy the appropriate memory card when I was running out of space after my travels through Japan and Korea. My non-HD memory cards for that camera had become dinosaurs already.

The last in the line up of beloved cameras is currently my red Olympus Pen Lite. It has been to China and Vietnam and across the Nullarbor, to Darwin and Alice Springs and through ten countries in Europe, but the annoyance of swapping between its two lenses haunts my travels, although it takes a good close up. It got some rough treatment in the Netherlands recently when I went on a tour of underground limestone tunnels. The guide wanted us all to have the authentic pitch-dark tunnel walking experience and extinguished all lights. He urged us to continue walking by groping our way along the wall, however my wonky walking caused my camera lens to connect with the wall and collect some limestone deposits. When we eventually returned to the above ground daylight world, I noticed the lens was suffering a severe case of condensation. I’m hoping Pen & I still have some life left in our relationship.

In the last few years I’ve fallen in love with my smart phone camera. Discovering Instagram was a revelation and the light weight factor is a major concern. Also I never like being an obvious tourist, large camera around the neck, iPhone is good at being sneaky.

Whatever camera is my current beau, and whatever their faults, I love it when I’m with them. They help me see the world anew. Love camera – will travel.

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Filed under A creative life

Excelling under pressure but dysfunctional in the ordinary

Sand dune

One of the most interesting people I’ve met this year has been dead since 1926. I’d heard her name before I really met her, but if you’d asked me anything about her, I would have been very vague. Now I’ve had a window into the inner workings of her life, heart and mind. She’s a lot more human now than when she was just a reputation to me.

A charismatic conversationalist who came to life when conversing about the poetry of the east, travel and archaeology and many other subjects, she had auburn hair and knowing blue eyes. Gertrude Bell was a woman of great energy. She mastered in her lifetime of 57 years 6 languages, mountaineering (summiting some previously unscaled peaks), gardening, cartography, archaeology, mountain and desert travel and diplomacy (developing a network of connections across the tribes living in the Middle East). Some say she was also a spy and she is credited with assisting in the founding of modern Jordan and Iraq. She certainly excelled at extremes and under extremes. Her personal life was tragic – her mothered died when she was a child, her family wouldn’t allow her to marry her fiancé, who died tragically while still young and she later had a fervent, unconsummated affair with a married man who then died at Gallipoli. She fought to defy the set paths unmarried women of her generation would normally have taken – she loved her family, but she threw herself at challenges time and again. She would not be confined or limited.

Why was I drawn to her? Drawn to read her biography? It called to me from a shelf in Dymocks book store, from the moment I saw the desert landscape and the title Queen of the desert. Sometimes I think I wasn’t born for the maintenance of life and its routines and sometimes I think maybe I’m just lazy.  The things that give me life are the crises and the extremes and the times you have to just push yourself and don’t have the leisure of reflecting. What does me in is the day-to-day, the repetitiveness of it all. It’s tedious and soul-sucking. I call myself a project person – someone who finds energy in projects, events and dramas. I think this draws me to other project people – other people who soared in the challenging times, but maybe didn’t do so well in the ordinariness of life – I feel like they’re my tribe.

I had a phase of reading the biographies of early aviators, Charles Lindburgh, Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson. I love the tales of their early aviation achievements, of how close they often were to death, only saved by chance, or by their own wits. But they were often driven back to the skies when their earth-bound lives failed. Amy Johnson had a difficult family life and a failed relationship, Charles Lindburgh had a child kidnapped and life was never quite the same again. In an aircraft they could block out society and challenge themselves, and travel to the ends of the globes, meet new people in far away places, land in danger or land to the cheers of adoring crowds. Despite Johnson’s and Earhart’s tragic deaths, they died doing what they loved.

In Western society today there are not so many ways to really challenge yourself. I fell in love with Robyn Davidson’s book Tracks long before it was a movie. Her lone travels with camels and dog across the centre of Australia, having learnt to train camels under harsh conditions in Alice Springs, were epic. She too was fleeing family issues, but her achievement and the freedom of that time were great. And like Bell, Earhart and Johnson she broke female stereotypes, something those around her didn’t quite know how to handle. I’m not a risk taker, but travel, living off your wits and responding to crises, taking on challenges and seeing them through – these all appeal to me – and even more when suburban-bound life disappoints or threatens to overwhelm me with the mundane. I’m inspired by those who’ve come before who forged new paths and roles where there were none. Life is short, do the things that make your eyes light up.

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Filed under An adventurous life, Travel