GAYS MILLS - The other day, while I was hanging my photography awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Awards in my (still new to me) new office in Fennimore, my co-worker Heather and I got chatting about cameras. For Christmas I received my own new fancy ‘schmansy’ Sony a6000, complete with an extra lens. I still need to read the manual more in depth, because it seems like it probably does a lot that I may not be taking full advantage of.
Heather joyously shared the tale of her first camera. She had toiled away all summer babysitting in her neighborhood to save up enough money for a Kodak Disc 4000. A treasure she thinks she may even still have some where in her archives. A quick Google search yielded images of the unusual-looking device, which made its debut in 1982. It boasted “fairly thick film” that was cut into a disc of 15 18x10.5mm rectangular frames and looked similar to View Master discs. Apparently it was the poor photo quality that was demise of this camera as newer 35mm units achieved much higher resolution and photo quality. Heather will tell you she remembers it taking photos that were “just fine!” I have a feeling they probably have a lovely nostalgic grainy look to them that we all try to recreate now with extensive Instagram filtering.
My very first camera was a Kodak Tele-Ektralite 40 that took 110 film. It was given to me by my Grandpa Tom, and even had a small raised letter label on it with his name. I don’t particularly remember why he gave it to me, just that I was really pretty young when I got it. I have a memory of sitting in my dad’s truck, waiting for him to leave, examining it. Perhaps dreaming about all of the fun I would have. If you’ve never seen one, a 110 camera is an odd, little device–flat and rectangular. And its film is quite strange as well. When developed the photos were also smaller than typical, which leads to its own problems these days in finding an appropriate frame. Thank goodness, as always, for thrift stores. You can hop on to trusty old Ebay and buy one, basically new, in the box for a whopping $12.82, but similar models exist in a range of prices, all under $10. Comically, the film fetches almost as much as the camera. Vintage 1984 expired new in the box Kodacolor 110 color print film with 24 exposures will run you about $12 and cost $4.25 to ship.
The camera that defined my childhood photos however is easily my mom’s 35mm Marlboro Cannon Camera, complete with the bright red Marlboro carrying case. My Uncle Barry, who you may have read about in the previous column, was a life long Marb smoker. He yielded many treasures from the classic Marlboro Miles program and one of them was this camera. I’m not sure if my mom requested it or he gifted it to her, but I certainly never remember having any other camera. If I’m being entirely honest, I find myself often avoiding thinking about my mom. Still, going into four years of her being gone thinking of her makes me so very sad. However, the memory of her carrying around this camera in its funny little red bag all the time made me feel a spark of joy in her memory.
As I got older, if my memory serves, film for my 110 became harder to come by, but I was still a photo taking machine. This led me to indulge in the craze of disposable cameras. Never one to buy the most expensive of anything, my mom always insisted upon me buying the reasonably priced Fujifilm Quicksnap bright green disposable verse the far more expensive golden Kodak one. I can almost promise you that if I were to go digging around my dad’s house I would probably find one still knocking around. Full of some mysterious film that would cost a fortune to develop and likely yield only one or two photos that are worthwhile. All of that probably wouldn't stop me though if I did unearth one…
As advances in cellphone cameras continue I kind of wonder how long it will be until cameras completely go the way of dinosaurs. I say that as I take photos with my enormous Nikon that belongs to the newspaper, only to see Chasca take a photo with his cellphone of damn near better quality. It’s amazing what a little hunk of plastic and medal that you carry in your pocket is capable of in terms of photography (and pretty much everything else!)
I secretly hope the world of film makes a dramatic comeback though–or at least something that leads to me having more hard copies in my life. I find myself taking photos, every day all the time, but never sending off to have my digital copies developed. Maybe, if it were like the ‘olden days’ where I wouldn't know what I had until I paid to develop them, I’d end up with more photos in my hands. Or, perhaps, the rolls of film would just pile up in my drawer like they used to for my busy mom.