In Memory of a Camera

This column also ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum

In a slightly different form, this piece also ran on KQED FM’s Perspectivesseries on October 3, 2008

I’m not sure I’d want to turn back the clock on technology, but on a recent trip to the park with my three-year-old son I was moved with nostalgia when I saw an older gentleman taking photographs with an old-fashioned single-lens-reflex camera.

Jealous of his film, the photographer took his time, gazing through the viewfinder, adjusting his tripod and fussing with dials. This is something I remember well. It wasn’t that long ago that I took pride in my ability to shoot decent photos with a Pentax as old as I am—a camera that once traveled the world with me, bumping my hip as I walked along the Sea of Galilee, and braving the weather on Scotland’s Western Isles, where the rain was so severe that my boots were wet for a month, but my camera dried out just fine. My SLR came with me to Switzerland and Italy, and twice to China where it recorded the adoptions of my two daughters.

But parenthood requires many snapshots, and I have replaced my Pentax with a digital Panasonic with a Leica lens and lots of memory. It’s a good camera, and I’m happy not to be spending money on film and developing; but when I saw that photographer in the park I realized that I miss the way I used to see the world when I could take only as many photos as I could fit on a roll of film, when I needed to make every click of the shutter count. Back then, I paid closer attention to light and color and when I was shooting black and white I noticed contrast and texture. I tried to watch the edges of my viewfinder and to be patient.

Now I pay less attention. I take lots of pictures, confident that at least some of them will turn out, and if not, I can doctor them on my laptop.

Admittedly, there’s much to be said in defense of digital cameras—I won’t be giving mine away anytime soon—but over the weekend I purchased a roll of black and white film. I felt a familiar but forgotten excitement as I wound the film into the box and I went out to look at my neighborhood through the lenses of my dusty old camera.

I don’t yet know how the pictures came out—the film is still at the lab—but I know how I came out: like a man who has found his missing spectacles and is become reacquainted with the joy of sight.

Be sure to check out the photos I took with my old camera!

11 thoughts on “In Memory of a Camera

  1. I have similiar feelings about the King James Version. It spoke to us in one language….and the voice of God was unmistakeable.

  2. I went for a dirtbike ride in the Rockies last weekend while I was in Colorado, and an older rider in our group brought along his film camera. Each time we stopped for a break, he would get it out and ask people to pose, as he twisted away on the focus dial. My first thought was that I hadn’t seen a camera like that in a while. My second thought was that I probably wouldn’t be getting an email with the pictures attached.

  3. Ahh, I remember that old Pentax well! I still have proof sheets from our photographic adventure down the coast shooting old missions and what not. Film sure doesn’t seem practical anymore, but there sure is something about it…kind of like home-made ice cream.

  4. I wish I had been a bit more selective with the photos I took in the past. I have about 200 photos of myself, taken by myself, drunk. I still have not learned that whilst having a drink it is not big and bot clever to turn the camera on yourself for extreme close ups, the only difference is now I can delete them.

    Tone, I hope you are doing a bit of practising! Michelle or should I say art director, maybe even fuhrer has definately got an idea of what she wants in January!

  5. Ronn,

    I remember when I was a kid you used to invite an older gentleman to read 1 Corinthians 13 in the KJV during worship. It was amazing, and to this day, I still wish I was reading that passage in KJV when I hear it in other versions.


    That would be one of the advantages of digital. I was hoping to post some of the photos I took with my old camera (if any of them comes out–I’ll find out tomorrow). But I’m going to have to use a scanner. No direct camera to computer action.


    Great analogy. We should make some ice cream before winter sets in.


    Drunken photography is probably like drunken dialing with a phone. Imagine how hard it is for me–I have a good camera on my phone!


  6. Pingback: Photo Essay: Religion in the Hood at

  7. Ah, Ben, the joys of a real camera! As it happens, the K-1000 was a legendary workhorse: reliable; took good pictures if you did your part; simple enough and well-enough built to withstand all sorts of rigors and abuse, yet sophisticated enough that all manner of top-quality photos could be produced with one.

    I never owned one. Forty-six years ago, my first newspaper job required me to learn the mysteries of the Speed-Graphic. I graduated to a Rolleiflex — best camera I ever owned, bar none — and used it on my first daily reporting job, where I was hired as a combo man: reporter and photographer.

    I have recently graduated to a Nikon digital. Neat camera and all that, but it has none of the panache of my old Rollei, or of the three Nikon rollfilm cameras that sit in the closet, waiting for me to figure out how to sell at least some of them and the lenses that go with them.

    Digital is the current technology, but a lot of the fun is gone…


  8. Ben,

    That older guy still lives in Alabama. His name is Blaker Herod. He was a thespian and starred in many a Gloriana Production. I can still see him on the Good Ship Pinafore!

  9. Nice photos! I found this site after hearing you on the radio tonight. I’m a film guy so your comments spoke right to me. Film is to digital as slow-food is to fast: more mindfully prepared and appreciated, tastier and better for you too. For me, a more deliberate, contemplative process allows space to develop vision, not just crank out images.


  10. Thanks Peter! I’m also a slow-foodie, but I’d never made the connection between using black and white film and, say, making home-made pasta (which I also do).



  11. Working in the darkroom is a lot like cooking. A combination of craft and taste, with unique, hand-made results. Best to start with good ingredients, such as a well-seen and well-exposed negative, which requires a measure of thoughtful care and attention.


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