When my Dad was about 25 or 26 he went out and bought himself an Agfa fixed lens 35mm rangefinder camera with flash attachment and leather case at the Montgomery Ward department store in Bloomington, Illinois. At least I’m pretty sure it was Bloomington – at any rate, it was his second most complex technological tool.
His first most technological tool was me. I was his television remote control.
Television at the time – and we’re going back to 1960 which reveals more about my age than I probably should reveal – was totally analog. Broadcasts were received through antennas via two separate bands. The one everyone is familiar with was VHF – that’s where one moved the big dial in distinctive clicks from channels 2 through 13 – click – click – click; little special tuning necessary. We didn’t get any of those channels.
Our television came from three channels out of Peoria, Illinois on the UHF band. That band did not progress by distinctive clicks. Channels had to be carefully and precisely TUNED IN. I had to very delicately adjust the dial to find channels 19 (ABC), 31 (CBS) and 43 (NBC), which later strategically moved to channel 25 to place it between the other two. Sometimes the wind would move the antenna every so slightly, and the dial would have to be incrementally adjusted to find the signal. Once tuned in, every channel had different color hues, brightness and contrast, so I’d have to drop the little utility door and adjust those things, my Dad coaching me to make a channel more red or yellow or this or that, all the time I’m learning how to make the picture clear and natural. Dad would say, “Curt, go turn it to 31”, and up I would jump from the couch to perform as instructed. I seem to recall that at some point he dropped the first name and it was just “go turn it to 31”, and he would move between westerns and cop shows, everyone of which had exactly the same plot (which he would later deny) which was frustrating because I wanted to watch The Flintstones and like programming more interesting to a five-year-old. I digress.
So my Dad had this comparatively complex camera which required that he measure the exposure and adjust the f-stop and the shutter speed and manually focus. There was a point in which he decided all that was not so much fun. I honestly don’t have a memory of him with the camera in his hands. The first time I remember seeing it was when I was 15 or 16 years old and he was passing it to me as I had become interested in photography.
By then I had had a dozen years’ experience learning to balance the intricate controls of old-time color televisions. So for me, all those f-stop and shutter speed adjustments, using my eyes to gage the light and change accordingly as I moved around a subject was a piece of cake.
So it began.
Dad’s old Agfa, the later version of the Super Silette, still works perfectly. The flash unit has disappeared, and the leather cover has begun to crack, but the camera itself is fine. I’d gone decades without picking up any sort of a film camera, so it’s admittedly taken a number of rolls but I’m finally comfortable with my ability to set the right exposures and depth of field to capture just I want. What to do with the image once I get it onto the computer is a work in process, and of course, as my most recent post pointed out, how to actually get the film processed is another issue entirely. Regardless, as someone once said about dinosaurs, life finds a way.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.