I got my first camera as a present for my ninth or tenth birthday (I don’t remember which, exactly). It was a Kodak Instamatic, and it was as basic as could be. It didn’t have a flash, or any functions at all. It produced square photos, and it was mostly only good outdoors under optimal lighting conditions. Like all film cameras, you never quite knew what the photo would look like. Would it be in focus? Would it be dark? Did you accidentally cover half the shot with your thumb? Only after you had paid to have your photos developed would you find out.
Still, for all its shortcomings, I loved that camera. I thought I was so funny, sneaking up on people and yelling, “Surprise!” before catching their reactions. I was documenting my life, in the way an nine-year-old would. My other photos featured family pets, my toys, and family members. I can’t imagine wasting eight precious film shots on Cabbage Patch Kids now, but at the time I felt a heady sense of power. I was the photographer. I was, quite literally, calling the shots, and I was recording the world as I saw it.
I got another camera as a gift when I was a teenager. I don’t remember the make or model. It was a standard sort of point-and-shoot for the time, with an automatic flash and a few basic controls. I took that camera on trips to Mexico and the Caribbean and Disney World and New Brunswick. For the four months that I lived in Ottawa one winter, that camera recorded trips to museums, came skating with me on the Rideau Canal, and tromped out to a sugar bush. I was still using it when I got engaged, and I remember using it to snap photos of floral arrangements and dress fittings, taking the photos to be developed before faithfully putting the best ones in my wedding preparation album.
I can’t remember exactly when I made the switch to digital. I know that Jon had a digital camera fairly early on, and he laughed at my reliance on film for several years. But was it before or after we got married that I made the switch myself? Did the photos of my honeymoon come from a flash card or film? I honestly can’t remember. I suspect that it was film, because of the sleeve of duplicates I had printed up at London Drugs, but I can’t be sure. At the time I still relied on prints, and it’s possible they could have come from a digital camera.
I do know that by the time we moved into this house, 10 years ago now, I had fully transitioned to digital photography. We bought a little black Canon point and shoot in the US around that time, which we kept for years and ran into the ground. That camera captured my pregnancies, and my children’s infancies. It documented milestones like starting solid foods and taking first steps. Eventually it gave up the ghost, sometime around 2010. We bought another Canon point-and-shoot, which I promptly managed to drop into a tide pool on the beach in Parksville, a favourite local vacation spot for my family. We made the drive into the nearby ‘big town’ of Nanaimo, and bought another one as a replacement.
I made a mistake with that camera. I allowed my children to use it. They were, unsurprisingly, not as careful or gentle as one would hope. Yet I continued to allow it, because letting them to take pictures somehow seemed harmless, as compared to letting them play video games on my phone or sitting them in front of a screen. It was not shocking when it was damaged just two short years after buying it. While muttering under my breath about children’s destructive tendencies, I gave up on having a camera and relied on my phone for taking photos.
They say that the best camera is the one you actually have with you. In that respect, an iPhone makes a fabulous camera. Throw in apps like Instagram, and you can not only take photos, but share them easily across all your social networks. Still, a phone has its limitations. I wasn’t always satisfied with the quality, or with the shots I was able to get. I missed my little point-and-shoot, which, while basic, captured the light so beautifully. Its images did justice to my memory of events. I wanted that again.
After shopping and researching and reading, my husband and I decided that we were ready for a grown-up camera. This is how, in the first weekend of February, we found ourselves shelling out for a new Canon Rebel T4i, two lenses, filters, a flash card and a brand new camera bag to keep it all safe. We have firmly declared that children may not touch it. I am careful to always wear the shoulder strap when I use it, lest it, too, fall into a tide pool. While I eat breakfast I read through the little manual that came with it obsessively, learning how it works. I’m signing up for a photography class.
I have no desire to be a professional photographer, to take the sorts of photos that belong in magazines. I just want to shoot the world as I see it, for myself. And so once again, I am calling the shots. I feel the familiar exhilaration I felt when I received that little Kodak Instamatic. The world is mine to capture, one image at a time.
Do you remember your first camera? And what sort of camera do you have now? I’d love to hear your photography stories.