I snapped my first photographs at around the age of six while on vacation with my parents in Albany, NY -- they needed to keep me busy for a couple of hours while they had lunch with friends. I went out on the hotel patio with their Rolliecord, and whiled away the time taking multiple exposures of the porch – they neglected to show me how the film advance mechanism worked.
We spent a summer in Tokyo, where my father bought me a Canonet QL-19, a small fixed lens rangefinder camera. I had my first exhibit at the age of 16 (3 photos) behind the reception desk at the Walker Hill Resort in Seoul, Korea that summer. The workers were so impressed that I got a free order of French Fries. I was elated.
I took the camera with me to Duquesne University for my first year of college. One day, while walking to campus, my friendleapt onto the hood of an E6 Jaguar. She said “Let’s pretend I’m a fashion model and you’re a photographer!”
Later that day I dropped the film off at the drugstore to be processed. When I retrieved the photos, we were all amazed. They weren’t half bad. The rest, as they say, is history …
I stopped into the university darkroom and learned how to process and print. A couple of weeks later I phoned home and told my mother I was changing my major from pre-med to Photography. It took a full two years for me to convince my parents I was serious. When my junior year rolled around, I transferred to Syracuse University, where I enrolled in the journalism school. After college, I worked in color labs for several years, unable to figure out where I fit in the commercial world.
I did manage to turn down an offer to work as a copy boy at Time magazine, believing the job was beneath me. I was ignorant of the notion of starting at the bottom and working my way up. The fellow that accepted the job (another S.U. graduate) went on to become a successful photojournalist.
One thing led to another and I found myself in California in the early 70’s. The primary photographer for a public relations firm in the Palm Springs area was retiring and I managed to secure the position. I had to borrow a 2 1/4 camera for my intro jobs – the owner of the firm would not accept work produced with 35mm cameras. The desert area provided me with a vast array of commercial subject material, and weekly trips to Los Angeles fed my need for street photography.
None of these photos were taken with a motor driven camera. None were taken with a camera that focused the lens for me, or pre-set the exposure.
In each and every instance, I had to see 1/30 of a second into the future -- it takes the mind about 1/60 of a second to shift gears from ‘thinking or observing’, to ‘doing’. The camera itself burns another sixtieth of a second from the moment the shutter release is pressed to the instant the image is recorded mechanically on film. In between these two tiny fractions, we must account for finding the correct point of focus and calculating an accurate exposure – a lot of work in a little time.
To achieve what Henri Cartier-Bresson deemed ‘The Decisive Moment’, the photographer must move mentally (and physically) ahead of the subject, anticipating not only where they will be, but when they will be. When these criteria have aligned, the photograph is taken, the moment captured, and that 1/30 of a second is preserved for all to see. For me, this is as good as it gets.
The technology available today cannot (in my opinion) substitute for the vision a person must possess to successfully record these brief instances for posterity. You can avail yourself of a multi-frame-per-second-image-collector that can focus and adjust itself for changing lighting conditions, or one that can complete the task in well under the antiquated thirtieth of a second, but without the ‘eye’, all is for naught.