Long long time ago, I had a thing in my house called a “darkroom.” In it, one performed chemical processes on long, thin strips of narrow polyester coated with light sensitive emulsions. Film, in other words.
In my case, I did a lot of B&W work, almost always on Kodak Tri-X 200 or 400 – mostly because it was very easy to work with in a basic bathroom-style home darkroom. It was very forgiving of differences in temperature, developer mix and so forth.
I also dropped of a lot of 35mm color film canisters off at the local photo developer to have made in to an envelope full of big, fancy, glossy 5×7 prints. I never tried doing color film processing on my own – honestly, the chemistry just kind of scared me. I always found it too complicated and it just seemed like I’d end up ruining every roll of film I attempted to do. Plus, frankly, the color chemicals and such where just a lot more expensive than the simple developers, washes and fixers used for B&W.
Then somewhere along the way, I picked up my first digital camera. I don’t even remember what it was or where I got it. I seem to recall that I bought it at a box store of some kind – one that isn’t in business anymore – and that it used internal, non-removable memory and could only hold maybe 50-80 pictures maximum. Of course, if you were used to conserving shutter openings on a 36 exposure roll of film, having 50 pictures available that could be downloaded on to a computer was actually pretty cool. I kept shooting film for quite a while, though, carting that darkroom gear with me through several household moves.
I don’t really recall why, but I eventually quit taking pictures for the sake of it. I think like many hobbies many of us pursue over time, I simply lost interest in it or found newer and more interesting things to play with or something. Mostly, I let life and work and such get in the way. Oh, sure, I’d keep a small point ‘n shoot with me on vacations and such and it’s not like I completely stopped making photographs entirely, but the only time I did was for work or on vacations. After one move, the darkroom gear ended up staying packed up and eventually found it’s way in to the landfill. After all, Photoshop doesn’t care how warm the water is coming out of the tap or how long you agitate a container and doesn’t require a dim red light to work by. My old hobby of going out for a day or a weekend just for the express purpose of making pictures faded away. When the now ubiquitous camera phone came along, eventually I even ditched the old point ‘n shoots and just took an occasional picture on my phone.
Recently, maybe because I have a fair amount of time on my hands right now, maybe for other reasons, I started looking at cameras again. Back in the day, I was the very proud owner of a gorgeous Canon A1 35mm SLR (well, actually I still am – it’s packed in a moving box around here somewhere.) That thing cost me something close to a month’s pay when I bought it at a pro camera shop. Over time, I had acquired a motor drive, multiple flash heads and 6 or 8 lenses for it. My camera bag traveled with me everywhere – mini tripod strapped to the top, 10-15 rolls of film packed in to the pockets in the top cover. Camel hair puffer brush for the lenses. Filters, lens hoods, cable releases and other bits and pieces stuffed in to any space I could find once the bag’s pockets got filled up.
So, after thinking about it for a good month or so, and arguing with myself over whether I should really spend the money right now, I finally decided to click “order” on Amazon.com for a new Canon EOS T4i DSLR. They had the camera / lens package (bundled with an EF-S 18-135mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS STM zoom lens) for a reasonable price, a fair bit below what I was able to find at the local big box electronics retailer, so I didn’t break the bank. Since I want to experiment with doing some HD timelapse stuff as well, I also picked up a cheap remote controller / timer as well.
The day after the cam arrived at my doorstep, I headed out early in the morning with a tripod and a coffee and with the intent of spending 20-30 minutes just doing some test shots and such to get used to the camera. Six hours later, I arrived back at my place with several hundred shots on a memory card. Many of those were part of timelapse sequences.
Now sure, part of my extended playtime was because I was playing with a new toy. It wasn’t a totally unpleasant morning to be out and about and I was reading the manual for the camera as much as pressing the shutter button. But something started to happen while I was out playing that I hadn’t expected – I started noticing that I was having fun. I started noticing that I was spending time seeking out “just the right angle” for the next round of shots. I started getting that old feeling back again that I recognized from a long, long time ago – the simple joy of just walking around and making pictures just for the sake of it, wondering how long you can stand in the middle of a busy street to get the right shot before getting run over by a city bus, figuring out how to get “over there” from “over here”. I went out again that evening, then again the next morning, then again the next morning and so on.
I’ve always been a person that takes a lot longer to “get it” than some of my friends. This period of time I have right now without a M-F full time job is actually becoming valuable to me. I think I may finally be “getting it” with regard to work-life balance. For way too long, my “balance” has been nearly 100% work and almost no life. The life part is worth fighting for and this is the first time in almost 30 years that I’ve had a chance to explore it.
There’s a chance I may become somewhat enlightened sometime before I leave this plane of existence. Maybe.