“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange
My earliest memory of a camera is my bother’s first birthday party. I would have been three years, one month and 19 days old. My Dad was trying to take a photo of my brother blowing out his one candle. My brother just kept trying to grab the flame. I was asked to show him what to do. I’d blow out the candle, my Mum would relight it and my brother would grab the flame as my Dad clicked the shutter. And repeat. Multiple times. We have many photos of my brother grabbing the flame but not one of him blowing the candle. Reflecting on this memory I realise I may have got my tenacity (bloody mindedness) for getting just the shot I want from my Dad.
Another memory is holidaying in mid Wales when I was about eight. I wanted to take a photo. I loved the weight of my Dad’s SLR, loved waiting for my vision to focus as I looked through the viewfinder, loved seeing a portion of the world in front of me framed in a scene. And I loved the heavy ‘clunk’ of the shutter. For some reason my Dad wouldn’t let me take the photo, saying I could take one later. “But I want to take a photo now.” “Later.” I walked all the way down the hill crying and shouting more and more desperately: “I want to take a picture NOOOOOW.” Three and half decades later my Dad or brother will wind me up in the way only families can by repeating the refrain back to me when I reach for a camera.
The love of photography I inherited from my Dad has continued throughout my life. Through my earliest trip overseas (a French exchange, aged 15) where Dad coached me in advance not on language skills or settling in with my host family, but on how to use my new camera and the kind of photos I could take along the way. There are a fair few snaps of my friends of course but there are also plenty of thoughtful shots of gardens and rivers and quirky angles of the Eiffel Tower. My camera is still how I make friends with a place. I’ll notice more about a place when I’m looking through the lens and noticing details I don’t see when I’m just looking. I love reviewing the photos and spotting things I didn’t notice even through the lens. I’ll often get up early and go walking alone with my camera as a place is waking up.
And more recently my camera has been how I’ve made friends with other people and with my own body. I’ve written so much on these pages that there’s almost nothing new to say. I’ve written about the experience of being photographed, the joy of photographing others and the role photography plays in relationships. Others have written about the photography adventures we’ve had together and it always makes me a little emotional reading their words. Of course all of those posts focus on the experiences, the emotions, the enlightenment. But none of that fun and personal growth would have been possible without the camera. My camera is the tool that’s ignited friendships, been a feature of partnerships and helped me love my body more. It’s a force for good in all my relationships, with others and myself. And what I loved about framing a photo and capturing a moment when I was eight is what I still love today. I love the power the camera has to make us see things a little differently.