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.