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Random Thoughts About Photography

I have been a photographer since I was nine years old and my parents got me a camera for Christmas. I’m not saying I’m the best photographer in the world, but I enjoy the art, and that’s all that really matters. We should all have things we enjoy, whether we are an expert in them or not. 

When I was nine years old I wanted a camera for Christmas.

I took a photography class in community college, which I passed with a C because I didn’t understand some of the concepts of developing film. To be honest, developing film was a disaster for me. I once lost an entire roll because I couldn’t figure out how to use the automatic film winder to go in the development cannister. It was a nightmare.


There was one day, however, when I impressed the teacher. I’d take a picture at the Japanese garden in Portland. It was a simple picture of a rock in the middle of the Zen garden, a black and white picture that just showed the light and contrast. You could see the rake lines in the clear image, and right in the perfect spot was this one mossy rock. It was the only photo to survive that roll of film.


The photography professor went over everyone’s pictures, giving tips on composition, contrast, and other such important details. When he got to mine, he got really quiet. He sort of looked at it, checked it for balance, and walked around it at all angles.


“Wow,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to say about this. This picture is perfect.”


That was a fun day. I was the only student in the class who got that compliment. Though this was the last time I’d get such a comment. I tried a few photography contests, but my work was considered boring or just not good enough, so I went back to just taking pictures for myself and enjoying them.


Photography is an interesting art form. It allows us to see into the past in ways that we may not see, even in writing. I use elements in my family photos to determine the dates the pictures were taken. It may be something as simple as a potato chip bag, but that little bag can tell you quite a bit about when the picture was taken and what was going on.


There was once a set of Polaroid photos sitting on the table during a birthday party that allowed me to figure out what of the set was taken first based on the stage of development in the picture. I’ve been doing this detective work in photos for quite some time, and it never ceases to fascinate me.


Thinking of photography makes me think of my father once again. I had a lot of interests in my childhood that he ruined because he got involved and tried to push me the same way he pushed my sibling. He had these twisted ideas of what it meant to be interested in something.


When I indicated that I enjoyed bowling, he went out of his way to get the coach of a local kids’ bowling team to put me on the team. But when the day came to go to bowling practice, I refused to go, saying I wasn’t interested anymore.


I once took an interest in greenware as an art form. I’d bought this art kit at the store where you made and painted your own greenware. Suddenly Dad dragged me down to this hole-in-the-wall shop full of old ladies who spoke of things like “cleaning” and other terms that I didn’t know and didn’t want to know. I continued to paint greenware, but only where Dad couldn’t see.


There was the time I wanted a trumpet. Dad said I couldn’t have one unless I took lessons. (Which seems odd to me since he wouldn’t pay for my sibling’s music lessons that they actually wanted.) It seemed that everything I wanted to do on my own, he wouldn’t let me unless I joined some club, team, or lesson.


The worst incident occurred in ninth grade. He didn’t feel I was participating enough in school, so he made it his personal mission to get me more involved. It all started by talking to the school psychologist, whom I didn’t think was very bright. She was convinced of Dad’s worries about my not participating enough in school and started working to get me more involved.


It all started when she invited me to a Key Club meeting. I went to the meeting, but all the kids did was talk about all these things we couldn’t do because they required too much work. It was boring and I decided I wasn’t going to go back, but she told Dad about it. Dad told me that I should give the Key Club a second chance, but I was done.


This didn’t fly with Dad. The next week, he was at school and came looking for me. He asked why I wasn’t in Key Club and then dragged me back. I was horrified to discover that not only was Dad here at school in the middle of the day, he was leading the Key Club meeting. It was humiliating for a fifteen-year-old to have daddy at school holding their hand in the social arena.


The next week, I hid and Dad couldn’t find me. That evening he gave me some patronizing speech about missing me in Key Club and saying that kids had asked where I was. What kids? None of the kids in that club talked to me or even gave me the time of day. I knew it was a lie, but I didn’t say anything there.


Dad had jumped in head first again, and this time it directly involved me. He joined the local Kiwanis Club and started going to Sunday morning breakfasts, which he dragged me to and tried to convince me to join the Key Club and how much fun it was.


Worse, he’d started attending Booster Club meetings at school, which he quickly took over. Now suddenly he was in charge of fundraising and the homecoming parade. Kids started making fun of me at school because Dad was everywhere. He dragged me to football games on a perfectly good Saturday and forced me to help with the homecoming parade when I had better things to do.


He convinced me to go to the next Key Club meeting, and that was my big mistake. I learned at this meeting that I had been signed up for the club without my consent. Not only that, some friend Dad had made in Kiwanis had made name tags for everyone, me included. I panicked at this point, threw down the name tag, and fled the meeting.


Dad was furious when I got home. He yelled at me for hours about how bad I’d made him look in front of his new friend. I exploded at this, furious that this had become about him. Again. I told him that I hadn’t joined the Key Club and I didn’t know who had signed me up for it in the first place, but I had my suspicions. Furthermore, I wasn’t going back to another meeting and there was nothing he could do about it. I told him to just leave me alone about school.


Well, this was the end of his latest project. After finishing the homecoming parade, he quit Kiwanis and Booster Club and stopped coming to Key Club meetings. He even went as far as to stop asking me about school when I came home in the afternoon. No, by this point his new obsession was network marketing and I didn’t matter anymore.


But what sparked this weird interest in me in the first place? Why was he always pushing me to join clubs and take lessons? I honestly think it had to do with my sibling, though this wasn’t their fault, it was Dad’s. They were always joining clubs, playing on teams, and taking lessons. At school, they were involved in a million activities all the time.


Suddenly I came along and couldn’t be bothered with clubs and lessons. I didn’t want to join a zillion activities in high school. I was a part of the high school choir and that was all I needed. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t pass with Dad. He was convinced there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t this gigantic social butterfly.


Dad’s reactions to my interests would thoroughly spoil them. If writing wasn’t so ingrained in my soul, he would’ve done the same thing to it. He tried to make creative writing into a home school lesson, where he nitpicked everything I wrote and made me feel stupid for doing it. He tried to pressure me into joining writers groups and entering contests. The result was two years of writer’s block.


For some reason he never touched my photography. Mom and Dad bought me that camera in 1989 and that was the end of it. I continued to take pictures and not be bothered by lessons, clubs, and contests. I’m not sure why he never pressured me in photography, but he didn’t.


Why am I talking about my childhood traumas? Because I don’t want to see it done to another kid. There is nothing wrong with a kid who doesn’t want to join clubs and teams. They should not be required to take lessons and enter contests just because they are interested in something, and no, it’s not going to be something they regret later in life. Sometimes you can spoil an interest by pushing too hard. Don’t ever make that mistake!


I continue to have a passion for photography today. No, I’m not the best photographer in the world, but that’s not why I take pictures. I take pictures because I enjoy it and it makes me happy. We all need something that we just enjoy now and then, something where we don’t have to perfect and constantly push. What is your private passion? What is your kid’s private passion? Please make sure you don’t spoil it for them.

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