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“The best way out is always through.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Father: A Self Portrait

This is a self portrait that my father (he was the person that taught me photography) made, and I'm guessing that he probably shot it in the 1940s. I probably should have run this on Father's Day, but I didn't (I did put it on my Facebook page--and please look for me there if you have a minute). My father first got me interested in photography when I was 10 years old and I wanted to shoot and develop photos of my first cat: a sweet little gray cat named Whiskey that I got from my mother for Christmas. (She hid the kitten in the kitchen on Christmas morning and when I came down I heard meowing and I kept telling her, "I hear meowing!" She said, "No, I don't think so." But the cat kept meowing when it heard my voice and the cat was, as they say, let out of the Christmas bag.)

Whiskey, or Whiskers as we called him sometimes, was my very first photographic subject--and the first subject that I ever printed.

My father had given me an old "620" format camera to use and he developed the first roll of black and white film. He then mixed up some print developer (Dektol!) and some fixer for me and gave me a small electric proof printer that worked by laying the negatives on a sheet of photo paper in a dark room, turning on the proofing machine (which had lights in it) and then developing the prints. He told me that after I put the print in the fixer solution (it was daylight by the way, so we hung black cloth over my bedroom windows) I could turn on the lights. For some reason I don't think I was clear on just how exciting an event that was going to be.

When I turned on the overhead light and saw the first photo I'd ever taken (and the first print I ever made), of Whiskey on the roof of our den, I let out a whoop that probably scared the neighbors several houses away. I couldn't believe it: I was able to take a photo and (after my father "souped" the negatives) was able to make my own prints. I was in another Universe. That the first photo was of a subject that I loved so much made it even more exciting and important. Within a few years my interest grew to the point that my father had to build me a darkroom in the basement and--though I really wasn't aware of it--as we improved it over the years, it eventually became a darkroom most pros would envy. (I had a 4 x 5 Omega enlarger and lenses capable of letting me print 20 x 30-inch prints from 35mm negs and was shooting with, and processing film from, both 35mm and 4 x 5-inch cameras.)

Lately I've been thinking about the gifts that my parents gave me: my father gave me photography and a sense of calmness, my mother introduced me to cats (I've never been given a better gift than the love of cats and other animals) and a sense of humor. (She was, however, almost anything but calm--and I inherited that side, too.) I wish someone in the family had been a good business teacher, but hey, you can't ask for everything. My father did give me one great piece of worldly advice: "Be careful what you get good at, you might be stuck with it for a very long time." Amen.

He also taught me how to bowl, how to sail and that the quickest path to inner calmness was just to forget strife and conflict and move on. Our arguments (and trust me, there were plenty in the 1960s when rock 'n roll and anti-war sentiments ruled my brain) ended the moment they ended: and that was a great gift, too. You argue, you shout about war, you wave your arms around--and then you have a sandwich together. This, to me, is a model for life.

I've always loved this shot of my father and I love the pose. Cool shot, Pop!

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