Archive for the State Circle Category

The History of Things Lost Part 1 or How Much is that Doggy in the Window?

Posted in Annapolis, Chic and Ruths, Ego Alley, Kodachrome, Nikon, Nikon SP, Pentax K1000, Photography, State Circle on September 14, 2013 by smpiv

I am reading a collection of essays called “Photographs Not Taken” edited by Will Steacy, which has inspired me to write about my photo-not-taken. Like any photographer I have had plenty of photo-not-taken moments, but my most memorable photo-not-taken is an image I did take.

My father had been given a Nikon rangefinder camera with a number of lenses, Nikon bag and viewfinders as a wedding present from my Mom’s father.  It was a dark tan bag with red felt lining that held the various bits of this camera system.  The camera was a beautiful piece of chrome with black leatherette around the body.  The lenses were chrome as well. I was fixated with the mechanical precision of the camera and fascinated by the movement of the film advance, the focusing rings and the different view finders that attached to the hot shoe.  It was beautifully complicated in its simplicity and precision.

The camera bag full of gear seemed to move from one closet to another and was used infrequently if at all.  I had taken a couple of photography classes with my trusty Pentax K1000 so I thought I was ready to strike out with the Nikon.  Having gotten permission from my father I found the closet that was the latest home to the Nikon and loaded it with Kodachrome 64.

I loved opening a new box of film.  It was like a blank piece of paper with endless and unlimited creative possibility in each frame.  The smell of the film was unmistakable and with it was the folded paper that told you all about the film as if you had opened your first box of film every time.  Buried amongst an aggregate of relatively worthless paragraphs was always the chart giving you general shutter and f-stops for various lighting situations.   Sunny, f8 with a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second, etc.—always with the pictograms.

Now previous to our present imaging age, it’s true, you had to manually adjust the f-stop and shutter speed for every picture.  And, heaven forbid you forgot to set the asa (later iso) number for the film you just loaded in the camera.  Plenty of room for error, but in the right hands plenty of room to massage and finesse your image.  On this day mine were not the right hands.

How old was I?  Early twenties, teens, maybe.  What time of the year was it?  It was a sunny, f8 1/125 of second, sort of day but can’t tell you whether it was hot or cold.  Where was I?  This part I know.

I was on State Circle in Annapolis, Maryland.  Johnson’s was still in business, Tilghmans was where you bought your jewelry, and the Circle Theater was still open.   Galway Bay didn’t exist, Chic and Ruth’s was still open twenty four hours a day and Ego Alley was still a haven for work boats.

On this particular day I was on Maryland Avenue looking back at the State House.  I was set to take my version of the capitol dome framed by the stores on Maryland Avenue when a station wagon turned the corner with a Dalmatian hanging out the window, tongue flapping in the breeze.   Click—well not actually, the shutter tripping on the Nikon was almost imperceptible, but in my mind it was a major capture (I know, new term), so CLICK. I couldn’t wait to have the film processed to see my masterpiece.  I just knew it was a keeper.

So off it went in its mailer to the nearest processing Kodak lab that handled Kodachrome.  Two weeks later it was back. Its yellow box with Kodachrome emblazoned on the box that held the precious 2×2 cardboard slide mounts that would be carefully reviewed in a slide view or a loupe—can’t remember which one I used at the time.

The first slide was black.  Nothing unusual there, Kodak always processed everything just in case you hadn’t forwarded the film to frame number one.  I usually didn’t just so I could get that extra picture—frame 37 so to speak.  That was black though and the next one seemed very dark, and the next one, and the next one—uh oh.

Oh no, possible rookie error number one, the film hadn’t loaded properly on the sprockets and had never forwarded through the camera.  But, wait—I looked a little closer through the loupe and I could see the faint outline of an image.  Rookie error number two, all my light readings were wrong.  When I finally came to my masterpiece I could just make out the faint outline of the dog and when I held the slide up to the brightest light in the house I could make out the major elements of the image.  It was good.

There was really no way to recover the image.  Usually the best way to remove the pain and discouragement of a blown roll of film was like removing a Band-Aid on a hairy arm—quickly.  Quickly throw the slides away and forget them, which I did.  Then I pulled them back out again and looked at them through the loupe again on the chance that I had been to precipitant.  One by one I threw them away again, except for the Dalmatian.

I rocked it back and forth between my fingers.  Held it up to the light, but all for not.  It was dark, murky and I flicked it through the air.  It tumbled, fluttered, pulled up steeply and stalled over the trash can, and with an authoritative cardboard to metal thunk it made its last statement.

This image has grown like legend in my mind.  Was it as good as I thought it was? Maybe not, but of the thousands of images I’ve taken since it is an image that is seared in my cortex and that won’t let go.  It is the image by which I gage the success of every image I’ve taken since.

A picture taken and the one that got away.