I knew nothing much about cameras when I was young. I got to push down the trigger on my Grandma's Brownie Hawkeye camera for the rare times I was allowed to take photos of the grown ups. This was a camera that the only thing you could do was to literally point and click. There were no adjustments to make before you took a shot, and just a quick wind of the film advance knob when you were ready to take another picture. The only thinking required was in keeping track of the frame number while winding. There wasn't a lot of photos taken in those days - other than birthdays and Christmas, or when a relative visited from another state.
After I made it to my teen years, something changed for me after seeing a camera that wasn't in the shape of a box; and with a few adjustments to its knobs and levers, it could do all sorts of things that no box camera could ever do. I wanted more than the Brownie experience and that meant I would have to do it on my own. My family wasn't cash-happy, so nobody was about to buy another camera setup for me.
It took some time but my first photo related purchase from saved allowances and neighborhood lawn mowing work was a new Gossen Pilot light meter that I purchased from the Simms Department Store in downtown Pontiac Michigan. I next added an aluminum 'crank-up' style Slik-branded tripod that I got on sale from the new Kmart store. Both of these were bought to pair up with a borrowed Konica IIa rangefinder camera, since I couldn't buy my own yet. Why would a teenager spend his meager financial fortune on photo gear? It happened soon after I found out I would be heading off on a short trip to Toronto Canada. It was time to take the money I'd saved and jump in, even if it was ahead of my earlier camera gear buying schedule. I had the notion to learn to shoot, and to use that particular camera - all super-gadgety and complex and unknown - but I needed to provide my own accessories and film.
Heading to Toronto was a working trip of sorts for my mother and then-stepfather (both of them occasionally worked with the UAW/AFL-CIO, who'd sponsored their attendance to the conference there), but it was a real out-of-the-country mini summer vacation for me. This would be my first time leaving US soil and also allowed to be out on my own. I was 14 years old or so at the time, but I wasn't going to miss an opportunity to take a few serious pictures and doing it the best I could muster with whatever I had. I bought 2 fresh rolls of 36 exposure color negative film, and planned to shoot the 'Flying Saucer'. That was the nick name of the oddly shaped center building at the heart of Toronto's new City Hall. I'd heard about it often in school, but I'd never seen so much as a photo or drawing of it. This was the subject matter that fueled my idea, and this was after all, the beginning of the "Space Age". I intended to find out what that future was and exactly what it looked like. In those days, Pontiac certainly did NOT equate to the future inside my teen brain.
So... After a solo bus ride or two once we'd made it into town and I'd had a night's rest, I was standing in front of Canada's famous UFO. I was devouring the manuals for both the camera and meter after setting up the tripod which was now supporting the loaded Konica. It took some re-reading and poking and twisting at controls, but I managed to grasp what I was supposed to do with everything to make it all work. It was very close to high noon in the middle of summer, and the massive courtyard was hot and extremely bright, and overflowing with people of every description and age. Not exactly the best time or the best conditions overall, but I started to meter / adjust / shoot / repeat. I probably shot City Hall from every angle I could, plus taking candid snaps of the people having lunch or just sitting outside on concrete benches - or shots of the potted flowers or the water pool and fountains. Essentially, everything I saw that looked interesting was what I wanted on film.
I went through both rolls and was exhausted after all the tear downs and setups and shooting, but I was happy with how it seemed to go. After going home and getting both rolls back from developing - in double prints for the price of singles - I was stunned. Every shot was perfectly exposed (thank you, Gossen Pilot), no heads or legs or important building bits were 'cut off'. Every photo was in focus and extremely sharp (thanks, Konica), and most of the shots looked better than I remembered of the actual scene as I saw it in person.
Sadly, the photos were all handed out to family and friends, and the negatives were lost somewhere along the way. The camera soon went back to it's owner, and the tripod and meter were misplaced or left behind in later moves to new homes with my or my family's life changes. What never left me were the memories of that first major outing and the overwhelming grip of accomplishment with something so new and with such great final results to my young eyes. With that experience alone I was bitten badly by a certain photo bug. I was in college before I bought myself all new photo gear (okay, a gently used Mamiya 1000 DTL) so I could learn to use it as a professional. That same bug still bites me on a regular basis as a shooter and collector, and I'm happily expecting there will be no letup anytime soon.
The Mamiya that helped me learn the ins and outs of still photography was a true workhorse, but it slowly lost its metering accuracy and over time the shutter gave up the ghost. Since then I've found some stand-ins for that first 'real' camera and the 55mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/2.8 lenses I started out with (but later sold).
I'm still looking for the perfect twin of the amazing Konica IIA that sparked my interest so long ago. In the mean time I've found a couple of working examples of its younger and older siblings to keep it company when it does arrive.
[ Without the vacation photos of my own to post, here's a link to the Official Gallery for Toronto's City Hall: on Flickr ]