I “got into” more serious photography in 1973. I got married in December of 1972 and I think one of my motivations was to have a photographic record of our new life together. The other reason was that I had always wanted to get a good camera and learn all about photography. I ended up with a Nikon FTn with a 50mm f1.4 lens. Over time, I added a Micro Nikkor, a third party tele zoom and a Soligor 28mm wide angle. Armed with that arsenal, I set out to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could. We were living in Grove City, PA and renting a nice little apartment for $55/month. It had a kitchen, living room, bedroom and a bathroom that that served as part time bathroom and part time darkroom. That required some careful planning! Grove City College did not offer any photography courses, but one professor set up a couple non credit photo seminars that we eagerly attended. I was somewhat responsible for that professor selling off his collection of German Exacta cameras and buying a couple Nikons. There was no Internet in 1973, so all my photography education came from reading Popular Photography and Modern Photography cover to cover each month and buying those Kodak How To books at the local camera store. We shot a LOT of film, mostly Kodak Tri-X Pan, but also quite a bit of Kodachrome. I bought Tri-X in 100 foot rolls and rolled my own.
In those days, there were only a handful of people on campus who knew which end of an SLR to look into and fewer still who could produce usable negatives. I had joined the Yearbook staff and I had to process many of those negatives, often trying everything to get a printable photo from a virtually unusable negative. The good thing is that I learned a lot in a hurry. The yearbook staff had hired a “pro” to shoot student photos and organizations. Problem was, he was newer to his Nikon than I was and he produced some of the worst photos of those submitted. He was getting paid and I was rushing around retaking photos of organizations so we would have something to put in the yearbook. Sadly, we didn’t get to redo all of them so the 1974 Grove City College Ouija has my wife and me listed as Photo Editors and there are some terrible photos in there.
Fast forward 40 years and now digital is king. Go on campus and everyone has a digital camera in some form. Usually a cell phone, but also a lot of point and shoots and some DSLR’s. I can’t imagine what it is like to be the photo editor of a modern day college yearbook. The quality of the the submitted photos has to be so much better that what I saw in 1973. Even a pretty basic cell phone can produce a usable photo. This has led to another phenomenon…everyone is a photographer! George Eastman was the one who wanted to put photography into everyone’s hands, but digital is what finally did it. When I was walking around campus in 1973 carrying my Nikon and shooting candids, it was pretty obvious that I was a “photographer”. Today, everyone has a camera, whether it is a cell phone or a DSLR or what have you. When I bought my first Nikon, they made only three cameras and one was an underwater camera.
Today, we have at our disposal a huge array of camera choices. We have cameras that are essentially image making computers with exposure systems that analyze each scene and making hundreds of decisions in hundredths of a second. When I started, it was a challenge to just get a properly exposed and focused image. Today, you can let the camera do that, freeing you to concentrate on the image itself. It’s different and it has brought a lot of people into photography who would not have been able to do so in the past. It has changed what it means to be a “photographer”. I’m still trying to figure that out…