In the beginning

My six-year-old self with the Kodak Brownie Vecta camera

My six-year-old self with the Kodak Brownie Vecta camera

My grandmother started it all. She gave me, what at the time, was a rather surprising birthday present for a six-year-old: her much-travelled, slightly battered Kodak Brownie Vecta camera! I had obviously coveted it and I can remember to this day, how excited I was to receive that parcel … it did look suspiciously like “Brownie” even before I’d unpicked the wrapping paper.

So began a love of photography that continues to this day. No family member, no pet nor neighbour was safe from my advances with Brownie – every school- teacher, friend and holiday was documented too. I’m thankful for that early obsession, as I have a carefully catalogued record of family life, now a little faded, a little worn at the edges, but still there, resonant in black and white.

Brownie taught me a thing or two and for that I am thankful too.

The really big lesson was the result of there being only 12 exposures per roll of film. Very occasionally you would be surprised with a lucky 13th, but rarely. So this meant that a three-week family holiday had to be captured in just 12 frames. In fact, pocket money and the household budget being limited, sometimes just 36 frames a year would have to suffice for my photography habit.

I can remember agonising over every shot, during our wonderful, seemingly endless school holidays when we’d jump into the car and drive 2500km to Cape Town and back from Harare, Zimbabwe. It was all very well to capture the family rigging up the tent on night one – but that meant that only 11 exposures (always hoping for 12) remained for the rest of the holiday! So careful decisions had to be made before pressing the shutter.

It’s a discipline that’s almost unthinkable in the digital age, when currently, 350 millions images are uploaded daily to Facebook, alone.

I’m thankful for that discipline. I can snap away if required with my blisteringly fast DSLR, but for the most part, I still like to “make” rather than “take” photographs: to consider, compose, craft manually, and then capture. I can do it a lot more quickly today, thanks to my professional equipment – but it does mean that I still have time to “see” and interact with who or what I am making a photograph of.

Thank you, Gran – and Brownie.

You don’t take a photograph, you make it.

 Ansel Adams (1902-1984)