My First Camera

Writing these thoughts about how I am teaching my kids photography causes me to pause and ask myself–How did I learn photography?

I don’t know if that is a story worth telling but I do want to mention the very first step I took down that path. I was a child of twelve or so and was taken by my mother and grandmother to the shopping mall. This was in Akron, Ohio and the mall was a new one. We often parked at one end, in the portion of the lot near the Sears store and entered through those doors, walking into Sears and then to the left to enter the mall proper.

It was just before that turn, in a display on the right side of the aisle, that I saw it. My mother and grandmother were looking at something else but while they were busy I did nothing but stare at it–the Kodak Tele-Instamatic 110. It was about the size of a candy bar. You peeped through a plastic window to view, pressed a large silver button to fire the shutter, and then slid the bottom doohickey again and again to advance the film. The film came in a cartridge–you only advanced it, never rewound it.

The best part? It had a selector that would switch from normal view to telephoto view. It was so cool.

The camera in its fancy box was $32, if I recall correctly. I had something like $12. Oh, how I wanted that camera. I had never given any thought to photography before but I had to have it. I pressed. I pleaded. And much to my surprise they gave in and bought it for me. That was a lot of money back then and a lot of money for a kid camera to be sure.

It took a flashbar that had eight or ten cells each with some sort of explosive. It would fire like an old time flash bulb, blackening that cell. When they were used up you threw the bar away.

Only I learned a trick. It turned out that the camera had two shutter speeds. The faster one was the default but there was a slower one that was automatically and invisibly engaged when there was a flashbar installed. The slower shutter speed would help in low light, maybe even help with the flash since the old-fashioned flashes weren’t as quick to give their light out as modern electronic ones. Shutter speed mattered back then, in terms of flash.

But put a fully used flash bar on the camera and it would still engage the slower shutter speed, even though there were no flash cells to fire. Suddenly, with that slower shutter speed, you could shoot night photographs.

What a cool little camera.

Years later I wished I had kept it. It would have been fun to have it just for the memories.

Even more years later I was at my Dad’s house. And there it was. He thought it was some other camera but my initials were still on it (a stick-on lettering page had come with the camera). How it had survived and found its way back to me I don’t know.

But the camera works all this time later. The film for it is long gone but still, every once in a while, I wind the shutter and fire it just to hear that plasticky shutter sound.

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